Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Radio waves

On Monday, I was driving home from work and listening to my favorite NPR show, which is "On Point with Tom Ashbrook."  They were talking about college, and specifically the Ivy League, when "Mary from San Antonio" called in.  I knew right away that it was Mary Darden-- and it was.  She made the best point of all, about the need to teach in a way that allows for joy and feeling.  I sat in the car quietly thinking about that.  It wasn't so odd that Mary was on the radio (I've been on that show myself), but the fact that I heard her familiar, wise voice right there.

It's like that sometimes.  I turned the channel and heard this:

It's a song that means something to me, as I have written here before.   How can you not love this?

Running to the door [Pips: Running to the door]
Peeping at the window [Pips: Peeping at the window]
Hoping to see… only you.
Listenin’ for the phone [Pips: Listenin’ for the phone]
Checkin’ out the time [Pips: Checkin’ out the tic-toc]
Counting every second down,
Hear me now…. 5,4,3,2,1!

It's a big, small beautiful world, and fall is coming.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


In today's New York Times...

The editorial board of the Times supports the proposal Rachel Barkow and I have made regarding clemency in an editorial today.  They even cited to our article, which is coming up in the University of Chicago Law Review. 

It is, as usual, a well-written piece.  Here is the heart of it:

Mr. Obama’s failure to wield the pardon power more forcefully is all the more frustrating when considered against the backdrop of endless accusations that he is exercising too much executive authority, sometimes — his critics say — arbitrarily if not illegally. In this case, he should take advantage of a crucial power that the Constitution unreservedly grants him.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Miss Piggy!

Of all of the Muppets, Miss Piggy is the one I have had the most trouble with.  I'm not sure what it is, but something about that pig just rubs me the wrong way.  Even as a kid, I would yell at Kermit:  "Run!  Run!" but it didn't matter.

However, maybe I can rethink this based on Renee's haiku:

Porcine bulk she's
Kissable and curled luscious like
Mae West and throws her 

Pearls and hips before 
Frogs.Falsetto caresses,
"O Kermie!" Ruthless 

When defied or at 
The mere mention of bacon
Boa'd,never boring.

Not fraidy,like Wilbur
This is a pig in charge.Born
To bling.Chutzpah, thy

Name is Miss Piggy. 
Gimmee some sugah,Sausage!
Piggy...WAIT! Don't hit me...

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Sunday Reflection: On Boyhood

Yesterday, I saw the movie Boyhood, and it was great.  It tracks a family over 12 years, and was filmed over the course of those 12 years-- the photos above are of the main character during this time period.  

There were three things that lingered with me afterwards:

1)  It made me miss Texas (it takes place all over the state).  Oddly, though, it didn't make me miss central Texas, where I spent 10 years and where most of the action in the movie takes place.  Rather, it made me miss West Texas, especially the area around Alpine and Marfa, where I once had an epic roadtrip with IPLawGuy.  I'm not sure why that is, though it may be because of the strange beauty of it, and the solitude.

2)  I loved a short passage in the film that dealt with faith.  The kid is given a Bible, and the family goes to a church out in the country.  The minister gives a short sermon, about Thomas' doubts, and it isn't a bad sermon.  It was one of those things you had to think through later-- the sermon's point was that you had to believe without proofs, and the kid seems to be thinking about that.  But... he never goes back.  There is something deep there, about religion in our time.  Simply insisting that people believe because they should isn't working very well.  The richness of the message is too often lost.

3)  There is a line in the movie, spoken by the mother, that I often hear.  She has made some choices that made things hard for her kids, and she looks at her son and says "I did the best I could."  I've never been comfortable with that answer; it rings false.  I know that there has not been one relationship in my life where I "did the best I could." because in each I could have been better.  I have always been imperfect-- not just in an absolute sense, but in comparing my choices to what was possible for me at the time.  I have never done the best I could.  I learn, I hope, but I have never once met that standard-- not at work, not in relationships, not in anything.  I reach for the holes, and believe them when I feel them.  They are always there.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


The best TV show

Lately, I've been catching up on "Arrested Development" on Netflix.  It's the first show I've watched from end-to-end in a long time, and it is excellent.  I mean, it's no Sesame Street, but still...

Friday, August 15, 2014


Haiku Friday: Sesame Street!

I'm not sure why I have been thinking about Sesame Street these days, but maybe that is just part of it being summer.  

There are plenty of haiku opportunities there!  Here, I will go first:

What was up with Bert?
He always seemed upset,
And so so yellow!

Now it is your turn!  Just make it 5/7/5 on the syllable count, and have some fun...

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Good news, and good moves by the President

Not long ago, I wrote about the plight of the Yazidi people stuck on a mountaintop in Iraq, and since then their sad plight has continued.

Now, though, it appears that the siege of the mountain has been broken and an evacuation begun.    The New York Times (who also provided the picture above) reports that "United States airstrikes and Kurdish fighters had broken the siege on Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of Yazidis trapped there to escape."

Intriguingly, about a dozen U.S. Marines and Special Forces soldiers had been dropped on the mountain to help with the operation.  Clearly, this has been a successful mission.

Will the President, who must have approved this option get any credit for this?  Probably not, though he should.  Unfortunately, he is at a point in his presidency where few people seem to have a political reason to speak that truth, and that is too bad.  It was a bold yet restrained move, and best of all, it worked.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


More bad news for the Insane Clown Posse

I guess when a group calls itself the "Insane Clown Posse," that should be a sign of trouble.  Independently, each of the three words-- insane, clown, and posse-- send up red flags, so when you jam them all together, it's got to be a problem.  As I already found out, they aren't regular clowns.

And so it is.  Now, it appears that the guys (Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope) are being sued for sexual harrassment by a former employee.  Plus, their suit against the FBI to get their fans off the "gang" registry doesn't seem to be going well, either. 

What's next?  Hopefully, a return to professional wrestling...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


A rich life, and a sad end.

Monday, August 11, 2014


Big Summer

I loooooved this haiku from the mysterious (and heretofore unseen) DDR:

DQ Manager
You won my heart (that July)
Slow kisses, free cones.

Such an image there!  There is nothing quite like soft-serve ice cream in the summer… whether in Milwaukee or the Jersey Shore (with jimmies) or wherever.

Yesterday, I got to see a summer classic-- the demolition derby at the Carver County Fair.  Maybe it is the Detroit in me, but I love the demolition derby...

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Mary Don't You Weep

Yesterday, I went to see the new James Brown film, and it was excellent.  There is some history there, including the racial history of America in the middle of the 20th century, that was hard to revisit (but relentlessly true).

One thing the movie did was show the rootedness of Brown's music in gospel, a music that pervaded the place where he was raised.  The song featured above, Mary Don't You Weep, plays a key role in the story, and recurs throughout the film.  It's a song some people might know as one that Bruce Springsteen sometimes performs in concert.  It's a great song.

Which, as usual, brings me back to Bob Darden, who has done so much to save this form of music-- it's very historical existence-- and who has taught me what little I know about it.

Music can stir the soul, but I find that it only happens when I am open to it, when I let myself hear it and move to it.  There are times in my life when I have shut it out, let it fade to the background behind politics and sports and some guy on the radio talking about fuel economy.  It takes effort to do that-- and like water flowing around a stone or the Holy Spirit filling a room, it always comes back in.

Where does that urge come from, to shut out music? I suspect it is about control, since music takes us places (and brings back memories) that may not be of our choosing.  And I am at my best when I let that guard down, and listen.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


Amy Dawson

Yesterday, I had lunch with Amy Dawson,  who is running for judge here in Hennepin County.   Ron Rapoport, one of my favorite profs ever, had suggested that we get together.

It was fascinating.  Amy has a practice devoted to legal issues involving autism, a speciality that is both needed and challenging.  It takes her (and the other people in her firm) across the whole range of legal specialties, from criminal law to contracts.  It made me miss that kind of legal work, though I do get some taste of it still through my work on commutations.

She will make an excellent judge, of course-- I can see why she wants the job and why she would be good at it.  At times I got the sense that people became judges because they had become bored with their practice, but the opposite seems to be true with Amy; she is totally engaged in her work and obviously relishes it, but wants a different role within the system.

Plus… we ate outside.  It was 70 degrees, the skies were clear, and the Mississippi River rolled by as we ate.  Ah, Minneapolis!

Friday, August 08, 2014


Haiku Friday: Summer Love

When I was a kid, the start of the "Back-to-School" sales always sent my brother into a little tailspin-- it was like retailers were taunting us about the end of summer.  I wasn't quite as affected… by the end of the summer I was usually ready to go back to school… luckily, I am still that way.

And what about summer romances?  Everyone has had one, even if way back in time, or even if it just felt like summer,   Let's haiku about that this week.  

I'll go first:

A hot day simmers
We rode bikes, side by side
She made me wobble.

Now it is your turn!  Just make it 5 syllables, 7, and 5, and have some fun! 

Thursday, August 07, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Is there a future for high-speed rail in the U.S.?

The short answer (and a correct one) to my question above is "of course."  The U.S. already has a very successful high-speed rail line, Amtrak's Acela that runs between Boston and Washington DC.  Well, as the New York Times reports,  it might be more of a medium-speed rail right now, but let's not quibble.

The real question is whether or not there are any other market for high-speed rail that will actually see trains, whether built by public or private efforts.  The best-supported public plan seems to be the LA-to-SF line in California, which seems to be moving forward.  Private plans in Florida and Texas seem hopeful, too.  

Still, it seems possible that in 20 years, the Acela will still stand alone (though hopefully with some improvement).  Maybe that is for the best; that route offers the nation's best concentration of population centers.  I love trains, though, and I want some new ones to ride...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Another quiet crisis

Sometimes I am struck by the number of humanitarian crises going on around the world that I had never heard about.  Yesterday, I stumbled on one (via a Ron Fournier tweet) that was particularly striking and sad.

As Sunni extremists continue to hold much of Iraq's north, over 10,000 members of a minority group are stranded on a mountaintop and dying of hunger and  thirst.  According to the Washington Post,  the refuges are from "the minority Yazidi sect, which melds parts of ancient Zoroastrianism with Christianity and Islam. They are considered by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State to be devil worshippers and apostates."  It appears that the Sunni extremists are killing them when they are found.  

It's just... profoundly sad.

And the thing that makes me the saddest is that it is faith that drives such hatred. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014


The Life of James Brady

A few weeks ago, while I was in DC working on the clemency project, I stayed at a hotel on Connecticut Avenue.  I had a room with three windows looking across the street at the Washington Hilton, a big convention hotel.  At dusk one night, I found myself watching the light fade over it as I remembered something that happened a long time ago, during my senior year in high school.  Ronald Reagan was President, and had given a speech at the Hilton.  As he stepped through the front doors, a young man named John Hinckley tried to assassinate him, in a deranged effort to impress the actress Jodie Foster.  He used a gun he bought for $29 at a pawn shop.  Four people were hit:  President Reagan, a DC police officer, a Secret Service agent, and Reagan's press secretary, James Brady.  Of them, Brady was the most badly hurt, as a bullet entered the right side of his head.

After that, he was confined to a wheelchair, and suffered impaired speech and memory. 

I remember thinking, as a student in high school, that it was terrifying that so much damage could be done by one unstable person if only he could get his hands on a gun, even a bad, cheap gun. 

James Brady went on, with the help of his wife Sarah, to crusade against the availability of guns to people like Hinckley.  He won, too-- he pushed for and got the law that requires background checks and waiting periods to purchase guns in most circumstances.  That law has prevented as many as two million gun transactions to people who shouldn't have a gun.

I am glad he lived those 33 more years; he became one of those people with influence rather than power who make things better.

Monday, August 04, 2014


The sad popsicle

So, I really liked Casablanca Fan's haiku about popsicles:

Red is my favorite
All chemically goodness
Drips stain everything

... but there is something sad in there, too.  Not tragic-Muppet-Theme sad, maybe, but just something.  I suspect that long ago I did exactly this with a red popsicle and felt terrible about ruining my shirt...

Sunday, August 03, 2014


Sunday Reflection: From the forest

Yeah, I realize that low-light black and white photos tend to make my family look like coal miners in 1932, but I still love this picture.  It was taken this week up at the island, where we ate well, built a dock, and caught a few fish.

It's been a busy year so far, and it looks like it will continue on that way… but it was good to get a break.  Wilderness is good that way; there are no calls, no television, no email, and that doesn't end up mattering too much.  

Still, what I love best about this week is in this picture.

Saturday, August 02, 2014


Football? Please?

This is the darkest time of the sports year for me.  The only thing going is pro baseball, which I have trouble getting too excited about.  It's like Advent-- a period of quiet reflection-- but only because there isn't much to talk about, sports-wise.

But football will be here soon, luckily.  The pro teams are practicing now, and the college teams are starting to get their act together (which, at the University of Texas, means counting the players who haven't left the program and hoping there are 11 left over).

I'm ready.  Saturdays will soon have a new and better meaning.

Friday, August 01, 2014


Haiku Friday: The Popsicle

In August, do we really need any other foods?

Let's haiku about that.  I will go first:

Huh?  Blue raspberry?
Raspberries aren't blue!  But then…
What flavor is pink?

Now it is your turn… just use 5 syllable in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third!

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