Friday, April 18, 2014


Haiku Friday: Friends

It's Friday again!  And that means that it is time for some high-quality haiku.

I took this picture in New York earlier this week-- there was something really sweet about this clump of girls shopping together.  They might have been tourists or NYU students; I did not stop to ask (which would have been creepy anyways).

Let's haiku about friends today, friends of any sort.  Some of our friends are old, some are new, some are like us and others unlike.

Here is mine:

So, IPLawGuy;
I know all of his foibles
And make some up, too.

Now, you take a shot at it.  We are taking a broad view of friendship here, so you can think creatively.  Use 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third, and have some fun with it!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: What state would you not want to live in?

This is a remarkably diverse country.  I have spent my adult life in three very different states:  Michigan, Texas, and Minnesota.  I know that some people think Minnesota and Michigan are similar because they both start with "M" and are in the midwest, but the thousands of people who moved from Michigan to Minnesota would disagree.

Is there a state you would not want to live in?  Why not?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Yesterday in New York...

What a day it was yesterday!  NYU Law School put on a wonderful conference on Mercy in the Criminal Justice System.  Rachel Barkow and Nancy Hoppock of NYU put together a stellar lineup of speakers, which included many people that a clemency geek gets excited about.  White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler (who plays a key role in clemency decisions) was the keynote speaker.

In her talk, Ruemmler set out a few more details about the new clemency initiative which is about to be rolled out by the White House.  It appears that the Pardon Attorney's office will be beefed up to handle the expected flood of petitions, and the word will be spread to inmates via the Bureau of Prisons "soon."

In what was either timed to Ruemmler's speech or a remarkable coincidence, President Obama granted a clemency petition minutes before Ruemmler made her speech.

People (including me) have worried about some aspects of this project, but at the very least we do know that the President is at least paying attention to clemency right now-- and it is well before the last year of his presidency.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The Jesus Mysteries!

Some of you may remember that last year I was interviewed about the history of crack for the National Geographic special "The 80's."  Well, it's happening again... I don't remember what all I said, but I was interviewed this past summer for the National Geographic special "The Jesus Mysteries," which will air on Easter and the following Monday.

It was a fascinating experience-- I went to London for the interview, and found the production very intriguing.  I have no idea what they are doing with that footage, so I guess we will all find out together!

At the very least, I'm confident that I am the only academic in America who apparently specializes in crack and Jesus, at least to the viewers of the National Geographic channel.  

Monday, April 14, 2014


Yes, Spring!

There were some phenomenal haiku last week!  The topic was Spring, and some people really nailed it.  For example, this came from Bob, who is about 22% 16-year-old anyways:

First honeysuckle
Of the spring! Suddenly, I'm
Sixteen once again.

And this from Renee:

Scatsings bird from whence?
His jazz chases the wind, turns,
Somersaults in red.

From Lily of the Valley (who should love Spring):

In spring everything
Weighs nought. It is all grass blade,
Windborne petal. Raindrop.

From Christine, who enjoys Spring earlier than I do:

Chartreuse, inviting
Traipse barefoot across soft grass
Cool beneath my feet.

And from the Medievalist, who knows about Minnesota:

Ice is off the lake,
The heavy scent of blooming
lilacs fills the air.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


The Pain of Lent

Today is Palm Sunday.  Today I will prosecute Jesus in Texas.  It will be an interesting cast.  In addition to the regular players, James Nortey will be our judge, and Kent McKeever will play Jesus.  

Over at his own blog, Kent recently wrote about the "heaviness" of his project, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit for the duration of Lent:

 Lately, I have been feeling the heaviness of the burdens I am writing about.  These issues are not easy to hear and discuss and feel.  And it gets kind of overwhelming after a while.  Trying to figure out ways to respond, how to change our ways, efforts in advocacy that will truly make a difference.  Really, more than anything, just deep down I feel the wearisome sting of the lack of mercy and compassion in our world.  But sometimes I feel unmerciful myself. 

His feelings echo some of what I feel when I serve as the prosecutor of Jesus.  It sets the prosecutor in me against the Christian in me, and the dissonance is tiring.  Much of what I say, I truly believe-- that Jesus is dangerous to authority, that he wants to turn the world upside down-- and it is hard to present in such a challenging way.  In fact, at some level I am preaching the gospel more truthfully when I prosecute Jesus than when I give a sermon, because I have license to speak all those truths that make us deeply uncomfortable. 

But, it does feel unmerciful, too.  And that is the part that is hardest.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The Fascinating Frozen Four

Tonight in Philadelphia we will witness the final of the Frozen Four-- college hockey's championship tournament.  It probably is not something any of you (well, maybe Craig A.) follow, but there is a wonderful story behind tonight's game.

Playing for the championship tonight will be stalwart Division I powerhouse University of Minnesota and Union College, a division three school from upstate New York that offers no athletic scholarships.  They beat an excellent Boston College team to make it to the final.

Here are some comparisons:

Student Body:

Minnesota:  51,526
Union:  2,246

Athletic budget:

Minnesota:  about $85,000,000
Union:  about $13,000,000

School motto:

Minnesota:  "Commune vinculum omnibus artibus" ("A common bond for all the arts")
Union:  "We All Become Brothers Under the Laws of Minerva."

Friday, April 11, 2014


Haiku Friday: Rites of Spring

It's Spring in Minnesota!  Which means some of the snow has melted.  (This picture really is from the past week).  

Let's haiku about Spring-- baseball season starting, the end of the school year, breaking out new clothes-- consider it broadly!

Here is mine:

There is this one scent:
In wisps of smoke, drifting by
Barbecuing meat!

Now it is your turn!  Use 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third...

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Problem with...

... oh, screw it.  I have no interest in politics today.  I'm still all about these totally cool "Happy" videos from all over the world.  Like this one from Dakar, Senegal:

Or this one from a ski resort in Slovakia:

Or Abu Dhabi:

And Beijing:

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


This summer's song

Every summer, it seems like there is one pop song that captures the mood of the time.  It's the song that the lifeguards listen to, the one that gets everyone on their feet at a beach party, the one that inspires a special, intricate dance among 16-year-olds.

Even though it isn't brand new (it was written for the movie Despicable Me 2, which came out a while ago), Pharrell William's "Happy" seems like a pretty good bet.  The official video, above, is nice, but I really like this version from elementary school students at Detroit's Academy of Arts and Sciences:

Though, it's hard not to love the one from Paris, too:

And Jamaica:

There are even happy Romanians!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Smart Journalism, Real Data, and the Sluggish Academy

Journalism is changing.  Print media is becoming secondary to online media, and that weight shift has thrown much of the journalism world into disarray.  U.S. News no longer exists as a magazine, and Time and Newsweek are mere pamphlets.  Many large-city newspapers no longer print a paper every day.  Bloggers and blogger-agglomerations like the Huffington Post have become increasingly important "news" sources.

A lot of this is bad news.  Trained, relatively objective journalists are being usurped by corporate-paid hacks and people with a big bag of opinion and a pocketful of facts.  Investigative journalism, which broke the Watergate story and so many others, is nearly extinct.

Still, there are some good things happening.  Real journalists are starting to craft stories for the online world rather than print, and the results can be very impressive.  One benefit of this development is that those projects can be rich with data in a way that was never possible in print.  I'm not necessarily talking about "big data," which can have some issues-- just enough data to ground things in reality rather than anecdote, thus pulling news away from the Nancy Grace model of sensationalizing a few oddball cases.   I'd like to point to three example in my own little field of law.

First, consider Dafna Linzer (pictured) and Cora Currier's wonderful series about clemency for ProPublica.  (You can see it here).   The written stories reflected a wealth of data about clemency, but the authors also made available the numbers themselves via an ebook.  For those of us who care about such things, it was a feast.

Second, take a look at Ron Fournier's National Journal piece on the same subject.  Besides Ron's sharp analysis, the online article offers two take-aways that would be hard to put in a print edition-- a complex graph and a link to an actual commutation petition.

Finally, I was very impressed by what Alia Malek and the others at Al Jazeera America did with clemency: a multi-media masterpiece, loaded with more goodies than the Sunday Brunch at the Yale Club.

I love the fact that this approach-- which reflects the full complexity of real news-- cuts against the dumbing-down of media.  It assumes that some in the audience want more than a nibble, and are smart enough to understand the depth of meaning embedded in these things of great importance.  They are created by smart people like Linzer, Fournier, and Malek,  and allow for a level of discourse that print never did, and never could.

And there is this… this new "smart journalism" moves popular media toward the academy.  These journalist are engaging stories and the data behind those stories in a way that we professors can appreciate.  The combination of raw data and analysis is right in our wheelhouse.  The sad thing is that while journalism moves towards the academy, I don't see us responding yet.  We haven't stepped towards the media to begin the dance towards greater truths, broadly shared.  We need to do that, by inviting these journalists to our conferences, by collaborating with them, and by occasionally stepping into their world to write for broader audiences.

The media is changing.  So should we.

Monday, April 07, 2014


From Waco and elsewhere...

Yesterday, the Waco Tribune-Herald featured a piece I wrote about the odd disjunction between the way Christians often treat gay men and lesbians and the way they treat re-married people-- you can read it here.  A version of the same piece ran last week in the Huffington Post.


The many ways we hurt...

There was a fascinating array of pain laid out for haiku Friday last week, but the one with the most complete story was Christine:

One drunken evening
As I climbed through a window
I fell backwards, ouch....

More recently, boom...
again, through another window,
ankle bruise, not sprained

Perhaps I should stop
trying to climb through windows
and try the door - hum.....

Sunday, April 06, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Sacred Space

I believe the admonition that Jesus gave us, that we are to gather in his name.  I think corporate worship is important.  We need one another.

There is no command, though, that the gathering be in a church.

I've come to believe that places become sacred because of what happens there, not by its designation.  I have been in churches that seem devoid of the Spirit, and in cars which were full of it.

Maybe the conceit is that we can make a place sacred, for example by building a church.  In truth, though, it is the Holy Spirit that does so, and a thing so great cannot be captured by walls.

Saturday, April 05, 2014


Admitted Student Day!

Yesterday was "Admitted Student Day" at St. Thomas Law, where we welcome those who have been admitted with a nice lunch and events at the school.  People came from all parts of the country for it.

So, naturally, it snowed six inches.  Yeah, on April 4.  Sheesh.

Still, the visitors seems to like what they saw, and they should.  I continue to be amazed at what happens at this school-- the talents of my colleagues, the sense of community, and the continuing value given to social justice.  All of that has piled up quite high; enough to obscure a bit of snow.

Friday, April 04, 2014


Haiku Friday: Ouch!

Last week I had an unfortunate event… I stopped for coffee while driving, and went to a place where it was dispensed out of a machine into a cup that you placed under a spigot.  I did that, but it only filled the cup about 2/3 of the way.  So I pressed the button again and then it overfilled the cup-- stuff was spilling all over!  I reached my hand in to grab the cup out of there and poured boiling-hot coffee on my hand.  Then I jerked my hand away and threw coffee all over myself.  I ended up with some bad burns.

It was quite a performance.  Maybe not quite as bad as that one day in Grand Marais or during the "Dallas Incident," but still pretty bad.

So let's haiku today about injuries-- to you, someone else, Joe Theisman, whoever.  I'll go first:

Ham-handed Osler
Tossing coffee straight upward;
It had to come down.

Now you go!  Just make it 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second, and 5 for the third… and don't hurt yourself!

Thursday, April 03, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Hobby Lobby and Birth Control

I often check out the letters to the editor in the Waco Tribune-Herald, which run the gamut from odd rants to well-informed takes on current issues.  One of the better letters I have seen there is this one, from yesterday's paper:

A simple question can determine if the Green family can deny birth control insurance coverage under the guise of religious freedom.

If Hobby Lobby is sued, are the legal expenses and judgment paid from the family’s personal funds or corporate funds? Corporations are established as legal entities specifically to separate investors/owners’ personal affairs from business actions. Just as one cannot transfer legal responsibilities from the corporation to the family, one should not be able to transfer personal choices to the corporation.

Evelyn Cowart, Waco

Is she right?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


Why I'm not a Republican

As I have mentioned before, there are political positions I hold, even ideological orientations, that align more closely with Republicans than Democrats-- for example, my experience working for an expansive federal government convinced me that Ronald Reagan was generally right about the dangers of self-perpertuating bureaucracies.

However, my problem with the Republican party has two primary parts.  First, when they are in power, they don't act on their beliefs-- the do not shrink the federal government.  To the contrary, they tend to expand it, as we have seen even under Ronald Reagan.  Second, they too often put their party ahead of their country-- they seek political gain at all costs, even at the expense of the public good and deeply-held American principles.

For example, Republicans have begun a new wave of actions to restrict voting.  This goes beyond even their previous gambit of requiring ID to combat fictional fraud-- a solution without a problem.  Now-- and this is just wrong-- they want to restrict the days and times for voting.

Really?  How can you defend a project to discourage people from voting?  Encouraging people to participate in the mechanisms of public life is a long-held American principle.  To cut against that for raw political gain is repulsive.  And I am repulsed.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014



Ok, do you see the tiny green speck in the left-center of the picture?  That's IPLawGuy conquering the mountain at Big Sky in Montana.  I wish I had gotten a photo just a few moments earlier, when he was hurtling over the precipice at the top left….

Monday, March 31, 2014


Mmmm, mmmm, haiku!

There were lots of great haiku last week on the subject of comics.  But Christine's actually taught me something new!

Turned to read them first
every morning a journey
damn the New York Times

There are no funnies
to be found, except Sunday
in Week in Review

Tried reading on-line
For Better or for Worse - sigh
Its just not the same

The Times Week in Review has comics?  Oh... I think she means political cartoons.  The NSFW haiku by Archie about Betty/Veronica was very nice, as well.

The one to spoke to me most directly, though, was the Medievalist's:

Going to Bloom County,
Was very therapeutic,
With penguin and all.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Sunday Reflection: More than you can bear...

I've often heard people say that "God won't lay on you more than you can bear."  I have a few issues with that.

The first is the assumption that God is ladling out tragedies to various people, measuring carefully to make sure everyone gets enough.  This doesn't comport at all with what I see around me.  Some people (myself included) largely avoid tragedy for much of their lives, while others suffer blow after blow.  To ascribe this to God with such certainty seems unnecessary.  God is much more than any of us, and we don't understand what he is doing much of the time-- that is in the nature of the God/man relationship.   It might be that God micromanages each event on earth, I suppose, but it also might be that he has allowed us to suffer unequally without his direction at each moment.  We don't know which it is, or if it is at some point in between.  The Bible is clear that God knows all that happens, but that does not mean that he directs each thing that happens.

My second problem is that it seems that sometimes a persons burdens are too much to bear.  They may claim that they are a "survivor," but often that means that they are not dead.  The emotional damage of tragedy has marked them, transformed them, into something much different than what might have been if their lives had proceeded without tumult and despair.

The older I get, the more comfortable I become with the answer of "I don't know," and that includes my answer to the question of "why does God allow tragedy?"

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