Tuesday, July 16, 2019


On Deterrence

One of the important debates in my field is about deterrence: specifically, the question of "does a long prison sentence (or a death sentence) given to one person deter others from committing a crime?

Sadly, the debate is mostly between people who know what they are talking about (on one side) and people who have no data, just "how they feel." The former think that deterrence is insignificant based on data or experience, while the latter believe deterrence happens and is very important because that is how they feel it should work.

Take a look at this report from the National Institute of Justice, a branch of the US Department of Justice. There isn't much bias here-- one would expect, after all, for the DOJ to support the idea that its actions deter crime and thus are worthwhile.

Instead, here are the five key (and interrelated) data points the report sets out:

1) The certainty of being caught is more important in deterring crime than long sentences.
2) Sending someone to prison is not a very effective way to deter crime.
3) Police can actually reduce crime by increasing the perception that people will be caught and punished.
4) Increasing the severity of crime does little to deter crime.
5) There is no proof that the death penalty deters crime.

In terms of what we do on the ground, it is the first point that is most important (and if we pay attention to it, the others will follow). Quite simply, solving more crimes is more important than punishing crimes harshly if the goal is (as it should be) to reduce crime.

Monday, July 15, 2019

There is a lot going on! Yesterday, Pete Buttigieg became the fourth candidate to explicitly adopt (with attribution!) the plan Rachel Barkow and I laid out for clemency reform.

Also, I had a piece in yesterday's Waco paper about the campaigning in Iowa. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, in haiku news, Christine revealed what probably is a real-life incident:

Late night radio
DJ on a break.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Sunday Reflection: At the gallery

Last night, I was in Detroit for the opening of my dad's show at a gallery here, Collected Detroit. (I took the photo above before the crowds arrived).

It is always wonderful to see other people see what those you love create-- an experience I have had a few dozen times in different ways. Beyond the "I know him!" aspect of it, there is something deeper-- fresh eyes make me look and see and hear things I didn't before.

Probably not every kid grew up with nudes in the kids' bathroom, but I did. I'm not sure what effect that had on me, but it probably was good. As I have written here before, I love the way my parents see beauty wherever they go. They are right. I was taught two things by that: to look and see, and to celebrate the good. 

If you want to see more of my dad's work, you can check it out here, and his jazz blog is here.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


Tesla life

I'll admit that I am intrigued by Tesla cars. They look great and seem to be packed with great tech. And I suspect that electric cars are a big part of our future.

Here is the rub: I love long road trips, and they just don't seem practical for that. Any Tesla drivers out there want to weigh in?

Friday, July 12, 2019


Haiku Friday: 70's Music

There were some really terrible songs in the 70's. There were also some fantastic songs. And, of course, some that were just fantastically terrible. Love it or hate it, it is hard to forget it! Let's haiku about that this week.

Here, I will go first:

The had me in awe:
The Clintondale Dragonettes
And this was their song.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, July 11, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: The King of Pedophile Island

Earlier this week, prosecutors in the federal Southern District of New York indicted financier Jeffrey Epstein on charges of child sex trafficking. His homes were located in New Mexico, Palm Beach, New York City and a private island in the Caribbean (pictured above) that was known to locals as "predator island." Besides President Trump, his circle of friends included Bill Clinton and a remarkable array of others.

Here is the thing: Epstein got caught twelve years ago, and was set to be prosecuted in Florida. Then the feds, led by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Alex Acosta, cut him a sweet deal: plead guilty to state charges and do about a year of "soft time" which allowed him to go to work during the days. Not long after that, he issued a press release on a case where a pedophile--who did bad things, but probably not more than Epstein--got 27 years.

Yesterday, Acosta, who is now serving as Secretary of Labor for some reason, defended his actions. It was the state's fault. He didn't have enough evidence. It was too hot out. [Ok, I made up the last one, but it would have fit right in] His explanation was not convincing to many people. 

It is interesting to see such a vigorous discussion of prosecutorial discretion. I will say this: I was shocked at the time that someone facing the charges alleged against Epstein would get off so lightly. I knew from my own work that many people whose crime consisted of possessing a small amount of child pornography got much longer sentences. But... they were not rich.

There are not different "rules" for the rich and influential, as some people say. The rules are the same. What is different is the employment of discretion by people in power who favor the rich and influential as they act within those rules. Acosta broke no "rules" by giving the sweetheart deal to a friend of his friends. The truth is more subtle, more hidden, and more insidious. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Yale Law '90: Denise C. Morgan

I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my classmates at Yale Law. I'm really amazed by what people have done-- each time I research one of them I have discovered a fascinating story.

Like a bunch of the people I have profiled already, Denise Morgan was double Yale-- she graduated from Yale College in 1986 before coming to the law school there.  Her parents were from Montserrat, and she grew up in the Bronx.

After law school she did... pretty much everything. She worked for a big firm. She clerked for a federal judge. She was a beloved law professor at Florida State and at New York Law School. She was an advisor to the nation of Eritrea as they drafted their constitution. She married and had a daughter.

In 1995, she took over a crucial school financing case in New York, representing the state's Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic legislative caucus. In 2003, that case resulted in a ruling that the state had shortchanged minority students in New York City schools in financing-- a disparity that advantaged suburban students by about five billion dollars a year. It was a huge victory for what is right.

And then, in April of 2006, she died.  It chokes me up to write that; she did such good in the world in her 41 years.

Lives like hers raise a challenge to the rest of us, who have the good fortune of longer lives, and the moral obligations to our society that come with it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019


The bookstore

So... I sank a little money into a new project in Waco-- a bookstore called "Fabled," which will be located downtown not too far from the Silos.

It is close to opening. I love this shot of the interior, and imagining those shelves full of books.


I have a lot of questions about Goofy

I've always been a little curious about the whole Disney legendarium-- Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, etc.-- that seem to exist as kind of free-floating ideas rather that characters with any kind of back story that anyone is familiar with.

For example, Mickey is a mouse. He has a pet dog, Pluto. That's ridiculous, of course, because the dog in a carnivore who will eat the mouse in any kind of a reasonable universe. Then, making things even more strange, Mickey also has a friend who is a dog, Goofy. Doesn't it seem odd that Goofy doesn't object to Mickey having enslaved one of his kind?

Anyways, Goofy presents all kinds of narrative dilemmas. For example, at some point he has a wife, identified as "Mrs. Goofy." But, apparently, they kill her off for some reason.

And don't even get me started about Pluto...

Monday, July 08, 2019


On America

IPLawGuy got it right (in haiku):

American Music
Stephen Foster and Sinatra
Chuck Berry, Springsteen.

Sunday, July 07, 2019


Sunday reflection: The era of the Holy Spirit

For most of my life, the idea of the trinity was pretty much meaningless. I got what the three parts of the trinity were--God, Jesus, Holy Spirit-- but it did not intersect much with how I thought about faith.

Like a lot of things relating to my faith, that changed once we started to do the Trial of Jesus and I had to dig in deeply to the Gospels and study almost everything Jesus said and did in preparation for using it in the case. I had to reconcile and connect Jesus both to the Old Testament and to our own time.

That is when the trinity fell into place. Each part is eternal, but our interaction with each changes with epoch. Before Jesus, the Jews saw themselves as directly interacting with God. While Jesus was on Earth, people directly interacted with him. In the era since, we directly interact with the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised.

What does it mean to live in the era of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus said would come after him? In part, I think, it means we are left with principles and reason and what it is that Jesus taught, and that there is within us a counselor that guides us.

There are at times what I think of as "Holy Spirit Moments," where I intensely feel that counsel and comfort. Sometimes it even brings transcendence.  It is... a hard thing to describe, but very real, and very important of late.

Saturday, July 06, 2019


On the roof

I recently saw the movie "Yesterday," and was really moved by it. In a way, it was like hearing the Beatles songs for the first time. There is a scene, too, with John Lennon, that I have been pondering ever since.

My gripe with the Beatles is that so rarely-- at least in their prime-- seemed to be a band, able to play a song in front of a crowd so you could see their dynamics and process. Albums like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper hid behind technology to some degree, and that both lent a mystery to the songs and a sense of alienation (at least in me). The Beatles stopped touring in 1966, so there is almost no visual record of my favorite songs being played.

The exception is the "concert on the roof" from 1969, and it is worth the time....

Friday, July 05, 2019


Haiku Friday: America!

I really would recommend going about thirty seconds into the video about to hear the start of President Trump's address yesterday, where he recalled George Washington's Continental Army taking over the airports. I'm not sure I knew about that, but there has been a lot of history uncovered over the last few years.

The United States is a wonderful place for many of us; one of many on this big Earth. Hopefully, Independence Day helped us to remember the good.

Let's haiku about that today! Here, I will go first:

USA? Someone
Get me a cheeseburger. We
Love our eccentrics.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun....

Thursday, July 04, 2019


Patriotic Mayhem Thursday: The Master of the Possible

Earlier this week, I went down to Iowa to check out the political scene during the caucus run-up. I got a chance to see both Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, and it was exactly what I hoped for: intense, informal and fascinating.

The Bernie event was in a basement gym in Iowa City. He had an impassioned crowd of people who were ready to hang on every word. Also, they had free Ben and Jerry's ice cream! 

Bernie is great-- and I mean great-- at describing many of the problems our nation is suffering from but not actively addressing: income inequality, health care disparities, climate change, and others. He has no equal at summing up what we need to pay attention to, and I was in thrall when he got rolling. Everyone there was.

His solutions, though, are sometimes politically unrealistic and probably over-broad. Eliminating all student debt and making public college free would cost (as he said himself) over two trillion dollars. That's just not responsible, and it would benefit a lot of people who can afford to pay off their loans or pay tuition in the first place.

Amy Klobuchar's meet-n'-greet was on the back patio of a brewpub in Muscatine, Iowa, hard by a (very active) rail line and the Mississippi River. I loved the crowd: a mix of fans and those curious about Klobuchar's candidacy.

Her stump speech was impressive: informal, funny, warm, and smart. She tends to emphasize her ability to get things done-- she is the master of the possible. Her policy proposals are much less ambitious than Bernie's, but much more attainable. For example, instead of free college for all and the elimination of all student debt, Klobuchar promotes free community college and a doubling of the amount of each Pell grant. That's a smaller ask, but attainable, and potentially life-changing for the people who benefit.

Klobuchar and I are from the same field: criminal law. There, you realize what the stakes are in human lives when the government acts. You learn the value of what's possible, and that making the changes you can accomplish will probably help more people than advocating things that are unlikely to happen.

IPLawGuy taught me a lot of what I know about American politics. One thing he talks about is "change" elections. For example, in 2016, people wanted change and only one candidate, however flawed, offered that. I suspect that this is a change election, too. Superficially, that would seem to favor Bernie, but the truth is that practicality and accomplishment would be the biggest change from what we have now.

The trip made me love the way our country does some things. To be president, you have to go into a basement gym or a brewpub by the tracks and make your case to whoever shows up. How great is that?

Wednesday, July 03, 2019


Yale Law '90: Fred Phillips IV

 I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

Fred P. Phillips IV ’90 from Yale Law School on Vimeo.

Yeah, I remember Fred Phillips from law school. He breezed in from Cornell with an additional degree from Oxford, and was smart, kind, thoughtful, and capable of surprising you. His life has followed a path made possible by those qualities-- like some of the others I have profiled, he chose a zig at the start of his career, then a zag towards innovation. I suppose that is part of what we were taught at YLS: to be confident and willing to take risks.

As he describes in the video above, Fred clerked for the Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit, and then went to work for the Civil Appellate division of the Department of Justice (where some of our classmates still work). But then he zigged.

First he took a Fulbright fellowship in the Philippines. After that, instead of just flying home over the Pacific like a normal person, he headed across central Asia-- a trip that began with "buying seven camels" to travel across the high deserts, then selling them  and continuing on by bicycle through the Himalayas into Pakistan. Geez, Fred! My life story will probably never include camel-buying.

After that, he worked for a firm, where he was unhappy. So then he zagged international finance, and set up new companies that have done well.

I really admire three things about Fred's career. First, he obviously was intentional in heading in the direction he did, quite literally. He followed his own path, not the one neatly laid out. Second, he clearly is a creator in the business sector, something that is just as important as other types of creators (and some would argue more important). Finally, the guy seems happy, doesn't he? Doing well and and doing good... it's a great combination.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019


Europe and sports

I've really enjoyed watching parts of the women's World Cup over the past few weeks. In the quarterfinals, I noticed a weird anomaly: despite the tournament being full of squads from South America, Africa, Asia and North America (not to mention Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica), 7 of the 8 quarterfinalists-- all except the USA-- were European. Three of the four semifinalists (England, the Netherlands, and Sweden) are all in Northern Europe. 

At the same time, nine of the top ten seeds in both the men's and women's draw at Wimbledon are European. 

European athletes are successful in nearly all international sports out of proportion to their populations. Why is that?

I'm convinced that European female athletes have the advantage of societies that broadly support women's athletics, and nearly all of Europe is affluent enough to create great infrastructure for sports. 

What else might be the reason?

Monday, July 01, 2019


The next step begins

Sunday, June 30, 2019


Sunday Reflection: "The Way It Is"

Eight years ago, I wrote about how this song resounded with me.  I was a kid who got told a lot (always by people other than my parents, I should note) that my concerns over justice issues were naive, and that once I was grown I would understand "the way things are." This was a code, a way of inculcating what we now call white privilege. I was on a committee at church and urged over and over that the church join in racial justice initiatives. Every time I was dismissed, and often was told that when I was older and had experience with the world I would feel differently-- that I would understand "the way things are."

You know what's great about being 56? No one tells me that anymore.

I am being sincere about that. It is great to be hard to dismiss as naive or young or unexperienced. Many of the people who disagree with me don't say anything at all, which is unfortunate, but some gray hair has its advantages in that I'm not often dismissed outright. Yet, I am saying the same things.

Those memories of being told that people are protecting the status quo because that is "the way things are" came back this week. First Cov got thrown out of its denomination for not bowing to the weight of the past. Meanwhile, down at Baylor, the battle continues over whether a discussion about LGBT students can even be had in an open and honest way.

The weight of history is hard to overcome. But underneath those hills are buried the bodies, the hopes, the stories of people who were discarded and marginalized.

And those are the people Jesus sought out, who he fought for, who he said were blessed. If we are Christians, that is the team we have been assigned to, not the advantaged (even if we are advantaged ourselves). We need to fight for those Jesus begged us to protect, not the people we are most comfortable with.

Perhaps what the status quo defends is the "way it is." But that is not, if the arc of history truly bends towards justice, the way that it will be.

Saturday, June 29, 2019


Sad, sad, sad

As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports here, First Covenant Church of Minneapolis was involuntarily removed from its denomination yesterday, and minister Dan Collison was stripped of his ordination. The reason? An openness to treating LGBT members like everyone else who comes in the doors. 

I suppose I am in a stage of grieving over this right now, and more complex thoughts and reflections will come later.

Already, though, I realize that First Cov will go on, and will thrive and grow as an unaffiliated church (the congregation owns the building, so that is possible).  

Friday, June 28, 2019


Haiku Friday: The TV I never watched

I was playing a trivia game last week, and was shocked at how little I knew in the television category-- I only knew about game shows through SNL parodies, and had never seen most of the shows mentioned. I am often given a hard time, too, because I have never seen either of the two best shows on criminal law: The Wire and Breaking Bad.

So let's haiku about that this week-- the shows you know about, but never saw. Here, I will go first:

So much I missed
By skipping "The Wire," but still
People quote it to me.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, June 27, 2019


PMT: The Debates! (Part 1)

My primary takeaway from the debate was this question: Is MSNBC so hard up to sell advertising that repeated showings of the Life Alert ad above is the best they can do?

Well, maybe that was not my primary takeaway.

I was taken by how messy the whole thing was-- including the period in which the second-string moderators had their mics still on while offstage. There was a lot of cross-talk. 

Generally, I was impressed by the candidates. There are a lot of good choices. Personalities are emerging. Warren seemed well prepared, and Klobuchar clearly delivered her points. Booker decried "thoughts and prayers" about gun violence by saying "In my faith, they say faith without acts is dead." 

Too many of them just seemed to want to talk about what they were ready to talk about, not what they were asked about... but that seems to go with the territory on these things.

What did you think?

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