Saturday, January 31, 2009


More sad news from Detroit

I know that the press focused a lot of attention on the discovery of a frozen body in an abandoned building in Detroit this week, but I have to admit I had the same reaction as many of the people quoted in those stories: "Yeah? Again?" It seems like that is a fairly regular occurrence-- perhaps the angle on the story this time was that no one removed the body for two days after it was reported.

More shocking to me was this report on the median price for home sales in the City of Detroit for the month of December: $7,500. No, that's not the lowest price for a home sale, that's the median. I'm not sure there is a better or more troubling gauge for how things are going in Detroit. Markets are very good at measuring value, and I wonder how the value of a home got to this point. I fear for what will happen next, with hundreds of thousands of people living in a place with so little to offer. The best thing would be to find a way to revive the city, but that seems a long shot. The second best thing would be for many people to move, so the population matches the jobs and remaining resources. The worst thing... well, hopefully we will never have to consider that.

I don't often quote Yeats, but it seems appropriate here (and as the source for Achebe's title). He wrote this in 1921, just after the horrors of World War I and as the world was seeing the rise of new kinds of tyranny:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I don't think that Detroit will descend into anarchy, or there will be a "blood-dimmed tide" again. However, it is the last two lines which scare me the most. That, sadly, has been a fair description of Detroit's recent history, at least among those with real power.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Haiku Friday of the Finals

For the rest of the world, it is a normal Friday. But at Baylor Law, it is the Friday before finals, when people think they should be studying (and they are right).

There is only one theme this week: anxiety.

Here is my entry:

Professors do have
Test anxiety dream, too-
Forgot to give test.

Now it is your turn. It doesn't have to be about tests; just whatever it is that makes you anxious.

Thursday, January 29, 2009



According to "Jesus on Death Row" is now in stock. Two days early, too...


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Decline of the Fourth Estate

I'm not the first to notice the precipitous decline of American newspapers. I was prodded, though, by a recent comment from Carl Hoover (one of my heroes of writing) about the effect this would have on law.

It is newspapers who have pressed investigations and prompted change, again and again. They have had an institutional presence in American law that we do not see with blogs or even television. Because of their institutional power, papers have fought and won many of the most important First Amendment cases in the United States. On huge loss with the decline of newspapers will be this counterweight to the impulse of governments to restrict speech.

I can't imagine a world without newspapers, for more reasons than one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Help! America needs umlauts!

I Googled my book to see if it has been released (not quite yet) and found out that it is being sold through some... unusual places. For example:

1) For example, check out Sorbok. Apparently, the price is "kr146.-" What country is this?

2) Then there is the American Idol Junkie Shop. You can find "Jesus on Death Row" in the "ethics" section. And no, I'm not making this up. First of all, why is it available through American Idol? And why, oh why, would the American Idol shop have an "ethics" section? Has our culture sunk so low that we are looking to American Idol for ethics?

3) If kr145 seemed a little steep, it is available for only kr120 over at Studia. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that it is listed in the "Fagkategorier." (I'm pretty sure that "kr" is short for "kroner," but I can't remember which country uses the kroner).

4) Or, if you prefer, you can pick it up for just "R$17,34" at Precomania. Though don't do both-- I'm pretty sure that if you put "precomania" and "fagkategorier" in the same search, you will end up on the watch list and get stopped at the airport.

5) Possibly you have discovered that your pockets aren't bulging with kroners. You can always pick up the book at the website of a Christian music radio station in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

6) What? You are in Japan? No problem! At this site, I learned that my name in Japanese is "著."


Brandeis University to sell art museum and all of its art.

Cruising through Brian Leiter's blog, I noticed the extraordinary story that Brandeis, a very good university, is selling all of its art. As endowments suffer, it is likely we will hear similar things at other places.

One complicating factor as a university sells off assets is that some of those assets were donated with the understanding that the university would keep the asset, not sell it. For example, when someone gives a piece of art to a University, they probably expect (and even stipulate) that it will be displayed at the University. In part, this extends their legacy, as the painting will be marked "donated by X." The money from a sale, of course, only honors dead presidents.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Senator Oprah?

Apparently, Gov. Blagovich of Illinois thought about naming Oprah to replace President Obama in the Senate.

Interesting. But, er... is that really the best celebrity available? It seems like if you really want someone to stand firm for Chicago, there is only one choice.


Monday, January 26, 2009


From Mayor to expatriate...

According to his lawyer, Jim Thomas (one of my former adversaries in the hurly-burly world of Detroit criminal law), former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is likely to leave Michigan once he is released from jail.

Needless to say, like many other people he will have a better chance of getting a job someplace other than Michigan. Of course, things are bad everyplace as 70,000 people were laid off today alone.


Thanks, JAA, whoever you are... and you, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals!

A Razorite sent me this blurb from the JAAblog. I appreciate their kind words (especially since they focused on something that was really important to me but kind of got buried), but... what is JAA? It seems to relate to the practice of criminal law in Broward County, Florida...

And today our work in Spears started to matter to people other than Mr. Spears, as the 6th Circuit remanded a case based on the four-day-old Spears opinion.


Sorry, but those things just freak me out

Bratz Dolls May Give Young Girls Unrealistic Expectations Of Head Size

There are some creepy toys out there, but those Bratz dolls are the creepiest of all. Maybe it is the unusually large heads, or the inappropriate clothes, or the fact they are, well, brats. I'm not sure I can totally explain my aversion to the Bratz.

Last Halloween, one girl came with a Bratz costume, complete with expressionless mask, and it totally freaked me out.

Other candidates for creepiest toy:

1) Teddy Ruxpin
2) Strawberry Shortcake
3) The Trolls
4) Madden NFL football (esp. Terrell Owens)
5) GI Joe

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Sunday Reflection: Wrong, certain answers

Today the Roundtable Sunday School class had the pleasure of seeing the new book by one of our own, Mary Landon Dardon's Beyond 2020, which collects the opinions of many experts on the future of higher education, a topic many of us care deeply about.

Then we raced into the usual mess, starting with the book of Daniel. I'm not sure how we got there, but we ended up discussing the tendency of those in power to give wrong, certain answers. For example, the leaders of East Germany asserted that there was no pollution there, because the factories were owned by the people, and pollution would hurt the people. Similarly, through several years the leaders of Botswana denied that AIDS existed there, as it was a disease of homosexuals and homosexuality was not a part of Tswana culture. Of course, closer to home, we have heard that waterboarding is not torture when we do it.

There may be a reason that places like East Germany often try to restrict Christianity. At its best (and it is not always at its best), the Christian faith challenges societal conventions and nonsense answers both by educating people to think for themselves and to value something more than the power of the state.

Sadly, however, Christianity itself can become a force which provides wrong, certain answers in support of its own continuing power, such as the Catholic church's longstanding denial of child sexual abuse by priests.

This, perhaps, is one reason, a practical reason, to value the separation of church and state (whether or not that is called for in the Constitution).

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Tis' a Gift

There are two songs that always move me to tears: The Christmas hymn "Angels from the Realms of Glory," and "Simple Gifts," the old Shaker hymn. For me, the most moving part of the inauguration ceremony was the supergroup (Yo Yo Ma on cello, Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet) playing a John Williams piece which had at its core the beautiful melody from "Simple Gifts." You may recognize it, too, from Aaron Copeland's "Appalachian Spring," which borrowed from the same source.

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Haiku question for Friday: How long, exactly, should I rock and roll?

This is kind of embarrassing, but in 1978, I thought the tagline of this song was "I want to rock and roll all night... and partly every day." Let's face it, that just makes more sense. It's basically impossible to rock and roll all night and party every day. You won't get the basics in life, like sleep.

Of course, I also thought at one point that professional wrestling was real, and worried about people getting hurt.

Today's haiku theme, then, is misheard phrases. Or the inauguration, or perhaps bad highs school High-ku (as Jessica called it)-- you choose.

Here is mine:

Chief Justice Roberts
Tried to repair a badly split
Infinitive: Oops.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The Return of B-Mac

This evening I had the good luck to have a 4 or 5-minute interview with Julie Hays on the evening news on KWTX, our local CBS station. Julie is a very quick read, and one of the most impressive people I've dealt with in the media, as you can tell by her questions.

Anyways, I'm waiting in the green room for the news to start (it was a live interview), and Julie comes in to chat. She mentions that the A-V guy will be there in a minute to wire me up for sound, and just then he arrives. To my true joy, it was none other than Brian McKinney, known to Razorites as B-Mac. I had no idea that Brian worked at the TV station, but it all kind of... fit.

What do I mean, you ask? Well, a few years ago I had a Bad High School poetry contest here on the Razor. B-Mac won with this amazing (and prescient) entry:

They need A/v
Calling, always calling,
Help them set up projectors...
Only to be mocked.

[Also, if you can find the clip by scrolling over, check out the Harry Potter-style picture of the Justices where they move around]


Political Mayhem Thursday: Pardons and Commutations

The last days of the Bush presidency were absent one of the things we have come to expect at such times-- a bunch of pardons and commutations. [For the non-lawyers out there, pardons and commutations are Constitutional powers of the President. A pardon is when the President, unilaterally, erases someone's criminal conviction. A commutation is when the President leaves the conviction in place but wipes out the criminal sentence.]

President Bush used this power in only two cases in his last week-- he commuted the sentences of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who were serving long prison terms for shooting a fleeing illegal alien whom they suspected of trafficking marijuana.

Historically, I have not been a fan of these last-minute deals, and the Marc Rich pardon by President Clinton made me positively livid. However, that does not mean I am against the use of pardons and commutations. To the contrary, I think they are an essential part of the Constitution's checks and balances, in that they allow the executive to control unreasonable sentences which result from the legislature's sometimes too-harsh laws and/or the decisions of the judiciary. Rather than jamming them all up at the end of a term, though, a President should make them in a well-reasoned and principled manner throughout their term.

Right now, the Obama administration should consider such a wave of commutations for those defendants who are serving unreasonably long sentences for crack-trafficking offenses. These sentences are unreasonable compared to the sentences received by powder-cocaine traffickers, who often are more culpable (after all, crack is made from powder, and thus necessarily ends up in the hands of people at the end of the chain of transfer).

A few questions for the rest of you:

1) Did Ramos and Compean deserve commutations?
2) What about Scooter Libby (who received one earlier)?
3) How should pardons and commutations be used?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


We win in Spears!

As many of you know, I have been working for many years to change legal precedent so that federal judges can have greater discretion in sentencing crack cocaine cases. Specifically, I have been working, with Dustin Benham and others (such as Matt Acosta), to allow judges to categorically reject the strict crack-powder ratio in the sentencing guidelines.

Most recently, we were seeking to have the Supreme Court consider the Spears v. United States case from the 8th Circuit, where that Circuit had held firm to the idea that sentencing judges cannot categorically reject the ratio in the guidelines. I am the counsel of record for Mr. Spears. For reasons I did not understand, the Supreme Court had been considering the case for five weekly conferences without a result.

Today, we got a result in the case. The Supreme Court, by a 6-3 majority, granted our cert. petition (that is, they agreed to take the case) AND ruled in our favor, reversing the 8th Circuit. In what is called a per curium opinion, they accepted our argument in whole, and held that district judges CAN categorically reject a sentencing ratio. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito dissented in writing, noting that the 8th Circuit is suffering the "bitter medicine of summary reversal."

When we started this project, Dustin Benham was a student here at Baylor. Now, his work has affirmatively changed the law through nothing less than an important opinion of the Supreme Court.

As I said before as we walked out of the Supreme Court after the Kimbrough argument, life is good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Hope, Fruition, and the Loving Mob

There was much to remember in today’s inauguration, but the most lasting image may well be the attendance of America, so much of it, at the inauguration, that great mass of people stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, around the Washington Monument and beyond the black mirrors of the Vietnam Memorial.

Change rides on the shoulders of crowds, for good and for bad. Evil can act through mobs, as in the lynch mobs that carried a man to death without trial or sentence. Sometimes, though, a loving throng lifts up a man for good, and this was one of those times. Over a million people stood on the mall in Washington today, in the cold, without a view of anything but the person in front of them, and held up Barack Obama as a new leader in trying times. A million people stood in unity there, just to be a part of it. For the first time, probably, a million people stood together and listened, even, to a poet they had never heard of.

There was a beautiful symmetry, too, in that enormous crowd. It was at the far end of the mall from the Capitol steps, in front of the Lincoln memorial, that Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed what then seemed like a huge crowd of 200,000 facing the other way on that same mall. On a sweltering August day, King said that “ In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today, part of that check was finally cashed, having laid latent from August 28, 1963 until now. The promise of equality became much more real. A black man was inaugurated as President of the United States, with the potential to succeed or fail on his own merits. Certainly, the inauguration reflected a striking victory for Barack Obama and his political talents and ambitions, but I sensed in that crowd something more than just reflected glory. It seemed that who was really being inaugurated was that crowd, that flowing river of Americans from Lincoln’s feet to those of our lawmakers, a human chain tying together the stoic determination of Lincoln, the brave oratory of King, and the victory that was celebrated today. The only thing that could tie that all together, link the dreams to the fruition, was nothing less than the American people, and I’m not sure I have ever seen anything more beautiful.


Inauguration Day

I called my Dad this morning, who was outside of a church a mile from the Mall in DC, watching the people from all over the country, every kind of person, flood by in a spirit of joy.

Where are you watching?
Is it all worth it?


Swissgirl's inaugural report, Day 2

Celebration and history. That's what today was about.

My sister had found a couple of MLK-day-related events which we went to: a walking tour of Adams-Morgan and the history of enslaved people there, which was fascinating and sobering. Part of the National Zoo's grounds are sitting on a burial ground for slaves, freed people, and probably some soldiers who had been at a Civil-War hospital there. The history some of these local people had researched was considerable, and important.

Then, we went to a wreath-laying ceremony on U Street at the African-American Civil War Memorial, to honor the 200,000 African-American troops who fought on the Union side in the Civil War. All their names were inscribed in the semi-circular walls, similar to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. There were re-enactors from the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, as well as the present-day regiment which had been re-commissioned so they could march in the inaugural parade.

The most moving speakers were the three men, former members of the SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. They ended the brief ceremony by leading the small crowd in songs from the Civil Rights movement. As they reminisced about sharing jail cells in Mississippi together, the crowd sympathized and joined them in singing. It was very moving, and very happy.

One of the speakers captured the day beautifully: he said, "Today let's pause, and stop, and savor this day. Enjoy it. Because come tomorrow, the hard work begins again, for all of us."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

U Street was alive: alive with people, and noise, and Obama, everywhere: in every window, on every person walking by, on people's tongues. He was on shopping bags and as lifesize cardboard cutouts and buttons and t-shirts and hats and posters and rugs and dolls. The First Family was on posters. The buzz was electric. People are excited, celebrating, enjoying the reason to celebrate. The phenomenon is a little scary in its enormity: I'm sure Obama himself must be staggered to see how many people are making money just off of his name; how enormous his fame is. It's uber-politician and celebrity and, by the way, leader of the free world rolled into one mega-brand. Staggering. I hope the frenzy calms down.

Monday, January 19, 2009


That can't be good...

Someone just tipped me off that my book is for sale in Switzerland for 20.9 Swiss Francs.

The bad part? Check out the description, noting that "Title must be worried." Hmmmm... what do you think that means?

[Up to this point, I have pretty much just been worried about that guy behind me with the hoe]


Inauguration Report: Swissgirl

The Razor is looking forward to any reports it can get from our Washington-area corresponents (IPLawGuy, TradelawGuy, Waco Farmer, IPSLawGuy, etc.). The first fine report is from Swissgirl:

Inauguration weekend: day 1

“Label your kids.”
This was, we discovered, a very apt piece of advice given in this morning’s Washington Post as one of many survival tips for dealing with the crowds here for inauguration.
It should have also read “Label your sister” and “Don’t expect too much, and you might be surprised.” Oh, and “Carry a working cell phone and use it.”

The weather cooperated, by warming up to above freezing, at least ten degrees warmer than the two days before. There was no snow, or rain.

But mostly, people were happy. The beaming, proud middle-aged African-American women in long fur coats, getting their pictures taken with their girlfriends. The kids who climbed bare trees, looking for better views above the crowds. The vendors, selling Obama buttons and watches and calendars and even kitschy Obama earrings. The guys wearing black scarves with Obama printed on them, or women with spangly Obama shawls. The white people and African-American people and Asian people and people speaking French and Spanish and Portuguese. The people who squeezed against us, pushing us forward in the masses of people. The Secret Service agents and the DC police; the Metro attendants explaining the different types of commerorative Obama farecards for sale: everybody, everybody was in a good mood.

Nobody got angry and started yelling when the guards inexplicably were letting people out of the Lincoln Memorial concert but not letting them in. Nobody got out of control in the crowd. The anti-gay protesters were almost completely ignored, mainly laughed at because their message was so conspicuously out of place among the mood of the day.

The surprise? We happened to be interviewed by a roving reporter for USA Today, about our experience trying to get into the Lincoln Memorial concert. Maybe that was our fifteen minutes of fame! It was fun to watch the reporter scribbling every word we said, painstakingly spelling the names of these people she happened upon in a crowd.
We got home after a long trek and a crowded subway ride, cold and happy. Ready to to it again on Tuesday.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Sunday Reflection: Coming to God Like a Child

This morning I had the pleasure of going to two church services. I loved attending Carver Park Baptist Church, which this morning was a truly inspiring and joy-filled celebration of Christ.

Prior to that, though, I attended a forum at my own church, 7th and James, at which the Senior Minister, Raymond Bailey, answered the questions of kids in grades 3-6. Something really surprising happened there. I expected the kids to ask questions from a naive perspective about the Bible and God-- that is, questions which reflected ignorance. Instead, the questions often reflected the childrens' strong beliefs, some of which challenged the ideas of the minister. For example, one kid was focused on the idea that God is love, and questioned how that could be reconciled with some of the violence in the Old Testament.

The experience changed the way I had long thought about one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Luke 18:17 has Jesus, surrounded by children, teaching "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." I had always thought that meant an approach that was simple and perhaps naive. However, after this morning, I think that it might mean that we need to come to God's Kingdom with a theology, but one like those of the children I heard this morning-- a belief that is uncompromised by the demands of the world, unalloyed by the accommodations we make to the rest of our lives. We have trouble with a God that is love, because that takes away our ability to judge in His name, which we want to do; we struggle with a God who teaches humility because we like to be exulted; and we resist a God who came to Earth as a poor man because we do not want to give up our wealth.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


A great development-- the Waco City Farm

I was surprised and happy to get a flyer from the Waco City Farm, a new sustainable community farm located on 17 acres in an industrial park off of Highway 6. They are growing a variety of veggies, and offer a big box weekly for $75 a month.

Of course, this isn't the first nice agricultural development in and around Waco. The World Hunger Farm has been doing many of the same things, with more of global mission of compassion, for many years.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Oh, Haiku of the Friday!

Rule today for the haiku: Not use proper English. Topic be thing you want.


In class, words turn 'round
Then yodel and hop, I do!
Yoda, I sound like.

Now, turn of yours...

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Political mayhem Thursday: Obama Priorities

First things first. How a new administration prioritizes its tasks is important. President Clinton tried to first change the rules relating to gay men and lesbians in the military, and found himself in trouble.

From what we know so far, when Barack Obama takes office next week he will have at least two immediate priorities. First, he has said that he will start closing the federal detention area at Guantanamo, where terrorism suspects are being held. Second, he will start spending some of the stimulus money Congress has already allocated.

Are these the right priorities? What should he look to first?

[I'm still kind of shocked that the guy from Orleans is in Congress]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Argbf, Grar, etc. need your bamboo!

IPLawGuy sent along this alarming story from today's Washington Post, describing the National Zoo's shortage of bamboo. Apparently, they "grow their own," and they are having some problems getting it to grow back. Amazingly, they are asking people to drive on over with some bamboo for Argbf and company.

If anyone should be concerned about this, I think it must be the residents of nearby Woodley Park, especially those who might not be fast runners.


The Diaspora

Every so often, I will run into someone who is also from Detroit, and we'll stumble on that fact as we talk. We will compare where we went to high school, and what neighborhood or suburb we are from, maybe deduce which friends we have in common. Mixed in with this, always, is some kind of lament for the city, almost an apologetic reflection on why it is we are not there and the tragic thing that happened most recently. It's the kind of discussion expatriates have, and refugees. I have actually heard people from New Orleans talking, and it is the same pattern-- that the city is still home, but in a way is gone now, just gone. These conversations, sadly, happen most often between the best educated, the ones that a city like Detroit needs the most.

Allison Dickson and a few others sent me the cover story from Sports Illustrated this week, in which Mitch Albom writes about Detroit from the inside. It was mostly about "survivors" among those in the city. There was something profoundly sad about that, to have it be that the best thing a person can do in a place is not to die. That's not a functioning place or a good place.

I know that sometimes I get angry about the management at General Motors. The fact is, I am angry at the leadership of the city of Detroit as well, and the suburbanites who did not care. And, maybe, at myself. I went home after law school and became a prosecutor, think that it was a way to help, and it was. I made some mistakes, but I also made some things better. In the end, though, it did not seem to be making much of a difference. The tragedy was overwhelming.

So now, in Waco or Houston or New York, I will meet someone who is in the diaspora, and our conversation will follow that arc once again, from old familiars to the current tragedies. While we are safe from the crumbling buildings, the holes in the road, the foreclosures, the death of companies, and the million little tragedies behind side doors with milk chutes, they all are standing behind us, too close to ignore.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


More Quality Music from Beaker

As many of you know, I have been a longtime fan of Beaker and his oevre. Thus, I would not want to deny you this:


A blurb!

Oooh! I just noticed this endorsement of my book from Bill Leonard, who is the Dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School...

“In this fascinating and troubling book Mark Osler asks not ‘what would Jesus do?’ but ‘what might we have done to Jesus had he shown up here and now?’ By linking the ‘passion of the Christ’ with contemporary (Texas) death penalty law, Mark Osler forces us to reread the Jesus story as it confronts our society and ourselves.”
—Bill J. Leonard, Wake Forest University

It was kind of a jolt just to think that Bill Leonard read the book, given that he is the at the forefront of Baptist education and theology, and has written 15 books himself.


An unfortunate use for pandas

Here we see a Baylor Law student and blogger who has purchased toilet paper made out of an endangered species. Sigh.

Wait until Argbf finds out!

Monday, January 12, 2009


"Film" Review: Perhaps the most Anti-Scottish film of all time!

For reasons I cannot rationally defend, I have stayed up late on two recent evenings to take in all of the wonderful awfulness that is "Doomsday," perhaps the most compellingly stupid movie I have seen in a long time.

Certainly, I don't have a problem with some fun being poked at the Scots, as one of my all-time favorite movies is "So I Married An Axe Murderer," which is full of Gaelic put-downs and haggis jokes. However, "Doomsday" is so amazingly anti-Scottish that it is hard to believe. The basic premise of the film is that a killer virus crops up in Glasgow, so the Brits quarantine off all of Scotland and leave the Scots to die, not knowing that some of the Scots are immune and will survive the epidemic.

The funny part is that the Brits are able seal off all of Scotland, a region with 14 research universities, simply by building a 12-foot-wall, a device that apparently stumps the entire Scottish nation. Hey, if it worked for Hadrian... In short order, the Scots revert not only to feudalism but to cannibalism, and lose the ability to farm crops or herd animals. Instead, the moronic Scots pour all of their technological efforts into successfully re-creating 1977-era punk hairstyles and customizing out-of-date schoolbuses and motorbikes. Other Scots, not content to simply cook one another and dance to the music of the Fine Young Cannibals (really), take to secluded castles and do battle on horseback while wearing unwieldy 1250-era armor. Oh, those crazy, retro-loving Scots!

Meanwhile, the clever Brits gather a group of 8 soldiers to breach the apparently impenetrable 12-foot wall and invade Scotland to conquer its millions of defenders. During this escapade, the heroic Brits are variously eaten, do battle with knights in unwieldy 1250-era armor, seem appalled by the Scots' punk hairstyles, and find a Bentley supercar that inexplicably is unable to outrun an old school bus full of punked-out Scots (many of whom, it should be noted, have unusually long tongues).

Could Doomsday be the dumbest movie of all time?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Sunday Reflection: On Fellowship

This morning, my Sunday School class was like a Tesla coil-- the ideas just built on themselves and the power built up and was concentrated until we all spun off in our different directions with lots to think about. We flashed through the authority of the Old Testament, the idea of blood atonement, and lots more; many wonderful heresies were expressed. I came out of that little room with a full mind and a full heart, and grateful for this small but important part of the week and the people who make it possible.

Sometimes, people tell me they don't need a church or fellowship to fulfill the needs of their spirit, but I... well, I'm not one of those people. This morning I got what I need.

For what it is worth, I will be speaking on the death penalty at 7th and James Baptist at 6 pm on Wednesday night, in Harper Hall.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Happy Birthday to Tydwbleach!

It's kind of funny about the Razor... when I started it in 2006, the point was to connect with my students at a different level. I wanted them to see that profs are a little more complex than what they might see in class, that we can even be funny or food-obsessed or whatever, completely apart from our relationship with the law. At the very start, too, that is how it worked; my readers were almost all current students at BLS who migrated over from other law school blogs. Quickly, though, the readership got more diverse. I found comments from old friends, people at other schools, BLS grads, folks at the GM PR department, and some people I had never met before who just became a part of the community. Tydwbleach is a member of this last group. We have never actually met, but she has been a big part of the Razor from the start.

Apparently, Tyd is from the same town as I am and went to school with my little brother. She probably was trying to find out what happened to him, ended up googling me, and... well, there you go, as we say in the Midwest.

The past few years have been a challenge for Tyd. Her house exploded because the phone company filled it with natural gas. Not many of us has to deal with something like that, but she toughed it out, apparently lived with a goat for several months, and now is in a new house.

Happy Birthday, Tyd!

Friday, January 09, 2009


Haiku Friday of Gentle-ness

Today is a day for soft and gentle things, as I am saddened by all the violence in the world. Here are the topics:

1) Snow
2) Bunnies
3) People who drive VW vans
4) Cotton
5) The Texas A & M football team
6) Warm lint, fresh from the lint trap
7) Bunnies
8) Lilting music from the Master of the Pan Flute, Zanfir
9) Soft grasses to lay in
10) Clouds

Or, if you want, you can just write one about cars.

Here is mine:

Lexus ES car
May I invite you into
My home and garage?

Now it is your turn...

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Congressional Mayhem Thursday: The 17th Amendment in Action!

Right now, there is a debate in Washington over seating the man (Roland Burris) selected by the Governor of Illinois to fill Barack Obama's former seat. The Senate, through its Democratic leadership, has refused to seat Mr. Burris, who was the Attorney General of Illinois.

Here is the text of the 17th Amendment, which controls the appointment and election of senators:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

Under the 17th Amendment, it seems that even a disgraced Senator has the ability to appoint a Senator. So how is it that Burris can be blocked? The Constitution does give the Senate the ability to expel a member by 2/3 vote, but that isn't happening. The Constitutional requirements for the Senate are also clearly met by Mr. Burris: 1) each senator must be at least 30 years old, 2) must have been a citizen of the United States for at least the past nine years, and 3) must be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state they seek to represent.

It would seem that Mr. Burris will have a strong legal case if he takes this matter to the courts. After all it's not like this never happened before...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Car Envy Pt. 22

One of my vices is a certain car envy that crops up at times. Sure, I love my little black Mazda-- it's a great car. Still, once in a while I get a little bit of car envy when I see something nice in a parking lot or on the road.

Most recently, it has been the Lexus ES350. The odd thing is that the Lexus is not usually my kind of car, as it is not very sporty at all. It's a road car, really, and not even near the top of the Lexus line; actually it is at the bottom of the Lexus brand's offerings. Still, I liked what I saw. Sigh.

What one car causes car envy in you?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


When (nearly) everyone fails

We are in dire economic straights. There has been much blame laid, but there is one group whose failures clearly played a role in the catastrophe. That group is America's risk managers, the people who evaluate the risk of economic choices so that decision-makers can factor in the risk when choosing what to buy or sell. In short, most risk managers greatly undervalued the risk of investing in mortgage-backed securities. Based on this bad advice, banks and other financial institutions bought huge amounts of these securities, which resulted in huge losses and the ensuing economic collapse.

How did they get it so wrong? Partly, there was an over-reliance on one tool to assess risk, known as Value at Risk. VaR is a simple-to-understand number which expresses in a dollar value the risk of a given investment. For example, a $1 billion investment might be said to have a value at risk of $50 million/week-- that is, the chance is 99% that less than that amount would be lost in the next week. VaR is a convenient tool, in that it seems so solid. However, what happened is that the 1% happened, all over, at the same time.

Some institutions, such as the management group at Goldman Sachs, looked at things more broadly, properly assessed the risk in mortgage-backed securities, and got out of them in time. Most did not, relying instead on their risk managers.

And, of course, minimizing that risk was the answer that the risk managers wanted to give, because it is the one their bosses wanted to hear. To raise a red flag would have been to signal to the boss that he was wrong to buy those securities, which too often is a route to job insecurity.

Once, again, as with the accounting scandals of the 90's, the root of a financial debacle is very likely those who did not want to disappoint the client. The problem, of course, is not just the person who should have been bearing the bad news-- it is also the culture of a place where they shoot the messenger.


More Law Profs invade DOJ

In addition to the new SG, Harvard Dean Elena Kagan, Barack Obama has named Dawn Johnson, a law prof. at Indiana, to head DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel. Prof. Johnson has been a critic in the past of the increase in incarceration in the US, and it will be interesting to see if all these profs bring some change in that area.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Harvard Law Dean Kagan to be named Solicitor General

Harvard Law alum Doug Berman reports that Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan will be nominated as the new Solicitor General. This is a very public and important job, and Kagan is a great choice. By most accounts, she has done a fine job at Harvard, and is an excellent attorney.

But,... what does she think of Spears II? It has been sitting around the Supreme Court on our certiorari petition now for two conferences. We may get word on the outcome this Friday. If (and this is a long-shot) cert. is granted, it is the kind case where the new AG and SG may choose to join the defendant's side and not oppose the reversal of the 8th Circuit.


Argbf Update!

According to a new blog, Argbf has been nominated to fill the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. (Hopefully, Argbf will not follow through on her earlier plan to catch and eat slow and/or fat residents of Woodley Park and then move into their apartment). Here is the full report:

Governor Rod Blagojevich’s controversial decision to appoint former presidential hopeful and panda bear, Argbf, to fill President-elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat is far from being approved, yet the appointee has plans to attend the opening day of the 111th Congress, CBS News’ Andy Thompson Taylor reports.
Argbf and his handlers will travel to Washington, D.C. Monday night, and then onto the Hill for moving-in day. The senator-elect will not be officially seated before the Senate approves the nomination. Democratic senators, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, said in a letter Tuesday “anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.” Reid went on to note, ” Also, the nominee is a bear, a real damned bear, and not a person. Has anyone picked up on this!?”

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Sunday Reflection: The Law of Medes and Persians

My Sunday School class has been studying the Book of Daniel, and today I slowed us down. We were steaming towards Daniel in the lions' den when I got hung up on the preceding passage (Dan. 6:10-18). There, some informants tell the King that Daniel is praying to God, which the King had outlawed previously. The King resists punishing Daniel (a palace favorite), but the informants insist that the King has no discretion "according to the law of the Medes and Persians" to do anything other than follow the edict and send Daniel to the lions. So, against his own desires, the King sends Daniel to the lions.

I love it when criminal law crops up in the Bible, and this was one of those times. The law barred individualized consideration of a defendant, and the law itself (barring prayer to God) was unjust. This is a familiar theme in criminal law-- the constant push and pull between fairness (treating all the same) and mercy. The law was fair, but not just or merciful.

Today, it is limits on individualized consideration combined with unjust laws that create some of the biggest moral problems in criminal law. You take mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines (limiting individual consideration) and layer them on top of a few unjust laws (ie, the crack-powder ratio in federal sentencing), and you have revived the very dilemma raised in the scriptures, promoted primarily by Christian legislators.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


How bad are things in Detroit?

As you might imagine, I heard a lot of depressing news in Detroit. Plants are closing, stores are closing, and people who can are moving. I even heard about a friend of the family who bought a decent house in a nice suburb for... $11,000.

For some reason, though, the news that struck me as strangest was the announcement that the city's two daily newspapers, the Free Press and the News, will no longer have a daily home-delivery edition. You will only be able to get a paper at your door on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Wow-- that's pretty grim. Detroit is the only major city where you can't get the local paper delivered every day.

Friday, January 02, 2009


New Year of Haiku Friday!

I hope everyone enjoyed New Year's Eve! Let's haiku about it. Here is mine:

Inside, just quiet
But outside, loud bangs, going fast
Gunshots or fireworks?

Now... it is your turn.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Resolution Mayhem Thursday

Three resolutions allowed:

1) More recipes on the Razor
2) Teach with vigor
3) Broaden my perspectives

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