Sunday, May 24, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Spring

There is a lot to love about Spring. Last night, I cooked in the back yard and left the doors to the house wide open. There are no bugs yet, and the temperature was just right, so why not?

One thing I love that we start to see in May is the sight of a church with its doors wide open to the air and the sun and the people walking by.  Something about that makes my heart sing; it is such a metaphor for what a church should be to the community, but too rarely is.

There have been times that I have been in a church and they have left the doors open even during the worship service.  What I love then are the sounds of it all. There are the city noises, and (at St Stephens) the sound of the creek, and snatches of conversation as people walk by.  I close my eyes, knowing people will assume I am deep in prayer, but I am listening like a spy with his ear pressed to a radio receiver, soaking up the clues to what is happening just beyond those doors...

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Because you know I love mascots...

And this did not change my mind!

Friday, May 22, 2015


Haiku Friday: Bring it Back!

So, McDonald's has brought back the Hamburglar, my favorite character. In fact, he showed up in my Crim Law final, which I am grading right now…

Of course, they brought him back as a suburban dad who some find a little creepy. In fact, Fortune magazine described him as "half hot suburban dad, half creepy neighborhood peeping Tom." That doesn't sound good. We should just be glad that McDonald's didn't bring back his brother, the much more dangerous ham-murderer:

Anyways… let's haiku this week about stuff that companies should bring back.  TV shows, hamburger mascots, entire franchise concepts, whatever!  Here, I will go first:

Hey there, CBC…
Bring Back the Friendly Giant!
The best morning show.

Now it is your turn! I have made it easy again-- no word verification or blocking of anonymous posts.  Just use the 5/7/5 syllable recipe, and have some fun!

Thursday, May 21, 2015


In tomorrow's Minneapolis Star-Tribune...


Political Mayhem Thursday: Re-thinking Railroads

After the terrible accident on Amtrak's key Philadelphia-New York corridor recently, there have been some interesting discussions about the future of rail transit in the U.S.A.

China, as many commentators have noted, has built a remarkable network of high-speed trains, which now are used by over 2.5 million people a day. They have the largest system in the world-- in fact, more high-speed lines than every other system combined.

The train I took, from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, was a conventional train, one of 12 a day traveling that route; the high-speed line connecting those cities is now being built.  Still, it was plenty fast, very comfortable, and cheap.

I've always loved trains, and have crossed the continent on both Amtrak and VIA rail in Canada.  I think it is especially worthwhile on crowded corridors like Chicago-Milwaukee, Boston-DC, and Seattle-San Diego.  As a nation, we seem to cycle regularly between considering a broader use of high-speed rail and cutting back on the train service we already have.  Most recently, Congress was voting to cut funds to Amtrak just as the accident near Philadelphia happened.

Should rail play a bigger role in the U.S.?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


The Other Side of the Wrold

My last class of the year (pictured above) was on the other side of the world, at Guangzhou University in China.  It was an amazing day.  In China, professors usually sit behind a desk and deliver their lectures in two hour batches.  My style, of course, veers more towards wandering around while waving my arms over my head.  Right now I am sporting some pretty serious Crazy Professor Hair, too. It appears they don't get a lot of that in China.

So, all in all, it was  pretty good way to wind up what has been a great year...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Morning Wave in Busan!

While I was in China earlier this month (using the above illustration), I got an interview request from a radio station in South Korea. They were surprised to find that I was already in Asia! It turns out that South Korea is considering introducing clemency as a part of their system of criminal justice, and they wanted to talk about the way clemency works in the USA.  It was a fascinating opportunity. You can hear the interview here if you scroll down to the entry for May 7.

Monday, May 18, 2015


A Haiku of the Shores Park

Christine perfectly captured a central touchstone of my childhood last week:

While most travelled north
to cottages on ski lakes
and summer horse camp

We pulled out our bikes,
swim suits and tennis rackets
The Shores Park awaits.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Sunday Reflection: One of the Best Days of the Year


Saturday, May 16, 2015


Photo Quiz...

So, what do you think this is?

Friday, May 15, 2015


Haiku friday: Summer Travel!

We all have done it-- gone to a lake or a camp or a park in the summer, even if just for an afternoon.  Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

No Osler Island,
This. I walk in the night air;
Jungle canopy.

Now it is your turn! Just make if five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third...

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Minority Race

While working at the University of Guangzhou, I found myself a little isolated out on "University Island"-- which is literally an island containing the "Mega-University Center" where ten or so schools are located.  It is mostly tall towers and concrete school buildings.

To get a taste of the rest of the city, I found the nearest stop for the Metro (which turned out to be "Mega-University South) and took the train into town.  The Metro is pretty remarkable-- fast trains and frequent, but remarkably crowded.  I quickly learned how important it was to stand in the right place, and when to move into or out of a train. To get to the center of the city, I had to change trains twice.

Both time I took the subway, I noticed the same thing: I was the only person on the train who wasn't Chinese.  It may have been a fluke, of course; certainly there are Europeans and Africans and Australians and North and South Americans doing business there, but they just weren't taking the train, or at least they weren't taking it at the same time I was. Still, for that short moment I thought "Huh! This is what it is like to be a racial minority."

It was a short moment, though.  Just as quickly, a voice in my head, the voice of reason, said "no, it's not." And that second voice was right. The truth was that I could get out of the subway and pretty easily find a church or a pub where most people looked like me. I could jump on a plane and come home, where I can (unfortunately)  go a day without seeing a minority member.  It was in part because of the majority advantages I have had, too, that I was able to go there at all and see a place on the other side of the world. To say "this is what it is like to be a racial minority is about as true as standing in the shower and imagining that now I know what it is like to be a fish.

But still, there was a bit of truth in that moment.  The vulnerability, for one thing, and the way people looked at me as the person who did not fit in.  The sense that I had to do everything just right-- stand in the right spot, not fumble with my ticket (actually a green disk), so that people wouldn't think that people "like me" are incompetent. Perhaps even the repressed desire to hold myself away from the others on the train, so I wouldn't be stared at.

But that is just a bit. Still, a bit more than I had ever had before...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Clemency in Foreign Lands

Last week, I got to talk about a familiar topic-- clemency-- in unfamiliar places. I gave a two-hour lecture on the topic at the University of Guangzhou, and also gave a lengthy radio interview to a station in South Korea. The two were unconnected-- the radio station didn't know I was in Asia when they contacted me, so it was just a remarkable coincidence.

You can hear the radio interview here.  Apparently, South Korea is considering introducing the mechanism of clemency into their criminal law system.  How cool is that?

The lecture in China was so fascinating to give.  Before I started, the translator came to me and pointed to a word. "What does this mean?" she asked.  She was pointing to the word "clemency."  I struggled to explain it-- the word and idea are totally alien to the Chinese system.

Starting from scratch to explain it helped me see the idea anew.  It is, in a way, rooted in the American trust in the individual conscience, which is something the Chinese see as remarkable (and perhaps foolish).  Over and over, I had to go back to that basic Constitutional ideal of the individual as a locus of power and holder of rights.  It was a good thing to have to explain; in a way I was teaching myself, too.

The best days go like that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


In today's Waco Tribune-Herald...

You know what I love (among many other things)? I love getting to write regularly for the paper I read every day for ten years, the Waco Tribune-Herald. Here is my piece in that paper today: Watching Riots from Waco.



Sorry!  I have blogged every day since 2006-- almost nine years-- until last week, as some of you have noticed.

There is a good reason, though.  I was giving lectures (on the death penalty, ethics, clemency, incarceration policy and US law school training) at the University of Guangzhou, in China.  The details are all on the poster above.  I planned to blog from there, but the Chinese government restricts the internet there, and among the things you can't access is the Razor.  Who knew? I suspect that it is because the Razor is on a Google platform, and Google is pretty much blocked over there.

Now that I am back in Razorland, safe and sound, I will have some posts to follow about the fascinating things I saw in China. 

Monday, May 04, 2015


IPLawGuy and Cheez

You may not love Cheez Doodles, but you should love this (IPLG's haiku):

Cheetos, Cheez Doodles!
Puffy, orange, delicious!
All over my clothes.

Sunday, May 03, 2015


Sunday Reflection: A verse in my head

A week ago today, the strangest thing happened: I woke up with the citation to a Bible verse stuck in my head. Not the text of that verse-- I couldn't remember it-- but the citation to the verse: Isaiah 11.

You probably know your Bible better than I do, and recognized that important prophesy of the Messiah:

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
3and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearlinga together;
and a little child will lead them.
7The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

I wonder what dream prompted that! 

Saturday, May 02, 2015


More problems with IPLawClient

So, IPLawGuy sent me a link to this story:

FORT EDWARD  The trial of a Glens Falls man who is charged with knocking out his lawyer in a Washington County Jail meeting room was delayed Thursday when he attacked his new lawyer in court in front of nearly a dozen witnesses.

Aaron W. Jabot, 34, was taken back to jail after the incident that left lawyer Fred Rench with a bloody hand injury. Judge John Hall and lawyers debated how to handle the outburst, then the trial continued with Jabot not in the courtroom.

Jabot is on trial on a felony assault charge that stems from an April 29, 2014 attack on lawyer Garfield Raymond in jail. He was in jail at the time for violating parole in a 2007 attempted robbery case. The parole violation had been filed after he allegedly stabbed two people in a Glens Falls bar days after his release from prison.

Friday, May 01, 2015


Haiku Friday: The Food You Wish You Didn't Love So Much

We all have that food-- the one we know is bad for us, but we love anyways.  Let's blog about that this week!  Here, I will go first:

Donut siren song
Calls out to me as I drive
I resist (sometimes).

Now it is your turn!  Just make it five syllable. seven syllables, five syllables and have some fun!

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Police Violence and Modern Shock

The job of law enforcement is often just stopping people from doing dangerous things. Sometimes it takes violence to do this, by tackling a man who has stolen property or shooting someone who is about to commit a murder.  Even the execution of warrants is inherently violent: It starts (usually) with knocking down a door and continues as armed officers flood the building and put people forcibly down on the floor until the place is secure.

We expect the police to do each of these things, even though they are all violent.  No on I have heard from advocates barring the police from these activities.

The problem with police violence isn't that it exists at all, but that it exists when it is not accomplishing a goal worthy of the risks that come with violence. For example, shooting a man who is running away is (unless he is threatening others) not worthy of that violence-- the good (stopping his escape) is outweighed by the bad (a summary execution).

The problem is this: within any population of police officers, there are some people who are violent when it isn't necessary to accomplish a worthwhile goal.  Sometimes, too, inherent racial bias is part of the reason this unnecessary violence occurs.

So how do we limit unnecessary police violence?  Here are some concrete ideas:

1)  Better psychological profiling of police applicants.  Because this will limit the pool of potential workers, we will have to (and should) pay them better, as well.

2)  Better accountability systems. This can include body cameras, but it also needs to include better independent oversight.

3)  Identify cultures of abuse.  The Ferguson police department was a mess, and a dangerous one.  It had a culture that drove egregious racial disparities in stops and arrests, for example. Such departments need to be identified and cleaned out by state or national authorities.

4)  Reduce the number of crimes.  Much of the violence in law enforcement relates to narcotics cases, and there are too many of these.  As I have written elsewhere, we need to seek out market solutions that target cash flow rather than labor within narcotics businesses.

5)  Higher expectations.  This seems to be occurring now; the American people are no longer ignoring the stories of violence and death that have long floated just out of the feeble reach of the media and the public imagination.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Dear Anonymous: I have bad news

It's not easy being mayor of Razorland.  (And yes, the "M" on my sash is for "Mark." and is not a trademark violation).  Most recently, I have been inundated with spam using a new technique-- a flood of anonymous comments. I moderate the comments to old posts, so I am getting 50 emails a day about new anonymous comments, even after putting on some "not a bot" controls. 

Generally, I am not a huge fan of anonymous comments. It is too often a refuge of cowards.  Lately, though, I have had some excellent anonymous comments. Nonetheless, at least until the spam flood ceases, I am going to not allow anonymous comments.  You still have other options, so please comment away!

Sorry about that.

And watch out for the Hamburglar.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Performance Riots

While watching some videos of the riots in Baltimore-- a terrible thing for that city-- I noticed something fascinating: There were far more people filming what was happening most of the time than there were people doing bad things.  For example, in the video above at about we see a few guys jumping on cars-- and more than a dozen filming it on their phones at different times.

People taking videos with their phones has (and this is a very good thing) led to the documentation of police violence that up to now has hidden in the shadows.  But what does it mean in this context that we have become a nation of documentarians? Does it propel people to action or deter them to know that they are being filmed at every turn?

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