Wednesday, June 29, 2016


The Artist

I love this photo of my dad's which is featured on his blog this week.  The post itself is about the idea of the "artist," something that I have always struggled with.

Aren't we all meant to be artists?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Brexit and the US

Americans were shocked that Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. UK residents were shocked that the UK will be leaving the European Union.

But... why were these things shocking? They were the result of open and fair elections.

They were shocking to elites who discounted the way that globalization has alienated significant parts of the population in two places. Specifically, two aspects of globalization: free trade and immigration (which really is free trade in labor).  Both serve to depress the price of labor for manufacturing and some other types of work, typically the kind of work that was traditionally done by unionized workers.

Now the people who did that type of work are unemployed or underemployed, and often stranded in areas with little opportunity. Globalization is a boon to places focused on technology, trade, education, and financial services, such as New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, London, and Edinburgh.  It is not so great for places like Detroit, Cleveland, and West Virginia-- at least for the hourly workers in those areas.

So now it is shocking that those same people are susceptible to the (true) claim that free trade and immigration have hindered their personal success? It shouldn't be. But both parties need to do a much better job of addressing this issue rather than dismissing it.

Monday, June 27, 2016



There were a lot of great haiku last week-- really, go check it out. I want to meet these teachers (and I am a little surprised that CraigA made it to adulthood).  But there was one that spoke to me, especially. It was this, from the Waco Farmer:

When it all works right:
You make me feel like dancing,
dance the hour away.

Fellow teachers-- don't you agree?

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Sunday Reflection: The Role of Church

I'm a churchgoer, and have been since I was a kid. If I don't go, I feel like something is missing. As Abby Rapoport once wrote in describing a sermon I gave at First Covenant, I have experience with a lot of denominations, too:

In five minutes, Osler has done what he likes best—reveal the radical, challenging side of Christianity. He has identified himself as “someone from the pews.” But Covenant isn’t his church, and he doesn’t fully fit in here. He also doesn’t quite fit in at St. Stephen’s Episcopal church, where he currently worships, nor did he quite fit in at the Baptist church he attended when he taught law at Baylor University and lived in Waco, Texas. It’s unlikely he was a perfect match for the Congregational church he was raised in or the Quaker meetings he sometimes joined when he was in his twenties. A progressive among evangelical Christians and an evangelical Christian among progressives, Osler has spent much of his life subverting expectations.

As I describe in my next book (coming out in August), I was a little taken aback by that passage, but had to acknowledge the truth of it. I often don't fit in.

I'm not sure that is a bad thing, either.

I know that people often talk about a church "home" where we feel comforted and cared about but is that necessarily all we should ask for? Doesn't church need to not only comfort us when we need it, but challenge us when we need that?

Sometimes I leave church uplifted, even thrilled. Dan and Holly Collison did that not long ago in a service at First Covenant. Other times, I leave deflated and sad when a liturgy seems devoid of real meaning or challenge.

Church is a hard thing to do right, and we all play a role in creating it; we all are responsible for the outcome at some level.

What do you look for?


Saturday, June 25, 2016



On Thursday, UK voters decided to leave the European Union. Prime Minister John Cameron immediately announced his resignation, and the EU asked England to leave quickly.

Apparently, John Oliver's warnings before the vote went unheeded:

The next development may well be the breakup of the United Kingdom, which is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Confusingly, the four sometimes operate as one nation (as in this vote) and at other times as four separate countries (as in sports including soccer, where Wales has enjoyed sudden success in the Euro championships this summer). It seems likely that Scotland will secede, at least. And why not? They almost seceded in 2014, and now there is the added incentive of being able to re-join the EU at much lower cost.

What else might happen? Will this affect IPLawGuy's travel plans?

Friday, June 24, 2016


Haiku Friday: Teachers and Students

I am just back from Utah, where I got to finish up my work on the Weldon Angelos case-- it was great to see him free.

While I was in Salt Lake City, I also got to meet with two of my former students at Baylor: David Corbett and Craig Pankratz.

My vocation has me in three different but related roles: teacher, writer, and advocate. At this precise moment, I'm a writer. Working with Weldon, I was an advocate. But what brings me the deepest satisfaction is often the teaching part-- especially when I get to see my students thrive. Seeing David and Craig and hearing about their success brought me great joy, not that different from my joy at Weldon's freedom. Both make my heart sing.

Let's haiku this week about teachers and students. We all have been one or both, after all!

Here, I will go first:

I was faking it
That first day at Baylor Law;
Then a hand went up.

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Congressional Sit-In

I was going to write about the usual: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton yelling about things and at each other. Have you noticed how they both sound like they are yelling all the time? Romney and Obama weren't like that in 2012. But this year, they both sound like they have been shouting all day, like crazy people.

Then something genuinely interesting happened: Democrats in Congress (including Rep. John Lewis, shown in my dad's portrait of him here) began a sit-down protest in Congress. They are objecting to the failure of Congress to consider and vote on any anti-gun legislation in the wake of the most recent mass shooting with an assault rifle, this time in Orlando.

Republicans are calling it a "publicity stunt." What do you think?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


No Drama Obama

As yesterday's post reflected, I have been pretty critical of President Obama, even within the White House itself. That criticism, of course, is focused on an area I know something about (clemency). I rarely opine on foreign relations or economic matters, since I don't know much about those things.

I do admire the way that the Obama administration has been free of scandal.  Bush had the whole Scooter Libby/basis for war debacle, Clinton had... well, you know, HW had the whole mess with Iran-Contra in common with Reagan. Really, not since Carter have we had a presidency relatively free of scandal. That is a tribute to the standards the president has established.

Over the last several years, I have had a lot of interaction with people within the White House. Often they are disagreeing with me. That's ok-- it's something that I get to present my differing perspective. For the most part, though, I have found the people in there to be hard-working, principled, diligent, and honest. That's not always true of the people I run into in the political world.

A recent Washington Post article was titled Obama's Most Unusual Legacy? Being a Good Dad. That seems pretty true, too.

We should be thankful for an ethical administration, even one we sometimes disagree with, while we have the chance. It hasn't always been this way...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


With the Radio On

This morning, my interview with Carrie Johnson of NPR is be part of "Morning Edition's" story on clemency (you can hear the audio here). It was a great discussion, so I hope some of it makes it on-air.

I love radio. I have since freshman year of college. That first semester, I went to the organizational meeting for the campus radio station, WCWM-FM, and heard the station manager give a pitch. It convinced me.

That station manager was IPLawGuy, who we know well here at the Razor.

There is something about the simplicity of radio that I love. You tell a story or make a point or play a song, and that is all there is-- there's no flashy video or crawler at the bottom of the screen reporting some other set of events. That simplicity makes inflection and tone important, and emphasizes the role of silence. In those thrilling first days of my radio life, I imagined as holding the end of a string that passed through a wall, and wiggling it. You don't know who is out there listening, and there is no way to do more than to talk to them. So you do that.

Not a bad thing, right?

Monday, June 20, 2016


Haiku Report!

Crikeys! When I made the topic "swimming," I realized I was throwing out a softball to Christine.  I learned that maybe it is a mistake to invite IPLawGuy or the Medievalist to the pool. But so many others also came up with good stuff! Like Renee's:

Going down for the
Third time,my mortality
Swam before my eyes.

In a college pool
They threw me a long pole
Forced to sink or swim.

And this from Anonymous:

Sun warms my shoulders
Dappled light plays all around
Peace with every stroke.

Jill Scoggins made me wonder where "Crystal Beach" is:

Crystal Beach: shades on,
tunes on, sippin' sumthin cold,
cruisin' up and down

All that water but
no way will I swim; more fun
to see and be seen

Besides, the Gulf spits
up tar balls, stainin' my suit;
plus wet hair? AS IF!

It is great to welcome back OsoGrande, who offered this truth:

swimming for fitness...
It is great exercise, but
when tired, you might drown.

And, of course, Christine came through as I expected:

Arm reaches forward
Catch, pull, finish; feet flutter
I find my balance.


Sunday, June 19, 2016


Sunday Reflection: On Father's Day

Yesterday I wrote about the amazing "Radio-a-thon" Nkechi Taifa put together last Friday, and I am still amazed at how well it went-- Nkechi has an amazing sense of these things, and works harder than anyone (and more effectively) to create change.

The Radio-a-thon was hosted by Washington station WPFW-FM. The station's tag-line is "Jazz and Justice." I couldn't help but think that "Jazz and Justice" could be a great name for my dad and I if we were transformed into a superhero team.

On father's day, I have an appreciation for my dad that I haven't put up here before: He (and my mom) make me feel good about getting older. At each stage of life, they have grown and changed and loved the world around them. They left a message for me last week ("Call back!") and before the message ended I could hear them laughing.  My dad, in just the last few years, has learned and accomplished something totally new to him: writing for an audience.

It's a pretty good example. I'm glad for that blessing, along with the rest.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Quite a Radio-a-Thon!

Yesterday was pretty memorable.

Thanks to Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations, I was in-studio as part of a radiothon about clemency and criminal justice. Though I love radio (and succeeded IPLawGuy as station manager of WCWM-FM back in the day), I don't think I have ever been a part of an event quite like this.

For six hours, we sat in the studio and took calls from remarkable people: Judge Mark Bennett, Rachel Barkow, Koch Industries General Counsel Mark Holden, Congressman John Conyers, MC Hammer, Amy Povah, Keith Sweat, and many others.

Towards the end, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton came in and sat across the table from me. It was an extraordinary discussion; one of those times you feel you are in the presence of history.

I'm sure there will be a podcast; I will let you know when we have a link.

Earlier in the day, too, I had an interview with NPR's Carrie Johnson, who is one of my favorite journalists on the national scene. That should air Tuesday during Morning Edition.

How lucky am I?

Friday, June 17, 2016


Haiku Friday: Swimming

Terrifying, soothing, a rite of summer; people are of different minds when it comes to swimming. So bring out your inner lifeguard, and let's haiku about it! Feel free to discuss any aspect of the swimming experience...

Here, I will go first:

The pool lays chilly
And covered in fish flies
Summer blonde cries: Go!

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Libertarian Party

Last week, IPLawGuy posted an interesting thought:

More and more this election reminds me of 2008. One party begrudgingly nominates a candidate who has been in the public eye since the 70's, been prominent since the 80's and has a long record of bipartisan cooperation and accomplishment. The other party nominates someone who is almost a blank slate when it comes to policy and political achievement. The only thing this candidate has done is make aspirational speeches. But this candidate has a positive theme. Really, what's difference between "Make America Great Again" and "Hope and Change"?

Just about every successful candidate had a positive theme that summarized their campaign. "Hope," "Bridge to the 21st Century," "It's the Economy Stupid," "Kinder, Gentler/No New Taxes," "Morning in America," "Are you Better Off Now than you were 4 Years Ago," "I'll Never Lie to you," etc.

I hate to say that sound bite politics matters, but it does. What's Hillary Clinton's THEME? The WHY that we should vote for her, as opposed to AGAINST Trump? That she's a woman? The people to whom that MATTERS would vote for just about any Democrat. That's not who she needs to attract. She needs to find something to get the undecideds in her column. And so far, I see nothing.

And as previously stated, my plan is to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Is the Gary Johnson/William Weld ticket for the Libertarian Party a worthwhile alternative? Certainly, they seem like the most reasonable folks at that convention:

There are some things about the Libertarian platform that many people (including me) find worthwhile. In the field I know about, criminal law, I really do think that the federal government has done too much, and grown too much self-perpetuating bureaucracy. But... getting rid of social security? Taking away nearly all limits on gun ownership and possession? That's going to be a much tougher sell.

I suspect that many votes for the Libertarians will be a protest, not an embrace.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016



The middle to late 70's weren't the most fertile time of music, perhaps, but some amazing things came out of it: The Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Patti Smith, for starters (and that is just bands from NYC).

In the realm of pop music, few have been as good at it as Fleetwood Mac, a group that grew out of an imploded blues band from the late 60's. In 1977, they made history with Rumours, probably the best (and perhaps only) album with the theme of divorce.

What I loved best, though, was what they did next: A double album called Tusk.  Here is the title song, which features the lo-fi USC marching band. My favorite part comes in at about 1:14, where Stevie Nicks shows unexpected talent at baton-twirling (who knew?):

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Well, there was that one poem...

In writing about Megan Willome's book this past Sunday, I said that I wasn't a poet, and that is true. Well, except for this one day, in 2008.

My father's birthday is on August 3, so we often celebrate it way up off the grid on Osler Island in the Boundary Waters.  He is a hard guy to shop for; I can never figure out what he might actually need. One year, that year, he asked for a poem. I always (well, usually) write some poems while I am up there, and I showed him my book. He was decisive in choosing. He wanted this one:

The best part
About being a tree
Is holding this leaf
(light as a pencil)
Though I fear she will fall
Like the others.

I wrote it down on another sheet, and gave it to him. It seemed to make him genuinely happy; my family is like that. They are the kind of people that allow you to be a poet, if only for one day. 

How lucky am I?

Monday, June 13, 2016


Farmer Poetry

So many good desserts were mentioned last week... but the one I wanted the most (and I do) was described by the Waco Farmer:

I plead guilty to
overkill; choc syrup, car'mel,
& ice cream w/ Heath.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Poetry Each Day

A few weeks ago, Megan Willome sent me her new book The Joy of Poetry, published by T.S. Poetry Press in New York. I loved it, and I hope you will read it, too.

As I read her book, I found myself reflecting on the role poetry has played in my life. That was natural, since the book tracks Megan's own entanglements with poetry, interwoven with the earthy story of her mother's death of cancer.

In the book, Megan includes dozens of poems by herself and others. Only one of them is identified as "bad." And... that one bad poem is mine.

I suppose that I should feel terrible that my poem-- my first published poem!-- was the bad example used in a book about poetry, but I don't. That's because the poem she uses (which first appeared here on the Razor on January 18, 2013) was supposed to be bad; it was the exemplar for a bad poetry contest. If you are wondering, here is the text:

There's no need to cry
The clouds do it for me
Expressing my depression better
Than I ever could.

As a kid, I think I only wrote one poem. It was for class, and it was (for reasons I can't remember) about George Washington and Valley Forge. I gave it to my grandmother, and my Aunt Betsy recently gave it back to me. Generally, I was unimpressed by poetry and those who called themselves "poets," including one girl in my class who appropriated wholesale the lyrics to "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac.

That changed in college. I signed up for an African-American literature class. The professor was Joanne Braxton, who was described to me by a fellow student as "an actual poet," a fact she proved up by producing Braxton's book Sometimes I Think of Maryland.

I was skeptical. Once the class began, everything changed, though. She wasn't a poet because she had published poetry; she was a poet because her words were well-considered, strong, worthy of our time. A question would be asked, and she would pause, nodding a little. We waited anxiously, and then the answer would come out in a way I had never heard. Her responses had an architecture to them; they weren't said so much as constructed. Many people found her intimidating. I found her fascinating (though she found me less impressive-- I got a well-deserved "B" in her class).  I resolved not to be a poet, but simply to have some poetry in me; I wanted a bit of that soaring architecture in what I said and wrote.

It was a tall order for a 20-year-old, and my efforts were just terrible, I'm sure. Sadly, unless you have some wisdom-- and I did not-- trying to sound poetic can come off as pretty damn pretentious.

I have kept that with me, though. No one will ever describe me as a poet, and I would never describe myself that way. Certainly, I know some great poets.  For the past years, I hope every Friday that Renee Emerson or Megan Willome will post a haiku.  Most recently, Reginald Dwayne Betts has been a great person to follow and read. When I pick his book off the shelf in a bookstore and see my name on the back (I have a blurb), it is thrilling. And Prof. Braxton is still in my life, 30 years later, a blessing.

I've never known quite what to do with my own writing that falls outside of what people expect from a law professor.  Recently, I was submitting a short story. The publication asked that submissions be accompanied by a short bio, and I really struggled with that. My first effort listed things I have actually done, but they all seemed kind of irrelevant. Next, I just tried one line: This is my first short story. That didn't seem right, either, so instead I just did the whole thing under a pseudonym. I've published a surprising number of things that way.

Mostly, though, I still hold Prof. Braxton's example before me. When I write or speak about something like clemency, I try to have at least an echo of what I heard all those years ago: a word or phrase that can mean more than the shape it takes as it lies on a page.

I'm not a poet, but my life can have poetry. Thanks for affirming that, Megan Willome.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Not the Headline They Were Hoping For...

Yesterday, I was looking at something on Yahoo, and the top story was Another Day, Another Disturbing Situation Surfaces at Baylor. Yeesh. I know Baylor is getting increased scrutiny, but they also keep giving news people something to cover. Here is the brunt of the story: Junior college transfer Jeremy Faulk was kicked off the team (and out of school) based on reports that he had engaged in improper conduct at a previous school (Florida Atlantic) and was involved in an incident at Baylor in April. Baylor's new coach, Jim Grobe, apparently took this action. The troubling part was this:

Faulk’s departure has angered Jeff Sims, a former assistant at Florida Atlantic and the former head coach at Garden City. Sims, who coached Faulk at both schools, says Baylor is trying to rid itself of anyone who has had an allegation made against him, true or not. And he’s disturbed by something he said new Baylor interim coach Jim Grobe told him when he called to ask why Faulk’s status on the team was in jeopardy over the alleged April incident.

“Grobe says to me, ‘Listen, if he just leaves, he can go on, and we won’t stop him from playing anywhere, and this investigation will stop.'” Flabbergasted at the notion a sexual assault investigation might disappear if an accused player were to leave the team, Sims said he pressed Grobe, but Grobe struggled to be more specific before implying that Baylor administrators had made him remove the player from the team.

Urg. Making investigations "go away" really shouldn't be the point of what is going on at Baylor these days.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Haiku Friday: I Request Your 2016 Endorsements (of desserts)

I'm tired of hearing people talking about which politician is endorsing which presidential candidate. Let's make an endorsement that really matters-- let's endorse our favorite desserts for 2016.

Here, I will go first:

Choco-chip cookies
Mashed up in some ice cream:
A thing of wonder.

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

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