Monday, January 27, 2020


The Bards of Laundry

Maybe everyone doesn't find laundry as exciting as I do. It's possible, I guess.

Anyways, there were some excellent haiku. Like this from the Waco Friend, who claims long expertise in the doing of laundry:

Laundry of kids'clothes
is chemistry and needs a
chemist or stains thrive.

And (also from Waco), the Medievalist (who apparently folds his t-shirts):

Dirty clothes basket,
The mountain grows, it overflows,
Folding clean t-shirts.

James K. Plok (?!?) offered a good one:

Oh no- big problem.
Who put the crayons in here?
Burnt Umber nightmare.

IPLawGuy gave us this verse:

It is quite easy-
My valet does all my wash.
Isn't that the best way?

And, as we are often gifted with, Jill Scoggins sent this along:

In heaven, I say,
we will still have laundry. It's
TRULY eternal.

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Machines and souls

As church membership and religious belief decline, technology is being blamed. Do machines disconnect us from our souls?

If there is a connection, it can be following one or more pathways. Perhaps the internet provides communities (via Facebook or Twitter) that substitute for the ones people found at church. It could be, too, that access to more information punctures people's religious beliefs; for example, if one was raised to believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, the challenge to that belief that will result from almost any Google search may undo a person's larger connection to faith.  Or it could be that connectivity online rewires our brains in a sense, so that we expect data and opinions rather than mystery, tradition, and faith. 

I'm not convinced that technology is the enemy of faith, or necessarily its friend. The larger issue is probably that the dominant faith in the United States, Christianity, has failed to stay relevant to the issues and problems that people face. Not that those issues and problems--relationships, poverty, sickness, death, loss, love-- are different than they ever were. It's more that Christians stopped talking about them as they were pulled into rabbit-holes of arcane theology, politics, and social issues not rooted in the Gospels. 

We aren't become robots. But what is it we are becoming?

Saturday, January 25, 2020


Oh, Ricky...

The Oscars are going to go without a host again this year. Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes, and his performance might offer some insight into the wisdom of that choice:

Friday, January 24, 2020


Haiku Friday: Laundry!

I love laundry.  It smells good when it is clean, it is nice and warm out of the dryer, and there is something so quantifiable about having it done!

Let's haiku about laundry this week-- do with this as you will.

Here, I will go first:

We all must face it:
The big pile of dirty clothes.
Ah! What sweet labor.

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

Thursday, January 23, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: All kinds of mayhem and sadness

Yesterday was a messy blur-- I had my first crim law class of the spring (good) and too much other stuff going on to properly keep track of (bad), so I am just catching up on it all now. From what I gather, Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty somehow killed Mr. Peanut, which is a real gift to America's peanut-allergy community. Thank you Gritty!

And then there is the impeachment.

I'm a criminal trial lawyer. The idea of a contested trial without witnesses is ridiculous. The Constitution in unambiguous in setting out that the House presents a charge (which they have) and the Senate conducts a trial . People at the time of the founding of the Republic-- particularly lawyers like James Madison-- knew what a trial was. The leverage of political power to protect the president in an impeachment from merely the presentation of witnesses is a travesty. That's not a trial. That's just not what the Constitution requires.

There are Republican Senators who are trial lawyers like me. They know this is ridiculous. And they say nothing.

It's wrong, and infuriating.  Vote to acquit, if you think there is nothing there, but to bar the presentation of evidence marks you as unprincipled political lapdogs.

And now we don't even have Mr. Peanut to console us.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


YLS Class of '90: Sarah Ricks

I have been devoting Wednesdays to profiling some of my classmates in the Yale Law School class of 1990 (and if you are interested I provided a recap of the profiles so far last week).  

When Sarah Ricks got to Yale Law, she was pretty intimidating-- she seemed shockingly sophisticated, funny, and smart, even among that group.  She came to Yale Law from Barnard College at Columbia. At Yale, she co-founded the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, and was chosen as the outstanding female graduate of the class.

After law school, she clerked for a District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Philadelphia (at the same time I clerked for another judge in the same building), then spent nine years working for a law firm and the City of Philadelphia.

Then she zigged and became a professor at Rutgers in Camden, teaching legal writing and other topics and running the Pro Bono Research Project there. She has been a real success and presence both on that campus and in her hometown of Philadelphia, where she served on the Commission on Human Relations among other positions.

Outside of work, she has done a lot of fascinating travel writing-- check this out to see her reports from places like Debrovnik, Sicily, Salzburg, and Montenegro. I love her writing style, and wish that I had discovered this treasure trove a long time ago! She is married to another member of the class, Tom Dolgenes (who will get his own profile later), and they have achieved an enviable level of work-life balance-- an example for us all.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


A strange convergence

I've discovered an interesting convergence between my vocation and my obsession with the strange and baffling comic "Heathcliff." It turns out that Heathcliff's father, identified as "Pops," is portrayed as some kind of career criminal who wears old-time prison garb even when he is not incarcerated. Which... is oddly consistent with a lot of toys for kids, where the "bad guys" are readily identifiable by how they look. That's pretty problematic in a lot of ways, of course. 

For example, here is the Lego City "criminal" minifigure:

And here is his equivalent in the Playmobil world:

While at least these depictions don't play on racial stereotypes (though white dudes with scruffy facial hair don't come off so well), they do present some characters as permanent criminals-- the designated "bad guys." That's not really the way the world is, and it is a troubling thing to teach kids.

Anyways, Pops seems to be a pretty good parent regardless:

Monday, January 20, 2020


What pets think!

Wow! What great haiku on an admittedly goofy subject. My personal favorite was this, from Gavin, because I thought it really caught the essence of working dogs (the only kind I really like, and I like them a lot):

She flushed the pheasant.
I shot and missed. It flew off.
She sat, glared at me.

Here is a familiar tale to many dog owners:

When I put on shoes
My dog starts levitating
"Going for a walk!"

And then we had this epic poem from Jill Scoggins:

Rain means Rusty poops
in the house. He has no guilt.
"I poop where I want!"

Storms mean Rusty shakes,
whimpers. He runs to us. "Don't
desert me hoo-mans!"

Wind means Rusty lets
the breeze blow in his face. "So
many smells to smell."

Sun means Rusty lies
in its warmth, stretching, sleeping.
"This is my purpose."

And Christine's tribute:

We begin a dance
Pre-dawn ritual
nudges me with nose

He murmurs - uhm, uhm,
Feigning sleep, roll to middle
of bed and settle

He snuggles along
my back, a gentle massage
our breathing in sync

My eyelids flutter
Change is sensed, he stares at me
An hour has past

I say morning Bear
he licks my face, eyes longing
Mom, time to feed me.

And this from Kitty:

Charlie loves the couch.
Riley used to lie there too.
They share a bed when they must.

And the Medievalist's contribution:

Unless it's herring,
Go away and let me sleep,
Sunshine in winter.

And finally, this from IPLawGuy (who may have too many pets):

Something is afoot
cats are getting suspicious
Great Dane on the way.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Sunday Reflection: Into the high desert prison

On Thursday, I traveled to a remote and starkly beautiful part of California, on the lee side of the Sierra Nevada. To get there, you drive north from Reno into California and a last vestige of the unfenced West. Dry mountains rise up to the left, and there are few signs of people other than the rare truck passing in the other direction on US 395, a two-lane road that winds up to Susanville and beyond. After about an hour, as I approached my destination, I saw a storm rising and gliding along the mountain peaks, pushing before it a whirling dust storm that swept down into the valley and seemed to be scouring the ground in search of something.

Herlong is a town that lives off two federal institutions: an Army depot, and a federal prison. I was there to visit the prison. As I parked, I thought about how my travels to prisons often take me to these hidden corners that otherwise I never would have found, and about how different they were from the homes of many of the people imprisoned there. It would be like being whisked out of Baltimore and set down on Tatooine

I'm on a tour of sorts, going to prisons to talk about clemency in the federal system. I've given variations of that talk before several times: at the White House (more than once), at St. Thomas, at Harvard, at Yale, at Stanford, and many other places. But this is  what I should have done first. This is where clemency matters. When I prepared, I used my notes from a talk at Harvard and took out the things you need to explain to a 25-year-old Harvard student but not to a man whose has been incarcerated for those same 25 years. It did not matter that this talk was given in the middle of a cell block. Truth is truth.

The staff at the prison were gracious and helpful. I gave two talks, to about 150 men overall. There was no introduction. I began by explaining who I was (which can take a while, frankly). Part of that story, of course, is that I was a federal prosecutor, and for five years I sought the incarceration of men like them. But I also talked about what I learned from that, and what I do now. The heart of the lecture is about what clemency is and is not; essentially a very simple thing that has been encased in a very complex process. 

I have learned to allow a lot of time for questions. Like any other human interaction, listening is more important than talking most of the time. In this session, there were three people who asked questions that have stuck with me and are still rolling around in my head.

A man rose and introduced himself. His question was simple: "What can we do so that our families will forgive us?"

It takes great hubris, I guess, to even try to answer that question. I'm not sure how well I answered, but I did my best. I said that one thing that helps is to become forgiving ourselves, and that humility is the key to almost anything worth accomplishing. I told a few stories of forgiveness heroes, on both sides, and how they got there. But it was the question that was more important than my answer.

Another man told a story. In August of 2016, I called the prison he was in to tell his friend Richard Winrow that Richard was receiving clemency (you can read a good BBC report on the Winrow case here). I remember the moment clearly, but he told me what I didn't know: what happened on the other end. Instantly, people knew what the call was about, that the most powerful person on Earth, Barack Obama, had decided to free a man who had been in prison on a drug charge since the 1980's. There was a wave of joy there that echoed my own in my little office in Minneapolis. It was a moment as memorable to this man as it was to me, and he wasn't the one receiving clemency. Like the others there, though, he was one receiving hope. And the urgency of my mission is propelled by that hope.

In response to another question, the last one, I talked about another call I made that same day, to yet another man who was receiving freedom after decades in prison on a life without parole sentence for a drug crime. I called the prison, and told him the good news. There was a silence, I told the audience, and then my client said "God is good."

And, before I could continue the story, the roomful of men in khaki said in unison "All the time." And that hung in the air like the dust storm in the valley.

That was a moment.

Jesus told us to visit those in prison. So far, on this project, I am finding it is probably more for me than for them.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


What Bill Underwood is up to...

If you have been wondering what Bill Underwood has been up to as President of Mercer University, the answer is... some pretty interesting stuff!

One of his projects was recently feature on PBS Newshour-- you can check it out here.

Of course, in the past he has come up with some pretty fascinating projects, like the New Baptist Covenant:

Friday, January 17, 2020


Haiku Friday: What is your pet thinking?

Heathcliff Comic Strip for January 13, 2020

Pets seem to spend a lot of time thinking. Lying on the carpet in a sunbeam, deep in thought. What the heck are they thinking about? Let's haiku about that this week.

Here, I will go first:

The leopard gecko
Is sixteen years old right now
He wants his license.

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

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Debate

First of all, I would like people toward a great podcast I got to be a part of by Jillian Wienberger over at Vox's The Impact. She focused on something I think is very important--the way Gerald Ford analyzed and granted thousands of pardon cases-- and showed how it is affecting the current Democratic presidential contenders. It was really a pleasure to work with her. You can hear it here.

Second, about Tuesday's debate...

I'm sad that there is so much focus on the tiff between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. If they got into a scrap over some policy issue, good for them. But instead they are at odds over a leak-driven media scrum over a possibly misinterpreted comment in 2018. I'm not going to rehash it here. But, frankly, I have heard many people say that they don't think a woman can win in 2020, and every one of those saying that to me was someone who had supported Hillary Clinton, been crushed by her defeat, and took away from that experience the belief that misogyny in the United States runs so deep that it cannot be overcome by even the best candidate.

I understand that take on things, but I disagree. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million. Trump won the electoral college by 80,000 votes in three key states. Redistribute even a little of Clinton's votes, and we would have had a woman president. It was a razor-thin loss. I think that tiny hill can be surmounted, even while acknowledging the role of misogyny in American politics. (And all that is setting aside the fact that Grar the Giant Female Panda almost won in 2008).

There were four great candidates up on that stage, and two of the four are women. This is going to be an interesting year...

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


YLS '90: A Recap

Over the past several months, I have devoted Wednesdays on the blog to profiling my classmates in the Yale Law class of 1990.  Today I'm listing those who have been profiled so far, with a link to each profile. Enjoy!

Amy Adler, Professor, Art law expert
Cornell William Brooks, Harvard Prof., NAACP Pres.
Elizabeth Barrett-Brown, Global environmental advocate
Hon, Jeb Boasberg, DC Circuit
Michelle Browdy, General Counsel of IBM
Rev. Kelly Carlson, Episcopal Priest
Pauline Chen, Professor and author
Hiram Chodosh, Pres. of Claremont McKenna College
Stephanie Dangel, Prof. and arts administrator
Ari Fitzgerald, Law firm partner, Pres. of the Duke Ellington Fund
Vernon Grigg, Fair elections advocate
Hon. Pam Harris, 4th Circuit
Nancy Kestenbaum, The lawyer you want when your company is in trouble
Geoffrey Klineberg, Pres. of the DC Bar, firm partner
Roger Leishman, Lawyer, advocate, dad
Charles McKenzie, Law firm lawyer, 1965-1992
Denise Morgan, Prof., constitution drafter, school financing hero, 1964-2006
Jon Nuechterlein, Telecommunications Lawyer of the Year (and probably decade)
Michael O'Connor, Prof., Bryan Stevenson collaborator, film-maker
Fred Phillips IV, Company creator
Mike Proctor, Legendary defender
Martin Antonio Sabelli, Leader of the criminal defense bar
Judith Sandalow, Children's rights advocate
Lucia Sileccia, Catholic social thought leader
Hon. Rich Sullivan, 2nd Circuit
Joe Tsai, Alibaba co-founder
Ted Wang, Social justice entrepreneur
Alex Whiting, Harvard Prof., Prosecutor of war criminals
David Yassky, NYC Councilman, Taxi Commissioner, Dean

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


Vikings season recap

Just leaving this here because it is awesome.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Fabulous illness poems right here!

OK, y'all outdid yourselves with a goofy subject.

I don't usually reprint anonymous comments (I allow anonymity but don't encourage it), but this haiku was just too awesome to ignore:

Bloodie flux and lice —
Nathaniel Bacon’s demise.
Took the hangman’s job.

We also had a great entry from Jill, based on lived experience:

And the Medievalist chimed in:

Runny nose, headache,
The common cold is common,
Lying down again.

And IPLawGuy:

Go to Student health center
Maybe not so wise.

And finally, for the first time in a while, Jon from YLS (employing one of my favorite words):

Leaves are brown; sky gray..
Deep malaise and swollen glands.
Sinus infection.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Sunday Reflection: The accidental preacher

My sermon from last week (on Genesis 4:1-16, the Cain and Abel story) is now available here. I hope you will give it a listen.

I got to give this sermon because I have the honor of holding the Ruthie Mattox Preaching Chair at First Covenant Church, Minneapolis. People sometimes ask how I got to the point where I am giving sermons pretty regularly.

My route there has been, well, irregular. I don't have a degree in theology, and only took one religion class in college. I'm not ordained. I don't pretend to have an expertise in theology or anything related to it.

However, when I was at Baylor I had the incredible opportunity to co-teach an oral advocacy class with two great preachers, Hulitt Gloer and Randall O'Brien. Let's be honest: I was listed as a professor, but I was a student. And for eight great years, I soaked up what they taught. It let me use some of the skills I learned as a trial lawyer and apply them to my faith.

When I moved to Minnesota, a few Episcopal churches asked me to give sermons. It was thrilling. Early on, I decided that it was important for me to be clear about who I am: not a minister, not a theologian, but rather someone from the pews who is struggling to understand and live out the teachings of Jesus. I never try to interpret learned texts or commentaries; I don't feel qualified to do that. I am, though, like all of us, able to read the words of the Bible and make what I can of them.

I'll never be a minister, and I am very grateful for the people who have that vocation. I'm grateful, too, for the chance to preach now and then,  If nothing else, it makes me think hard about my faith, and be public with my struggles.

Saturday, January 11, 2020


"Three's Company"- not aging well

Here is a compilation of some of the cringiest moments of 1970's-era sitcom "Three's Company." I'll be honest-- it was kind of creepy at the time, but looking at it now is really uncomfortable.

Friday, January 10, 2020


Haiku Friday: What Ails You

It's that time of year when everyone seems to have the sniffles (or worse). Maybe it is the weather, or being inside, or just "flu season," but it is almost inevitable.

So let's haiku about illnesses this week! Here,  I will go first:

Heard in the hallway:
"I'm spitting up lots of blood--
Is that a bad sign?"

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

Thursday, January 09, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: What to do abroad

Yesterday, I had a piece about the grand jury in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. You can read that here.  But... that's not what I want to talk about today.

Things have been a little crazy lately, huh? The escalation of the conflict with Iran has the nation on edge, and rightfully so. As I write this, though, it looks like things are calming, and the non-fatal Iranian missile attack on US bases in Iraq may be the end of the conflict, at least in terms of open retaliation. If so, that would be a great thing.

I'm going to do something here that might surprise some people: agree with Donald Trump and Tulsi Gabbard. But I am, because I very much believe that both of them are right to assert that the United States needs to avoid foreign military entanglements, and in particular regime-change wars in the Middle East. I'm with them 100% on that. In declining to respond to the latest Iranian move, Trump is living up to that assertion. I am glad that he is. We have nothing to gain through further armed aggression on the other side of the world.

We need to learn from the last Iraq War and our endless involvement in Afghanistan: these conflicts aren't good for the host countries, and they aren't good for us.

Instead of complaining that Trump didn't live up to his blustering, we should all be glad that he did not, and hope he pursues the deeper value of avoiding useless armed conflict in the future.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


YLS '90: Martin Antonio Sabelli

On Wednesdays (with a few weeks off for the holidays) I have been profiling my remarkable classmates from the Yale Law School class of 1990.

The Class of '90 was full of sharp intellects, and none were sharper than Martin Sabelli. Among other things, he was one of the few people who seemed to really get what I was saying in my law journal note-- a fact I deeply appreciated at the time.  I remember, even back then, thinking that it would be really important that remarkable minds like Martin's work to the good in the greater world.

And--good news!-- that has certainly been true of Martin. I have followed his career from afar with great admiration.

Martin graduated from Harvard college in 1985, then took two years off. While my "two years off" at the same time involved delivering flowers and subpoenas in Detroit, Martin was off getting a degree at the London School of Economics.

After law school, he clerked for a federal trial judge, Robert Peckham in the Northern District of California. After that, he quickly gravitated to criminal defense work-- a place of great need in our country-- and became a national leader in that field while remaining in the Bay Area. Over the past three decades, he has served as a federal defender, a partner at a large firm, and as a solo practitioner, all while basically doing the same kind of work.  He currently serves as the First Vice President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which is the most significant organization in the U.S. for members the defense bar. He has trained other lawyers throughout the US and around the world in the right way to approach cases where life and liberty are at stake.

Though I haven't seen him since YLS, every now and then I hear remarkable fragments of what he is doing from others. You know that someone is doing good in the world when there is always an admirable story about him that comes up between mutual friends, and there is with Martin. I hope to hear more as time rolls on-- and maybe run into the man himself.

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