Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Yale Law '90: Hon. Richard Sullivan (US 2nd Circuit)

Over the next several months, I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

I have known Rich Sullivan for a very long time-- 38 years! I was his RA in college at William and Mary, where he was a year behind me. From the first time I met him, I knew that he was smarter than the average bear. He is one of my friends that I most admire.

During his freshman year, we became close enough that when his parents could not make it down for Parents Weekend, a friend and I took on the role, dressing up the way we incorrectly imagined parents from Long Island dressed (loud shirts, shorts,  cameras) and took him to Shoney's for dinner.

After college I lost touch with him. Which made it all the more surprising when I found him moving in next door to me at Yale Law School! After that, our friendship was for good.

In law school, Rich was one of those people you always hoped would say something in class, since what he had to offer was always not only well thought-out but also often both insightful and unique. He was (and is) a conscientious Catholic, and I learned a lot of what I know about Catholicism from him. Within the student community, he was leader-- of the Federalist society, but also of the intellectual life of the school.

After law school, to a certain point, our careers tracked one another. We both clerked for a federal judge for a year (he clerked in the 10th Circuit), then spent three years working at a big firm (in New York). After that, in tandem, we both moved on to jobs as federal prosecutors, he in New York while I took a job in Detroit. 

There things diverge. I was a run-of-the-mill prosecutor for five years before leaving for the academy. Rich, on the other hand, became a superstar who was known to be both fair and innovative. In 2002, he became the first chief of the Southern District of New York's International Narcotics Trafficking Unit, which focused on what federal prosecutors do best: taking down the most important transnational organizations. They accomplished remarkable things, convicting warlords, major traffickers, and cartels.

In 2005, he left for federal practice, but that did not last long. In 2007, he was appointed to be a judge for the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Last year, he was elevated to the Second Circuit, the appellate court for New York, Connecticut and Vermont. 

Over the past several years, we have put on a debate on narcotics sentencing at Harvard, Yale, Penn, NYU, and St. Thomas. He is my favorite person to debate, and over time I think we have each convinced one another a bit. 

He is a wonderful judge. A few years ago, we were set to go out to dinner. I got to the courthouse early and dropped in to see him sentence a defendant. Those proceedings can be dry and formulaic, draining the human aspect from a crucially important societal function.

Rich was not that kind of sentencing judge. His sentencing was long-- as it should be-- and fully acknowledged the human dignity of the victims of the crime and the defendant. As I watched, I admired him more than ever. And given that (inexplicably) Shoney's still exists, someday we might go back there.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Bonjour, Razor!

Nous, la nation française, avons de nouveau loué l’espace généralement inoccupé d’Oslers Razor pour débattre de questions d’une grande importance.

Connaissez-vous Camille Abily? Tu devrais être! Elle est le féroce milieu de terrain offensif de l'équipe de France. Alors qu'elle jouait pour Lyon l'année dernière, elle a marqué un but alors qu'un lion sauvage tenait son bras gauche serré dans ses dents!

Ou que diriez-vous de Laura Georges? Elle est l'une des principales défenseures de la ligue allemande et joue fièrement pour l'équipe de France lors de la Coupe du monde. Elle est tellement concentrée qu’on sait qu’elle a joué lors de l’attaque d’un serpent venimeux au milieu du terrain.

Je me rends bien compte que ces deux anecdotes font penser que nous, Français, sommes constamment attaqués par des créatures sauvages. Ce n'est pas vrai. Vous pouvez demander à IPLawGuy, car il s'est rendu plusieurs fois en France et n'a jamais subi une telle attaque.

Monday, June 17, 2019


Non-hipster dads

So, based on haiku received last week, it appears that most people have non-hipster dads.  I guess that I am just lucky!

For example, this from Christine:

Hipster; not my Dad
He preferred London dry gin
Couldn't grow a beard.

and this from IPLawGuy:

My Dad:
Stiff Upper lip, still hiding
A sense of humor.

Amy, though, had a different take (and a fair question):

There must be a
Hipster soul. Otherwise, it's
just trying too hard:

Osler's dad's beer is
Hipster soul. Too-long, groomed beards
Is trying too hard.

[Can chicks be hipster?]

Sunday, June 16, 2019


Sunday Reflection: The mass shooter

The United States has  a problem that other nations don't have: people taking a gun or guns to a public place and killing as many people as they can.

Almost always, it is white men who commit these terrible crimes. Their reasons are hard to discern: sometimes they seem aggrieved about some personal issue or break-up, other times there is a deep racial animus, and sometimes mental illness plays a role. For some of the killings, it is almost impossible to discern a motive.

Often, though, it seems that the killers are lashing out against people they think are threatening them, or are seeking revenge on those who have hurt them (or at least are perceived to have done so).

I'm at a loss to explain how people get to the point of such evil. We don't put much effort into figuring that out though-- and shouldn't it be important? Part of the problem is that we don't trust what killers say and don't want to validate them, and there is that danger if we pay too much attention to what they say about what they are doing. For some, in fact, that chance to "explain" seems to be what they are seeking from the crime all along.

I understand the need to deny them that public explanation. But I also long to understand how people can become capable of such heinous acts.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


1971 in real life

As part of haiku Friday yesterday, I posted the opening credit scene of the 1971 film "Shaft." As I watched it, one segment (starting at about 2:20) caught my attention: the part where Shaft weaves through some kind of demonstration where protesters are holding signs saying the following:

"Fidelifacts spies on homosexuals"
"I lost my job through Fidelifacts"
"Fidelifacts traffics in human lives"
"I got my job through the New York Times" [with a picture of an ostrich in a boater hat]

It turns out that rather than being a staged bit for the movie, this actually is a snapshot of a fascinating bit of history.

The makers of the movie just filmed Richard Roundtree going through an actual demonstration that was sponsored by the Gay Activists Alliance, just a few years after Stonewall. The target was Fidelifacts, a company that provided employers with information about the (supposed) sexual preferences of people seeking work-- so that those employers could actively discriminate against them. The New York Times has an excellent description here.

It's intriguing that a movie viewed by many as "Blaxploitation" also contains this bit of factual gay history, seemingly by accident...

Friday, June 14, 2019


Haiku Friday: Hipster Dads

Now here is a topic we haven't handled before! We have a lot of hipsters here in Minneapolis; the entire coffee and beer economies rely on them.

If you are wondering, here are some of the core traits of hipsters:

-- enjoy very cheap OR very expensive beer
-- work in the gig economy
-- unusual or unkempt haircut and/or facial hair
-- enjoys music that is outside of the mainstream
-- usually smart and witty

Of course, dads are the original hipsters.

Here are a few hipster dads I know:

1) IPLawGuy

IPLawGuy hits almost all of the hipster qualities (his preferred music, for example, is a cross between hillbilly yodeling, Led Zeppelin, and novelty songs from Dr. Demento). The one exception is that he does not work in the gig economy.

And if you are wondering, he is not covered in powder cocaine in this photo. It's uh, something else. I'm not sure what. Maybe something from the 1977 Dodge Dart he is restoring in his driveway? Or drywall powder from redoing his home office with stuff he found behind an abandoned Food Lion? Hard to say.

2)  My Dad

He is depicted here hanging out in his studio with a few of his hipster buddies. He actually meets ALL of the hipster criteria listed above, and does it all with style. He has his own blog about jazz.  His favorite beer is the hard-to-obtain, very cheap, and relatively inoffensive Boxer Beer from Monroe, Wisconsin. The Beer Advocate gives it a 2.2 (out of 5) rating, making it the 47,467th best beer in America.  Really. But you can get 35 cans of it for $10 if you go to this one gas station in Superior, Wisconsin (again, really). Which is the most hipster thing you can do, probably.

Anyways, let's haiku about hipster dads this week. Even if your dad was not a hipster, haiku away about him anyways! Here, I will go first:

Digging through old stuff
A photo: Dad at dinner
with Shaft. John Shaft. Sing!

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Don't mess with my church

As I have mentioned before, I am honored and happy to hold the Ruthie Mattox Chair of Preaching at 1st Covenant Church here in Minneapolis.

That church is facing a singular challenge right now.

Over the past several years, the church has reached out to the community around it as part of its revitalization. As a downtown church, that brought in real diversity: young and old, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight. It was the last of these that led to some challenges, and the choice of 1st Cov to treat LGBT members as fully human, able to take part in all that the church does.

The denomination 1st Cov is a part of, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has been hostile to this change. As a result 1st Cov is on the verge of being involuntarily separated from the denomination at the annual meeting later this month in Omaha.

This saddens me. So, course, I wrote about it. I hope you will read that piece, which is appearing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today, and which you can read here.

One of the leaders of the charge to crack down on FCCM and LGBT inclusion is James L. Voling, who is a partner at the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels here in Minneapolis.  Oddly, Faegre trumpets itself as a supporter of the LGBT community. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Yale Law '90: Michael O'Connor

Over the next several months, I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

If you have read Bryan Stevenson's excellent book Just Mercy, you have already come across the remarkable work of Michael O'Connor. He appears in Chapter 7 of that book, when he comes on board to help Stevenson and Bernard Harcourt represent Walter McMillan, who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Stevenson, O'Connor, and Harcourt pursued the case until McMillan was exonerated after six years on death row.

O'Connor came into law school like a ball of fire. He got to college late, but then blazed through his undergrad studies at Penn State and graduated summa cum laude. At Yale Law, he was both brilliant and deeply principled, a moral figure who often (rightly) challenged the rest of us. He cared about working people, the poor, criminal defendants, and the disadvantaged with a consistency that gave him credibility and gravitas. While in law school he was the student director of both the Green Haven Prison Project and the Jerome Frank Prison Legal Services. He did some of the things I should have done in those years. I really admired him at the time, and I still do today.

Our paths have intersected since school: He was my immediate predecessor teaching criminal law at the University of St. Thomas. He now serves as a professor of law at the University of LaVerne in California. His work stretches beyond the usual scholarship professors put out there-- with his partner and wife Celia Rumann, he has worked on a variety of non-traditional projects, such as this film documenting the work of Northwestern University Law students in Malawi:

We all have our critics, and Mike has had his (it comes with the territory when you are and advocate or an academic, and he is both). It is telling, though, that the message of his critics is always pretty much the same and boils down to this: that he is too zealous in his advocacy for the condemned, for the poor, for the disadvantaged, and for his students. If that is the worst thing people say about you, you have lived a damned good life.

He may not be as well-recognized and has not been monetarily enriched in the way that some other classmates have, but Michael O'Connor has done a lot of good in this world. I hope that our paths intersect again in the future.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Answering the phone

Today I rode my bike into work. I love the ride-- I go over a creek (twice), around a lake, through neighborhoods, and down into the heart of the city. I forgot my helmet, so I was feeling vulnerable, but I was also feeling fast so I went quick and careful (mostly).

When I got in, my phone started ringing. All of the following called: a reporter from the Washington Post, a reporter from the Texas Tribune, a reporter from Vox, Weldon Angelos (a former client and current collaborator), someone who just wanted advice about how to help their kid who is in prison, a grouchy guy who didn't like something I wrote, my sister Kathy, a pro bono client calling from prison (interrupted periodically by a loud recording intoning "THIS CALL IS FROM A FEDERAL PRISON") and a student who had some questions about a job interview.

By mid-afternoon, I realized that my to-do list was not going to get dented.

But that doesn't mean nothing was accomplished. All of those people called about different things, and in a way that is kind of amazing-- what a great job I have!

At about 6:45, I hopped back on my bike and rode home. The sun was getting lower, and filtering through the trees. By the lake, people were walking or wading in the water. Sailboats were setting out, a class, heading unsteadily into the deeper water. It all was of the whole, and that was pretty good.

Monday, June 10, 2019


Quiz Time!

Many years ago, I was the host of Virginia's longest-running and most-popular (by our estimation) radio quiz show, "Quiz Kid."

So, here is a quiz: Can you name at least three of these musicians?

Sunday, June 09, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Religion and Politics

Most people, including politicians, will say that their faith is an important part of their life, and is the basis of their sense of right and wrong. Not all people, of course-- some folks have principled systems of belief that are not rooted in a theology. But most politicians do claim a faith; it is telling that no member of Congress asserts an atheist identity, and only one member of Congress-- Senator Sinema of Arizona-- describes herself as religiously unaffiliated according to a Pew Research Center Analysis.

Other than Republicans defending their views on abortion or LGBT issues (or brave Pete Buttligieg on the same-- and he really is brave in this way, given that the rest of his party seems very wary of talking about religion), the people running for office rarely talk about their faith unless they are talking to a faith group. This is especially true of the current crop of presidential candidates. I suspect there are three reasons for this:

1) For some, the truth might be that their faith isn't really that important to them, but it would be unpopular to admit that publicly.

2) For others, they are afraid of being characterized within the parameters of our toxic religious stereotyping-- ie, the bigoted Christian or the pro-terrorist Muslim.

3) Finally, I suspect some are quite moved by their faith, but don't want to be depicted as completely captive to it-- ie, the charge that JFK would take directions from the Pope.

The result is that we end up knowing little about the interaction between a leaders' faith and their actions. And isn't that a problem? If faith is their source of discerning right from wrong, isn't that something that should be revealed and discussed openly?

I would love a debate to feature this question: "How does your faith inform the choices you make, and would make as President?"

As a culture, we seem to want to avoid that kind of discussion. I don't know why that is, though. Do you?

Saturday, June 08, 2019


Oh, so you don't care about the Women's World Cup?

Well, then... check out this highlight reel for Australian star Sam Kerr. It's pretty amazing:

Friday, June 07, 2019


Haiku Friday: Concerts

[Clip above: this year's Coachella. The audience is so young!]

It's been a while since I have been to a great concert, but some of the best I have seen have been outside at this time of year. So let's haiku about summer shows this week! Here, I will go first:

Detroit's warm June nights
Were just perfect for music
And yeah, I partook.

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

Thursday, June 06, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Making sense of the border

Before I launch into this discussion, I want to make something really clear: I don't think that immigration is a major or important issue in the United States. I don't think that immigration at the current levels threatens safety, creates crime, or threatens the economy. In fact, I think that each of the issues I raised this past Tuesday (Guns, national debt, climate change, Russian interference in elections, income disparity, and health care) are far more important than immigration-- each of those issues threaten our country and the well-being of Americans in ways more direct, immediate and important than anything having to do with immigration. 

So, anyways... apprehensions at the southwestern border are way up of late. There can be a lot of causes of that: more people crossing, greater enforcement, and a few big incidents, for example. I'm not sure it means anything, really. If you look at the graph of the Bush era above (from the Times), big spikes are followed by big valleys, perhaps correlation with seasonal changes.

But, in the end, it is not a crisis (except, of course, for the migrants themselves-- and that should matter). There are crises going on that directly impact the well-being of many Americans-- and we need to pay attention to those rather than simply obsessing over this.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019


Yale Law '90: Joseph Tsai

Over the next several months, I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

Joe Tsai (like last week's featured classmate, Kathleen Clark) was double-Yale: he attended Yale College before matriculating at the law school. Of all the people in our class, Joe is likely the most successful in terms of entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

After law school, he worked for three years at Sullivan and Cromwell in New York, and then at a management buyout firm. In 1995, he moved to Hong Kong to work at a private equity firm. There, he met Jack Ma, who was floating the idea of an online international import/export marketplace. Tsai joined with Ma as a co-founder in the venture, which became Alibaba. That entity is now by far the largest online market in China. Tsai's role as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer was key to the growth and development of the new entity.

Tsai, as the second-largest shareholder in Alibaba, has turned much of his efforts to philanthropy (he is also a part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, the Carolina Panthers, and the New York Liberty). Among other things, he and his wife provided the funding for the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, which engages Yale students in a variety ways with support for their own innovative plans, ideas, and dreams. It's pretty cool. I love it when people use their success to leverage and encourage the success of others.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019


The Cost of Inattention

I know that everyone is constantly up in arms about things that President Trump has said, often through Twitter. And a lot of it is beyond imagination-- why would you tweet out insults about the nation you are about to visit?

But as the press and much of the nation stays in a state of constant tumult over this, little seems to be said about the fact that nothing-- nothing at all-- is being done about (arguably) the six biggest challenges facing our nation right now. Let's discuss those (in no particular order).

1.  Guns

Since 2009, the United States has had 57 times more school shootings than all of the other G7 industrialized nations combined.  We have had 288, Canada had two, France had two, and Germany had one. There is something terribly wrong. We can and should have a discussion about solutions (and people may have very different solutions) but the fact is that our political leadership is avoiding the discussion.

2.  Debt

I have written about this before-- the Trump tax cuts exacerbated the acceleration of our national debt. Republicans are very very concerned about this-- but only when they are not in power. Our political leadership, again, is simply avoiding this discussion (as is much of the media).

3. Climate change

The fact of this is before our eyes. Yet our political leadership is avoiding the discussion.

4.  Russian interference with our past and future elections

When Robert Mueller appeared last week and finally made a public statement, he was opaque on some things and muted on others. But on this he was crystal clear: Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and is intent on doing so again. And yet, our political leadership is avoiding the discussion and the press is not engaging the issue. Instead, we obsess over tweets.

5.  Income disparities

This was a big issue in the last election. It has not gone away. And yet, our political leadership avoids the discussion.

6.  Health care

It seems that no one is satisfied with our health care system. But our political leadership is doing nothing to propose alternatives.

When we obsess over tweets, we effectively give the Trump administration a pass on all of these issues. The press is culpable as well-- they know that the profitable click-bait is in the tweets, and they cover every salacious bit and ignore all of the above most of the time. The Trump administration has successfully turned our political discourse into a reality show, plump with manufactured drama and disconnected from what is going on in the real world outside of the mansion. [and yes, that is a picture from the web series "Burning Love," which was awesome]

Monday, June 03, 2019


Ice cream poems

Yeah, I did get some! And it was awesome.

Here is what Christine had to say (she was inspired!):

Peering through the glass
Kaleidoscope of flavour
waits before my eyes


Dad says "Hurry, pick"
Sugar cone, two big scoops of
mint chocolate chip

Hot summer night
Rivulets of vanilla
Tongue catching them all


I inhale deeply
smelling sugar in the air

Gavin said this is about Grafton, N.D., but it sounds pretty familiar to me:

DQ cone in hand
Sittin on the tailgate
Watch the girls cruise by.

And the Medievalist brought the real deal:

Yogurt and lemon,
Together in the same cone,
Nights in Santander.

Sunday, June 02, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Unchastened

I was really struck by two things that happened about the same time.

First, the Children's Theater Company tried to get attorney's fees from a woman who, at age 15, was raped by one of the CTC's teachers-- even after a jury had found the CTC negligent in the matter (though not financially liable, since they did not directly cause the harm). 

Second, Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, who said he was aware of sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania but did not report it,  tweeted this:  "A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ “Pride Month” events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children."

The CTC case, at least, took a turn towards responsibility. The directors of the theater reversed position and withdrew the request.

In each, though, there seems to have been a lack of being chastened when each had been involved in a colossal harm.

Who is hurt when those who hurt others are not chastened by the experience?

I would think that the harm is both to yourself and to the larger society. It is a blow to integrity when someone involved in a systemic, widespread process that allows the rape and molestation of children posits himself as a moral authority about sex and children. It is not good for the faith, or for the man.

Some might say "Wait-- so, the church can't participate in the public degradation of gays and lesbians anymore? But that is an important expression of our religious freedom!" And well, yeah, you do have that freedom, and you can express whatever you want. But it is going to do much more harm than good. Especially when it comes from someone tarnished by the widespread, systemic sexual abuse of children and the cover-up of the same that the Catholic church-- and Bishop Tobin-- was a part of.

I am chastened, and have said this, by the mistakes I made as a prosecutor: for too long, I did not think through the effects of the sentences we sought. When others are chastened, it makes me respect them.

There is a part of the parable of the prodigal son that is often forgotten. When the lost son returns, he is chastened: he tells his father "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your servants."

We all remember the next part, where the father celebrates his return and prepares a feast. But the chastening is just as important. After all, we are lost son, not the father-- all of us are that person at one time or another.

Are we up to the task?

Saturday, June 01, 2019



Does anyone really understand this sport? Even the guys playing it seem kind of confused...

Friday, May 31, 2019


Haiku Friday: Ice cream

It's that time of year.

I love ice cream. I have to pretend not to like it, actually, or I would eat too much! Like most people, I have very clearly defined preferences, too. I love soft serve. I love jimmies on top. I am capable of thoroughly enjoying a sundae. Mint chocolate chip was my favorite as a kid, but I have evolved since then...

So let's haiku about ice cream this week! Here, I will go first:

At Baskin-Robbins
I waited patiently for
Two cold scoops of joy.

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

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