Wednesday, June 30, 2010


They take Public Service Announcements WAY too seriously in Canada...

I grew up watching Canadian television. Back then, we were treated to the adventures of "Albert Safety," and strangely bland cartoon guy who calmly watched as tragedies unfolded before him. For example, he would fly over a child thrashing around in the water, mournfully intone "never swim alone," then watch as the kid went under for good.

As seen in the video below, the Canadians still take public service ads very seriously. Here, we get Matt LeBlanc telling us not to litter. There, they get the following (which, I must warn you, is very graphic and not fit for children, the elderly, those with a heart condition, pregnant women or those who may become pregnant, and those who have already been accident victims:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Wednesday Events

I taped an interview with Derek Smith of KWBU-FM this afteroon, which will air in the morning on 103.3. The subject was the Kagan confirmation hearings, which have been oddly intriguing so far. Derek is always good to talk to, and it's too bad that I'm leaving just as we are getting this thing down...

Also, tomorrow evening at about 5:50, I will be speaking at 7th and James Baptist Church at, uh, the corner of 7th and James Streets in Waco. All are welcome. My title: Exit Interview.


My Internet Relationship with Babette Leathers

I don't usually republish my foreign-language spam, but I found this one particularly intriguing:

Geachte Webmaster,

Mijn naam is Babette Leers werkzaam bij Topspot Promotion. Graag
bied ik u een maandelijkse vergoeding aan voor het plaatsen van een
artikel of advertentie op uw web-site voor één van onze klanten.

Indien u geïnteresseerd bent in ons aanbod, verneem ik van u graag de
mogelijkheden. Heeft u nog vragen of suggesties, kunt u uiteraard te
allen tijde contact met ons opnemen.

Met vriendelijke groet,
Babette Leers, Marketing Medewerker,
Afdeling Business Development.

Translated from the Dutch (according to Babelfish) this is what Babette has to say:

Dear web master, My name is Babette Leathers, operative at Top Derision Promotion. You gladly offer monthly compensation I for buying newspaper space Article or on your Internet site for one of our customers. If you are interested in our offer, I gladly learn the possibilities of you. You still questions have or suggestions, can take you of course at any time contact with our. Kind regards, Babette Leathers, marketing employee, Department business development.

A few observations:

1) Who can resist a woman by the name of "Babette Leathers?" Seriously?

2) There is something quite elegant about the phrase "I gladly learn the possibilities of you."

3) I'm not sure what you end up with when you untangle the sentence "can take you of course at any time contact with our," especially in the dulcet tones of one Babette Leathers.

4) There is a certain honesty in calling your business "Top Derision Promotion."

Monday, June 28, 2010


Baylor Rocks the Lone Star Awards...

The Houston Press Club gave out it's Lone Star awards last weekend, and Baylor made a major splash.

Razorite and ace writer Jill Scoggins won second place for a piece ("Life Without Parole? Not for Children") that built on an issue we first discussed here, though Jill's excellent work was entirely her own and much more coherent than my own discussions. That category was swept by Baylor-affiliated folks, with Lori Fogleman winning first place and Terry Goodrich coming in third.

Just as impressive was the Baylor Lariat, which won the prize for Best Student Newspaper.

Congratulations to all these writers!


When Waco is stranger than fiction...

Waco has been a wonderful place to live. One thing about it is that... well, it stays interesting. Inexplicably, the President of the U.S. decides to live here. Then, one night people claim they hear an explosion like a rocket ship blowing up. It turns out that it was a rocket ship blowing up at a heretofore unknown rocket ship testing facility in town. Then, of course, we had the public tv station inadvertantly airing porn...

Most recently, the band Devo put up a billboard near my house, over by the Catfish King restaurant. I'm not sure why, but Carl Hoover did a pretty good job of trying to explain this. Here is Devo's own video on the subject:

Will Minneapolis be this interesting?

For those Wacoans out there, feel free to share your own stories of the bizarre and amazing...

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Praying for a victory

I'm uncomfortable with athletes, players, or coaches praying for a victory. However, I have trouble defining exactly what my problem is with it, and am hoping that some of you can help me either firm up my feelings or dismiss them.

It's very common for people who care about sports to pray for an outcome. By this, I don't mean praying for a good game or that no one gets hurt-- I mean praying that your team will win. Somehow, this seems very wrong to me.

Here is a set of propositions that justify such prayers. Many of you will agree with the first few, but not the rest, I realize. Others will reject them all. However, for those who accept all of them, how can it be wrong to pray for an outcome?

1) There is a God.
2) When we pray, God hears those prayers.
3) God cares about our prayers.
4) Sometimes, God will affirmatively react to prayers.
5) God's reaction to prayers affects events on earth.
6) It is ethical to pray for things that are important.
7) To many people sports are important, and sometimes (as in getting scholarships, etc.), life-changing.

So, how is it unethical to pray to win an important game?

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Can we stop caring about soccer again now?

Supposedly, that guy in the video is reacting to the USA loss to Ghana today in the World Cup (and no, that isn't me). I'm not sure why it depressed me a little; perhaps I was looking forward to another week of anticipating a game.

Sadly, the US looked pretty lackluster in today's game. Once again, they gave up an early goal and then toughened up. What does that mean? Some sort of poor preparation? Maybe not listening to the right music in the locker room? Mime involvement?


Now Obama is playing with the structure...

Is it just a coincidence that only a few months after my last lecture President Obama is starting to mess with the structure of his weekly video addresses to the country?

Weekly Address: Jobs Creation from White House Weekly Address on Vimeo.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Haiku Friday: Razor Party July 24...

My old friend IPLawGuy will be here in Waco the third week of July. On Thursday and Friday of that week we will be out in West Texas, but on Saturday the 24th, I think we should have a party-- kind of a going-away party.

I'd love your input on what that party should be like. Just try to put your suggestions into haiku.


For our sake, Osler,
Buy some decent beer this time
Not Old Milwaukee!

I'm open to suggestions on where to have it, bands, etc. One feature I would love is a live debate between RRL and Lane.

Give me your best shot!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: Cruseturner on Immigration

[You can make the image of this immigrant to Arizona bigger by clicking on it]

One of my favorite political writers, Ashley Cruseturner, had an excellent piece in Sunday's paper on immigration. You can read the whole thing here. (Our last discussion of immigration policy here at the Razor was back in April and concerned the Arizona law on state enforcement of immigration statutes).

I found part of what he had to say particularly compelling:

The vast majority of immigrants are hard-working taxpayers with surprisingly conservative values. Ironically, they seek precisely the American life that conservatives are so eager to preserve. These unassuming souls are not looking to pilfer services from an overly charitable American-style welfare state. In reality, our so-called social safety net is an inhospitable patchwork of inefficient bureaucracies ineptly disbursing meager amounts of aid.

These immigrants are generally too proud, too self-reliant and too intelligent to rely on our ham-handed government agencies as a pathway to improvement.

Like the myriad pilgrims before them, these modern “huddled masses yearning to be free” leave their families and hometowns to risk everything on the hope of a better life. They come to work. In general, they occupy the lowest rung of the societal ladder and toil diligently at dirty jobs under dismal conditions at desperately low wages. Some will go back to the old country. But those who take root are enthusiastic converts. They’re industrious citizens who inevitably produce a succeeding generation of loyal Americans, good Marines and ambitious achievers with a prodigious work ethic.

Immigration offers an infusion of what we need the most: belief and investment in America as a City on a Hill.

From what I see, he is right, and that does affect and change the way I look at immigration.

However, what does this mean about the unemployed people who are not taking the jobs that illegal immigrants are filling? My theory has always been that we should attack illegal immigration by going after those who employ illegal immigrants. However, that assumes that the resulting rise in wages will pull unemployed people into the workforce. Perhaps, though, slightly more pay will not have that effect-- and it also could be that many of the native-born unemployed in the United States do not share the "American" attributes that Cruseturner (properly) ascribes to immigrants.

In the whole are immigrants, even illegal ones under the current law, good for the country?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


More Driving Music...

Some of my other faves:

The Soft Pack's "Answer to Yourself." (Note to self: Do not eat at Del Mar Pizza in San Diego.)

Rockpile's "Cruel to Be Kind." Driving beat, great hook, terrible haircuts.

Veruca Salt's "Volcano Girls." Great band name, great energy, explains who the Seether was:

Hole's "Celebrity Skin," which was pretty prescient and oddly uses the same flying harnesses Veruca Salt did:

I wouldn't drive to this one, but it reminds me of Detroit, where things fall apart and burn and yet good things emerge:


Driving music.... too old to die young

I'm from Detroit. We love cars there, and love to drive them. It's my one materialistic vice; I'm a sucker for a car with a great power/weight ratio, good handling, stick shift and a blastin' sound system (right now I have two cars that fit that description). When good things happen (and they did yesterday) I love to drive fast and hard to good music. So it was... downshift into the turn onto Valley Mills, punch it, feel that rush coming out of the turn...

What's your best driving music?

This was the song for me yesterday, making that turn:

And then this song came on, and it was great driving music, too:

And then this, at which point I was going too too fast and not worrying about all that...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I'm happy...

Not to appear on Auto-Tune the News:


The Execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner

Last week, Utah executed Ronnie Lee Gardner by firing squad. The double-murderer had chosen this method of death.

Is there a moral distinction between this and assisted suicide?

Is it somehow worse to execute someone this way than by lethal injection?

Monday, June 21, 2010


The Last Lecture

If you did not get to come to my last lecture in April, it is now on video (though not on Youtube). I'm still grateful for the opportunity that the students gave me, and keep thinking of things I should have said... You can see it here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Father's Day

[click on the photo to enlarge it]

I woke up this morning thinking about my dad. As I get older, I realize new ways in which I am like him, for better or for worse-- mostly to the better. Many of his best qualities I only aspire to, and am far from achieving. Here are a few of the things I received from my father, some of which are gifts I have yet to fully accept:

1) My father has the amazing ability to see beauty in all things, in all places. An empty lot is not an eyesore to be filled up; rather it a place to gather wildflowers, to marvel at a pheasant, through which to see a vista. To him, people and things are inherently imbued with meaning, and the challenge of life is to draw that meaning out, to hold it in one's hand and marvel at it.

2) He has a love for and acceptance of complex people. He knows their flaws, and loves them anyways. A life presented to him as perfect is suspect and false, but one with dents and bruises is real and gorgeous. He is drawn to those who struggle, and recognizes that this is a group that includes us all. When he wants to help people, as he often does, it is rarely to change them in a fundamental way, but to help them be the way they see themselves, so long as that is an honest view.

3) He says and does the unexpected. He does not have the filter of "what will people think?" I don't always know the source of his internal moral compass, but it is always there and often points in a different direction than the norm, especially in a status-conscious place like Grosse Pointe.

4) He accepts wisdom from all sources. Literally, a homeless man in the Cass Corridor can be as wise to him as Plato. He rarely drops the name of anyone famous, but often quotes the words and stories of the humbled.

5) He gives freely. Even when he himself has been in need, he sometimes seems blind to this while still giving to others.

6) He has never, not once, in any way, revealed a prejudice of any kind. Though he would not articulate it this way, I have never met another person who so clearly lived out the Quaker ideal of seeing the light of God in every person.

7) He creates constantly. It did not stop at a certain time-- creation, with him, is life.

If you know John Shipman Osler, Jr., you know these things to be true. As my faith develops, I find that the lessons of Christ are often not so different than the lessons of my father, and that makes me love them both all the more.

Saturday, June 19, 2010



[Note: This was cross-posted at the Washington Legal Foundation's blog, the Legal Pulse. I wrote an amicus brief for them in the case with Rory and Elizabeth Ryan. Portions of that brief were tracked very closely in parts of the Stevens dissent in this case]

Yesterday’s decision in Dillon v. United States continues the Supreme Court’s preference for practicality over principle in the area of sentencing. Petitioner Percy Dillon argued that when he was resentenced for crack dealing after the federal sentencing guidelines were adjusted downward, the sentencing judge should have been allowed to consider things other than that adjustment to the guidelines—including an error in simply calculating the guidelines themselves. Dillon’s lawyers argued that doing otherwise would violate the rule announced in the Court’s 2005 decision in United States v. Booker, setting out that the sentencing guidelines cannot be mandatory.

A 7-1 majority (with Justice Alito recusing himself) held that the Booker rule does not apply at resentencing. Justice Sotomayor wrote for the majority, concluding that a sentencing judge’s discretion can still be strictly limited by the sentencing commission.

Underlying this decision was a thoroughly practical concern—that allowing district courts broad discretion at a resentencing would discourage the United States Sentencing Commission from making future changes in the guidelines retroactive. The lone holdout in favor of principle was Justice Stevens, whose dissent at times tracked the language and logic of the amicus brief submitted by the WLF. Justice Stevens described the actions of the Sentencing Commission in restricting the discretion of district judges as beyond the proper powers of that commission.

And therein lies the rub: If we give a commission in Washington the power to limit the discretion of a local judge, we are sending power in the wrong direction. When a judge looks a defendant in the eye to pronounce sentence, she has the advantage of being a member of the same community as that defendant and that defendant’s victims. The greater the discretion given that judge, the better her ability to tailor a sentence (or resentence) to the values of that community. Instead, the Dillon decision gives that discretion to the Sentencing Commission, a strange creature that is answerable to no community at all other than the one composed of its own bureaucracy (along with the rare attention and political vagaries of Congress). On sentencing matters, injustice hides in institutions of complexity and centralization, and this opinion protects and extends both of these qualities in the federal courts.

Friday, June 18, 2010



I'm not sure what it is, but there is something vaguely disturbing about the Ikea "Murbo" Chair-Bed (pictured here in "Grasbo white"):


Haiku Friday: Furniture

I am terrible at furniture selection. Aside from a couch that was re-upholstered by Jack White of the White Stripes, I have nothing of real note or value.

Still, there is furniture that sticks with us, that was unique or meaningful in our lives. Last night, I was trying to describe a couch my parents had which we used for high-jump practice as kids, Fosberry-flopping over the back and onto the cushions (and destroying the couch in the process).

Here is mine:

Oh, beautiful couch
Catch me in your leather mitt
My name is your doom.

Now it is your turn--

Five syllables
Seven syllables
Five syllables

Just do it!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: Afghan Lithium

Septimus suggested a fascinating topic for today: The discovery of billions of dollars worth of mineral deposits in Afghanistan, including vast amounts of lithium, which is used in both batteries and meth production.

Let's imagine that the initial projections are correct, and Afghanistan could hold vast mineral wealth. What should we "encourage," given our influence in the area? I would imagine that each of the following would be options:

1) Develop mines, with profits to the national government.

2) Develop mines, with at least some of the money going to reimburse the US for its expenses there.

3) Refuse to allow mines, knowing the social damage that could result from a commodity-driven economy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The Big 12 is saved!

If you haven't been following the story, last week it looked like the Big 12 athletic conference was imploding, and that Baylor would be left to wander in the wilderness of Conference USA. However, things worked out for the best-- Nebraska went to the Big 10, Colorado to the Pac-10, and the rest of the Big 12 remains intact. Thus:

1) The Big 10 now has 12 members
2) The Big 12 has 10 member schools
3) The Pac 10 has 11 schools
4) The Texas at Nebraska game this fall should be very interesting.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Excellent Lego videos!

Everything is better when done with Legos. For example, the World Cup (Thanks Henry Wright!):

Monty Python:


Monday, June 14, 2010


World Cup Fever!

Every World Cup year I go through the same process-- I ignore the pre-tournament hype (which is easy to do in the US) and then get drawn in by the games themselves.

This tournament started with two good games, both 1-1 ties: South Africa and Mexico, and the US and England. I still think England has a chance to win the whole thing. Here are my top 3:



Media and Message

I'm a little freaked out by the fact that my recent piece over at the Huffington Post now has attracted over 450 comments, and I would imagine a readership of many multiples of those who have commented. The subject of the piece was fairly complex, and could sustain a full-fledged law review article.

As I have mentioned before, I am troubled by the fact that a blog piece has a readership so much larger than law reviews, while most of us are still trying to create change by publishing in law reviews. Is it worth it? Can change be created that way? The academic market puts great stock in law reviews: At many schools, the value of a teacher is measured principally by the placement of her articles in various law reviews.

Let me put it this way: If career advancement and thorough discussion is served one way (by publishing law review articles), while reaching an audience and possibly creating change is primarily created in another way (with internet postings or litigation), which should a principled legal academic pursue?

The answer, I have to think, is both-- that we have an obligation both to present our views in authoritative, well-substantiated and substantial law review pieces, and from the views expressed in those articles then go out and try to make the world better through more immediate and widely-read media.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Forgiveness and change

There is a topic that Randall O'Brien and I often discussed (and which I have mentioned here before), which I struggle with as a core moral dilemma. In short, should we forgive someone who has not stopped their harmful behavior?

Common sense says no, but at times it seems that Christ says that we should. For example, even on the cross he asks for forgiveness on those who are killing him, and they certainly were not ceasing their actions. Also, his admonition to forgive 7 times 70 times certainly seems to auger in favor of pre-emptive forgiveness.

I really would like to hear the opinions of others on this one.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Huffington Posting

My piece on police interrogation and the Supreme Court's Thompkins decision is the lead story in the religion section of the Huffington Post today. It's a fascinating place to appear... especially given some of the other contributors to the blog.

Intriguingly, non-religious John Brennan has given me a lot of very useful help in writing these religion pieces.


Over the past two days, I've had the chance to visit with two of my former students I am incredibly proud of-- Gordon Davenport and David Corbett. It's an amazing feeling for a teacher to see his students succeed, and that is what I am seeing here. Gordon is a federal prosecutor in Tucson, while David is a public defender in Kingman. While they work on opposite sides, they have both become remarkable courtroom lawyers doing justice (after all, neither side has a lock on that). I loved hearing about their cases, their offices, and how they feel about the difference they are making. It makes me feel that this project is worthwhile.

Meanwhile, I have been addressing the Arizona Public Defender Association on federal sentencing and some death penalty issues. So far, I have seen great audiences who have more to contribute than I do-- today's session on religion in the capital case got downright rowdy. I love that-- especially in a discussion with the people who actually try the cases. It's real.

It has been, and will be, a great weekend.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Haiku Friday: Kids

This week, let's haiku about kids. Maybe you are one. Maybe you know some. Definitely, you were one. So, think of childhood in summer...

Lying on a porch
Reading an old comic book
My toes in the sun.

Now it is your turn...

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: Commissioner Intervention...

Let's say, hypothetically, that a major league pitcher had a perfect game going with two out in the ninth. Now, let's imagine that on an infield grounder the first-base ump blew the call on what was a clear out, robbing that pitcher of the perfect game.

Should the commissioner of baseball reverse the call?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010



I just went back (for the first time) and looked over the transcript from the CNN interview on May 10. I'm incredibly self-conscious and can't stand to see myself on TV, so I rarely look at the clips, but there was something in the transcript (pasted in below) that I really can't believe I said:

And we have got three more Ivy Leaguers joining us now, Yale School lecturer and former "New York Times" Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He is the author of "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court." And, for the record, he is also a friend of Kagan's. And also with us, Baylor Law professor Mark Osler -- or Osler, rather -- who went to Yale.

Mark, let's start with you.

The president, as we said, said that, with Kagan on court, it would be more representative of the United States as a whole. Senator John Cornyn, though, on the Republican side, said: "Kagan has spent her entire professional career in Harvard Square, Hyde Park, and the D.C. Beltway. These are not places where one learns how ordinary people live."

What do you think? Is she reflective of America? And is the Supreme Court reflective of America at large?

MARK OSLER, BAYLOR LAW PROFESSOR: Well, President Obama I think clearly was talking in terms of gender, that Elena Kagan is going to make the court look more like America in terms of gender. That leaves a lot of other issues, however, that we still lack of certain diversity.

And what Senator Cornyn points to is one of them, that we have that large swathe of country in the middle that is not going to have their views reflected perhaps on the court in a way it might be if there was a justice from that area.

ROBERTS: Linda Greenhouse, the fact that there will be no Protestants on the court if Elena Kagan is confirmed for the first time in history, do you think that makes a difference?

LINDA GREENHOUSE, YALE LAW PROFESSOR: Well, what's interesting to me about that is that nobody much seems to care. There was a poll out the other day, and people just shrugged off what a few years ago would have really been a quite amazing development.

For years, there was a Jewish seat, so-called, on the court for one Jewish justice. Justice Brennan, at least through a chunk of his tenure, was the only Catholic on the court. And it's a reflection, I think, of those things that become salient to the public and then kind of fade from importance as the country progresses.

ROBERTS: You know, as we saw in the figures there from the Gallup poll, 66 percent of people asked say it doesn't really matter if he nominates a Protestants.

What do you think, Jeff Toobin?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, membership on the Supreme Court always reflects the political controversies of the day.

In the early days of the republic, regional differences -- in the period leading up to the Civil War, you had to have a certain number of Southern justices, Northern justices, Western justices. No one cares what state they're from now.

Later, when we had immigration, you had the Catholic seat, the Jewish seat, then, of course, 1965, the first African-American, Thurgood Marshall, 1981, the first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, last year, the first Hispanic.

Those are the landmarks that matter now. We are in an ideological age. George Bush did not nominate Samuel Alito and John Roberts because they're Catholic. He nominated them because they're conservative. Same with Obama. He nominated Sotomayor and Kagan because they share his politics. That's why they're going on the court.

ROBERTS: And what about law school, Mark Osler? Does that matter? With all of these justices having either gone to Harvard or Yale, there are a lot of other good law schools across the country. What does the centralization around these two Ivy League schools mean for the Supreme Court?

OSLER: Well, there are a lot of other good law schools in the country. I teach at one of them.


OSLER: Having gone to Yale, I can tell you that there was something there. I remember our tests often seemed to be asked from the perspective of, "you're an omniscient God. How would you structure the law?"

And that's not the approach that many other law schools have. There, the training is much more rooted in real lives and political realities and the realities that come with the lives of litigants. And so there is a different perspective that might be more reflected if we had diversity in terms of background of law school.


TOOBIN: I don't know if it's diversity or not, but I went to Harvard. And I was never told I was an omniscient God.


TOOBIN: I have never been told that in my life. I'm waiting for this.

GREENHOUSE: Well, there you go.

TOOBIN: I'm waiting for that. But...

OSLER: I thought I told you that just this morning when...(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Well, it was too early.

ROBERTS: Linda Greenhouse, what do you think, Linda? Does the concentration of these two schools and their hallowed halls of law make a difference in terms of the perspective of the court?

GREENHOUSE: Well, I think it may tell us something about the networks that send people into the great, you know, mentioning up above us as to people that are on these kinds of short lists.

You know, one thing that is interesting about the current crop of justices, a number of them -- and Elena Kagan, assuming she's confirmed, will be one of them -- have been Supreme Court law clerks. Now, that's a much more exclusive club than the club of graduates of Yale and Harvard Law School. TOOBIN: And also you have to factor that so many of the justices are former judges. And graduates of fancy law schools tend to become that.

In the old days, when you had justices like Hugo Black from Alabama, and Earl Warren from California, and Robert Jackson from New York, who didn't even go to law school at all, that is -- it reflects how the qualifications game has changed.

And I think it's too bad, because it would be better to have occupational and background diversity, not just racial and gender diversity on...


ROBERTS: All right, well...

GREENHOUSE: Well, there is the diversity. I mean, Elena Kagan will be the only one who has never been a judge.


GREENHOUSE: So, that's diverse.

TOOBIN: That's a change.

ROBERTS: Yes, since William Rehnquist in 1972.

He rose to a fairly prominent position.


TOOBIN: You know, you didn't hear conservatives complaining about Rehnquist then.


TOOBIN: And it was funny. That line about how never left the beltway, John Roberts has never had a job outside Washington, and he seems pretty satisfactory to most conservatives. So, you know, this is politics.

ROBERTS: Many statements suit a political purpose, don't they?

Linda Greenhouse, Mark Osler, and the omniscient God, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you for joining us tonight.

WHAT! Was I intimating that Jeffrey Toobin and I were having some kind of conversation over breakfast??? And then he responds that it was "too early?" Oh, man. No wonder Katie Couric is screening my calls.


Shame and Kagan

As usual, Doug Berman has all the spicy news and tidbits, including this report that back in the Clinton administration Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan was intrigued by punishments that shame defendants, such as forcing drunk drivers to have an identifying mark on their vehicle.

Shaming sanctions were in academic vogue for a while back at the turn of the century, but I was never much of a fan-- it simply did not seem like it would make much of a difference. Too often, shaming amounted to short-term novelties that were unlikely to change behavior.

Still... might they be worthwhile is some situations? For example, what if drunk drivers DID have to have a bumper sticker on their car? Would that deter drunk driving? If so, and could be administered fairly, I would be all for it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Is it art?

In 1950, Jackson Pollock "painted" this piece, One: Number 31.

This description of Pollock's technique in creating this piece is from

Pollock laid the canvas flat on the floor. Then he walked around with a can of paint, using first one colour and then another, pouring and dripping paint all over the canvas. He would not pour the paint directly from the can. Rather - he dripped it from brushes, or from sticks used for mixing house paint. As he walked, he would fling his arms in sweeping gestures, so the paint trails in long, blobby ropes across the canvas - some are straight, some curve and they vary in length. He was able to control where the paint would be thick and where it would form fine, thin lines. He carried on until he had covered the canvas with a deep, dense web of trailing ropes of paint. The bare, off-white surface of the canvas is visible in many places, particularly around the edges and corners of this unframed painting. One can imagine the experience of running one's hands over its knobbly surface, and following the trails of paint with one's fingertips.

But... is it art?
And does it hold any meaning for you, whether or not it is art?

Monday, June 07, 2010


Football... football... football... football...

[click on the photo to enlarge it-- it's new favorite graffiti I saw in New York/New Jersey]

The buzz in Waco is all about football. Not that football obsession is anything new, but this time there really are some crazy things going on. In short, the big football conferences seem to be realigning, and this is big news.

Since 1996, Baylor has played in the Big 12 conference with Texas, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska, and Missouri. It looks very possible right now that the Big 12 is going to break up, a change precipitated by the Big 10's attempt to pick up Nebraska and Missouri, and the interest of other conferences in grabbing away big-money stalwart University of Texas.

The hot rumor is that the Pac-10 will try to expand by taking away Texas, A & M, Tech, Colorado, and the two Oklahoma schools. Some in the Texas legislature, however, are pushing for Baylor to be included instead of Oklahoma. If the Big 12 takes the other six, though, Baylor will be left in a no-man's land, probably shunted out of the realm of big-conference sports. Egads! There is little doubt that the best outcome for Baylor would be to have the Big 12 remain intact or move to the Pac-10 with the other Texas schools, and there is some movement towards that.

However, if the Pac-10 does expand without Baylor and the Big 12 falls apart, that will likely precipitate a larger round or realignments, with Baylor an unlikely target because of its poor (but improving!) showing in football and small media market. Being left out in the cold would be a sad outcome, and there would be great gnashing of teeth in Waco.

Amidst this mayhem, I'd like to reassert my idea for an academic/athletics conference comprised of top-level schools in the middle of the country that have the potential to excel in both, but begin with solid academics. It could be kind of an Ivy League of mid-America. Don't scoff-- the Ivy League is a sports league, after all, and membership has added greatly to the academic luster of the member schools. This league, though, could still play top-division football, and could be dominant in some other sports. How about this for one permutation (involving smaller mostly-private schools that either are not in big-time conferences, or might be cast-offs in realignment and which feature strong academics):

Western Division:
Air Force

Eastern Division:
Wake Forest
William and Mary/UVA

Or, you could have a Texas-centered league featuring Baylor, Rice, Tulane, SMU, TCU, and Houston...

At any rate, let's hope we end up where we belong-- in the Big 12 or Pac-16-- and that we don't end up with membership in the Great West League.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Sunday Reflection: A June Wedding

[click on the photo to enlarge it]
This morning, I am in Bloomingburg, New York, recovering from the wedding of Razorite Jessica Phelps to Cody Stafford, a fellow Baylor grad and great student.

They asked me to do a reading, and allowed me to choose. I chose something from Ecclesiastes, but not the familiar passage I used for the graduations last week. Instead, I read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one, because there is a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two be together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Love, when it is true, is uplift and help and warmth and strength, and neither is it quickly broken.

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Bonjour, Razor!

Friday, June 04, 2010


Haiku Friday: Vacation

I love vacation season, and it is here.

Some people love the mountains, some the ocean, some a northern lake, or a resort, or just hanging around at home. It's that time of year, and let's celebrate it in haiku. After all, before the long the French may be in charge of everything again.

Here is mine:

Summer comes in gently
Strokes my hair and cheek and neck;
The sound of water.

Now it is your turn. You can write about the vacation you will take, or once took, or want to take someday... just use 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: Title Nine

Title Nine transformed sports in America by ensuring that there is at least roughly equal resources accorded male and female sports in public schools and colleges. The result was an amazing expansion of athletic opportunity for girls and women.

Was this a good change?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Mork, Fever, and Mindy

For the past few days, I have been suffering from a fever. It's pretty stubborn-- so far I have tried aspirin, Motrin, and more cowbell, and nothing seems to be working.

When I get a fever, it just makes me goofy. Today, for example, I woke up obsessed with Mork and Mindy, a tv show in the 80's that was a spin-off of Laverne and Shirley, which was a spin-off of Happy Days. TV was like that back then. Anyways, did Mork and Mindy ever get married? If so, what's the deal with Mork returning to his home planet at the end? Did he ditch his poor wife? And didn't Mork also give birth to Jonathon Winters (you can see that here)? Hmmmm... 80's jump-the-shark moments and feverish delusions are separated by a very thin line.

At any rate, I will call on someone tomorrow in Sentencing class to explain all this.

This morning, I did have an informative conversation with theater person Dan Buck, who pointed out that Mork and Mindy actually began as a jump-the-shark moment-- when an alien landed on the Cunningham's front lawn in Happy Days.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


The end of elementary school-- do you remember?

This is the text of the commencement address I gave at St. Paul's last Friday. When reading it, keep in mind that much of my audience was composed of people between the ages of three and twelve... and at the end they got to do some real yelling!

This is a great day. Sixth graders, everyone is here to celebrate you, to love on you. Not all moments are equal, and this is one of the great ones.

I’m really proud you gave me this chance to be the speaker, and I talked to a lot of people about what to say. Some adults thought it was odd to have a graduation ceremony from 6th grade, but they didn’t go to St. Paul’s. They didn’t know what a small, intense, wonderful community this is, and what it means to be at the end of your journey here.

Growing up is a funny thing. At each step, the world gets a little bigger. At first, it was just you, a tiny newborn baby, and your mom, your mom holding you in her arm, this tiny little beautiful thing. Even the dads could just watch. But then your world got a little bigger, to include your dad and your brothers and sisters, maybe, grandparents. For a few years, at least, that little circle was your whole world.

Then, they brought you to school, to this school, and the world got bigger again. It seemed huge to you at the time, I’m sure. And then for the next several years, this was the circle, this loving and wonderful school.

What is important about today, about right now, it that now the circle will grow even larger for you in the next few months. We will send you on to a different place next year, and you will meet new people and learn new things and see new places. That matters. That’s important. We love you, and we think you are ready for that bigger world. You are going to do great.

That will keep happening the rest of your life, too—your world will keep getting bigger and bigger if you let it. When that happens, too, you will do great things. Part of a life well lived will be that while you treasure what you have, your world will grow ever larger, more and more full of knowledge and people and love.

When you do that, I hope you will carry a little bit of St. Paul’s with you, and the love of these parents and teachers. Maybe you didn’t notice this, but the adults here watched you very carefully as you grew. They saw everything. Sometimes it was happy, sometimes it was sad, or silly—a whole table full of first graders acting like cats. [Meow!] Here’s a secret, too—sometimes we adults envy your world here, a safe place where people love you without reservation. We are more like you than you might think, even though we live in that bigger world. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you a story, a story about that courtyard just outside those big wooden doors.

Last October, a few weeks before Halloween, I was walking in near a mother and daughter who I think are here today, a first grader or kindergartner. Here is what I heard:

Mom: Are you sure you don’t want to be a princess?
Girl: I want to be Spiderman!
Mom: Spiderman doesn’t get to use a wand…
Girl: I… want… to… be… Spiderman.
Mom: Well, let’s just look at the princess costumes.

Someone there wants to be a princess for a day, and it wasn’t the girl. That Mom is like me—she is part kid. We all are. That is one reason we are so excited for you right now. We know what it is like to have the world grow a little larger, and these mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends will be walking with you, hand-in-hand, as you take that step into a bigger world.

All right, everybody, I’m a lawyer, so I’m going to swear you all in now.

Mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, anyone who loves one of these children whether they are graduating or not-- if you can I want you to stand up to be sworn in.

Please raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear to love these children as their worlds get bigger, as they get bigger, to love them when things are good and when things are bad? Say I do!

Ok, now the kids. All you kids, stand up. Raise your right hand. No, your other right hand. Ok- Do you solemnly swear to love one another and these adults, even when your worlds get bigger and bigger, bigger than your house, bigger than this school? Say I do!

No, really say it! Shout it! Do you solemnly swear to love one another and these adults, even when your worlds get bigger and bigger, bigger than your house, bigger than this school? Say I do!

Sixth graders say AMEN!

Sixth graders say halleluiah!

Everyone say Halleluiah!

Love on!

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