Sunday, August 31, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Gettysburg

Not long ago, I was driving through Pennsylvania, and found myself spending the night in Gettysburg, site of the crucial Civil War battle and Abraham Lincoln's masterful Gettysburg Address.  The battlefield surrounds the little town; it is maintained as a national historic site.

At first, I was underwhelmed.  A battlefield after the battle, of course, is just a field, and that is what I saw.  But there was… something, and in the quiet I could sense it.  It isn't quite what I would call sacred ground, but there was a strong sense of place, an overwhelming feeling of sadness.

Tens of thousands died.  After the battle, mothers picked their way through the bodies, looking for what was left of their sons.  In a side yard, limbs were stacked like wood.  You can't think about such tragedy without feeling it, and I did.
Lincoln wrote this:  

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Did you miss this?

One of the things I forgot to comment on this summer was the remarkable week where Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Waterson took over drawing the modern Pearls Before Swine comic strip.  You can read the whole story here (and you should!).   

But... don't tell IPLawGuy.  I don't think he can handle it.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Haiku Friday: School Supplies!

We started classes this week at St. Thomas, and it looks like I've got two great groups of students in my classes.  I'm excited to be teaching again!

Of course, this time of year is all about school supplies-- whatever that may be for you (judging by the photo above, at the University of Minnesota it is a giant tank of gasified something).  So let's haiku about that this week!

I can go first:

Brand new protractor;
But what does it do, really?
Never learned that.

Now it is your turn!  Your haiku can be about anything related to the start of school, really, so long as you more or less put five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third...

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Faith and Ferguson

The Huffington Post is running a piece I based on a blog post from a few weeks ago, titled Faith for the In-Between Times.

Here is how it starts:

In Minnesota, this is an in-between time. Summer is over, the pool is closed, but it isn't quite fall yet. We know what was, and what is coming. There is something awkward about it, a sense of displacement.

We aren't comfortable with such empty, undefined spaces. This kind of discomfort is playing out right now in the discussion over events in Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer. We are in this space between the tragedy of the killing and the announcement of an indictment (or failure of an indictment). As Ron Fournier pointed out in a great National Journal piece, there are some things we know (that the police are militarized, and that Brown was shot six times) but a lot that we don't know. In that in-between space we are deluged with conflicting reports and passions. We don't yet have a complete or authoritative report or picture of events, just a space that we have filled up with theories and reaction. It can be a toxic place.

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The Limbaugh-Osler connection

So, in 2009 my book "Jesus on Death Row" came out. I wrote it over several years, relying on my experience as a prosecutor and a law professor to draw out the similarities between modern practice and some features of the Christ's experience as a capital defendant.  It was a fascinating experience, and I loved writing it and (later) talking about it. The book was deeply personal-- it was hard to hide the fact that researching and writing it profoundly affected and grew my faith.

I was particularly happy with the cover my publisher came up with-- a crown of thorns transformed into razor wire, paired with my name and the subtitle "The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment."   I'm working on another book now, which tells the story of doing the Trial of Jesus in (as of now) 11 states and in a wide variety of settings.

So... yesterday I got an email from Bob and Mary Darden
alerting me to the fact that someone else apparently liked that
idea.  Rush Limbaugh's brother, David, has written a book 
called "Jesus On Trial."                                                                                  

The cover features a crown of thorns, the subtitle ("A lawyer affirms the truth of the Gospel"), and Limbaugh's name.  Oh, and a blurb from Sean Hannity.

On the publisher's web site,  the book is described this way:  In Jesus on Trial, New York Times bestselling author David Limbaugh applies his lifetime of legal experience to a unique new undertaking: making a case for the gospels as hard evidence of the life and work of Jesus Christ. Limbaugh, a practicing attorney and former professor of law, approaches the canonical gospels with the same level of scrutiny he would apply to any legal document and asks all the necessary questions about the story of Jesus told through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. His analysis of the texts becomes profoundly personal as he reflects on his own spiritual and intellectual odyssey from determined skeptic to devout Christian.

The Limbaugh book doesn't come out until September 8... but I will be patient!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Zut alors!

Not that I usually watch the European track championships, but I thought this was pretty amazing:

Monday, August 25, 2014



There were some great haikus regarding the French (see them all here), but my favorite was from my dad:

A soft French spring breeze
the evening's light scattered
by her wine glass. 

Here is one of my favorite photos of his (you can see more at

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Sunday Reflection: In Between Times

In Minnesota, this is an in-between time.  Summer is over, the pool is closed, but it isn't quite fall yet.  We know what was, and what is coming. 

I find that I have in-between times in my own pattern of life, too.  There will be frantic activity, with another coming up, and I am in that valley.  I am learning to use it well, to recharge, rather than feeling anxious that I'm not doing enough right now.  And I do have to learn; that's not something I am good at.  I have friends like Susan Stabile who have routines of prayer and meditation that I admire, but that is a very hard thing for me to do. 

Perhaps what is happening is that I am beginning to recognize that not all days need to be the same.  There is a reason Jesus kept asking people if they kept the Sabbath-- it's important to have that day that is different. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Recipe Time: Grilled Chicken Salad

I picked this one up from the Cottage Family Restaurant in Mill Hall, Pennsylvania. 


Half-pound of grated cheddar cheese
Iceberg lettuce (to taste)
Boneless, skinless chicken breast
One Quart of blue cheese salad dressing
Large serving of french fries


Grill or fry the chicken breast
Combine the remainder of the ingredients except the french fries
Place french fries on top of salad
Quart of dressing may be placed on the side

Friday, August 22, 2014


Haiku Friday: The French

Based on the above song by Vincent Delerm and a lot of other French pop music, it would be safe to assume that the French are vampires.  I mean, listen to the song!  He might as well come right out and say he wants to suck your blood.

But their similarity to vampires is only one of the many fascinating aspects to French culture.  Let's haiku about the French today!  C'mon, it will be fun... and I will allow broad license in addressing the topic.  Here, I will go first:

He wore a cape (yes!)
Drew naked women with chalk
Oh, foreign exchange!

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson

I have held off on writing anything about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the unrest that has followed that death.  There is a reason for my quiet:  I don't know what happened there (at least in relation to Brown's death), so there is not much to say.  Yet.

And that "yet" is important.  It could be that we find out that this was a murder, that there was no struggle for a gun or anything else that might justify shooting Brown six times (at least).  But, we don't know yet.  It is the prosecutor in me that stills my voice when the facts are not yet clear.

What we DO know is this, though:  based on the mis-handling of the protests after the shooting, we have started an important national conversation about the militarization of the police.  That, too, is a complex subject.  For example, when the police execute a warrant against a fugitive, they will use military tactics to enter and secure the house-- someone will go in on point, others will cover him and spread out, and people in the house will be quickly incapacitated.  There is a reason to do it that way:  It's to stop anyone from hurting the officers or impeding the arrest, and that makes sense.

Here is what does not make sense:  Police forces having military equipment like MRAPS, or using the tactics they used to confront protesters in Ferguson.

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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