Friday, May 31, 2013


Haiku Friday: My Hometown

[Propaganda photo courtesy of Edina Badminton]

We are all from someplace, and live someplace.  You might consider one or the other (or both) your hometown, or maybe someplace else you have lived holds that status in your heart.  Sometime, somewhere, we all have a hometown, even if we get there late.

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

The lake defined us
The edge of our existence
And taker of life.

Now you go... I think people can have some real fun with this.  Just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, more or less.  All are welcome.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Should-Be Politicians

I am fortunate to know a lot of people who are  smart, good at compromise, care deeply about their community and their country, are well-educated, are driven by something other than ego, and have succeeded in diverse professions.  Many are conservative, others are liberal, and some are moderates.  None of them, though very well suited for it, have ever run for office.  Instead we have... well, you know who all we have in Congress.

That's really tragic.  I can't speak for any of them, but I would imagine the toxicity and expense of the task of running for office dissuades many people.

There is a real cost to this.  Any field of endeavor benefits when greater numbers of well-suited people enter the field.  Think about high school sports-- the best way to make a team better is to enlarge the number of participants in that sport.  Yet, in the area that might be most important-- running our country-- we have the opposite trend right now.

The Waco Farmer is one good example of someone who would be an excellent public servant, in almost any capacity from school board to Congress.  The same is true of IPLawGuy, Jeanne Bishop, OsoGrande, and many others here.... and that is a pretty limited sample!

What can we do to encourage people like these folks to enter the arena of public service?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Sometimes it is better without talking.

The truth is, there are times that almost anything is better without talking.  I know that is true for me-- some of my best moments were spent listening, not talking.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The Teaser

Last Sunday I went over to St. Stephens (aka the Neil Alan Willard House of Jesus) at 5 pm for the blessing of the creek.  It was an overcast day on a holiday weekend, and not many of us were there; just a few of us gathered in his name.

It was a transcendent religious experience, in its own quiet way.  I'll write about it this Sunday-- the photo is just a teaser.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Not playing favorites

Reading the baseball haiku from last week, I really couldn't pick favorites... they were great all around and all over the place in terms of content.  Check them all out here.

I love reading the poems people lay out there every week.  I see personalities develop and change, see the voices become stronger, and see some new ideas come out, ideas that challenge me.  On those days, the blog is bigger and better than I am, and the best thing I can do is sit back and revel in that.  Thank you, all... it is a good thing.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Sunday Reflection: Educating the Poor

Few seriously dispute that Jesus urged us to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked.   We do a lousy job of that sometimes, and sometimes as a society we do pretty well.  The better solution, of course, is to encourage a society where no one is hungry or naked in the first place.  That places responsibilities on both the society and the individual.

In light of that, might the greater problem be that we are not educating the poor?  They attend the worst public schools, fail disproportionately in college, and extend poverty across generations by failing to focus on education.

If we could get more of the poor to complete highs school, it would go a long ways towards lessoning poverty.  So, how do we do that?

I'm not an expert at either poverty issues or education, so I won't conjecture.  The first step, which has been taken by some of those experts, is to listen to the reasons that so many people in poor areas stop attending school-- narratives that are often both heartbreaking and somehow irrational to people not in that environment.

Our society is structured right now in a way that is creating stark disparities of wealth.  Is that a Christian concern?  Should education be part of the answer?

Saturday, May 25, 2013


What does Osler do all day?

I just got done tabulating my activities for the past school year (since June 1, 2012), and here is what I came up with:

ScholarshipCompleted and placed four significant new solo articles with journals at Stanford, Ohio State, Valparaiso, and UST.  I also completed two co-authored book chapters for Ashgate Press. 

Teaching13 credits (five classes), including nine in the spring semester.  Received Dean’s Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Short-Form Writing:  36 published articles, including pieces for CNN, MSNBC,  Dallas Morning News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Washington Times, Sojourners, Huffington Post, Boulder Daily Camera, and the Waco Tribune Herald.

Public Speaking:  Gave 35 major presentations, including 27 outside of the law school at venues including Stanford Law School, Fuller Seminary, the College of William and Mary, the University of Arizona,  the University of Tulsa, Azusa Pacific University, Regent University, and churches of several denominations. 

Media:  Appeared on law/policy segments for CNN, ESPN, NPR, National Geographic TV, HuffPo Live, TruTV, and others.

It was, all in all, probably the most productive year I have had yet in my academic career.  

Friday, May 24, 2013


Haiku Friday: Baseball!

It's time for baseball season to really begin, now that the snow has all melted (and it has).  You don't have to like baseball-- you just have to haiku about it!

Here is mine:

Twins had a great start!
Exceeded expectations
Until... never mind.

Now you can write one!  Please do.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: Is the Obama Administration in Trouble?

My own sense is that the President is not really suffering from the "scandals" coming out right now, revolving around the AP searches, the IRS problems with targeting conservative groups, and Bengazi.   I just don't sense much fervor about it, and don't think any of them are close to a major scandal like Watergate.

Still... I was really intrigued by an article yesterday by my friend and DC insider Ron Fournier.   Ron knows the White House, having served as AP reporter there (and DC bureau chief), and here is part of what he has to say:

The new media environment demands immediate and accurate answers. Journalists know more than most that being fast and accurate isn’t easy.
And yet the revelations cost the Obama White House some measure of credibility. In politics, as in life, when you constantly change your story, even on small matters, you sow doubt about your credibility and competence.
In different ways, each of the so-called Obama scandals revolve around the issue of trust .... The president’s greatest asset is his credibility. If this pattern of spinning and shifting stories continues, it could become a liability.
The central question of the IRS scandal is whether Obama advisers at the White House or within the reelection campaign orchestrated or knew about the targeting of conservative groups.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I miss the Ramones....

Best concert I ever saw.  What was yours?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Tonight! And last week!

Tonight at 7 pm I will be speaking to a variety of groups, including Grandmothers for Peace, about toxic politics and effective advocacy.  All are welcome; the event will be held at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer at 5440 Penn Ave. South in Minneapolis. 

Meanwhile, here is some video from a talk I had with Craig Stellmacher last week: 


Yesterday on ESPN

Yesterday, I was part of ESPN's Outside the Lines segment on Brittney Griner, presumably because of this piece I wrote for the Huffington Post.

It's a weird thing to do an interview like that.  The process is the same as when I talk to CNN or other national news organizations:  I go to the WCCO studios down the block from my office at St. Thomas and sit in front of a camera.  I don't get to see the others on the show or the host-- I'm speaking to the blank screen in front of me.

There is something wrong with such an unnatural setting for a discussion like this one, which was about the most human of topics.  It is a hard subject to talk about, because there is so much nuance and risk of over-statement.  I love Baylor, and I admire both Brittney Griner and Kim Mulkey.  The piece was about Mulkey supposedly telling Griner not to talk about her sexuality.  One subtlety to this is that really coaches should tell students not to talk about a lot of things via public media-- bad professors they have conflicts with, or a fight with a parent, or sex.  It's part of coaching, really, to advise students how to deal with the media.  (It's a different story, I think, with pro players).

That (coaches advising star players) is not the real issue at Baylor.  The real issue is whether the University is ready to embrace a broad discussion about the role of gay men and lesbians at the school-- for example, if the bar on employment there makes sense.

Next... Star Trek?

Monday, May 20, 2013


Haiku everywhere!

It turns out that 2006 was eventful for many people... Renee suffered loss, while Robert Johnson and IPLawGuy had joy.  And Geoffrey the Mustang Boy, it seems, made a big mistake (that girl is bitter, Geoff!)

But... Crikeys!  My 2006 was not nearly as interesting as Antonia Promessa's:

Violins began
Hovering melody above him then me
Heat rose...frescoed room.

Your icy digits on
Neck's back, I was so grateful.
Crystal goblet wine.

Red your lips flavored by sauce,
Kissed them tasting earth.

Let's go barefoot home.
Walking in the fountain and
Lie in the porch breezes

I will tell you that
We have nothing to do but
Enjoy each other.

Still, I have a real soft spot for this haiku by our longtime friend, the Spanish Medievalist:

Hacer un haiku
En la lengua del Cid es

The guy knows poetry...

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Sunday Reflection: Jesus 13, Osler 0

We have now done the trial of Jesus thirteen times, in nine states (Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Tennessee, California, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Minnesota) and I have never won.  Not once, not even when I had the ace assistance of IPLawGuy (pictured above).

As most of you know, we try the sentencing phase of the trial of Jesus under state law, and then break the audience into juries which then deliberate to a verdict.  The verdict has only come out two ways:  a hung jury, or for a sentence other than death.

My lack of success has a few obvious causes.  First, my opponents are quite skilled.  Second, there is a jury selection problem when the members of the jury pool literally worship the defendant.  Still, as a tertiary cause, there is something else that has come up in discussions that I find troubling.

In short, people just don't seem to accept that Jesus was very dangerous.  I do my best to convince them otherwise; I argue that his teaching would undermine our capitalist economy, that he is a pacifist who would undo our military, and that he wants to break up families.  At some level, people just don't buy it, though.

I don't think that's good.  I read the gospels, deeply and often, and each time I am struck by the revolution Jesus urges on our society and our individual plans and identities.  He unsettles nearly everyone who comes to him.

Why are we no longer unsettled by Jesus?

Saturday, May 18, 2013



One week ago was graduation, and as always it was joyous and sad and fleeting and a little overwhelming.  I love teaching, and it is hard to have the job be done.

Every graduation, I end up with at least one decent photo with one of my departing students-- like the classics from 2011 and 2010 and 2007 and... well, there are a lot of them.

Still, this photo with Sara Sommervold is a classic.  I'm not quite sure what all is going on there, but in the end it basically looks like she is going to kick someone's ass and then, later, I'm going to do the paperwork.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Haiku Friday: 2006

I have been blogging here every day since September of 2006, which was kind of a long time ago.  The very first post hit on what turned out to be some eternal themes:  I complained about Facebook changing its format, mentioned Gordon Davenport, and promised to avoid mentioning controversies involving my employer.

So, let's blog about 2006-- it was not so long ago that you can't remember something.  I'm sure Geoffrey the Mustang Boy, even, can look back that far.

Here is mine:

Hot Waco Summer
I sat by the Ridgewood pool
Cold Margarita!

Now it is your turn... 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and I can't wait to see them!

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: What's with that, IRS?

The second most interesting political story this week has been the still-unfolding drama at the IRS, where it appears that "extra scrutiny" was given to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.  In reaction, President Obama has already sacked the acting commissioner.  There is still a lot we don't know about this, so I'm not going to opine broadly.  Obviously, political groups should not be favored or disfavored by ideology in how their tax exempt status is evaluated.

I've always been a little stumped as to how any of these groups, liberal or conservative, get tax exempt status, anyways.  Michael Hiltzik writing in the LA Times made this point well:

The bottom line first: The IRS hasn't done nearly enough over the years to rein in the subversion of the tax law by political groups claiming a tax exemption that is not legally permitted for campaign activity. Nor has it enforced rules requiring that donors to those groups pay gift tax on their donations.

The organizations at issue are known as 501(c)4 groups (call them C4s for short) after the section of the tax code that applies to them. They're nonprofit "social welfare" organizations that by law must be devoted primarily to programs broadly serving their communities, not private groups. IRS forms reveal what the agency considers to be mainstream C4s: religious groups; cultural, educational and veterans organizations, homeowners associations, volunteer fire departments. In recent years, however, overtly political groups have been claiming C4 status, which allows them to keep their donor lists secret and to avoid paying taxes on certain income.

What do others think of these revelations?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Crazy, crazy Minnesota!

Yesterday, it was over 90 here, which is especially odd since it was snowing last week.  What up with that?  I'm feeling a little whipsawed, to be honest.

That's not the real news here, though.  The bigger news (as I posted yesterday) is that same-sex marriage will be legal in Minnesota.  Gov. Dayton signed the bill yesterday, an event that was followed by a street party in St. Paul.   

It's a remarkable thing, really; this state went from the brink of a constitutional ban on marriage equality to a legal embrace of the idea in a few short months.  

A lot of theories are being advanced regarding this political whirlwind, but one thing seems clear to me:    The opponents of same-sex marriage never did much to explain in a convincing way how marriage equality would hurt anyone.  There was the vague assertion that it was bad for children, but that idea rested on the premise that a mother and father are intrinsically better than same-gender parents.  This premise was never really and convincingly laid out in a convincing way to people who were not already committed to that side.

In this country, we tend to lean towards liberty as history progresses, especially in the absence of a countervailing harm.  That's a good thing, and consistent with what the framers envisioned.   Our impulse towards the  expansion of liberty is not something to apologize for.  Yesterday, it was properly celebrated.

Things can change fast in Minnesota, but you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

More video from Craig Stellmacher:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Today's the day that Minnesota embraces marriage equality....

Governor Dayton will sign a bill today ensuring marriage equality in Minnesota.  It's a good day.

Here is a wonderful video Craig Stellmacher made with some of the people involved:

Monday, May 13, 2013


I got me so down I got me a headache...


Two (of many) great haiku...

I went for a walk yesterday and saw trees just busting out-- flowers ready to spring forth, green on the long-gray branches.  It is a wonderful time.

On that theme, I loved loved loved this haiku set from Sylvia Scarlett:

Spring winds swirled the sand
Still she looked for the swelling
Buds,bruised blue-purple.

The Green almost heart
Leaves,long brown fingers of branch.
She tried to recall

Blue vase of them placed
By her mother,Elsbeth, on
The sill,how the

Breeze lifted the fragrance
The Persian sensual sniff
Let loose, enveloping.

Now they were her choice:
Everything her mother liked.
The Lilacs' brief bloom.

And then this three-liner from longtime fave Megan Willome (it's so... Texas):

Spring in Texas means
hail, which I don't like, but it
came down anyway.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Sunday Reflection: Creation and Re-Creation

That's my mom, at my college graduation.  She's a remarkable person, and I get to see her (and my dad) in a few weeks.

There is something unusual about parents:  We don't have a chance to meet them until they are adults.  My first memories of my parents are from the years that they were in their mid-30's.  For a long time, I kind of assumed that their lives began then.

Over time, though, I started to understand how wrong that was-- that my mother was also a daughter, and that who she is has been shaped by that.  Some of the attributes that define her to me-- her wit, her gentle nature, her incisive intelligence-- were molded in places I struggle to understand, and that all happened before we had the opportunity to meet one another.  For example, as a girl she lived in a time when a generation of men left to fight in World War II, and the women left behind had to re-shape not only their lives but their communities and even American industry to fit that reality.   I have never been through anything like that, but sometimes I glimpse the strength and sense of community that come from that time.

Too often, we see the people we love as static beings; we imagine that they have always been and always will be the way they are today.  There is a loss in that, of course... a failure to see growth and struggle, but also a loss in the ability to empathize and understand.  My mom now is a wonderful person, but a different one than the person in the picture above, or who held me the moment after I was born.   There is a continuity, sure, but also an evolution of the soul that I can only marvel at.

God creates us, then we re-create ourselves.  It is a fascinating and wonderful thing to see in those we love the most.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


A map of each state's highest-paid state employee...

From Deadspin.  So... what's up with Maine?

Friday, May 10, 2013


Haiku Friday: The Garden

What are you looking forward to coming up this Spring?  [Actually, it probably has already happened where you live, provided you don't live in Minnesota]

Here is mine:

A few gentle shoots
Red, set against the green leaves
The early vanguard.

Now, you go!

Thursday, May 09, 2013


In Today's Minneapolis Star Tribune....

I have a piece on former Vikings' punter Chris Kluwe.  Check it out!


Political Mayhem Thursday: The "Socialist"


Wednesday, May 08, 2013


Y'all should check this out!

P.S. Ruckman pointed me towards this awesome map, which shows dialect areas in the US.  I'm kind of fascinated by this-- for example the fact that you basically have the same dialect in West Texas and the most western part of Virginia.  Charleston and Savannah have distinct dialects, while almost the whole western part of the country speaks the same way.

Does it look right to you?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Congratulations, IPLawGuy!

IPlawGuy, Superlawyer!
by: oslerguy

It actually is true-- IPLawGuy has been named a Super Lawyer.  It is well deserved; I often hold him out as a model to my students, in the way that he serves his clients and his profession.

Monday, May 06, 2013


Lilly of the Valley!

She wrote this, and it is lovely (especially alongside the ongoing banter between Geoffrey the Mustang Boy and his former flame):

Snow in the meadow
Recedes and leaves two rabbits
the brown bucks green-feast.

Today there were three
And the dog grew hoarse sounding

Even the cold can not
Defeat crocus,purple heads
Rise, sing allelu.

Let's go to the porch
And watch the earth wake.Bring wine
My bonny boy! Quick!

Sunday, May 05, 2013


Sunday Reflection: Christians and the Drug Addict

A lot of my work involves the way we approach narcotics through law enforcement.  Within that realm, there are two beliefs I have which are in tension.  First, I think that there is a tremendous social cost to narcotics trafficking and use, and that there is a very real responsibility to address that.  Second, I don't think incarcerating low-level couriers and street dealers does any good, yet we seem dedicated to that fruitless task.  (I won't belabor it here, but I have often argued for an economic solution other than decriminalization).

Part of our failed approach has been driven by a deep moral judgment against drug users.  It's understandable; they do too often wreak destruction on their own lives and those around them.   So, how should we address them?

As Christians, our best model should always be Christ, and I think that the right analogy is to the way that Christ treated lepers.  Like drug addicts, the society at that time often blamed them for their plight, and they were stigmatized and pushed to the fringes of society.

Intriguingly, what Christ did was this:  He healed them rather than judge them.  They were among the unlovable that he loved.

Like most people who have worked in law enforcement, I'm well aware of the high failure rate of drug treatment.  It's discouraging.  Still, following the instructions and example of Christ very often calls us to the improbable:  Respecting the Sabbath in a consumerist society, for example, or forgiving 70 times 7 times.  Healing drug addicts is just as hard, but still, the lesson is clear.

How challenging is that?  Jesus keeps doing that to me...

Saturday, May 04, 2013


Don't Tase Me, Kim Jong Un!

Still, the weather apparently is better than in Minnesota, WHERE IT SNOWED IN MAY THIS WEEK...

Friday, May 03, 2013


Haiku Friday: Small Fuzzy Animals

It's supposed to be spring, right?  With bunnies hopping around, etc?  Well, not in Minnesota, where it actually snowed on Wednesday, which was in MAY.  I'm a little bitter.

Let's haiku about small fuzzy animals, shall we?  That might put me in a better mood.  Construe the topic however you choose!

Here is mine:

Oh, Kansas Jayhawk,
I don't understand what you
do or say:  "Rock, Chalk?"

Now it is your turn.   Just make it something that will put me in a better mood, and roughly conforms to haiku protocol (5 syllables/7/5).

Thursday, May 02, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Cheney Legacy

I'll admit it:  Today's topic was prompted by an article in The Onion headline proclaiming Dick Cheney Vice-Presidential Library Opens in Pitch-Dark, Sulfurous Underground Cave.

Seriously, though... how will Dick Cheney be remembered?  The early line is "maybe not so well."  He is associated with the not-so-great aspects of the Bush years (waterboarding, the flimsy reasons for going to war in Iraq, etc.), and not the successes (such as those we discussed last week or the homelessness initiative profiled below).

Personally, I thought he should not have been allowed the office in the first place, since the Constitution bars people from the same state from holding the offices of president and vice-president, and both Cheney and Bush really lived in Texas at the time they began running for office.  If we assume there is a reason for Constitutional restrictions, and there are, there really was a problem with both men being from the same state.  Cheney's candidacy violated both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, to my mind.  Of course, as so often happens, certain federal judges disagreed with me.

What do you think the legacy of Dick Cheney will be?  And where is he, now, anyways?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


A secret success on homelessness

If there is one thing we love here at the Razor, besides pandas, haiku, unusual hockey team ads, and political diatribes that somehow end up with a moderate position, it's unheralded political success stories.

Here is a good one-- David Frum reflecting on CNN about an unheralded success of the Bush administration:

For three decades, we have debated what causes homelessness and how to deal with it. Is homelessness a mental health problem? A substance abuse problem? A problem caused by gentrification and urban redevelopment? Or something else again?

The Bush administration substituted a much simpler idea -- an idea that happened to work. Whatever the cause of homelessness, the solution is ... a home.

In 2002, Bush appointed a new national homeless policy czar, Philip Mangano. A former music agent imbued with the religious philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, Mangano was seized by an idea pioneered by New York University psychiatrist Sam Tsemberis: "housing first."

The "housing first" concept urges authorities to concentrate resources on the hardest cases -- to move them into housing immediately -- and only to worry about the other problems of the homeless after they first have a roof over their heads. A 2004 profile in The Atlantic nicely summarized Tsemberis' ideas: "Offer them (the homeless) the apartment first, he believes, and you don't need to spend years, and service dollars, winning their trust."

Best of all, it worked!

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that the number of the chronically homeless declined by 30% between 2005 and 2007. You might have expected the numbers to spike again when the financial crisis hit but no. Since 2007, the number of chronic homeless has dropped another 19%.

And I love it when things work.

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