Friday, May 24, 2019


Haiku Friday: Lunch

People labor over dinner-- for whatever reason, it is the meal people worry over the most, and most often share with those close to them.

Breakfast wants attention, but doesn't always get it. No one really thinks it is the "most important meal of the day," and lots of people ignore it entirely.

Lunch is somewhere in the middle (in more ways than one). I have been all over the map regarding lunch in the course of my life. Right now, it is usually pretty utilitarian: I need food and so I go to a place that sells food and buy some. Then I eat it.

But, at other times in my life lunch has borne more significance. I would love to get back to that, actually. 

Let's haiku about lunch-- what you eat, who you share it with, what it means, maybe the best one of your life.

Here, I will go first:

Texas barbecue
Eaten on the back porch, hot
Gotta love Vitek's.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Reality Show

Yesterday, President Trump had a meeting at the White House with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The topic was to be a new infrastructure initiative. It appears that the following things happened:

1) Pelosi and Schumer showed up, along with some other congressional leaders.
2) President Trump said that he wasn't going to deal with them until they concluded investigations into his administration.
3) Then President Trump left the room.
4) In the Rose Garden, Trump gave a press conference at a podium bearing the words "NO COLLUSION. NO OBSTRUCTION."
5) The press went nuts. Headlines blared things like "Dems react to Trump-Pelosi feud!"

So, really, nothing of substance happened here. They had a non-meeting.

The thing is, Donald Trump has learned how to control the narrative. And he controls it the way a reality show contestant does: by creating drama, and then letting others talk about it.

At some point, the press bears some responsibility for covering the show in exactly the way Trump intends.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


The new feature

Hearing no objections, starting next Wednesday I'm going to start profiling the people I went to law school with. I have begun to do some digging around, and the more I find the more intriguing the project becomes. There is a fascinating variety of stories, and an amazing array of paths that have been followed from that one point in place and time.

One thing I have found intriguing already is the different ways in which we seem to have defined and pursued success. Some, from the start, sought power. Others sought meaning, or to create social good. For some, probably, financial security was paramount, and it is clear that some chose family above everything else. And, of course, for a lot of us there is a mix of things. Seeking power and social good, for example, need not be mutually exclusive (though they do create tension if they are pursued simultaneously, I suspect).

And, of course, some people found success in a place or doing something that they did not intend to end up in. That happens, too.

As I start this project, I'm going to set some ground rules:

1) Only positive things and setbacks that have been surmounted will be part of what I describe. I have no interest in embarrassing anyone or writing about personal tragedies.

2) I'm only going to rely on and relate information that is already publicly available, preferably in bios that the people themselves have some control over. This isn't much of a limitation; I've found that for nearly everyone I have looked into there is a wealth of public information out there right now. I'll also rely on my own (positive) recollections for some people.

3)  I'm not going to go in any particular order-- it's going to be fairly random.

We'll start next week!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


A thought for a new feature...

Not long ago, I was thinking about all the remarkable people I got to share law school with. Some of them are famous, a few are infamous, and all of them are fascinating. Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to re-connect with a number of them, and it reminded me of what an unusual crowd that was.

My idea is to pick one of those classmates to profile on, say, Wednesday of every week. What do you think?

Monday, May 20, 2019


On the bus!

I love what people did with this (though I thought more people would have bus stories!). We had all four directions of the country represented. First, from the West, this from DDR:

The school bus driver
Was a true alcoholic
And yet we lived.

CTL remembered a bus in the East (Philadelphia):

SEPTA buses are 
Zoos on wheels, but where people,
Not apes, throw feces.  

The Medievalist has a most Minnesota reflection:

Riding the school bus,
Going north to Grand Marais,
Lutherans canoeing.

And, probably my favorite, Christine rode the bus in the South:

Caught bus in Daytona
Moon lit skies, snow covered fields
A red-eye ride home.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Sunday Reflection: A private, public moment

Yesterday was commencement at UST law. Because the students chose me as the "Professor of the Year," I got the honor of being the person who puts the academic hood on each student as they cross the stage.

It is actually a tricky job. I'm not an especially tall guy, so it's a challenge to get it over the heads of some of the taller folks, and if you do it wrong it starts to look like a version of human ring toss. Those hats aren't too stable, either, and there is a real danger of knocking them off. And, of course, since the student is facing away from you, there is a good chance of putting the hood over their face instead of around their neck. At this commencement there was a special challenge, too: it was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church downtown, and the passageway by the pulpit where we did the hooding was very narrow, and fronted on a five-foot drop. There was a very low one-foot rail by the edge. There was a pretty good chance that if I messed up, some new grad was going to take a header over the edge.

But, none of that happened.

Instead, it was this series of really wonderful moments. As you do the hooding, all eyes are on you, of course. And yet, there is this intimacy to it, too, standing there with these people we have known for three years. As they came up, I knew many of their stories-- what their challenges were, their hopes, the context of all this fuss-- and it was hard not to get choked up. As I slipped the hood over their cap, I whispered something in their ear, some little bit of encouragement or thanks.

At my own graduation, 29 years ago, Dean Guido Calabresi did just that as I graduated. And I can still hear his voice.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Campaign snapshot: A Friday morning at a coffeeshop in Iowa

Yesterday, I happened to be in central Iowa (you know how that goes-- sometimes you just can't avoid doing some business in central Iowa). After a little research, I found that Montana Governor and just-announced presidential candidate Steve Bullock was doing a "meet and greet" at Uncle Nancy's Coffeehouse in Newton, Iowa, so I headed over there. My hope was to ask him how he would use the constitutional pardon power (since that is kind of my thing, as you probably know).

Newton is an interesting town, best known as the onetime home of the Maytag Corporation. Maytag moved most of its operations to Mexico, merged with Whirlpool, and then just went away entirely, so this is a community that paid the price of internationalization. I would imagine the appeal of Donald Trump and "America First" would be pretty strong here, though the town does seem to have survived fairly well by diversifying its economy. It was good to see the Hotel Maytag being restored as well, albeit as apartments.

Uncle Nancy's sits on the town square, across from the classic 1911 Jasper County Courthouse. It's not a pretentious place--one poster advertised an upcoming concert by  Dokken-- and there was plenty of room for the 50 or so people who showed up to hear Bullock.

It's no secret that I support Amy Klobuchar in the primary (in fact, I supported her run before she announced it). Bullock seems to be running in the same lane as Klobuchar, and every position he articulated yesterday tracked the points Klobuchar staked out some time ago. He did have an intentional bit of a folksy air to him, which is a little iffy coming from a guy who went to Claremont McKenna and Columbia Law and worked for Steptoe and Johnson.  Of course, that persona was utilized a long time ago by Naval Academy grad and nuclear engineer Jimmy Carter, and I love that guy. Bullock also mentioned "Jasper County" several times, which I suppose is intended to create a bond with the locals ("Hey! Check it out! This guy knows where he is currently located!"). It feels like pandering, and after the fourth or fifth time it was cringe-worthy.

Unfortunately, Bullock didn't take my question. Somewhat suspiciously, he took questions almost exclusively from a group of older folks sitting directly in front of him. Their questions seemed to go to his obvious talking points, and once he was done with them, the guy in the  ethanol-plant workman's vest asking about ethanol, and a guy in a Bullock button asking him to talk about his health plan, he closed down the Q & A. It seemed like an odd amount of question-planting and staging for a crowd of 50 people in a place called "Uncle Nancy's." That level of control did not work out well for Hillary Clinton.

I'm not the first person to observe this, but I think it is an important point that was really apparent as I stood in that room: Iowa is not representative of the United States. There were no black or brown faces at Uncle Nancy's, and I was relatively young among that crowd (and I am 56!). Given the outsized importance of the Iowa caucuses, that is troubling. It would make sense to have the Iowa caucus and South Carolina primary on the same day, to diversify the participants in the winnowing process. 

It was fascinating to see this little sliver of the electoral process. I may come back to Iowa this summer to see some more...

Friday, May 17, 2019


Haiku Friday: On the bus

I heard a short presentation today about new electric buses coming into service here in Minneapolis-- $1.5 million buses!

Sometimes I'll take the bus to work, and in the past I have taken some longer trips on the bus (as have most people... and isn't it weird that we refer to any kind of bus in the simple singular, ie "the bus?").

We all have a bus story. Let's make them into haiku. Here, I will go first:

I sat with Fournier
All the way to Iowa
Epic adventure.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: What the Right and the Left are getting

Just because I can (and also kinda because I will be in the area anyways) tomorrow morning I am going to head over to Uncle Nancy's Coffeehouse in Newton, Iowa for a meet n' greet with Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who as of this week is running for president. Perhaps I will get to meet "Uncle Nancy" too!  

That election is a long ways away, though, and we still have time to think more broadly about bigger issues. 

At the broadest level, I was captivated by a book review in the New York Times by David From. He was reviewing Adam Gopnick's book "A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism." At the center of the piece, this quote from the book jumped right out at me:

“The basic American situation in which the right wing wants cultural victories and gets nothing but political ones; while the left wing wants political victories and gets only cultural ones. … The left manages to get sombreros banned from college parties while every federal court in the country is assigned a far-right-wing activist judge.”

How true is that? I was almost toppled over by the insight that the right wants cultural victories and gets political ones, while the left wants political victories but is winning the culture war. It is so true! 

But isn't that unsustainable? Eventually, won't both sides see the disconnect and change either what they want or their tactics?

Or, perhaps more ominously, the right winning the political war-- and the judge-picking that goes with it-- will allow them to enforce cultural norms not held by the majority of the country. That, of course, could lead to their loss of political power but (because of lifetime appointments) not their hold over the judiciary, where culture can be capped and controlled.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


A Cart for America's Drunkest Golfer

I'm not a huge golf fan. I think the use of land for golf courses in some places (ie, Los Angeles) is pretty ridiculous, and it drives me bananas to see it on TV, with the whispering announcers and tracking shots of a tiny white ball someplace against a herky-jerky sky. Still, I have to admit that it does have some fascinating personalities floating around.

For the last three decades one of them has been John Daly, who was just approved to ride a cart for the PGA Championship, drawing a rebuke from Tiger Woods, who recalled that he walked the course (and won that tournament) on a broken leg.

Daly has a variety of ailments that make walking difficult, and I don't begrudge him the cart (though, again, I don't know much about this sport and its traditions, so I probably should not have an opinion at all).

Daly is a character: probably the only pro golfer to be arrested for public drunkenness in the parking lot of a Hooter's restaurant, he claims to have lost over $50,000,000 gambling (including over a million dollars in one slot machine). He has also recorded two albums. I have not heard them.

More than anything, he reminds me of Denny McClain, the Tigers pitching ace who actually looked like Daly and had some similar issues, right down to cutting a poorly-received album. (I actually wrote about him here 12 years ago, in the first month of the blog!).

Sports really is just a series of human-interest stories, and that's not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


The Ronald Sullivan Debacle

In the little academic world I work within, Ronald Sullivan, Jr. is a big deal. When I started thinking about clemency work-- in 2009-- he was the first person I met with. Sullivan is a Harvard Law Professor who runs a fantastic clinic there; many of the people I have worked with were his students at one time or another.

He and his wife have also served as the Deans of one of Harvard's residential colleges for undergraduates, Winthrop House. It's a job that includes a certain amount of leading, counseling, and inspiring the undergrads, and usually means living in the dorm with them.

Like me, Sullivan sometimes works as a lawyer on behalf of clients embroiled in criminal law (mine are all pro bono; I am not sure if his work is pro bono or paid).  Recently, he took on the representation of Harvey Weinstein, and that is when things got weird, according to the NY Times.

Students protested Sullivan's work with Weinstein, who is accused of a series of sexual assaults. There was a sit-in, and it sounds like the atmosphere was generally tense. Then, last Saturday, Sullivan and his wife were informed that their contracts would not be renewed.

It could be that the termination was based on considerations other than the dispute over Weinstein, but observers seem to think that it was the Weinstein issue that led to the non-renewal. Though, according to the Harvard Crimson, there were allusions to previous management disputes, it certainly seems that the Weinstein representation drove the current turmoil. As it turns out, Sullivan had already withdrawn from the Weinstein team due to scheduling conflicts.

The core problem here is one we often see in political contexts when good defense lawyers run for office and then are castigated for their work: Defense lawyers represent fantastically unpopular people. By definition, their clients are accused of crimes, often terrible ones. That's what defense attorneys do, and it is an essential role within our system of justice. We want someone-- and someone talented-- to be there for the person accused of a theft, of an assault, of selling drugs, or of sexual assault. When I was a prosecutor, I always appreciated a hard-working, smart defense lawyer; their presence meant I had to do my job well. 

To turn a person's representation of an unpopular person accused of a crime into a political issue is wrong, and it may exacerbate a serious existing problem: the difficulty in some places of getting good lawyers to represent those accused of crimes.

Within the context of education, pushing Sullivan out teaches a terrible lesson. The value of defending the unpopular is at the center of our conceptions of justice, and Harvard has affirmed the opposite, as Conor Friedersdorf explained at The Atlantic.

I have no problem with students (or anyone else) protesting Harvey Weinstein. It is senseless, though, to protest the person who might defend Harvey Weinstein in court. 

Monday, May 13, 2019


In the rain

I love when haiku reflect the writer; the kind of thing that no one else could have done. And there were two like that last week, on the subject of rain. First, there was this from Christine:

I smell it, nearing...
Slight breezes ruffle the leaves
Raindrops hit my cheeks.

And then there is this from (naturally) the Spanish Medievalist:

The rain in Spain falls
On the just and unjust alike,
Just made this one up.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Mother's Day

It's a weird holiday, isn't it?

Here is why: I don't think we ever fully realize what it is that our mothers have given us. We see the obvious stuff--advice, the provisions of life-- but there is always something deeper in play, too. Our moms, in a million different ways, crafted who we become. Sometimes it was intentional, and sometimes it was not.

For me, that is all to the good. One thing about my mom that is remarkable is that she always tries to see the best in everyone; she takes no pleasure in anyone's tragedies. That is such a rare quality today.  When I am tempted to do otherwise (a temptation I sometimes succumb to), I hear her voice urging the better way.

There is no one thing that can be said about all mothers, other than this: they mattered.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


Well, that's discouraging...

Clemency in the form of a commutation (shortening of sentence) is, in a way, a delicate social pact between the executive and someone in prison. The president is counting on the person receiving the commutation to hold up their end of the deal and take advantage of the mercy they have been shown.

That's why it is discouraging to read things like this piece in the Waco paper, which describes Ricky Lamont Garrett's commutation, re-arrest, and conviction. I'm surprised he got clemency under the Obama program, given its supposed limits, and saddened by his poor choices once he received that gift of freedom. He evaded police and was found with three bags of ecstasy.

One incident, though, does not indict the entire project. The truer metric will be to compare redivism rates of those who received clemency with those who served a full term. That work hasn't been done yet, and I won't go beyond discouragement based on one case until we see that.

Friday, May 10, 2019


Haiku Friday: The rain

Traditional haiku often deals with nature themes, and I get pretty far afield here at the Razor. Let's try it out this week, though.

This is the time of year when rain sweeps in and makes everything green (at least in Minnesota). I love the way it looks and feels. 

Here, I will go first:

There is a sound, first
A gentle whoosh, and it's here
Cat footsteps appear.

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

Thursday, May 09, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Blockade

I have a theory.

Over the past several days, the Trump administration has pretty much stopped providing anything to the House of Representatives' committees that conducting investigations. Most recently, the administration asserted executive privilege over the Mueller report, and the House Judiciary Committee held Attorney General William Barr in contempt over the move.

It's hard not to  think that a directive from the top has come down: give them nothing. 

I don't think it is the "Constitutional Crisis" some are declaring; the Constitution says almost nothing about any of this. I know... it does create a separation of powers generally, and there are cases upholding the House's ability to subpoena the president, but I don't think we can call something a Constitutional Crisis unless there is a threat to something clearly within that document.

So, anyways, my theory:

I suspect that this administration would welcome impeachment on the current facts, and are inviting it at this point. Here is why:

First, impeachment would almost certainly be futile, given the composition of the Senate.

Second, if impeachment happens and the Senate inevitably acquits, it is vindication for Trump in the eyes of many.

Third, it plays into Trump's core narrative that the "elites" are out to get him.

Fourth, they know that worse facts may come out later, and the Democrats are unlikely to pull off two impeachments; there just isn't time. Better to have them burn it off now.

Finally, even if the House does not impeach, this tactic kills a lot of time.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019


SNL in the 1980's

I remember watching Saturday Night Live in the 1970's, when the original cast (John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Lorraine Newman) were just creating something that people loved. It was a cultural phenomenon. 

Then, in 1980, they all left. For a lot of people, that ushered in a dark period for the show, where the product did not live up to expectations set by that original cast. Looking back at it, though, it is pretty remarkable who appeared as cast members during that period, some of them for only one season before getting booted. Check out this partial list of cast member from 1980-87:

Billy Crystal
Joan Cusack
Robert Downey, Jr.
Christine Ebersole
Gilbert Gottfried
Christopher Guest
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss
Jon Lovitz
Laurie Metcalf
Anthony Michael Hall
Dennis Miller
Eddie Murphy
Joe Piscapo
Randy Quaid
Harry Shearer
Martin Short
Daman Wayans

Tuesday, May 07, 2019


Tonight in DC!

If you live in or around DC, I hope you will be able to come to something I have been looking forward to for weeks. Tonight, Dr. Joanne Braxton will moderate a discussion between Nkechi Taifa and I about the idea of reparations for African-American communities. It's a complicated and important issue-- just the type I love to talk about. We'll get things going at 6, and it's all happening at the Potter's House in Adams-Morgan. You can get all the details here.

Monday, May 06, 2019


Summer vacation(s)

Ah, summer! And the wacky travel it can bring. There were some wonderful haiku on the subject this week. For example, we had this from the Spanish Medievalist (which I suppose makes sense, right?):

Madrid summer sun,
Old medieval monuments,
Steaming paella.

Jill Scoggins has a dream-- like, a real nighttime dream-- about this:

From my dreams last night:
A Portuguese jewel hued
sun soaked palace. Why?

And I loved this evocative poem by CTL:

Salty ocean breeze 
Fills the lungs, soaks up troubles,
Carries them away. 

Sunday, May 05, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Winning by losing

Over the course of my life, I have failed to achieve many things I really desired in that moment. Sometimes, it hurt a lot to have failed. In my early 20's, having graduated from college, I really struggled to find my footing. I tried very hard to get a job as a copywriter at an ad agency, and got nowhere. A few place asked for more information; I provided it and then never heard from them again.

After a while, I tried to get almost any decent-paying job that would allow me some financial independence. Again and again, I was turned down.  When I tried to get a job with Northwest Airlines as a gate agent or flight attendant, I didn't make it past the first round. My self-esteem was dragging.

Eventually, I took a low-paying, no-status job doing menial jobs for a law firm, including working as a process server.  Probably, I wasn't that good at it, in part because I read over everything I was handling, fascinated. Which, of course, led to law school.

When we fail, we often think God has failed us. But... perhaps there is something larger going on, as always.

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