Sunday, May 01, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Magic

I like this picture that Steve Timmer took on Thursday-- it looks like I might be doing a magic trick. I have always wanted to be able to do that, but the problem is that I wouldn't want it to be a trick; I would want it to be real.

My 7th and James Sunday school class (which was the most awesome such class ever) once was reading through the book of Mark. One of the things people were taken with was the amount of magic that there seemed to be in it. So much happened that was not explained-- demons and angels and unseen actors in our world.  

The thing about magic is this: If I was capable of it, what would I do with that power? When I seriously address that question, the truth is that I would probably pursue the things I do now, and magic wouldn't help me much, if at all. My life would not be very different. 

I suppose that one of the allures of magic is that it seems us to give us power, an ability that others don't have. Perhaps that is why some probably thought Jesus was a magician-- because he really did have powers that others didn't. In the end, though, the power he possessed that mattered the most was the ability to teach through word and example. 

So, maybe that is really what we should strive for, no magic required. My profession is teaching, but I am far from good if Jesus is the standard, nor could I ever come close. Yet, there is something deep and real in seeing plainly what Jesus's most important power was. Even in the Son of God, magic is now what endures, but truth and love. That can be taught, no magic required.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


Tavern Talking

On Thursday of this week, I gave a talk at a Minneapolis bar, the 331 Club. The topic was clemency, and the crowd was a little rowdy.  I like that.

The students from my clinic came, as did Hank Shea and Eric Hylok and a bunch of other people:

Were there hecklers? Not this time, which was a little disappointing.

Friday, April 29, 2016


Haiku Friday: The Rain

Earlier this week, I was in Williamsburg. I went to college there, and for those four years it seemed to rain a lot (the city is built on a swamp, so my perception was probably correct).  Somehow, I brought that weather home to Minneapolis, and now it is raining here.

Rain evokes moods and defines moments. Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:

By Millington Hall
The grass is still wet. I stand
Just to soak my shoes.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: A timeline for sexual assault issues with the Baylor football team

So... yesterday Sharon Grigsby of the Dallas Morning News (whom I have worked with before) wrote a fascinating piece in that paper about the problems Baylor is facing with sexual assaults by football players.  Sharon is a Baylor grad, and often a proud one, but is this piece she makes an important point:

What began as a small cesspool has spread into a full-blown swamp. Does the administration not see that Baylor’s reputation — not to mention its fundraising and its enrollment — are drowning in this unseemly episode? And, more important, what does this kind of non-response do for the safety of its students?

For what it is worth, I worried about Baylor football in a more general way on the pages of the Waco Trib back in the summer of 2015, but the fuller story started to come out later that year.  Here is a timeline of some key events leading up to this challenging moment.

2012: Shawn Oakman is dismissed from the Penn State team after trying to steal food and grabbing the arm of a female cashier.

2013:  Sam Ukwuachu is kicked off the team at Boise State, where he had been a star. His girlfriend from this period later testified that he beat and choked her. Ukwuachu then enrolls at Baylor to play football there.

2013: Having transferred to Baylor to play football, Shawn Oakman is accused of assaulting a woman. A police report is filed and no further action is taken. The investigating police officer noted in the report that the woman had bruises on both arms and a “swelled up bottom lip” and bruises.

2013: Baylor players Tre'Von Armstead and Myke Chatman are named by police in a report involving sexual assault.

2013: Baylor wins Big 12 championship in football

2014: Baylor player Tevin Elliot is sentenced to 20 years for the rape of a Baylor student. Three other Baylor students provide evidence they were sexually assaulted by him as well.

2014: Baylor wins Big 12 co-championship

2015: Sam Ukwuachu is convicted of the sexual assault of a Baylor student.

April, 2016: Shawn Oakman is arrested for the forcible rape of a Baylor student.

April, 2016: With no sense of irony whatsoever, Baylor University heralds new faculty research with the headline "Supervisors, Coworkers Tolerate Unethical Behavior When Production is Good, Baylor Study Finds." [Yes, really

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


What's up with Dad

I love my Dad's blog post for this week,  which talks about Prince, listening, Luis Resto (pictured here), and lots of other things.

It is all worth reading, but I especially liked this part:

I have some space where I can paint and store my work.. It is  a magical space above Vivios Restaurant in  Eastern Market. The space is only accessible by going to the third floor of Devries Cheese Shop and then passing through Luis Resto’s music loft. Luis could be anywhere, but chooses to create his art in the top floor of this very old building. He is here because of the sound he gets in this place with its high ceiling and  wood trusses. I would also extend to him the International Award for being a genuinely nice guy. Luis is exceptionally generous with his time, except when it is his time to create some music. He goes deep into his creative cocoon  and is completely unaware of anything or anyone around him. I know to walk quietly through his space and not disturb him when he is lost in his music. He will never look up. His concentration on his craft is inspiring to other artists.

I have seen that look of concentration many times in people I respect-- including my father.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Stuck in my head, V. 2,355

I saw this on an episode of "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and now it is completely stuck in my head. It. Will. Not. Leave.

Which is kind of embarrassing when I am trying to be a law professor and stuff.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Poetry in Purple

There were some great haiku last Friday on a subject never covered before: Prince.

Fan fave the Medievalist offered this one:

Now doves are crying,
The great purple one is gone,
In his red Corvette.

Rene had a good story:

When I met him,me
In flight goddess guise,Hulk Hogan
His body guard,mouthpiece,

He wore violet
Knickers,& lavender poet
Shirt. "PRINCE would like a

Coke," Hulk said. Prince had
Eyelashes coated with gunk.
He was petite. This vignette

Rubbed me the wrong way.
So I did not make myself
Vulnerable to his music.

So did David Best:

Jehova's Witness,
few knew he was. But one day
he knocked on their door.

They were orthodox Jews,
it was Yom Kippur, but they
were fans, pleased to talk.

Love as faith and love
as sex, the metaphors mixed
freely for this man.

But my favorite was this, from "Anonymous:"

Heartbreak Hill mantra
April, nineteen eighty five
I would die 4 you.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Sunday Reflection: The Way it Is

Five years ago, I first wrote about this song.  Here is what I wrote then:

Most of all, though, the song critiques a soul-killing social dialogue that still enrages me. Someone, a child perhaps, asks someone about a social injustice-- endemic racism, intolerance of religion, hatred of others, poverty amongst riches-- and the elder shrugs and says, "that's just the way it is. Some things will never change." Thus ends the conversation.

How many times was I that child, that teenager, that college student, that law student, that prosecutor, that teacher? More than I can count, and every time something in the soul God gave me, the heart of the gospels, the promise of Christ, the rolling thunder of God's own self-renewing world, told me this answer was wrong. It is wrong. 

At that time, I was about to enter the fray in favor of same-sex marriage. We won (though I had little to do with it)-- but if you read some of the 15,000+ comments to the the piece linked in the last sentence, you will see that many were saying "That's just the way it is." And then, it wasn't.

A few weeks ago, in response to what I wrote in the New York Times, a new wave of people have been telling me that the desuetude of the the pardon power is "just the way it is." I think they are wrong this time, too.    

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Mark Osler as Angry Hockey Coach

So, I gave a talk at St. Olaf College this week to a wonderful audience of students and faculty (where else would there be a "Viking Theater?").  They made this great poster, which features the "Angry Hockey Coach" photo that seems to be floating around the internet. I'm not sure where it is from, but it looks like I am about to yell at a left wing to "get back! Get back!"  


Friday, April 22, 2016


Haiku Friday: Prince

Last night, they had a free all-night dance party at First Avenue to celebrate Prince's life.  It's not quite that, but let's have a haiku tribute here.

I can go first:

There were some glimpses
In Minneapolis, yeah,
But now, just music.

Now it is your turn. Use the 5/7/5 syllable scheme, and tell us what you remember best...

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Bathroom Terror

A few years ago, one might think that the biggest political issue in America was the terrifying specter of a Christian baker having to make a cake for a gay couple. While we are still a little obsessed with gays and cakes, we seem to have largely moved on to the latest horror: the chance that we might share a bathroom with a transgendered person.


What, exactly, do you think will happen? The fear, I suppose, is that the transgendered person has transitioned into the gender they are attracted to-- that is, that they change sex to become gay, and then for some reason will foist homosexual assaults on other bathroom patrons. I suppose that might happen, but it seems like a pretty rare thing. Also, there is a fear that men will cross-dress just to gain entrance to the women's bathroom, which also seems like a very remote chance. After all, that tactic isn't going to work unless the offender and the victim are in the bathroom alone, and if that is true, why cross-dress?

If you don't want to go to the bathroom with people who are sexually attracted to your sex, well... you are already out of luck. Gay men use the men's room and lesbians use the women's room. That's just the way it is, and it won't change. We all seem to be doing just fine.

I travel quite a bit, and since my home airport is MSP I often travel past the spot where the "Larry Craig Bathroom" used to be (it has since been removed).  For those who have forgotten, Idaho Senator Larry Craig was caught there cruising for sex in 2007.  It's a weird story,  and always makes me feel a little uncomfortable using MSP's bathrooms. However, what I'm scared of (I guess) is  Senators, and there is a factual basis for my fear-- unlike the strange bathroom fears regarding transgendered people.

Meanwhile, here are some things that are probably more worth worrying about, none of which have been effectively addressed yet by our governments:

-- Climate change
-- Domestic terrorism
-- A mortgage crisis relapse
-- Actual sexual assaults on children (of which there are hundreds per week in this country)
-- The rise in violent crime in many cities
-- The epidemic of opioid abuse, which kills more people in one year (16,000+) than 5 World Trade   Center attacks and a Titanic sinking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


The End of the Year

If you are on an academic calendar, this is a special time of year, a bittersweet time.  It is the end of the year, the turning of the cycle. The students you have taught for the last four years or three years or five years are graduating.

This year (because I was voted "Outstanding Professor" by the graduates), I get to play a role in graduation. Specifically, I get to hood them as they walk the stage and get their degrees.

I've done this before, and it is a remarkable experience, an emotional one. One of those emotions is joy, of course, but also loss.

The years go by quickly.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


"Deal from Strength or Get Crushed Every Time!"

Yeah, it is the Donald Trump kids' song! I find this oddly mesmerizing.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Oh, the Terrible Twins

David Best captured their futility in haiku:

The Twins suck eggs.
That is all. // Not a haiku?
Guess we're 0 for 10.

Sigh. It is not looking good in Twin Town.  Meanwhile, St. Paul resident Susan Stabile chose to look to the past:

Cleon Jones in left,
Tommy Agee in center,
Swoboda in right.

The Amazing Mets!
They were the team of my youth.
What more can I say?

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Sunday Reflection: The Third Cellist

Earlier this week, I went to hear a trio of string quartets  perform at Carnegie Hall. They had spent the week being mentored by the Kronos Quartet, and were thrilled to have the chance to perform what they had learned.

The cello is a remarkable instrument, capable of many voices. It does not seem easy to play; it is an ungainly size and shape, so no one looks particularly elegant holding it. That is, at least until they start to play. Then it goes (in the right hands) from awkward to mesmerizing, in an instant.

The last group, the Friction Quartet from San Francisco, was fronted by two violinists who switched off playing first violin-- they literally switched seats periodically. Both are emotional, talented players. Meanwhile, the cellist seemed impassive, like the John Entwhistle of the group. But not for long. There was a passage that spoke to him, and in a spare silence you could hear him catch his breath before launching in. 

In a way, it was that negative space-- that silence before the passion-- that made it powerful. Good music, like good painting, is conscious of that negative space, the blank spot.  

It is something I wish that preachers used more often. They (we?) seem generally afraid of silence, at least when they are in the pulpit with everyone looking up.  It seems like a perfect space, though, to bring in that moment of art. Jesus did that, after all.  He will ponder a situation, then write in the dirt. We don't find out what he writes, though, and maybe that is as it should be. It is that negative space, the breath of cellist.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Tiny Moving Parts...

I like them. But I'm not sure why their genre is called "math rock."

Friday, April 15, 2016


Haiku Friday: Baseball

Yeah, it started when I wasn't looking. That seems to happen every year! Of course, part of that is from living in Minnesota, where we are still using the sled dogs this time of year.

To people like IPLawGuy, of course, it is a big deal. So let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:

I still here his voice:
Ernie Harwell calling it
I sit on a swing.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Protests in Cleveland?

It is beginning to look very likely that this July's Republican convention in Cleveland may be the most interesting since the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where protests raged and the event followed on the decision by LBJ not to run and the assassination of RFK. Hubert Humphrey was the nominee, despite the fact that he had not entered a single primary.

The protests there were in support of an anti-war plank and candidate (Eugene McCarthy), both of which were rejected inside the convention.

In July, the probable (though not certain) context will be that Donald Trump will have won the plurality of the delegates, but not enough to put him over the threshold on the first ballot. 

Last week, we discussed what might happen inside the hall-- that is, who might be chosen.

This week, I am wondering what might happen outside the hall. Will there be protests? Might Trump supporters actually show up and cause trouble? And what if neither Trump or Ted Cruz are made the nominee?  Might there be a Republican version of Chicago '68?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


It may be the Olympics of event disasters!

If you ever wanted cheap tickets to see the Olympics, this might be your year-- it looks like tickets are selling pretty slowly to this summer's event in Rio. 

There is a reason for that, or rather reasons: The Zika virus outbreak, a rise in crime, pollution issues, political instability, rampant inflation, and a general feeling that the thing is going to be a mess.

Of course, that pales in comparison to the mess that is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which is such a disaster that there is a Wikipedia entry for List of 2022 World Cup Controversies.  

Speaking of 2022 sport events debacles, we also can look forward to the Winter Olympics that year which will be hosted by Beijing-- a place so unsuited to winter sports that it is anticipated that all of the skiing events will have to be held on artificial snow.  In fact (and this is real), here is a photo of the mountain which will host the ski events, taken in mid-January of this year:

So much to look forward to!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Out Today: Ron Fournier's "Love That Boy"

Today is a big day: It's the release date for Ron Fournier's book Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations. This book is going to be important to a lot of people. You can get it here, or at bookstores starting today.

Regular readers of this blog know that Ron and I go way back; when we were 17 we co-edited the school paper and ran near-identical times on the cross-country and track teams.  We took the bus to Iowa City to attend the Iowa Young Writer's Studio, collecting adventures along the way.  We have stayed in touch even as our paths diverged and then converged again, and lately we have even collaborated.  Now, it seems, we are publishing memoirs in the same year.

Though, it might be that his is better. I have read Love That Boy, and was deeply affected by it. It's not a re-telling of Ron's remarkable career as a journalist, but rather focuses on his role as a parent. In particular, it lays out some of the joys and challenges of raising his third child and only son, Tyler, who has Asperger's Syndrome.  I had the pleasure of reading the book a few months ago.

Too often, these stories turn into a celebration of the virtue of the parent and a lament for the troubles he or she faced. There is none of that here, as those who know Ron's writing would well know. He is a rare commentator in that he admits his own mistakes and frailties up front, yet is fearless in confronting the powerful.  The same spirit animates this more personal story arc, in that he describes his stumbles and errors as part of a richer tale that he knows is grander than himself. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are characters in the book-- important ones-- but not as important as Tyler or the towering figure of Ron's father, a Detroit cop who made sense in a time and place (Detroit in the 1970's) that often lacked those figures. I knew Ron's dad, and he made a strong impression on me: when I thought of a police officer, I thought of him, and when I went into law enforcement it was in my mind that I was going to be working in league with people like Mr. Fournier. Sometimes, that was true.

Ron Fournier could sit around and tell war stories about famous people for days, if he was that kind of person. He's not, though, and it is the human scale of this very human story that makes it important and real and moving. It's not about a famous guy and the people he met. It's about a kid with some issues and a dad with some issues, and that's pretty much the deal with us all when the truth is laid bare.

So, go ahead and buy it.  And, of course, you can pre-order my book now, too. I'm not sure if Jerry Stitzel (the guy pictured between Ron and I in the photo below) has written a book, but if he has I'll bet that would be pretty interesting, too.

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