Monday, November 30, 2009


Where would you go?

Every once in a while I lie on the couch and imagine going on a trip somewhere I have never been. That project, of course, involves selecting a place to go. Lately that place-- the place I would most like to visit-- has been Japan. Part of the appeal of it is that it seems like a place that is very different than our own, and that little things that were somewhat familiar would be very different. For example, I wonder what a grocery store in Japan is like-- what they sell, and how it is displayed. I would soak it all in, quietly, and wonder about the reasons for those differences.

If you could, where would you go?

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Sunday Reflection: Advent

[click on the photo to enlarge it]
I love advent. I love the idea of it, the quiet waiting. I love that it follows on the heels of Thanksgiving: A holiday of thanks followed by one of hope! What could be better?

Of course, our culture pulls against both, too often urging us to turn from humble thanks to self-aggrandizement, and from quiet waiting to feverish shopping. I try to resist, while loving many aspects of our culture of freedom, which includes the freedom to merchandise and market things.

Above is my advent picture. It embodies the idea at the core of advent for me... there is light, but no one there yet.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Mary Landon Darden and the Treasures of the Texas Collection

One of the blessings of my life is to be surrounded by friends who are more talented than I am, and one of those friends is Mary Landon Darden. She's a person of incredible accomplishment, and one of the most effective organizers I know.

Her most recent project is fascinating. She has produced and hosted a 30-minute weekly radio show which tells the stories buried within Baylor's "Texas Collection" of historical artifacts. Every week, a different story is revealed. It's a novel and provocative way to bring up from hiding these wonderful bits of history-- a trick which is typical of Mary.

The show airs at 1:30 on Saturdays and 7 on Sundays on KWBU (103.3-FM) in Waco. Check it out!

Friday, November 27, 2009


Haiku Black Friday

[click on the picture to enlarge us]

When you get 11 Oslers under one roof, fun will be had. And it was. It was a fabulous Thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving Eve). One of our traditions is Festive Holiday Kitchen Dancing, which occurs usually between dinner and dessert. Here you can see my sister Kathy and I doing a little 80's-style slam dancing, which is a special challenge now that she is training in the roller derby. (by the way, she has changed her derby name from Miss KO to Misty KO-- get it? Miss TKO? No, I didn't either, at first).

Let's haiku, then, about the fun or whatever it was that you had yesterday. It can be silly or meaningful, your choice. Here is mine:

Warm light, family
Dusk, a fire, laughter abounds
We did something right.

Now, it is your turn...

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Political Mayhem Thanksgiving

As a regular feature here at the Razor, every Thursday we complain about some political idea, and then about one another. Let's do something different today, Thanksgiving.

What are you thankful for, about our country or the people who post here?

I will go first:

This is an amazing country. I love the fearlessness of Americans, and that this is what brings us so often to our best moments.

As for those who post here-- I love the risks people take to say what they think, and the things I have learned from those who have taken that risk. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The Ultimate Thanksgiving Song


Travel Day

I absolutely love the day before Thanksgiving, and this is shaping up to be a great one. Good, positive, honest people around, family and friends, some from close by and others from far away.

For many years, I was traveling on this day to Connecticut, where my family gathered at my Grandmother's house. I took the train, and on this busy busy day Amtrak added all the rolling stock they had, including old pullman cars. It was like one big party on the train, and that is what I hope for at my house this evening.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Staring at fires at night

My parents are visiting, along with my sister and her family. As part of my preparations for their arrival, I bought a big ceramic chiminea. I had never seen one before coming to Texas-- outdoor fireplaces didn't make a lot of sense in Michigan. Here, though, there are many evening in the 60's, clear and cool, and it is perfect for an outdoor fire. I took some bricks to build a little hearth and set up a few old chairs near the new addition. With a little work, that warm glow took up in the belly of the chiminea, and we all were drawn to it.

That's how we spent the last of the evening, too. My father has known me for 46 years, and we have built many fires for one another. There is something primal in that-- the campfires, the fireplace at their house at Christmas, the firepit at Osler Island, all of those fires built with our hands plus some magic we don't fully control. By a fire at night, conversation is fuller and silences more satisfying. There was a long moment tonight in the midst of one of those silences; I looked back over my shoulder at the moon and his eyes followed mine. Nothing more was said.

There is much to be thankful for this year. It shall not always be this way.

Monday, November 23, 2009


All right! A new blog to love...

Life is just full of good surprises this week, and it is only Monday. Last night, both my sister and her family and GED3 came over. I made a big dinner, since GED3 tends to, uh, eat a lot. He was on his way home to Houston from Tuscon, where he is now a federal prosecutor (and we all know how that can turn out).

Then, this morning, I found that Bob Darden, one of my long-time Heroes of Writing, now has a blog, Rural Free Delivery. For those of you who don't know Bob, he is a person of tremendous accomplishment. Beyond the many books he has written, he has done more in the "change the world" category than anyone else I know, but basically saving the nation's treasure of black gospel recordings in digital form before they are lost to the ages. If you want to hear more, listen to Bob's NPR Fresh Air interview here.

And check out his blog right now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Our fellow travelers

I know some people who define those who are like them in terms of faith by looking to those of the same religion, and the same denomination, and the same set of beliefs within that denomination. That is, they see as their fellow travelers (for example) Christians who are Baptists who are moderate.

Not me. I think the two things that make someone my fellow traveler is their affirmative answers to these two questions:

1) Do you believe in God?
2) Does that belief profoundly affect your life?

If a person's answer to both those questions is "yes," then we are fellow members of a minority, and have more in common with one another than we probably do with most others. It is these people that I most enjoy talking to, and who most inspire me, regardless of the faith that is the center of their life. I have much more in common with these people than I do with fellow Christians who use our faith to affirm their political beliefs or assure themselves of a heavenly future or to judge others.

One commonality I find with those who answer "yes" twice to that question is that (regardless of faith) they usually acknowledge how profoundly flawed they are (as I do), and feel more humbled by the presence of God than anything else.

Who are your fellow travelers?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Big Game Day...

So far, it is not going well for me:

Ohio State 21, Michigan 10
#4 Richmond 13, #5 William and Mary 10
Harvard 14, Yale 10

And in the first half, it is Texas A & M 21, Baylor 3...

Friday, November 20, 2009


Haiku Friday: Favorite Restaurants

First, mine:

Hola, Hula Hut,
Founded by Jabba The Hut,
Now owned by Elves.

Next, yours.

Just remember the golden rule: 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second, and 5 for the third.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Political Mayhem Thursday: Why RRL is a Hippie, and Why That is OK

More than most of my students, I have some idea of what hippies were like in the 60's. In fact, it's safe to say that I knew a few of them pretty well, in fact. They did seem to share some basic values, though. Here are some of them:

1) They believed you should look how you want instead of conforming to what society might demand.

2) In matters beyond personal appearance, they believed in personal freedom. They wanted to smoke. They wanted to drink. They wanted sexual freedom. And they did not want to get hassled for it.

3) More than anything, they did not trust the government. They did not think the government was capable of doing good, and wanted the government to stay off their backs. This, of course, is consistent with 1 & 2 above.

Which of those does RRL disagree with?

If by "hippies," RRL means radicalized college students, we do have something close to a manifesto for them-- the Port Huron Statement, which you can read here. (Upon re-reading it, I was surprised to see the reference to my hometown of Grosse Pointe).

Written by Tom Hayden, the Port Huron Statement is a principally a statement of ideals, and somewhat wishy-washy as a plan of action. About the ideals, though... which ones do you disagree with?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Fashion Wednesday with Unfashionable Osler

Often, when I have some memorable event (say, an oral argument on an important case), I will get a new tie for the event. I like the ritual of it, and then I can identify my ties with an event.

On Monday, before my lecture at Harvard, I set out to get a new tie at J. Press in Cambridge. I found three good candidates and laid them out, then solicited the opinion of a dapper-looking salesman. Here was our conversation (and yes, I started with a heaping helping of hyperbole in an effort to be funny, but he did not get the joke):

Me: I'm going to try to change the world tonight, and I think I need just the right tie.

: Of course, sir. That's why we're here. What color jacket will you be wearing?

Apparently, they hear that a lot.

He then proceeded to ignore all my choices and instead recommend the tie pictured above. It was a pretty good choice, really; much better than the ones I had picked out.

But... does anyone really notice what tie a guy wears? Really?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Confidential to 3L Tyler Atkinson:

Thanks, man. Your info was totally helpful. I was able to talk about those bills like they might kind of make sense, which they don't.


Boston to Austin

This morning I went for a run, had a meeting here at Harvard and now will head back to Texas. I think it's fair to say that the trip has been a success. James Nortey did a fantastic job, and there were 80-100 people there for my lecture, which is a big crowd for this kind of thing. Moreover, they were a wonderful and responsive group. It was a great discussion, and I was very happy to bring a bit of Baylor Law to Harvard. You can see the (somewhat oversimplified) story in the Harvard Crimson here. It was also the lead story on the Crimson's web site this morning, though that will change as the day goes on.

If you are interested in the topic, I will be giving the same lecture, open to the public, at Baylor on December 8 at 7 pm.

I'll be back in Waco for a bit Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, then head to Austin to speak to the Travis County women lawyers about the death penalty. Then, Thursday morning I will teach appeals and habeas in the morning then head to San Antonio to do a federal panel CLE on prosecutorial misconduct. Whew! Then on Friday I will do laundry or perhaps get ready for next week.

One thing I can say is that this is a wonderful job, and I love every bit of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Back to Boston

I am now in Cambridge to make a quick visit to a jail and (separately, I hope) for this. I lived here for a while, when I was in my early 20's, before law school. It is pretty thick with memories.

Yesterday, when I arrived, two things happened simultaneously. First the red line T came up over the Charles as the clouds broke into an incredibly sunny and beautiful afternoon. Second, I flipped on my iPod to shuffle, and out of 1438 songs it selected "Back to Boston" by the Rosebuds:

And now, a poorly and hastily written poem stealing some lyrics from the song. Feel free to complete the last line or two, since it is unfinished:

Taut learned people in black
Ride bicycles over red leaves
Rushing to class, or back
Eyes set, intent
It is how they got here.

What I see:
I see all the looks on the Harvard faces
I know it's true.

Walk to the Yard
And then cross the Commons,
I look at you
And I say...

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Sunday Reflection: The Duality of Ministers

In writing my book, I had the wonderful help of many ministers and theologians at institutions outside of Baylor (and several at Baylor, whom I am not discussing here). I always made clear to them (as I did in the book itself) that I am neither a minister or a theologian, and that I have no formal religious training. Still, they were kind and helpful at every turn.

I came away with several observations, almost all of them positive about those whose vocation is faith. One thing I saw, however, was neither good or bad; I just see it as curious.

Most of the ministers and theologians I met are not literalists regarding the Bible-- that is, they did not think that every word of the Bible is inerrant and written by God. For example, several were critical of my use of John 8, because that passage has disputed authenticity-- most scholars think it was added to the Bible in or after the 4th century. In my discussions, these men and women were quite discerning in their analysis of the biblical texts, and I certainly acknowledge the superiority of their knowledge in this area relative to my own.

Still, when these same people would preach or write for a general audience, their sermons or articles invariably seemed to take the view of inerrancy and literalism. That is, they would read or quote a passage, and then discuss it as a historical fact. Rarely, if ever, did they acknowledge their own doubts or complexities about authenticity or interpretation. Again, as an example, if they talked to a general audience or congregation about John 8, they would address the substance of it, leaving aside the debate over its authenticity and inclusion in the canon.

The duality became clear to me-- they were questioners when talking to those they saw as peers, and functional literalists when they were in the pulpit. I certainly understand the need to take an audience into account, and I think this accounts for much of this reality. In fact, I would probably do the same as a preacher. Still... if this is true, are we hearing that person's truest thoughts? Should we?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


A note from Apocalipps

I noticed that a comment slipped in on an old post about Roller Derby. In whole, it said:

did you know apocalippz is a baylor grad? see the most recent issue of the baylor business review...just sayin... kisses! :-* -lippz

Intriguingly, Apocalippz is a member of the Texas Roller Girls. Her biggest dislike is fundamentalism, and her favorite movie is The Breakfast Club. How can you not love that?

Thus, somehow, the Roller Derby world has somehow overlapped not only with the Razorverse, but the Baylor Business Review...

Friday, November 13, 2009


Haiku Friday: Dreams

It is a wonderful thing to remember dreams; a window into our present hopes and fears. Let's haiku about dreams this week-- especially those recurring ones.

Here is mine:

The snow falls softly
I am buying coffee, then
Come to sit with you.

Now it is your turn-- just follow the recipe of 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables...

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Political Mayhem Thursday: The value of things

Yesterday, Andy Warhols "200 One-dollar Bills" (pictured above) sold for over $43 million.

Do markets really work?

If we go by pay, here are the vocations which are favored and disfavored:


High-profile artists (or at least their estates)
Professional athletes
Corporate executives
Corporate attorneys
Children of the very rich who don't work at all
High-profile actors


Social workers
Construction workers
Police officers

Does the first group provide more social utility than the second? If not, why is it that the first group is paid so much more? How do we justify the difference in pay between these two groups?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Next week...

If you are in or around Boston, I will be speaking at Harvard Law School at 6 pm on Monday, November 16 in Room 101 of Pound Hall. I will also be visiting a prison, but that's another story.

I'm looking forward very much to this lecture-- it's a subject I love, and they are promoting it at the Divinity School and the Kennedy School of Government as well as the law school. That is pretty much my dream audience, since much of my work is at the intersection of law, politics, and religion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Meep meep meep?

Apparently, students at Danvers High School have been officially banned from using the word "Meep." And I think we all know why-- it is because of the heavyhanded use of the word by this gentleman:


Day One, Graham, and Sullivan

Yesterday was the first class day of a new quarter at Baylor Law School. We move fast-- fall graduation just occurred on Saturday!

The quarter started with a bang for me, too. I was shocked (and pleased) to find that 50 students were in my sentencing class. I have never had more than 30 in the past, and usually the class is about 20, so 50 is a giant increase. My bet is that more students are interested in criminal law than ever. At least that is my hope; I am going to do my best to make it a great class.

If you doubted that sentencing is important, intriguing, and practical, read the stories tomorrow about the Sullivan (argument transcript here) and Graham (argument transcript here) cases that were argued yesterday in the Supreme Court. As many of you know, the subject of these cases, the sentence of juvenile life without possibility of parole, is of great interest to me.

It sounds like the Chief Justice made clear in oral argument that he would like the court to consider something other than a bright line constitutional ruling based on age-- he would prefer that sentencing judges be forced to take age into account when sentencing juveniles to lengthy sentences. While I'm certain this is a good idea, I'm not sure it answers the precise question before the Court in these cases, which is specifically whether or not that sentence is cruel and unusual. Thorough process is good, but the question is about outcomes, and the answer needs to address outcomes.

UPDATE: It appears that Uber-blogger Doug Berman agrees with me, though he uses the much more sophisticated (and accurate) term "textualism" to describe this approach.

Monday, November 09, 2009


My football secret revealed

I'm not a betting man, and I never have been. I'm not good enough at math to beat the system at a casino, but I AM good enough at math to know that I won't beat a casino without amazing memory and computational skills.

However, I am pretty good at picking college football games. I don't bet on them, but I do play "college pick-em" over at Yahoo. I'm consistently in the top 10% of people there, and always end the season with more winners than loser against the line.

My secret is very simple: I always pick the smaller school.

The reason this works, at least over the long term and so long as "working" just means getting significantly ahead of 50% over time, is because the line on a game is established by the bets that are placed. That is, the bookies will try to have an equal number of betters over and under the line. Big schools have more alums, and those alums bet on their school regardless of opponent and the line, so that distorts the line over time. That is, the line responds to the irrational betting of big-school alums by giving those people a worse deal, so the smaller school is always the smarter bet (though not always the winning one). This is most true when the schools are significantly different in size, and roughly equal in ability. For example, if TCU were to play Penn State, the larger number of Wisconsin alums would skew the line, giving an advantage to those betting on the smaller school, TCU.

You will never get every game right this way, but overall... it's pretty good.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Sunday Reflection: Champagne Supernova

Like everyone else, I have been puzzling over the killings at Fort Hood this week, wondering why someone would go on such a rampage, and what might be done. There are some answers I reject, such as that proffered by Diane Schrader in a letter to the Waco paper yesterday, in which she wondered "when are we going to stop letting people from the Middle East come into our wonderful country?"

I really don't have an answer, but I do have a thought. Senseless killing seems to be an extreme measure to feel significant, to feel like one is important and something other than powerless. For that moment, everyone is looking at the killer, and the killer cannot be ignored. It is hard to imagine that is not what the killer wants.

Our society and in particular our entertainment plays into these thoughts by constantly advocating the very wrong idea that those who do something significant are those who become the center of attention. Reality shows are the pinnacle of this-- people doing utterly insignificant things which are televised and made to seem important.

The truth is that the most significant people and acts are almost always done quietly, and rarely get acclaim. Think of those who changed your life the most. Seriously, stop for a moment and think who they have been. What are their names? What did they do?

I would imagine that those most significant people included parents and teachers. Did they receive acclaim for that? Were they on television, their name made known to the world? Or is true significance found in acts and words woven in the deeper fabric of life, a more muted, complex, and beautiful color?

Maj Nidal Malik Hasan perhaps believed the lie that significance and meaning is found in the outrageous and terrible. So, too often and in lesser ways, do the rest of us. I'm not sure whether or not the revolution will be televised, but I do know that significance and heroism rarely are. The best we can do is love and reward those who have quietly been significant to us, and be that person who humbly gives when the wheel turns and that becomes our role.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


All jumbled up

What a welter of events and emotions this week-- the best and the worst. I cannot stop thinking about the horrific events at nearby Fort Hood on Thursday. So many questions remain, the principle one being "why?"

Still, there have been such strong counterpoints. Yesterday I walked into school and saw a student and friend who had passed the bar. I shook his hand, and told him how happy I was, and it was very true-- I remember that feeling, the genuine deep relief, of getting that result. Today, too, is graduation, and I always love those.

Also, in amongst the haiku yesterday I found this, and it made me happy, too-- it sounds like someone in the Razorverse found love, and what is better than that?

Tests be damned
I am smiling and happy
Best date of my life!

Friday, November 06, 2009


Haiku Friday: Texts and Tests

There are a lot of happy Baylor grads today (and a few not-so-happy grads), as bar results from the summer test came out yesterday. Overall, Baylor people did quite well, as about 94% of our first-time test takers passed and we ended up very close to finishing first in the state as a school.

Test-taking is something all of us have experienced, even those of us who have never taken the bar. It involves such complex and intense sensations-- the sound of chairs on the floor, the smell of freshly-sharpened pencils, the crispness of the test paper. All of which makes it perfect for haiku. Here is mine:

Breathing out... just then
I open up the book, smile
Breathe in, start to write...

Now it is your turn. Just follow the haiku formula of five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Political Mayhem Thursday: The off-off year elections

On Tuesday, Republicans won two impressive victories, capturing the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. I can't say I followed those races closely, but I do think the New Jersey outcome is very interesting, in that the Republicans defeated a well-financed incumbent, Jon Corzine. They effectively attacked the biggest weakness of the incumbent, the high taxes paid by citizens of New Jersey.

So, the pundits all wonder, what do these outcomes "mean?" Well, at the simplest and most important level, it means that the majority of voters in those states favored Republicans for the state's highest office, which is especially intriguing in heavily Democratic New Jersey.

Does it mean anything beyond that?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Tomorrow in Austin!

I'll be driving down to Austin tomorrow to talk to the federal panel lawyers about some ethics stuff. So, what should one wear to a work engagement in Austin?


Garfield Minus Garfield, Finals Edition

[click on the strip to enlarge it]

I love the elegance of the Garfield strip with the dumb cat removed. The remaining character, Jon, has a certain mournful elegance to him that really comes out in this version. I would note that Jon is also a student in my Crim Prac and Pro class.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Tonight: I Am Trenchard

Tonight at 6 pm I will be appearing along with a bunch of professional actors and Blaine McCormick in a reading of David Mamet's adaptation of the Voysey Inheritance, which is presented as part of the Dale P. Jones Ethics Forum at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. The reading will take place in Kayser Auditorium at the B-School.

Here are the answers to some questions that have been posed to me about this (primarily by drunk people):

1) Is this going to be super-boring?

No. I think it is pretty interesting. It's about stealing stuff.

2) Are you going to be nude?

No. I will not be nude. In fact, it is a reading, so we won't even be walking around or doing car chases or anything.

3) Will there be car chases?


4) Are you going to be Voysey?

Well, I will be one of the Voysey brothers-- Trenchard, the oldest. He is an undeservedly self-important lawyer, so there shouldn't be much acting involved.

5) In the car chase...

There are no car chases.

6) Will I have to pay money to see you be in a play?

No. I think it is free.

7) Can I be in it?


Monday, November 02, 2009


The NHL/Will Ferrell Deal

I'm just hoping that this thing happens. Hockey really needs it.


Recipe: Corn Chowder with scallops

[The photo at right has nothing to do with corn chowder. It is simply a photo of my brother-in-law, Cupcake, previously known to Razorites for his talents in the area of kitchen-dancing.]

Here is a recipe for the chowder I make every year on Christmas Eve. It is appropriate for any cold-weather time of the year, and is especially good when served with homemade bread. The recipe here includes scallops, but you can substitute almost any firm meat (such as ham) or seafood. This should serve 6-8 fat people.


1.5 lbs bay scallops
8 oz. bacon (cut into 1/2 inch sections)
one big ol' onion
ground cumin
ground pepper
ground cayenne pepper
2 cups dry white wine
2 lbs yukon gold or fingerling potatoes (cut into 1/2 inch thingees)
7 cups chicken stock
6 cups corn (frozen or cut from the cob)
three medium carrots, cut into 1/2 inch sections
1.5 cups half-and-half
salt [Note to John Brennan: Do NOT use road salt]


Get a big old soup pot. Cast iron works best, non-stick surfaces the worst.
Heat pot over medium heat, add bacon and cook until done.
Remove bacon to a towel. DO NOT empty the pot.
Add onion to bacon grease and cook for 4 minutes.
Add carrots and cook for five minutes
Add one tablespoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, one teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Raise heat to high and add the wine. Cook 3 minutes on high.
Add chicken stock and potatoes, and bring to a boil.
Then turn down heat to medium-low, wait for boiling to stop (this is important).
Simmer 20 minutes. During this period, saute the scallops in a separate pan.
Stir in corn and half-and-half, cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of cilantro.
Now add in the scallops, add milk or half-and-half to get proper chowdery color, if necessary.
Last, put the bacon on the top and serve hot.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Sunday Reflection: Superstition

[click on the photo to enlarge it]

That's me as a ghost, having picked up a black cat that wandered nearby last night. The cat was not so into the idea, but his timing was perfect.

Should Christians have fun on Halloween? Obviously, my answer is yes. I do wonder about opposing viewpoints on this. Are there people out there who have genuine issues with it? What are the concerns beneath it all?

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