Tuesday, November 30, 2010


We have a winner!

I'd like to thank everyone for their help and suggestions yesterday as I sought out a new car. I ended up choosing something else entirely-- a slightly-used Trabant 1.1. I think it is going to be a great car for me!

Here are some others I considered in the end:

1) The Oldsmobile RRL

Constantly spewing a thick cloud of smoke, the RRL was fun, but kept pulling to the right. Torque steer, I guess.

2) The Saturn Frustrator STX Coupe

Ugh- a terrible car. You know that little dinging noise that comes on in other cars when forget to put on your seatbelt? Well, this little Saturn emits that noise when you DO have your seatbelt on. (according to the owner's manual, it is a "seatbelt ok reaffirming tone.")

3) The Jeep Barbie Edition with Fun Top

I just borrowed IPLawGuy's and drove it for a while. This thing is just creepy. For one thing, Barbie stays in the vehicle at all times, and does stuff like grab your leg when you are driving, which is followed by cascades of giggles from her and Malibu Stacy. Yick.


Help me pick a car!

Sadly, my much-loved Mazdaspeed3 does not love the winters here in Minnesota. You put 270 horses over two low-profile tires on ice, and bad things happen. I thought that perhaps it might be better if I got snow tires, but... they don't sell snow tires for that car's wheels. It was a perfect car for Texas, but... I don't live in Waco no more.

Time to move on. I have identified three finalists, and seek your input on which to bring into my life. They all work out to roughly the same price, and all three feature all wheel drive.

Contestant 1: Used 2009 Acura RDX

White exterior, brown interior
Pros: Great handling, nice size, excellent reliability.
Cons: So-so mileage, interior a little drab.

Contestant 2: Used 2008 Lexus RX400h

Double Black
Pros: Hybrid, gorgeous, excellent reliability, very quiet & solid
Cons: Not as sporty, fills the garage

Contestant 3: New 2011 Subaru Outback 3.6R

Double Black
Pros: Good on snow, fairly reliable, fits in well
Cons: Automotive equivalent of Mom Jeans

So... waddya think?

Monday, November 29, 2010


Minnesota Monday: Advent in Edina

This weekend was the start of Advent, and it was fascinating to be someplace so different for what is one of my favorite times of the year.

I'm well aware that the actual events leading up to the birth of Christ took place in a climate much like Waco's, and I often reminded myself of that as the holidays approached and the weather stayed warm. Still, because I am a northerner, it seems right to have snow about now, and all that comes with it. I certainly have found that!

On Saturday, I wandered up to downtown Edina, a nice walk from home. Among the going-ons in town, there were, to pick out just two things, real reindeer:

and some incredible carolers who popped into the coffee shop where I had stopped:


News from McDonaldland!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Vocation and snow

It was quite a week, and in many ways a perfect Thanksgiving.

Something happened on Monday that really made me happy. On Sunday, I wrote about Marrieta Jaeger-Lane and her incredible example of faith in forgiving the killer of her daughter, Suzie. Then, to my surprise, the next day Marrieta herself came onto the Razor and made the following comment (she begins by quoting my post):

"If I were one of them, would I be brave, Christ-like, forgiving?" As we say out here in Montana, you betcha!

True, initially, you would probably rave and rant -- a perfectly normal valid human response. However, you, Mark, already have a foundation of facts and even moreso, faith, which would eventually rise up within your broken, bleeding heart with a calling power graced by a loving God, who grieves more than any of us, and who desires that all God's people not be kidnapped from God's Tent by an unforgiving spirit. (See John 1: The Word became flesh and pitched its tent among us.)

'Tis my fervent prayer that the above never be your experience, but thank you for your affirming words and enjoyable company!!

Yesterday (Sunday), as we do every month, we went to Montana State Prison, spending half time with guys from low-side and half with high-side folks. I was the designated speaker this time and told pretty much the same story you heard, with emphasis on the healing power and freedom of forgiveness rather than the dp [death penalty]. 'Twas very moving to look out on the men's faces with tears runing down their cheeks, or all squinched up to prevent same from happening. Go, Susie!!

It was one of those times that I felt humbled, in a real and sincere way-- from being in the company of someone better than me.

Then, on Friday of this week, I was visited here in Edina by one of my favorite former students, Campbell Warner. Campbell and his new wife, Stephanie, had a weekend in Minneapolis and took the time to come over for lunch. For those of you who don't know, Campbell is now in Army J.A.G.; in April he deploys for a year in Afghanistan. He took all of my classes that he could, and it was always a joy to have him there. He was one of those people I knew from the start would be exactly the kind of lawyer I hope to train (and hope to be, myself), and it turns out he is exactly that. He takes his job seriously, he confronts the truth, and he sees both sides. He does the right thing even when it keeps him up late. I'm very proud of him.

We were walking back from lunch, crossing the little wooden bridge over Minnehaha Creek, and it was quiet, just our footsteps in the snow. He had his hands jammed into the pockets of his inadequate jacket. He must have been cold, I knew he was, but he did not show me that. It was one of those small things that you remember.

And there was this thought, still and true as the air: This is my vocation, my life's work. It is Marrieta and Campbell; advocacy, scholarship and teaching; every bit of it wrapped up around real people, these people.

I'm incredibly lucky.
I'm truly happy.
I'm not worthy of this bounty.
And yes, yes, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


A Video and Note from Tydwbleach

A few days ago, I received the following note from Tydwbleach, which I found both touching and intriguing... and perhaps a little confusing. But not too much.


This email is probably going to freak you out

But I am especially thankful for my great friend GINGER on this Thanksgiving Day. We are very very close and talk like 2 - sometimes 3 times a day. I met her on The razor and I know you think I might be some kind of weird internet freak or whatever and how can we be such close friends but we ARE and I love her SO SO much She is the most loyal incredible friend anyone could ever ask for and I can only hope that I am as great a friend to her. We are SUCH good friends and Bill is ever freinds with her as well. I never would have ever met had maybe my house not exploded or had I not been looking for your brother which I never found, to this day, by the way but I hope he is happy in his life. I could not really be much happier in mine, despite alllll the crap. I may be starting a new blog soon, and it is an advice column by a rodent named Colonel McTibbles how is sort of an ex-military Renaissance man. . It would be called "ASK COLONEL McTIBBLES" Insane idea whose time has come. Who knows. Have not done it yet. Just another stupid one for fun I plan to not have my name attached to it at all if I can avoid it, because the last blog I had BOOGIE ATE DONUT I had to be deposed about during our house case You have not lived until you have sat in a room with like 8 lawyers in suits around a conference table saying things Like:

Lawyer 1: "Now, What is it called? Boogie Ate the Donut?"
Lawyer 2: "No, It's just Boogie Ate Donut.. There is no THE...."
Lawyer 5: "And How are we spelling Donut? With a "ugh?"
Lawyer 3: "No I think she said its .... No its just Donut...."
Court Reporter: "Can you confirm the spelling of DONUT for us please?"
OMG OMGOMGOMGOMG I wanted to jump out of the window and we were on the 33d floor. Had they opened I would have still done it.

ANYWAY I just wanted to tell you all that stuff and just because Iam from the internet ( and Grosse Pointe) and really stranger to you mostly, it does not mean that great friendships cannot develop . I have this friend because of you. So on this Thanksgiving, I am also thankful for you. And Colonel McTibbles. AND Medical Marijuana... Tydwbleach

Friday, November 26, 2010


If you just see one movie this year...

... make sure it's The Town Christmas Forgot.


Haiku Black Friday

The turkey has been eaten, prayers of gratitude said, laughter and song... now it is time for the fetid onslaught of materialism.

Today is the incredible "Black Friday," with retailers opening their doors at 4 A.M. for people eager to buy, uh... stuff. I'm not really sure what it is that you buy on Black Friday, really.

But, let's imagine that you could buy anything, if you get in line at 4 A.M. There is no "world peace exception" here: If you get up early and pay $299, you can get anything. What would it be?

Your first line should be "What is it I want?" The second line should be 6-8 syllables, and the last line shorter than the second (in terms of total syllables). It doesn't have to be philanthropic-- feel free to be a little selfish. Just be honest. Here is mine:

What is it I want?
Virus of imagination
Then I infect the world.

Now it is your turn...

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Thanksgiving Mayhem Thursday

I love Thanksgiving.

The picture above is from last year in Texas, kitchen-dancing with my sister Kathy after the big meal. Maybe your family doesn't kitchen-dance... well, then maybe you aren't being thankful enough.

Really, though, many people probably feel that I shouldn't mix Thanksgiving with politics (since Thursday is usually devoted to politics here). However, they mix quite well, thank you. This is a beautiful, good, and brave country, and part of what makes it that way is our politics. We achieve great things through representative democracy in the United States, and I'm proud to be a little tiny part of this big ol' country and that process.

What is there to be thankful for? I will mention one of the many things I am thankful for about our political system, but I hope others will follow with their own ideas.

I'm very thankful for a free press, and what it does in our political discourse. The range of media is broader than ever, and more views are represented than many thought possible. Have an opinion? You don't have to buy a newspaper chain or TV station anymore-- you can just start a blog. Or comment on one, if you don't have the time for that. There is much to worry about, of course, with the decline of newspapers, but I hope that the trouble there has leveled off and that newspapers have begun to find their way in this new and exciting world made possible by America's dedication to free expression.

And kitchen dancing. That, too.

And you?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Finally! The Onion is covering stories I care about...

Although it appears the President misunderstood what I was talking about.

Obama Outlines Moral, Philosophical Justifications For Turkey Pardon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


New on the Huffington Post...

More scribbling. See it here.


Recipe Time!

Sometimes, students ask me about some sentencing issue, or the requirements for whatever term paper they are working on, or "blah blah blah" about criminal law and their mother who is in prison. More often, though, what I hear is "Professor Osler, do you have a recipe for great Thanksgiving stuffing?"

The answer is always "indeed I do!" and today I will share this recipe with my friends at the Razor. If you have a favorite Thanksgiving recipe of your own, feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Osler's Awesome Stuffing


1) 28 slices white bread, lightly toasted (do not use cinnamon bread, as pictured)
2) 3 tablespoons butter
3) 1 large onion, finely chopped
4) 2 eggs, lightly beaten
5) 2 cups chicken broth
6) 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
7) 1 teaspoon garlic powder
8) salt and pepper to taste
9) 1 oz. of "Silly Putty" brand non-toxic play putty (make sure it is labeled "non-toxic")


1. Allow the toasted bread to sit approximately 24 hours, until hard.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.

3. Crush the bread into crumbs with a rolling pin. Place the crumbs in a large bowl.

4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and slowly cook until soft. Remove from heat and drain.

5. Mix the eggs and chicken broth into the bread crumbs. The mixture should be moist, but not mushy. Use water, if necessary, to attain desired consistency. Mix in the onion, celery, rubbed sage, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

6. Press the mixture into the baking dish. Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until the top is brown and crisp.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Minnesota Monday: Two beers and Robert

Last week was remarkable, all of it. When I got back from Atlanta, I had lunches set up for Thursday and Friday, and had an invitation in hand to a Saturday night dinner party.

The lunch on Thursday was with the Senior minister of a moderate/conservative mainline church I had visited, a remarkable man whose sermon had dazzled me. On Friday, I was taking out two exceptional students I will be coaching in a moot court competition this Spring.

Here is shocker #1: Both the minister and one of the students got a beer with lunch. It was just one beer, and a small one at that, but it was beer at lunch!

Then, when I went to the small dinner party I was seated with one of my senior colleagues and his partner Robert.

I don't live in Waco no more.

In retrospect, there is nothing shocking about having a beer on a Friday afternoon. And-- surprise, surprise-- it appears that gay men can be great professors, maintain wonderful long-term relationships, and let that be known to a community.

So why was I so shocked?

I was shocked because any of those three events would be scandalous in Waco and at Baylor. Let's not tell lies though-- there is beer-drinking on Friday by ministers in Waco, and there are gay men at Baylor. It is just all secret.

People, my insight is this: Secret doesn't work. Minneapolis seems so much less marked by the tragedies of secrets than where I came from-- there seems to be less of that hidden sadness. Of course there are tragic events here, but I simply sense fewer of those tragedies which grow in dark places until they lead to a sad, simple end in those same dank corners.

One of my favorite words (and one I too rarely live up to) is "unashamed." I usually use it to refer to my faith; I am unashamed to be a Christian (albeit, a flawed one), and often discuss my faith in places where people may be uncomfortable with that. I let them deal with that-- it is what I am, or at least what I hope to be. Given that, perhaps it is not surprising that I am happy to find my place among others who are unashamed of who they are.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Loss, forgiveness, and the terrible unknown [UPDATE: Now with a comment from Marrieta Jaeger-Lane]

Many of my posts this week were about the Kairos Conference in Atlanta, and there is a reason for that-- it was transformative for me in ways I did not expect. Frankly, I expected to go down there, give my lectures, and talk to like-minded folks about the death penalty. All that happened, but that wasn't all.

Sometimes a conference like that goes off in a direction you don't expect.

The moral core of the conference was seized, gently, by the surviving victims of murder victims, whose stories were more compelling, complex, and convincing than any of the arguments the rest of us might have made.

Bud Welch talked about his daughter, Julie, who died in the Oklahoma City bombing. He did describe going to meet Tim McVie's father, and his evolving feelings about the death penalty, but mostly he talked about his daughter. With each layer of detail, she became more real and complex and missed, and the entire discussion more important and troubling. Troubling, because it does matter what we do in criminal law... it is all tragedy, all of it, and all of us and the judges and juries were not going to bring that girl back, ever.

Marrieta Jaeger-Lane, in turn, told the story of her daughter, Susie, who was abducted and killed at age 7 during a family camping trip. The anguish of a mother was hard to hear. But it turned to something else, somehow-- before the killer was captured, Marrieta came to forgive him and pray for him. It was confounding. She might as well have described how she learned to fly or become invisible for many of us. It was the best kind of challenge.

Faith (if it is faith) takes us to inexplicable places, and drags us to moments of meaning we long to avoid. My own life has taken me to the tragedies of others, but few of my own; I don't know the lingering stench of unfair death. My faith has not confronted that challenge, and I wonder how I would do. Could I forgive? Would I become hard and cold? Julie and Susie and Nancy and the others are gone, but those left behind have a rare power within them, unimaginable to me. If I were one of them, would I be brave, Christ-like, forgiving? I hope that I would, but fear that I wouldn't, and that makes me admire them all the more.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Well, it did work...

Over at a blog by one of my students, she posted her effort to get into Crim Prac and Pro... you can check it out here.

For what it is worth-- I took people by the order they appeared on the waitlist, not by earnestness of the appeal. Still, I will hold her to that promise...


IPLawGuy 28: Enter Lane

Just to recap our story to date:

First, we met IPLawGuy, a Super-Lawyer with a pod in space and an annoying water leak. We quickly find that IPLawGuy enjoys giving me a hard time about stuff, and has captured his arch-nemesis, Pickles the Cat. Unfortunately, IPLG angers Paul Larson (the Spanish Medievalist) who does not like his uniform, and the Medievalist lets Pickles escape.

Taking the subway home, the Medievalist runs into my arch-nemesis, Hair Cut Guy. Meanwhile, Pickles hires the "very odd" Tydwbleach as her sidekick. To get her back, IPLG hires an intern from Baylor, who calculates Pickles' sentencing range.

Confident that the intern has things in hand, IPLG and I go to a bar to watch football, giving Pickles a chance to kidnap the intern. Meanwhile, my arch-nemesis fails in an attempt to cut my hair.

IPLG encounters Pickles on Amtrak, after which she instructs the intern on a secret evil plan. While she plots evil, IPLG shoots down his flat-screen tv.

Meanwhile, Tydwbleach tries to get the intern to pick up her medical marijuana, and Pickles meets with RRL, who achieved world domination from 2005-2008. He suggests building a nuclear bomb, and Pickles instructs the intern to do so. He borrows some uranium from IPLG, then runs into Hair Cut Guy on the train.

The intern delivers the bomb to Pickles, and Tyd reveals the secret plan: Pickles is going to blow up Lane's hometown of Odessa Texas. Which leads us to this:

Friday, November 19, 2010


Haiku Friday: Giving thanks I

Those of you who know me well know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the time of year, the traditions, the non-commercial nature of it, but mostly I love the bare idea on which it all rests. I love giving thanks for the bounty around me.

This week, let's haiku this way: Either use a first sentence of "For this I'm thankful:" or a last sentence of "For that I'm thankful." Just keep it more or less to five syllables for the first line, seven for the second line, and five for the third line.

Here is mine:

There are calm places,
Still, small moments of true joy;
For that I'm thankful.

Now it is your turn...

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: Campbell's question about capital punishment

Do you ever wish you could have a dinner party with people from different parts of your life, to hear them interact? The Razor is like that for me some days.

A few posts down, there was an exchange in the comments section between Alan A., who is a friend from college (that is, someone who knew me 27 years ago) and Campbell, who was one of my students at Baylor. The truth is, they would be wonderful company at dinner, and like each other quite a lot, I think.

For today's discussion, I want to use Campbell's excellent comment as a starting point... I will chime in later:

Some of my fellow judge advocates were talking about the Petit case today at lunch, and the topic of capital punishment came up. Ordinarily, I'm against the death penalty - I think life without parole works just fine, and I'd like to think that the People/State/Government can and should take the moral high ground and say "we're not stooping to more killing."

On the other hand, there seem to be those crimes that are damn near unforgivable. The Petit case is one. The Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 are others. I haven't been in the position of having to ask for the death penalty, so I'm not going to act like I've been there, done that. However, despite my overall opposition to capital punishment, I don't believe that it was somehow wrong to execute McVeigh, and I don't think it's wrong to execute the Petit or Billings murderers.

As cold-blooded and barbaric as it may sound, retribution is one of the goals of sentencing, and whether you agree with capital punishment or not, it's certainly one way to take retribution against the worst offenders.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A bed of leaves and a very good day

I am sitting at my kitchen table back home in Edina, which has been invaded by snowmen-- they are everywhere! Many of them seem to be just standing around looking for something to do.

Up until 8 this evening though, I was in Atlanta. It was a wonderful, full day. Among other things, I heard the witness of some amazing people who lost family members to the worst kind of murder and found a way to forgive the killers-- I will write about that on Sunday. I also had a wonderful little walk with Sister Helen Prejean, and coffee with one of my favorite people from law school, Nancy Field. There was a wholeness, a peacefulness to the day; a purity regained, maybe.

The heart of that feeling was a visit this afternoon to the Carter Center, which was empty save for me and my good company. I have always admired much about President Carter, and last time I was in Atlanta, he came to hear me speak.

The Center itself is quietly beautiful. [you can, and should, click on the image to enlarge it]

It is a place of refuge. President Carter was in office during a time of such tumult and hurt; there is something elegant and lovely in the equipoise offered by a calm lake, a glimpse of fall, and a bed of golden leaves laid before us... all of us refugees from something.


The hardest question

My second talk yesterday went really well here in Atlanta at the Kairos Conference-- some times I am better than others, and I had a good flow going, I think. It was unusual for me to be speaking to an audience that agrees with me about the death penalty, and that raised a special problem. I never want to leave an audience with just "I agree with your beliefs!" Here, I tried to offer some angles and challenges people may not have thought of yet.

Even with that sympathetic audience, I did have a hard question, one that I have heard before: "Are you comparing Jesus to a murderer?"

The answer, as always, was "yes, I am." Even though one may have committed an unspeakable awful act and the other is our savior, yes, I am. I do so at the invitation of Christ himself, who said that when we visit those in prison, we visit him. He did not say "when we visit those in prison who are innocent."

It's a hard question, and a difficult answer. I am glad it is asked, and never certain I am right.

Last night, part of the conference was a concert at Ebenezer Baptist Church (which was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church) by Sweet Honey in the Rock. It was a full house, and a great concert which was fulfilling and comforting and the perfect way to end a good and long day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Kairos Today...

Today I get to speak twice at the Kairos Conference-- the second time (at 1:40) about my book. I'm very much looking forward to it.

However, that's not the most intriguing thing on the program, by a long shot. Check out the reference to "heavy snacks!" What the heck might that be? I'm thinking perhaps Hagrid's rock cakes...

Monday, November 15, 2010




For years now, I have had a pretty good system for picking college football games (I don't actually bet, but just play the game on yahoo). In short, against the line (not the outcome) I always pick the smaller school, under the assumption that the larger number of alums will skew the line in favor of the larger school.

The problem: I have been really wrong in my assumptions about which schools are largest. For example, here are the three largest schools:

1) AZ State
2) Univ. of Central Florida
3) Ohio State

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I love Atlanta....

But what do you have to do to get a Pepsi around here?


Sunday Reflection: Theologians, Philosophers, and the cold hard ground

I often meet philosophers and theologians where they are-- that is, I leave my perch in a part of the academy (criminal law) where every move is intimately wound around real lives and tragedy, and instead speak in abstractions based on the writings of people long dead. I am fascinated by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hamilton, and Bonhoffer, and revel in talking about their ideas with smart, well-read people.

Very often, though, I find that the favor is not returned. When I try to nudge them towards applying their ideas to my world, they resist like a stubborn mule. It is perplexing and frustrating-- why do they not want that level of relevance?

It happened again this week,with a very prominent academic. His specialty is the dignity and value of human life. I read his book, and found it fascinating. After all, my own field (sentencing) is nothing more than a public discussion of the dignity and value of a human life, which often concludes with a precise decision as to how to separate that person from everything that makes him human-- his family, his freedom, his passions in the outside world-- and condemn him to prison or death.

This great thinker would not go there. Rather than pondering the job of a prosecutor stuck in the task of evaluating dignity while bound by secular law, he simply said that "our society isn't secular." I tried a few times to get him to engage in a discussion of what real people do in the real world, in this case a part of the world that was a road test of his ideas, but he preferred to reiterate the constructs in his own mind, and never did talk about that lawyer who has to actually evaluate and describe the value of a person. Sigh.

Of course, this is not always the case. At Baylor, I found many people who were both engaged with the world and great texts and ideas, and often brought those together in surprising and wonderful ways. In fairness, too, I imagine that I would have gotten a better response this week if he had known my question was coming or I had explained my idea more thoroughly.

But what of the this issue generally? Is philosophy or theology really worth pursuing if it steadfastly refuses to interact with our world?

Should it matter to a Christian theologian or philosopher that Christ's teachings were always intimately related to the human condition in a real and present way?

For what it is worth, I don't go as far as Wilco on this:

Saturday, November 13, 2010


First Snow!

It's spectacular. [click on an image to enlarge it]


IPLawGuy 27: Only Lane can save Odessa...

Friday, November 12, 2010


A Gopher at Rest

Tonight I went to the first game for the Minnesota Gophers basketball team, and it was a great time. How can you not love a team whose coach is named "Tubby" and whose best player is Ralph Sampson III?

I also was able to further my obsession with Goldy the Gopher, who not only can do his own laundry (an unusual skill, for a rodent) but remain remarkably still. Check out this crowd photo where somehow only the gopher is in focus (you can click on the photo to enlarge it):


Haiku Panda Friday

Pandas buyd Razor fromm the Mark Obler. Use moneyy from "Pandaa Express" Restaurants, and now have blogh. Typeing with big paws hardf! Detroit Rock City!

Now you musts haiku. Pandas pick themes for our blogf:

1) Stupid other kinds of bear
2) Mating
3) Employment Panda
4) Bamboo goodf to eat
5) Lemmy from Motorhead
6) Ling-Ling smells bad
7) Bimbo: A panda?
8) Nixon visit us!
9) Panda-monium!
10) Panda v. Wookie

Here is Panda's:

Panda love music
Of Lemmy from Motorhead
When still with Hawkwind.

Now haiku or Panda take your shirtg.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: The stupidest subsidy of all

Some of you are probably getting tired of me attacking the way the federal government spends taxpayer money on corporate welfare, especially on agricultural subsidies. I thought I had heard the worst of these excesses... and then I heard this report on NPR. In a nutshell:

1) The World Trade Organization (WTO) found that the United States was unfairly subsidizing the American cotton industry.
2) Because these violations hurt Brazilian farmers, the WTO allowed Brazil to retaliate by imposing tariffs on American products.
3) Hurt by these tariffs, other US industries pressured the administration to work things out with Brazil.
4) The administration did, but not by reducing subsidies to US farmers. Instead, we started subsidizing BRAZILIAN cotton farmers with over $140 million of US taxpayer dollars. Mollified, Brazil dropped the tariffs.

So, the end result is that now our tax dollars are subsidizing Brazilian cotton farmers. Sheesh.

Now, why is it that we didn't just reduce the cotton subsidies here? That's simple-Because of the political power of the cotton industry. They used their sway to maintain their place at the government teat and drink deeply from the well-worn trough of taxpayers' money.

This is supposedly a country that values limited government and free enterprise. The truth is that in the area of agriculture we are true to neither ideal. We prop up the cotton industry with billions of federal dollars, rather than let markets work. It's repugnant, it's wasteful, and it's time for this charade to end.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Coming up next...

On Sunday, I'm heading to Atlanta to speak at the Kairos Conference on the death penalty. Here's the promo:

The Kairos Conference: Discerning Justice and Taking Action is a national conference marking this kairos moment for the religious community and all concerned people in the United States to learn, discern, pray, and choose to act on the death penalty. It is the first interfaith conference on religious organizing on the death penalty in the United States this century.

Join conference chair and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean, world-renowned speakers, and leaders of national, state, and local faith communities and groups for an inspirational and educational experience.


That's my kind of mascot!

One great thing about Minnesota is that even the mascots are all about education.

In some places, the mascots eat cheerleaders:

Not here! Instead of the usual hijinks, Goldy Gopher teaches kids how to do laundry and gives people involuntary flu shots:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Razor Football Report

Here's the deal: Most of my life, I've been cursed with being a fan of mediocre football teams. I'm from Detroit, which mean I'm saddled with the Lions (who are currently being described as "resurgent"- with a 2-6 record), and as a ten-year season-ticket holder at Baylor I often hoped in vain for even a moral victory.

Times have a-changed. Check out my alma maters/employers:

William and Mary is ranked #1 in the nation in I-AA.
Yale is tied with Harvard for 2d in the Ivy League.
Baylor is 7-3 for the year, and headed to its first bowl game since (I think) 1912.
St. Thomas is ranked #4 in Division III, won the league championship, and enters the playoffs undefeated at 10-0.

Go Tribe/Bulldogs/Bears/Tommies! And maybe try this play in the post-season...


Texas Tuesday/Minnesota Monday

OK, everyone, I forgot about Minnesota Monday again. Not totally-- I had an idea in mind, but then the return of Daylight Savings Time apparently zapped my brain not only as to the time, but the date...

Anyways, I was thinking of writing about the effects of Minneapolis's relative affluence-- it profoundly effects the character, pace, and folkways of the area-- but there is something else going on I need to talk about.

Yesterday, in the comments, someone flagged this blog report from the Dallas Morning News' Crime Blog. Here is the heart of the matter:

Two prosecutors in the Dallas County District Attorney's office were dismissed Friday after they attended a Republican election watching party.

Tom Nowak, a child abuse prosecutor, was fired. I'm told that John Grau, who has been with the DA's office 25 years, was asked to leave and retired. Grau was the chief prosecutor in one of the felony courts.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, a Democrat, last Tuesday narrowly defeated GOP challenger Danny Clancy.

I'm still waiting on comment from the DA's office. Nowak declined to comment except to say he is "hopeful" thay he'll find another job as a proseuctor. I am still trying to reach Grau.

Prosecutors in Texas work for the elected DA, and apparently are not civil service employees. Whether it was legal to fire Tom Nowak is not a question I can answer; however I am almost certain it was unwise and wrong. Tom was my student, helped me with classes after he graduated, and I followed his career when I could. He is a great public servant and a good man. He willingly tackled the hardest and most emotionally draining cases-- child sexual abuse-- and was fierce in his determination to convict and imprison predators.

Sure, Tom's a Republican. There are a lot of Republicans in Texas. It's like that. Some of them are excellent prosecutors. It shouldn't be surprising that he supported a Republican candidate.

In short, if Tom was fired for supporting the Republican candidate over his boss, that boss was making personal loyalty and pride his principle considerations. Almost always, when those two factors are paramount it marks weakness. Strength in leadership very often consists of setting one's own pride aside and doing what is best for the organization you lead. This is not a question of Tom's disloyalty to his job (he took that more seriously than anyone I know), but to his boss. In the end, it is that boss who is being disloyal to his higher duty of public service. He is not the first to show such weakness.

[bonus points if you can determine the relevance of the photo...]


They called her up in Tennessee, told her, "Tammy... stand by the jams."

Is it just me, or is this a great song with a weird and possibly offensive video? I would like to be part of any group that "drives an ice cream van" and is celebrated by Tammy Wynette.


Monday, November 08, 2010


Not a bad day!

This afternoon, sentencing Uber-Blogger Doug Berman featured my DMN article over at Sentencing Law and Policy. (I always like being referred to as "potent!")

This evening, there was a showing of American Violet at St. Thomas. There was a great crowd, and afterwards prosecutorial legend Hank Shea led a discussion with myself and Nekima Levy-Pounds. It was such a great event-- and made me feel wonderful about where I have landed.


Sunday in Dallas

Here in Minneapolis, I'm starting to see some parallels between Dallas/Fort Worth and this area. Great restaurants. Great newspapers, too- I really like the Dallas Morning News. Their editorial staff has been great to work with in the pieces I have had there, and they do a wonderful job of editing my work-- it always gets better. In the past, I have had the chance on their editorial pages to discuss the death penalty, religion and the Supreme Court, and crack sentencing.

Yesterday, they ran a piece on what I am currently focusing on: The Presidential pardon power, and this President's unwillingness to use it. You can see that article here, and it got a nice bump from pardon guru P.S. Ruckman over at the Pardon Power blog, and from the Friends of Justice folks. If you read the whole thing, you might notice that I'm being a little more aggressive on this one-- here and elsewhere, I am pushing for some action on commutations before the end of the year.

Here is part of what I had to say:

Some have described the reverence Americans have for the Constitution as a "civil religion," and I'm not sure that is a bad thing. Religions instill values, and the Constitution certainly does that – it promotes and describes the values of self-restraint, of consensus, and of individual liberty. That is not a bad batch of virtues. In the pardon power, though, the Constitution expects expression of an additional virtue: mercy.

Mercy to those unfairly treated is an idea deeply engrained in the American consciousness and spirit, like the concepts of liberty and restraint. The framers did not lightly place the unchecked power of the pardon in the president's hands, because that power can easily be abused (as it sometimes has been). Still, they granted the executive that power with the expectation that from time to time rough edges in criminal law sometimes would have to be shaved off.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Our political dysfunction as a spiritual failing

On Wednesday, I tuned into my local NPR station to hear Steve Inskeep interview Toby Walker of the Waco Tea Party. Here is part of their conversation:

INSKEEP: We reached out to a pair of people involved in the Tea Party movement, starting with Toby Marie Walker. We heard her on this program earlier this fall, and called her back again. She is co-founder and president of the Waco Tea Party in Waco, Texas, and feels good about the election results where she lives.

Ms. TOBY MARIE WALKER (Waco Tea Party): It was a sweep. Everyone who was in office that had not been, I think, on the side of the people is now on the outside of politics.

INSKEEP: Your congressman is, for a couple more months, Chet Edwards, who is a conservative Democrat. What happened to him?

Ms. WALKER: He didn't listen to the people of the district. It was the stimulus, it was the TARP. It was a myriad of other bills. We have things that needed to be done like I-35 expansion, and making sure that we are responsibly spending money. And so he just lost touch with the people.

Maybe we are so used to this type of talk that we no longer even realize how bizarre it is-- she is simultaneously complaining about government spending AND the failure of the government to expand the road near her. All in one sentence! She wants road building, but not the stimulus spending that builds roads.

In a nutshell, this captures our political dysfunction. A primary message of this past week's election was that people think the federal government is too large, and spends too much money.

I agree with that.

However, that is not the whole story. We want, it seems, to have a smaller, cheaper government that still fully funds everything that benefits us personally. There is no sense of shared sacrifice whatsoever. Politicians around the country are committed to the self-impeaching platform of a robust military, no changes in social security or medicare, stronger border protection, and... a smaller, cheaper government. Sigh.

This is a spiritual failing. One unifying element of most faiths is an element of self-sacrifice. From the Buddha's central teachings to the example of Christ, to the inspiring stories of the founders of Judaism, our faiths consistently teach an ethic of self-sacrifice. Yet, somehow, our political culture not only features a shocking collective greed, but a collective greed for government services and benefits combined with the contradictory insistence that government fade away.

Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor, and chose a life of sacrifice and poverty. The Buddha taught that happiness comes from not wanting what we do not have. Moses led the chosen people through the desert in destitution. How is it that we Americans feel we are entitled to project our power through endless foreign wars, to have our roads widened, to cast a stout net at the border, to be taken care of in our old age by a government that is not very good at any of these things?

Our faith, if it is faith, extends outward to every part of our lives. It should be there when we work, when we shop, when we greet one another, and when we talk about our nation. If we did that, honestly, it might all be different-- and those of us who desire a smaller government would accept as a part of that the bare fact that we will not get all we want from that now-smaller government.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


If you are Dallas-y...

Check out the "Points" section of the Dallas Morning News tomorrow for my piece on the pardon power...


IPLawGuy 26: Pickles Gets Her Bomb!

Friday, November 05, 2010


Haiku Friday: The best burger

I owe Jessica a softball topic, and I'm thinking about great hamburgers. Last night, I went to Burger Jones here in the Cities, and it was excellent.

The burger was a great piece of meat, and the fries were wonderful as well. The combo meal included either a beer or a chocolate shake-- that was quite a dilemma.

Today, let's haiku about the best burger you ever had (or the worst). It can be grilled at home, of course, or fresh from a take-out window.

Here is mine:

Texas Saturday,
I got them just right, perfect,
I think I ate three.

Now it is your turn. If you want, mess with the form a little bit; I did!

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Political Mayhem Thursday: After the election, what?

Like everyone else, I have politics on my mind. If you get the Dallas Morning News, please be sure to look for my Op-Ed (in the "Points" section) this Sunday.

Four brief observations on the mid-term elections, then a few questions for you:

1) I like divided government. It tempers the rash impulses of both sides.
2) On Tuesday, some of the wheat got thrown out with the chaff, however.
3) One big winner: The Noze Brotherhood at Baylor, creators of the Aqua Buddha.
4) Shrinking government is worthwhile, but very, very hard in a bad economy.

And now, two questions for you to ponder:

a) What is the big story of this election?
b) Will this make Obama a better or worse President?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


A Very Special Guest: RRL on Baylor Football

The following is a special guest appearance by RRL.

I will never get to watch Baylor beat the University of Texas. That much is clear.

And this is not because Baylor doesn’t beat the University of Texas. In 1988, 1989, 1991, and 1992 the Bears defeated the Horns. In fact, in 1989 Baylor travelled to Austin and beat the Horns 50-7. Yet, I was either too young to remember these games, or my parents made the decision that I would not fully appreciate such glorious victories, and therefore I was left at home. In 1997, I thought that we had no chance of beating Texas, and so I chose to go to a debate tournament (and you thought I wasn’t cool in high school) that was the same weekend. Bears win 23-21. We had not beaten Texas since 1997 until this past weekend. So, naturally, I have hardly missed a game over the last 12 years. Over that stretch I’ve seen Texas beat us 62-0…twice! 41-0. 56-0. I’ve watched Vince Young, Roy Williams, Colt McCoy, Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, etc. gain innumerable yards and score countless touchdowns. Basically, over the course of my 30 years on this planet I have never tasted the sweet nectar of beating the Horns in person. At some point, you just kind of resign yourself to the idea that maybe I will never get to see us beat UT.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to see it. So, this year I yet again bought a ticket to Austin. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Robert Griffin was back and healthy. Jay Finley was healthy. Hope springs eternal. What is the worst that could happen?

And then I found out that the mock trial team for which I am a coach was scheduled to compete that same weekend. So I would not in fact be in Austin to watch my Bears take on the Horns, but I would instead be in Pittsburgh, PA. Sweet.

Now, when I first discovered this I thought to myself, “well, no big deal, how upset can you really get about missing us getting trounced in Austin again?” At the time Texas was ranked #4 or #5 nationally, and was coming off a season that saw them play for a national championship. We were coming off a 4-8 season. Plus, in the David v. Goliath story, we are most certainly the David to UT’s Goliath. UT’s enrollment is around 50,000. Baylor’s is around 15,000. UT’s endowment is close to $12 billion. Baylor’s is less than $900 million. UT’s football stadium seats over 100,000 people. Floyd Casey seats around 50,000, and hasn’t seen that many in a long time. The University of Texas has won 48 national titles in all sports. Baylor has won 2.

We are Rocky, they are Apollo Creed. We are Rudy, they are the evil football coach that wouldn’t let Rudy play. We are Ghandi, they are the British. We are the USA hockey team in 1980 in Lake Placid, they are the Soviet Union.

None of that matters of course. I went to Baylor. My parents went to Baylor. My little brother goes to Baylor. I love Baylor. And I’m proud of that. Unlike the thousands, maybe millions, of bandwagon t-shirt UT fans that plague this great state, whose affiliation with the University of Texas is simply that they were able to drive to their nearest Wal-mart and pay $14 for some god-awful bright orange shirt, I love my school even though we aren’t historically great at athletics. And I will continue to do so. Plus, our tennis teams are legit.

Anyways, that is where we sat in August. And then the season started. Baylor entered Saturday night at 6-2, bowl eligible, ranked 25th in the country, and in first place in the Big XII South. Texas entered Saturday night at 4-3, not bowl eligible, not ranked, and coming off a loss to Iowa St. at home. Up is down. Black is white. A monkey types Hamlet. Cats and dogs, living together.

And yet, Baylor still came into the game as underdogs. Despite all of that, Vegas had Baylor getting as much as a touchdown. Will Ferrell said Saturday morning on ESPN that, "it's scientific law that Baylor cannot beat Texas at Texas,” and the “experts” on the show agreed with him. All of them took Texas to beat Baylor.

When the game started I was at a banquet for my mock trial team. We had a very nice time. I only checked the score on my phone 537 times. After the banquet I went back to the hotel in the hopes that the Fox Sports channel would have the game on TV. Nope, the Pittsburgh Penguins were engaged in an utterly meaningless game of no significance. I now understand why people in the northeast hate college football, because they are stuck watching Big East football all day and hockey at night. Nobody should suffer through that indignity on a Saturday in the fall.

And thus, I turned to the Internet and to the radio broadcast talents of John Morris. And as I turned on the game Baylor was down 19-10 in the third quarter. The experts were going to be proven right once again. The Evil Empire would keep rolling on. And then, something changed. Jay Finley broke out for a long touchdown run. 19-17. Then, on Texas’ next offensive play, Antonio Jones intercepted the pass. The Bears converted and scored a touchdown. 19-23. The Bears held UT on their next possession and then scored yet again on a Robert Griffin pass to Kendall Wright. 19-30. I was alone in my hotel room. And I was freaking out. You know the rest. UT kicks a field goal, gets the ball back, completes a long pass down the sidelines only to fumble the ball, Bears run out the clock. Final score, Baylor 30-Texas 22. I sat alone in my hotel room. I was ecstatic. I was elated. I was overjoyed. I wasn’t there.

I’ve seen a lot of great things in my life. I’ve seen Baylor play in the College World Series. I’ve seen Baylor play in the Elite Eight. I’ve seen Baylor in a bowl game. I’ve seen the Rangers play in the World Series. And those are just the great sports memories that I have. But I’ve never seen us beat the University of Texas in football. And I may never see it. Maybe that is my destiny. And that is okay. Because as I sat in a bar in Pittsburgh, PA with my four team members and ordered up some adult beverages to celebrate Baylor’s victory over 1,400 miles away in Austin, Texas I was perfectly content. I realized something.

You know what I realized. I realized that beating Texas is nice and all, but I would trade every victory over the University of Texas, and I would gladly never attend another Baylor win over UT for the rest of my life, as long as I get to see us beat those livestock fornicating, goose-stepping, dead dog worshiping, silly costume wearing, Hitler-youth, fake Army Texas Aggies. And I’ve already seen that a couple of times in the last few years, so I’m good.

Sic ‘em Bears. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Proud Alumnus of Baylor University, which was established in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, nearly 40 years before the State of Texas established the University of Texas and nearly 30 years before the State of Texas established Texas A&M so that all of the paste-eating children in the State of Texas would have a place to go.

p.s. – hope everyone enjoyed the election…

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Texas Tuesday: Music

I forgot to do Minnesota Monday yesterday, so I am lamely trying to make up for it with a Texas Tuesday comparing my two music experiences over the last week or so.

Last night, I went to see one of my favorite bands at the Triple Rock here in Minneapolis. Apparently, the Soft Pack is famous mostly with me, since they only drew about 100 people-- but that was close to the capacity of the joint. It was a great show. Here's a bit of their music:

And a blurry cell-phone picture from the show:

Notice the cave-like environment, which seems to be the deal here for music venues. The band was great, though-- tight, practiced, and loud.

Let's contrast that with the seemingly unnamed band I saw on the back porch of Shorty's in Port Aransas a week ago:

This band, too, was great. It just was more... Texas-y. The show was outdoors, the crowd seemed more drunk and less reverential, and it was generally a more fun atmosphere.

Or maybe I was just being more fun?

Monday, November 01, 2010


Too many Twinkies?

While looking for something else, I stumbled on this report, which appears to have me testifying before the Congressional Black Caucus along with AG Eric Holder, Justice Breyer, and Cong. Bobby Scott.

Uh... I don't remember that. Seriously-- the quote sounds like what I would say, but I think I would remember testifying with Breyer and Holder! While I did testify in Congress that month, it was on a separate issue, before the House Judiciary Committee. So, how did I get into the reports of the event if I wasn't there?

This creates some intriguing possibilities:

1) I was there, but don't remember. Too many Twinkies.
2) I have a doppelganger who isn't really evil, but just goes around saying stuff I would probably say.
3) It actually was lookalike former student Erick Sandlin (pictured here), though I think Sandlin would say smarter things than I did.


A worthwhile shepherd blog

I'm pretty impressed with this new blog out of Texas, The Good Shepherd, which seems to be filling out the "Shepherd Leadership" idea with some facts. Here are two:

1) Sheep aren't dumb, and
2) Shepherds are more fierce outdoorsmen than cuddly friends.

Check it out...

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