Monday, July 28, 2014


In the stars

I don't know where anonymous has been:

Far from the city lights
Stars hang like sparkly jewels
Silent serenity.

"Wheee.....Let's go fast!"
Disrupting the stately elders
As it shoots past.

… but it sounds like the same place that Sleepy Walleye hangs out:

At the water's edge
We ponder the infinite
And swat mosquitos.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Sunday Reflection: On the death of Dan Markel

Last weekend, Florida State criminal law professor Dan Markel answered the door of his home in Tallahassee and was shot to death.  He was 41 years old and the father of two young boys, well-liked at his school and his synagogue.

I had met Dan, but didn't know him, really.  I certainly knew his work, which was compelling and well-considered.  He mostly wrote about retribution theory, and much of what I know about that topic is from his articles.

Though I didn't know Dan the way others did (even at St. Thomas, where he had many friends on the faculty), his death has been at the top of my mind all week.   Yes, yes, I know-- people get shot every day, and a disproportionate amount of media time is spent when a relatively affluent white guy is the victim.  Still, there is something about this case, this life and death, that is especially grueling to me.

Whoever shot Dan Markel (or hired someone to do so) must have been full of terrible emotions-- hate, vengeance, anger.  More than anything, tragedies like this pull me towards those who are gentle of spirit.  That is, at its best, what faith and communities of faith provide.  Faith cannot provide an answer for the question "why?" when something so brutal has happened.  It can, though, offer the too-often-unrealized hope of a time and place where this kind of hate, vengeance, and anger are absent.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


In the news

Doesn't it seem a little like things are going wrong all over?  The longest-term issue may be the multi-faceted one that is developing in the Middle East, with Israel and the West Bank at war again, ISIS on the move in Syria and Iraq, and instability abounding elsewhere.  Then we have the situation in Ukraine, which could take a turn for the worse, and there are planes crashing all over-- three in the last week or so.

I'm not sure why, but it seems like many years there is a news cycle like this in late July/early August.  The calmest month?  Maybe October… and I'm not sure why.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Haiku Friday: Summer skies

I've lived in very different places-- Michigan, Texas, and Minnesota, mostly-- and the summer skies are so different in each.  In Michigan, it can be heavy, laden with moisture.  In Texas, there was that big sky-- encompassing, magical, and unmistakeable.  Here in Minnesota, summer skies can be gentle in the day (the sun is not too harsh), but at night it is very different as the stars take over the sky, or even the northern lights.

That's kind of a vague haiku topic, huh?  But it can work… let's just say you can haiku about whatever it is you do under that sky.  Here is mine:

Backs on the green grass
The berm along Lake St. Clair;
Slow clouds and freighters.

Now it is your turn… use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun with it!

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Puppets and prison

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Summer food

Things I will only eat in the summer:

-- anything on a skewer
-- watermelon
-- sorbet
-- cherries
-- wild salmon
-- fruit-flavored ice cream of any kind
-- sponge cake
-- blueberry pie

Does that make me weird?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Thank you, Weird Al

BUT, there is still a lot I don't understand.  Including all of the following:

-- Dangling participles
-- Who and Whom
-- Prepositions (really, I have no idea what they are)
-- Oxford commas
-- Syntax (I don't even know what that is)

Finally, I'm most disturbed by the brief appearance of Clippy in this video...

Monday, July 21, 2014



You know what I liked?  This haiku by the Medievalist, on the topic of "old friends."  It just seemed very real... a recollection of a perfect, small moment:

Jumping off a wall,
Another cup of coffee,
Shadows of things past.

Jessica's was heartbreaking or sweet, or both:

His leaving almost
Killed me. Not from loneliness
But loving him more.

But Susan's was just heartbreaking:

First friend and first love,
We did did so much together.
Then you went and died.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Sunday Reflection: One Moment Right

Every once in a while you get a tiny bit of something just right.

This week, I felt that.  I spent most of my week in DC, training over 600 lawyers to handle clemency petitions for the Clemency Project 2014.   It was grueling and emotional-- we were trying to teach a very diverse group of people, ranging from experienced federal defenders to beginning associates at big law firms.  My colleagues in the project were wonderful, but the challenge was great.  If we do it right, hundreds or thousands of people will go free from prison having served a decade or more for non-violent offenses, and hundreds of millions of dollars will be saved.  It is something I have advocated for since 2009.  This is our chance, and the window may not be open for long.

Not all of what I did was great, or even good.  I should have put less text on my slides, I should have practiced more, I told a dumb joke about pumpkins.  I can be pretty awkward when I teach.

At the end of the two days, though,  I was answering questions from people in our audience that had been printed out.  The one I was answering asked about complex cases, and I addressed the discrete question.  But then I felt something bigger had to be said.  There was a camera recording it all and sending the images to screens, and I looked up to it, stopped for a moment, and then said something my students have heard me say before:  That tragedy is always complex, and that criminal law is all tragedy, every bit of it, and that is why it matters so much, why this matters so much; there is no simple tragedy.  And then I stopped, because the same instinct that told me to speak then told me to stop.

There is a lot more to do.  This is not a summer of rest.  But that one tiny bit?  I got that right.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Right now...

I am doing what I most wish I could.  And I realize how rare and precious that is.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Haiku Friday: Old friends

Guess who is visiting Minneapolis this weekend?  That's right-- it is America's favorite competitive eater/federal prosecutor, Gordon Davenport!

As a result, I'm making a LOT of hamburgers.  A lot.  After all, I have seen Gordon do some serious eating.

It will be great to see him again, of course.  That's the way it is with old friends.  Let's haiku about that this week…

Here, I will go first:

He is in my tests
As "Glorbon Dandyport," Esq.
Hunting down crime guys!

Now it is your turn-- just think about an old friend, of whatever type, and convert those thoughts into 5 syllables for a first line, 7 for the second, and five for the third...

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Polititical Mayhem Thursday: On The Border

The news lately has been largely focus on the arrival of thousands of undocumented children who have crossed the Southern border.  As followers of the blog know, I am not adverse to a consistent and relatively strict border policy; I think that open immigration keeps wage down.

However, this is a different scenario.  Children from Central America are the ones crossing the border, rather than adults.  It appears that they have been sent by their families to the United States, in some (but certainly not all) instances to avoid the violence of their home countries. 

What do you think the United States' response should be?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


My Superhero

I have officially picked a favorite super-hero:  Patient Bear.

The character, pictured above, appeared on a placemat post on the wall at Michaelangelo's Pizza in Minneapolis a few years ago.  The artist, probably, was a bored child.  The medium was definitely crayon.

But since I first saw it, the character of Patient Bear, sitting at his picnic table waiting for his pizza, has inspired me.  Patience is a virtue that can save people from all kinds of bad things, and it is something that I am challenged by-- I want things to happen now!   But, as history has proven over and over, patience is powerful.

We don't know much about patient bear, other than the obvious.  He likes pizza, apparently, which is unusual for a bear.  Plus, he has a picnic table-- also unusual.  Mostly, though, he is willing to wait in the sun, his paws carefully folded, until his pizza is done, rather than mauling the slowpokes in the kitchen or making a fuss.

Now, more often than you might think, I mutter to myself "Patient Bear waits patiently for his pizza," and it helps.  In my book, that's a pretty good super-hero.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


What? It's over?

I watched the World Cup final on Sunday (I didn't think it was exciting as some others did, apparently), and now I'm left wondering how it went by so fast.

I'm not the world's biggest sports fan (and my timing is bad-- I had Baylor season tickets from 2001-2010), but sometimes for special events I get totally hooked.  This is especially true for the World Cup and the Olympics.  I say I won't do it, but then I suddenly care a lot about an octafinal  game between Chile and Cote d'Ivoire. 

And then it ends, and I feel a loss... like there is something missing from my week.  I know RRL or someone will tell me to watch English league games, but Everton United v. the Chipbury Rangers just isn't the same.  Plus, it seems to go on all year, judging by the fanatics I see over at Britt's.

Does anyone have a good idea on how I can fill the void?

Monday, July 14, 2014


In the water

I always like haiku that messes with the form a little, or adds a gentle twist to the topic.  Renee is a master of this-- how many times have I learned something new from her take?

Last week, the topic was "by the water," but Christine gave it that subtle twist by making it "in the water."  That wasn't just clever, it was genuine-- she's a swimmer:

eyes closed, listening
rhythm-mic like a beating heart
water laps the shore

my breathing, slow, calm
syncing, recharging with that
of Mother Nature

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Skateboarding on the Parthenon

Over the years, I have had the chance to be overwhelmed by the Grand Canyon, walk amidst the ruins of ancient civilizations, travel dusty roads in Africa, and work in the centers of our government.  I'm glad for all of these experiences.

But… I will say that once examined closely, none of them are so grand.  There is trash on the floor of the Grand Canyon, Rome was dirty and dangerous, and the offices in the West Wing are tiny.  Each was grand, but also sad in their own way.  Close examination revealed the dings and the dents, rather than a greater grandeur.

One of the remarkable things about the Gospels is that they cut the other way.  Each time I visit the life of Christ I find something surprising, confounding, and new.  His life and teaching were challenging and unsettling at every turn.  Unlike these places, that place of faith becomes grander upon closer examination.  

The world we have created can never be greater than ourselves; the world God urges us to always is.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Wal-Mart rejected...

I was fascinated by this story in the Waco Tribune-Herald, describing how the little town of West, which is 15 minutes north of Waco, successfully fought off Wal-Mart, who wanted to locate a store there.  From the story:

The West City Council heard mostly negative comment in a public meeting Monday on annexing the 10-acre tract at Playdium Drive and Oak Street, though the council itself did not discuss or vote on the issue.

Among the concerns were that a Walmart, even a small one, could undermine local businesses such as pharmacies, auto parts stores and grocery stores.

Kirk Wines, owner of the Old Corner Drug Store at Oak and Main Streets, was among the opponents.

“I told the council, ‘I realize it’s not your job to protect my business, but I don’t feel it’s good for the city,’ ” he said. “You’re going to lose your downtown businesses. Is that good for the city?”

When did West become part of Vermont?  I totally understand the position, and agree with the objectors in that the Wal-Mart probably would have killed off downtown, but it's the last place I expected that outcome...

Friday, July 11, 2014


Haiku Friday: By the water

It's summer in the Midwest, and it seems like everyone but me is off at a lake these days (I am holed up working on the clemency project).  Later this month, though, I will get my chance.  The picture above is of my dad and sister, doing what they do up at the Island.

What is it we do near water?  Read, cook, rest, talk, fish… it is a different kind of life.  Let's haiku about that this week.  I will go first:

A good rubber raft
Sofa and clubhouse, afloat
A lush afternoon.

Now it is your turn-- make if 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and have some fun!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Hobby Lobby, etc.

A lot of people have asked me for a response to the Hobby Lobby decision last week, in which the Supreme Court interpreted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect the owners of closely-held companies in their efforts to keep some types of contraception out of company health plans.

A big part of my response is that I find it hard to care very much about this issue.  I think affordable contraceptives should be widely available, so it's unfortunate this makes that less true for a relatively small number of people-- but they weren't getting subsidized contraceptives before.  The "religious freedom" issue seems pretty insignificant, too-- given that the company's investments included the manufacturers of the same devices they sought to exclude; obviously, they weren't super-vigilant on this issue.

I thought D.J. Tice made some great points about all this in his opinion piece in last Sunday's Star Tribune:

In the closely watched Hobby Lobby ruling that closed the court’s term last week, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives held that Obamacare’s so-called “contraceptive mandate” cannot be enforced against closely held corporations whose owners have a sincere religious objection to paying for insurance that covers certain kinds of birth control….

Less than two months earlier, in Town of Greece vs. Galloway, the same five conservatives ruled in favor of a town board that begins its public meetings with a prayer, almost always a sectarian Christian prayer, despite the objections of some citizens….

In each case, the conservatives could be seen as ruling in favor of religion, and specifically in favor of conservative Christian sensibilities. Meanwhile, in both cases, the liberals could be seen as subordinating those religious interests to other concerns….

What leaves one wondering about the deepest source of these tangled conclusions is that it’s hard to see consistency, from either faction, when one thinks about these cases in terms more directly involving legal and constitutional principles.

All religious-freedom disputes are about drawing the line between the rights of individuals and the rights of the community, as exercised by its government. The Constitution guarantees individual Americans’ right to “free exercise” of their religion while also protecting them against having religion imposed through an “establishment of religion.” How broadly or narrowly one defines those protections has long left plenty of room for debate.

But between these two cases each court camp jumped from one side of the dividing line to the other. The conservatives protected individual freedom of conscience in Hobby Lobby, but sided with community values over individual sensitivities in Town of Greece. The liberals jumped exactly the other way, defending government-required birth control coverage (never mind religious objections) but decrying a government-led prayer that could bruise feelings.

One could easily imagine a neutral view of religious rights concluding that a brief prayer before a public meeting is no “establishment of religion” — and that a birth control insurance mandate is no infringement of “free exercise.” A more expansive (but equally consistent) view of religious freedom might readily see both the mandate and the prayer as violating private rights. But how easy is it to be confident that anything besides a basic favoritism toward religion’s claims — or a basic coolness toward them — fully explains the justices’ equal and opposite gymnastics in these rulings?

Tice is right-- there should be a consistency here on government imposing a process that affects religious belief, that cuts both ways.  If government can insist on a sectarian prayer, it should also be able to impose a health care system that burdens some religious groups.  Commentators are right when they say that the Constitution itself does not impose a "wall" between church and state, but in practice a wall helps avoid this kind of inconsistency.

From my own point of view, I'm discouraged by another aspect of all this.  Doesn't it seem like Christian groups  are mostly fighting for their rights these days?

There are two problems with that.

First, "rights" are not a Christian concept.  Duty is, obedience, humility, grace… but not "rights."  Over and over, the stories of the Bible reflect a natural order that is not based on individual rights, but on humility before God.  It is a fundamentally different value system that the rights provided in the Constitution.  The First Commandment demands humility and loyalty to God (an obligation); the free exercise of religion demanded by the First Amendment-- a right-- does the opposite.

Second, it is unChristian to have the person you are most concerned about-- in this case, whose "rights" need to be protected-- be yourself.  Christianity is truest when it is giving and other-directed; that is the model Jesus provided.  It simply can't be said that Jesus cared about his own welfare, and repeatedly he taught that what we need to care about is the welfare of others, not ourselves.

In other words, in real Christian victories it is not the Christians who gain benefits, and those benefits are not "rights" but food for the poor, clothes for the naked, medicine for the sick, and concern for those in prison.   

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


The Spanish Medievalist's New Job!

I was nosing around for highlights of yesterday's World Cup blowout between Germany and Brazil-- a 7-1 disaster for the home squad-- when I came across this:

"Hey!" I thought as I watched, "That's the Spanish Medievalist!"  And so it is:

I've always been fond of the Medievalist and his catchphrase, "Nice job."  I think it should work quite well with his new career as a soccer announcer….

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