Monday, January 31, 2011


My Newest Possession

I have purchased a Yu Wan Mei device, pictured above.


Midwestern Monday: West Egg and I

This past weekend I was out East. I finished the Great Gatsby on the plane ride home, and was shocked by what jumped out at me at the end. Every school paper (and the notes scrawled in the back of the version I had) about that book seems to go the same way—green light at the end of the dock, hope, America, etc., etc.

But then there was this: “I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.”

The stock answer, of course, is that the book is about the decadent Eastern life of the 20’s, but that doesn’t run very deep as a truth. The key characters, who created that decadent life (Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, principally), are from the Midwest. The New Yorkers in the story, the Wilsons for example, seem much more down-to-earth and real. The Midwesterners, of course, utterly fail in every way that matters. They don’t find love, or meaning, or success in any worthwhile way. They are fish out of water, and they all return to ground eventually, one way or another.

Part of the book is set in New York’s Yale Club, where Nick goes to eat dinner and study bonds in the library. I am a member of that club, and I write in that library. I don’t go there for a social life, but to accomplish something real and meaningful, something you can hold in your hands and read (and now find in the shelves of that library). Yet, sometimes… I am a bit lost in the same way as Nick.

I don’t doubt that Nick was better off back in St. Paul, and Gatsby would have been in Duluth, Tom in Chicago, the women in Louisville; but they all went to see what was East. Is that restlessness American? What drove them from St. Paul and Lake Forest and Louisville? Here is what Fitzgerald said:

“That’s my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by a lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name.”

There is a word there—“complacent.” Do we become that way too easily in the comfortable Midwest? Is that why we are a little thrown by New York, too easily wooed and discarded?

Maybe, but they need us, and we need them. Frederick Brathwaite came from the South Bronx, and we needed him; the deep house music New Yorkers dance to still came from Detroit to Chicago to the world. I am happier with Fitzgerald’s view of New York as challenging and bright and hard (remember—it is the Midwesterners who brought the decadence) than I am with Faulkner’s view of that same city as dark and tricky and cruel. There is a place for me in the first, if only for bits at a time, while the latter offers only suffering at the hands of others. I will put my name on the list, take that chance, and forge my way in now and then from the cusp of those long winters.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


IPLawGuy 41: After the party


Sunday Reflection: Lines and creeds

My current United States Senator once wrote a book in which he put the world's religions in rank order of quality. If you are wondering, Reform Judaism came in first.

On the surface, that seems nothing more that stupid and funny-- and it was supposed to be funny, since it was a comedy book.

But don't we all do that, in a very serious and intentional way? Those of us who choose a faith and denomination, after all, are investing our time and money and souls into it, and we make it a central part of our identity-- how can that be anything less than a statement of what we think is the best religion (even if we recognize the value of others)? By our acts shall we be known.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Faculty Profile: Susan Stabile

I am surrounded at St. Thomas by wonderful colleagues, and I would like to begin introducing them to you through a series of brief bios setting out their remarkable experiences and qualities. This week: Susan Stabile.

Susan Stabile:

Susan Stabile is among the nation’s leading scholars on pensions and employee benefits, and on the intersection of Catholic social thought and the law. She also is able to move large objects with her mind. She is the co-author of the leading casebook, Pension and Employee Benefit Law (Foundation Press) and the treatise “ERISA Litigation” (BNA). Her publications include articles in the NYU Law Review, Yale Journal on Regulation, the Stanford Mind Control Journal, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Notre Dame Law Review, Wake Forest Law Review, Cardozo Brain Review, and the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, among many others. Many of these were co-authored with her sidekick, ERISA Lad.

Stabile is a Fellow of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership, an Affiliate Senior Fellow of the St. John’s University Vincentian Center for Church and Society, and a Research Fellow of the New York University School of Law Center for Labor and Employment Law. Also, she is an associate member of the Justice League of America.

She received her bachelor’s from Georgetown University and her law degree from New York University School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the NYU Law Review. After graduation from law school, she was associated in New York and Hong Kong with the international law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton, where she was exposed to radioactive materials and developed special powers, and later specialized in employee benefits and executive compensation matters. Prior to joining the St. Thomas faculty, she was the Dean George W. Matheson Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law. In that capacity, she defeated Dr. Doom in the Battle of Doom Mountain by capping his volcano with a large boulder, leading to a massive implosion. For this, she received the Medal of Valoure by the Knights of Malta.

Stabile is also a spiritual director and has significant experience in giving retreats and other programs of spiritual formation. Prior to her move to St. Thomas, she served as an adjunct member of the ministerial staff of St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, New York, and also was made a deputy sheriff of Canyon County, Colorado after her defeat of the evil Corporal Catastrophe in that location.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Haiku Friday: Favorite places

I'm in Philadelphia today, giving a talk at Villanova Law School. It's an important talk, too-- my first discussion of a new type of sentencing guideline ("trailing-edge guidelines"), which I will be presenting more thoroughly in DC in March. In between, I am doing a lot of church talking-- at St. Stephens Episcopal in Edina on Feb. 6, at the humongous Fourth Presbyterian on Michigan Ave. in Chicago on Feb. 12, and on March 5 & 6 (giving the sermon!) at Holy Comforter Episcopal in Richmond, Virginia.

But right now... Philadelphia. I lived in this city for one wonderful year, when I clerked for my great mentor and friend, Jan DuBois.

Let's haiku about favorite places now... make the first line "A place I loved:" Make the second line about seven syllables, and the third line about five.

Here is mine--

A place I loved:
A town of vendors and brains;
No one pays retail.

Now it is your turn.


Political Mayhem Thursday with Guest Blogger, my dad

I'm letting my dad take the blog today. It's funny... I've never thought of him as a writer; his professional identity for me is that of a painter who has the most amazing eye for light and beauty (you can see his work above and here). I don't remember, actually, seeing much he had written until very recently.

But, sometimes, this amazing thing happens with people you love-- you find out they can do something exceptionally well, and you didn't know. It's a wonderful surprise, and that's what has happened here. Here is his reflection for today:

I was walking up Royal St in New Orleans just as the art galleries and shops were opening for the day. In front of a gallery there was a young man lying on the pavement, flat on his back, with his cell phone still in his hand. Everyone had to walk around him and did. They probably had seen this before. Death by overdose. If he were still alive, would they have stopped? Why don't we stop and see if we can help?

In this week's State of the Union address and the Repuplican response there was no mention of those citizens living in poverty, nor was there talk about the desperate state of many of our cities where untold heartbreaking stories of desperation are now playing out. Why?

The heroes that were honored most were small businessmen and our servicemen and women whom we sent out carrying weapons. They received the loudest and longest applause. Not mentioned were those whom we sent out with medicine, plans and programs for bringing better lives to those in need. Why?

Is it because compassion is a sign of weakness? Is compassion out of fashion? Is compassion too expensive? Or is compassion a personal affair and not a communal prerogative as Fox New's popular Glenn Beck and the Southern Baptist Convention instruct us to believe.

After increasing for over a decade the number of people entering poverty zoomed up following our financial crisis in 2008. In 2009 and in 2010, with extended unemployment compensation, increased distribution of food stamps, earned income tax credits, and perhaps the stimulus spending, the rate of those entering poverty has leveled out at too high a level. Today, nearly 44 million Americans are livgin in poverty including 17milliion living at half the official poverty level. 1 out of 5 children in our country are living in poverty. Should we continue these endangered programs? Will our country show concern going forward? Should we?

I believe that our national conversation about city, state and federal deficits is incomplete.. When we recover and are a "wealthy" nation once again will we also be a morally rich nation? I think we are approaching a bankruptcy of compassion. Or am I only showing my weakness?


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I don't know if you can swim

[you can hear the studio version of the song here]

I don't know what you smoke
Or countries you been too
If you speak any other languages
other than your own, I'd like to meet you

I don't know if you drive
If you love the ground beneath you
I don't know if you write letters or you panic on the phone
I'd like to call you all the same,
If you want to
I am game

I don't know if you can swim
If the sea is any draw for you
If your better in the morning or when the sun goes down
I'd like to call you

I don't know if you can dance
If the thought ever occurred to you
If you eat what you've been given or you push it around your plate
I'd like to cook for you all the same
I would want to
I am game

If you walk away, I could keep my head
We could creep away
In the dark
Or maybe now
We could shoot it down anyway

I don't know if you read novels or the magazines
If you love the hand that feeds you
I assume that your heart's been broke
I'd like to know you

You don't know if I can draw at all
Or what records I am into
If I sleep like a spoon or really at all
Or maybe you would do
Or maybe you would do

if I walk your way
I will keep my head
We will feel our way
Through the dark
Though I don't know you
I think that I would do
I don't fall easy at all

More lyrics:
All about Lisa Hannigan:

All the people in our life, the friends, the teachers, the colleagues, the brothers and sisters, all of those we love-- there was once a time that we did not know them. I love this Lisa Hannigan song, because it captures something I have always felt, which is that I know the people who are going to be important in my life from the very moment I meet them. I don't know many facts about them yet (don't know if they read novels or the magazines...), but I just sense that they have a role in my life.

I have always been right, too.

Many of those people still meet me here, and I am thankful for that.

Do you remember when we met? I do. All those places, these people I've come to know and love-- a man in a hat who appeared at my door, a senior guy in a tiny radio studio, people in a crowded room, in a pew in a church, or looking down on me in a classroom-- I do remember.

And yes,
I panic on the phone;
and yes,
the ocean is a draw for me;
and yes,
I speak no other languages;
and yes,
like you (or it would not be)
I love the ground beneath me
trod by the saints
of my own acquaintance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A cartoon... and a contest!

How many fibs does the Spanish Medievalist tell Dee Dee?

Monday, January 24, 2011


Not again!

It appears that after IPLawGuy's "Kitten Week" posts, we gained not one but two people going by "KTN" here on the blog, and two people posting as "Pickles." I would hope that whoever used it first can claim right to a name, and the other person can try something else!

The whole thing is reminiscent of the unfortunate "IPSlawGuy" incident of '08 and the even more awkward "RLL" events of 09.


Michigan Monday: Tiger Stadium in a cold November

Sometime in November, around 1970, my dad took me to see the Detroit Lions play the Oakland Raiders.

The Lions played at Tiger Stadium down in Corktown, and during the game you could still see the outline of infield and base paths from the baseball field; the players would kick up dust when they crossed it on the run on a warm September Sunday.

That is, they did if the weather was dry. It wasn’t on that November day—it was cold and wet, with rain turning into sleet turning into snow. The infield wasn’t dust—it was mud. Down on the field, the Lions were winning a slugfest, but I was fascinated by everyone around us. It was all men, from what I remember. Warmth was provided from wool army blankets and cigars, lots of cigars, resulting in a rising column of smoke over the old stadium. No one left, despite the weather.

It was such a guy thing, that game. Probably that night was one of the post-game evenings that Alex Karras got in a fight with some off-duty cops down at the Lindell AC—that’s just how things went back then. For some reason, that game with my Dad got rooted into my conscience as part of what guy culture is—equal parts outdoor life, bad weather, sports, and lousy food, along with a certain amount of getting time with people who matter. There has always been some of that in my life, too; it comes with the territory.

I'm not exactly sure why I would enjoy sitting in sleet with my dad in a cloud of cigar smoke, but I did, and I still would now. I also sing when I ski, a song of joy with a good turn in a quiet and beautiful place; I dig aimless holes at the beach with children when I get the chance; I drive too fast when I'm happy; and on a calm August morning I find nothing more beautiful than a thick writhing fish in my hands, removing the hook to place it back in the water, flipping once before returning to its own familiars.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Spoken into existence

Genesis 1:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Think about that-- God said "let there be light," and then there was. I've always appreciated that the Judeo-Christian creation story (whether one takes it literally or not) describes a God who speaks things into existence. Words do matter.

We, too, create through our words. We create relationships, conflicts, trust, war-- all the things that are most meaningful. We marry one another by speaking to someone; we pledge ourselves to what we believe with words; we declare who we are when we speak our own name.

Jesus taught that it is not what goes in our mouth that makes us unclean-- it is what comes out (Matthew 15:11). Certainly, we have the power to hurt one another through words, and I have already written about that, but this is something else-- the amazing power to create through words. Once in a while, someone will use exactly the right word-- "chastened" or "besotted" for example-- and that is enough for me to turn to them and listen for a long, long time.

Yes, we should be careful about our words, so they do not cause harm, but also free with them as we create and love; each one can be a gift.

What will you create with your words?

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I like how the day sounds, with this new song

It's well worth the time that it's taken to get here now.

I've gotten to an age where every once in a while I realize that I have a few rules I live by. From what I can remember, there are three. Here they are:

1) Perfect is the enemy of done.

2) Not all moments are equal.

3) Kindness is rarely regretted.

I don't always do a good job of remembering them, of course.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Haiku Party Tonight, Alright!

A great party is hard to pull off. To me, the key is to invite the right people-- if you do that, you can just have a fridge full of Schlitz, and it will work out fine.

Let's haiku on that this week. Just make the last line this: "That makes a good party!"

Here is mine:

Invite the right folks,
Who love to laugh (even one)
That makes a good party!

Now it is your turn-- just make the first line five syllables, the second one seven syllables, and the last one "That makes a good party!"

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: A radical suggestion to save $243,000,000,000 a year

What if we got rid of the army?

A friend of mine once raised this possibility. He was not suggesting that we get rid of our military and leave our borders undefended. Rather, he was proposing that we keep the Navy, keep the Air Force, keep every operational nuclear warhead, keep the Marines... but just get rid of the standing army.

Including war costs and expenses not included in the defense budget, our military costs for 2011 will be a little over $1 trillion. The United States accounts for 40% of the entire world's military budget, and our military spending is six times that of China.

The costs of the U.S. Army in 2010 were about $243 billion. The purpose of the Army, in short, is to occupy foreign lands and to beat back those who might invade the homeland. If we gave up a standing army, we would, of course, forgo the ability to invade foreign nations. Is that too great a cost?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Take that, George W. Bush!

Apparently, my op-ed on commutation policy in the Dallas Morning News was the second-most-read Viewpoints piece of 2010-- one ahead of an interview with Dallas resident George W. Bush, in which he reflected on his eight years as President.

This confirms what I have always said: Americans love arcane discussions of sentencing policy!

That, and football, and Lindsey Lohan, and the Aqua Buddha.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


First Day of Criminal Law

Today was the first day of Criminal Law, and I did an art history lecture to play out some of the themes that will structure the course. Here is a sample of the slides that I used for four major themes. Can you identify these works? [enlarge the image by clicking on it]






Blogs you should check out...

First up, a new blog from one of my all-time favorite students, Kaye Johnson, who is now a rancher/landman/oil-and-gas lawyer, all of which gives her rich material for her musings!

Next, a new blog about Waco, What About Waco?

Finally, check out the MVFHR site I referred to in yesterday's post.

Meanwhile, what is up with blogging at St. Thomas? Am I the only person here who has discovered this whole "internet" fad? If you know of a St. Thomas law blog, please let me know about it in the comments section.

Monday, January 17, 2011


IPLawGuy 38: IPLawGuy entertains guests

As you might remember, IPLawGuy had invited Pickles and her friend Dee Dee over to watch football...


Back to Minnesota Monday

First, I want to thank IPLawGuy for maintaining the blog in my absence with his intriguing posts regarding America’s kitten community, which is too often ignored here on the internet.

While he was covering for me, I had one of the most remarkable days of my life last Thursday, and Friday through Sunday were pretty great, too. On Thursday, I spoke at the annual conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in Chicago, on Friday I went back to Texas to see friends, attend a pretty remarkable Friends of Justice board meeting, wish Henry Wright a happy birthday, and visit the church I dearly miss, Seventh and James.

Before any of that, though, something bold and striking and nearly miraculous happened— the Illinois legislature, in the very wake of the killings in Arizona, voted to abolish the death penalty in that state. Think about what that means: We had a conference where the goal of the conference was actually fulfilled in some concrete and meaningful way. How often does that happen? Not. Too. Often. But this time... we had a conference on abolishing the death penalty, and got to celebrate the death penalty actually getting abolished in that very place.

Regular readers will remember that my own presentation was challenging on two counts: My audience included people who had litigated dozens of capital cases, and my co-presenter was Jeanne Bishop, sister of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, who lacerated me in Congressional hearings back in 2009. (Believe me on that—there’s video).

Despite the fact that Jeanne Bishop refused to give me a heads-up on what she was going to discuss and appeared for our session dressed like Pickles the Cat, things ended up going wonderfully. Her presentation was inspiring and passionate, and my section was at least consistent with her message. It was one of my favorite speaking opportunities: challenging, important, and humbling.

My parents and my sister Kathy came for the presentation, and afterwards the Jenkins sisters invited us to a party to celebrate on the 78th floor of the Hancock Building. Their organization, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, played an important role in lobbying for the change (the president, Vicki Scheiber, was celebrated on Saturday as “abolitionist of the year”), so they had good reason to pop the champagne. My family and I were welcomed warmly and richly enjoyed the celebration, but there was also something running very deep in that room. There was no mistaking the depth of commitment of the people there-- many (if not most) had lost a family member to murder, and had then come out against the death penalty, an incredible act of grace that is now successfully challenging the very institution of capital punishment. As Jeanne put it in addressing that group, there was a cloud of saints in that room—those who had been killed through heartless violence, and who had nonetheless been remembered with an act of love and courage. It was a palpable presence, and there was a mood of true joy that filled the room.

As I left the party and walked next to my father and mother down the broad sidewalks of Michigan Avenue into the night, I realized there had only been one mistake in what had been said—the saints in that lovely apartment in the sky were not only those who perished, but those who survived, who had acted from love with such stunning results.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Sitting in my attic with the carpenter

Nothing in Jesus' life was an accident. Every bit of that time on earth was scripted by God, every moment, and each is imbued with meaning. It means something that Jesus was born in poverty to an unwed mother, it means something that he was a criminal defendant, and it means something that he spoke to children and tax collectors and women.

It also means something that he was a carpenter. Imagine the moment when the ceiling was cut through so some men could lower down a friend to be healed-- there is some part of Christ that looked up and saw carpentry, the work of hands like his, destroyed by this act. It probably wasn't funny. He healed the man anyway.

I am in Waco and will get to go back to 7th and James today. I spent the night at a Hampton Inn, though, because I didn't want to spend the night in my empty, unsold house. Still, I went to visit.

Long after dark, I crept up to the attic, and sat on old beams. In an attic, you are surrounded by rough carpentry, the work of our Lord. If there is a soul to a house, it is there in the splinters and beams. Nailheads are exposed, trusses unfinished.

I slipped a note in between a truss and the roof boards, and as I did so I felt that raw wood, the kind that He and his father cut to build houses. Then I sat for a moment in that place full of meaning and love, and let it be.

It was a remarkable week, one of the most memorable of my life. I reconnected with friends who have been better to me than I deserved, I celebrated an incredible victory in a room full of heroes high over the city, I mourned with the brave, I hugged my father and mother with new love and appreciation, and drank good wine with new friends and old.

Now it is time to go back to hammering.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Saturday Musings with IPLawGuy!

Hi! I'm IPLawGuy, and I am still Razoring while Osler is away from the internet. We are using this week to explore the wonderful world of kittens. Here is a video of a cute black and white kitten who just has to sneeze!

That kitten looks just luck one of my kittens, who I named Jack Daniels CuteMittens. Many of my kittens moved away to live with the crazy cat lady, but Jack was taken by federal zoo authorities, and I still don't know why. So then I got Fluffy and Adolph.

Palin in '12!

Friday, January 14, 2011


Haiku Friday with IPLawGuy: KItten Time!

Ed. Note: Because I will be out of town through Sunday, I am letting IPLawGuy handle the Razor while I am gone. I am not responsible for content during that time period. Thank you. Mark Osler.

OMG, how CUTE is this kitten!

In honor of kittens, I think we should haiku about kittens and good kitten names and funny things kittens do, and how we wonder about our kittens once they leave home to live with the Crazy Cat Lady down the block. I may do more than one haiku, because I want to do one about my first kitten, Samantha Spam Hock, but I can't get the syllables to work our right. Here is my first one, though:

I wanted to carry
The kitten the right way, but
Got my mouth full of fur!

Now, you write a kitten haiku! It can be about almost anything except the gruesome way your kitten died, like if it fell off the roof of your car somewhere near Tyson's Corner (which wasn't your fault at ALL) or by getting eaten by that bear your idiot fraternity brother kept in the basement, or something like that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday with IPLawGuy: What if Hitler had a kitten?

Ed. Note: Because I will be out of town through Sunday, I am letting IPLawGuy handle the Razor while I am gone. I am not responsible for content during that time period. Thank you. Mark Osler.

Ok, like, several years ago I was in Waco at Osler's house, and he was going like "Blah blah, blah, I'm a big fathead, listen to me opine about politics, now let's go to Ridgewood and have some lady bring us margaritas," and I brought up a serious question that he wouldn't answer, so now that I am in charge of the Razor for a few days, I am going to ask everyone here the question.

Here is the question.

The question is: "What if Hitler had a kitten?"

The point of the question is to kind of discuss what would be different if world leaders had to take care of a kitten all the time. Please answer that.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Kitten Time!

Ed. Note: Because I will be out of town through Sunday, I am letting IPLawGuy handle the Razor while I am gone. I am not responsible for content during that time period. Thank you. Mark Osler.

There are two things I TOTALLY LOVE: Intellectual property law and... kittens! I have two kittens. The fat one is named Cromwell C. Cuddles, and the skinny one is named Disraeli Q. Puddles. They will live me for like about a year, then go live with the crazy cat lady down the street. That keeps happening, so now I just plan on it.

Anyways, now that I am in charge of the Razor, how about some kitten movies! Here is one of my favorites that my friend Roger Morse made when his cat Frango Mint Topping had a bunch of kittens, which was funny because Roger didn't realize that Frango was a girl until she had all those kittens! Here is the video:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The perfect time to go to Chicago...

The Illinois Senate just joined the Illinois House in voting to abolish the death penalty in that state, and the Democrat Governor is expected to sign the bill. I leave for Chicago tomorrow for the big death penalty conference.

I think there is going to be a party, and I look forward to it.


Another view on the Arizona Murders

I received the following from Jeanne Bishop, who will be my co-presenter (and possible arch-nemesis) on Thursday at the NCADP National Conference. (Jeanne's profile is on p. 19 here; mine is on p. 22). Her words are more credible than mine can be. My own thoughts are at the Huffington Post, here.

Your Sunday reflection on the power of words to inspire action resonated deeply with me.

I share a bond with the families of the six victims slain in Arizona this past weekend: three of my family members lost their lives when a disturbed young man shot them to death.

He had broken into his lawyer's office to look for a card that would have allowed him to buy guns and ammunition in our state. While he was looking for the card, he opened an unlocked desk drawer and found something better: a .357 Magnum handgun, speed loaders and bullets. He took the gun and ammunition and left. Two days later, he used that gun to kill my family members.

He broke into their home and shot my brother-in-law execution style, once, in the back of the head. He fired twice into my sister's pregnant belly, striking her in the abdomen and side, and left her to die.

When you lose loved ones to murder, you want to identify and hold accountable every single person or thing that contributed to cause their death. I blame the young man who killed my sister and her husband and their baby. But I also blame the gun manufacturer which could have used "smart gun" fingerprint recognition technology or a simple, inexpensive trigger lock feature to prevent the killer from firing the gun. I blame lax safe storage laws which allowed a loaded gun to be kept in an unlocked drawer. I blame the killer's parents for not supervising him more closely or getting him help when they knew how dangerous he was.

It's hard for me to read the comments on the reflection that blame only "the occasional nutjob", that describe the accused gunman as a "crazy person" whose "insanity isn't based on political ideology" (even though his primary target was an elected official with whom he disagreed).

The facts are these (and now I quote from a statement from Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence):

Arizona, as it turns out, has almost no gun laws, and scored just two points out of 100 last year on the Brady State Scorecard. Since then, things have gotten worse. Arizona is one of only three states that allow residents to carry loaded, hidden guns without background checks. Arizona recently weakened its gun laws to take guns into bars. In addition, if Congress had not allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to expire in 2004, the shooter would have only been able to get off 10 rounds without reloading. Instead, he was able to fire at least 20 rounds from his 30-round clip.

Add to that the inflammatory political rhetoric decried by Pima County (AZ) Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a 75-year-old with more than 50 years of law enforcement experience, and you have the combustible mix that all helped contribute to the deaths of six innocents and the wounding of many more.

People can say it's just about one disturbed person. But in the opinion of this murder victims' family member, that is easy, simplistic and dead wrong.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Now up at the Huffington Post...

My first reflections on the Arizona murders. You can see it here.


Minnesota Monday: Pond hockey

This past weekend, the temperature hovered somewhere below ten most of the time. And where were the Minnesotans? Outside, of course. I went skiing yesterday at the little place near my house, and it was jammed with people-- most of them shedding layers as the day went on. On the ice, over the snow, in a fishing shack... people were embracing the winter, and I was, too. This is the kind of winter I suspect that my friend Craig Anderson down in Richmond must miss.

Down in Arden Park, they have set up a hockey rink and opened the warming hut. It's not organized hockey being played down there-- it's people (male and female) with sticks and skates and thick jeans. They play fast and sharp. I love the sound of the blades cutting the ice. As I walked past the rink, I couldn't help but remember the beauty of the game as the players echoed the shapes of a Van Gogh-- those curving whirls, always in motion, always turning, gentle arcs in unison.

My skates are in the basement, my ankle nearly healed. Winter calls.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Just words

Over the next few days, I imagine that we will hear from several directions that angry and divisive political rhetoric doesn't cause violence.

I disagree. I disagree because I think words are important, that they imbue our lives with meaning, that they damn well do inspire action.

This belief, that words inspire action, is at the heart of my faith. The Gospels, words in a book, are at the heart of my beliefs about God and human relationships. I certainly do hope that they inspire action. So do most Christians.

And if we believe that those words of love can change the world, why do we doubt that words of contempt and anger can inspire violence in the weakest among us?

As Christians, we accept that words shape lives. With that comes a moral duty to use them carefully and gently for what is just.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Me and IPLawGuy watch some football...

Friday, January 07, 2011


Haiku Friday: Dancing

If you play either of these songs (one of which I have already featured as a great driving song), you probably could get me to dance. If you wanted that.

I have music in my head. It's going to be a party next week-- I'm speaking at the national death penalty conference in Chicago, and it looks like Illinois is getting rid of the death penalty. Melody, beat, movement.

Haiku about music, or dancing, or celebration, or missing, or cannonballs. Just Haiku. I won't be fussy about syllables.

When I lecture, I
Lead with my right hand; just like
When I dance, or laugh.

Now it is your turn...

Thursday, January 06, 2011


OMG! Did you hear...

that MacCauley Calkin broke up with some girl? So did I, because it was the top story on Yahoo! And that's really stupid.

Here is something that matters: The Illinois House voted today to repeal the Death Penalty in that state.


Political Mayhem Thursday: Obama in 2012?

The Razor's Pundit of the Year (POTY) for 2010, Ashley Cruseturner, is at it again. In a recent post at the Insider Iowa blog, Ashley argues that President Obama is likely to win re-election. Here is how his piece begins:

Based primarily on the advantage of incumbency, President Obama remains a slight favorite to win a second term. Although the President endured a celebrated “shellacking” in the November midterms, the stinging repudiation has already receded from the front pages. Economic and political cycles ebb and flow. Over the course of 2010 the President appeared awkward, vulnerable, and in the midst of a steep decline in confidence. But politics is an extremely dynamic business. The humiliating defeat is not an inevitable precursor of 2012. No one with a sense of history would be surprised to find the President gaining altitude a year from now or his currently high-flying opposition suddenly in a stall.

Not only do I think Ashley is right, I hope that he is right. I voted for Obama in 2008, happily watched the inauguration, and have been alternately encouraged and disappointed since then. Still, I think that President Obama has governed essentially as a centrist (though his real beliefs may be to the left of that place), and has accomplished some important things, including the new health care law.

And who would be better? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

There is one possible candidate who has already taken himself out of the race:

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Texas Newspaper News

The "Viewpoints" page of today's Dallas Morning News contains my op-ed about Craig Watkins' firing of several assistant DA's with Republican ties. You can see the article here. Some may think it harsh, but I have a real problem with what is happening there. As always, I find the DMN a great place to work with.

Meanwhile, and more significantly, the Houston Chronicle has come out against the death penalty! This is a great development, given that Harris County has been the Western World's epicenter for capital cases. This, from the editorial:

The death penalty in Texas is fraught with demonstrable error, and the people of the state seem more willing to deal with that fact than their leaders.

Events of the past year have convinced us that defendants have been executed on the basis of invalid evidence. They may or may not have been guilty, but the fact that we have convicted people based on faulty evidence leads inexorably to a horrible likelihood — that we have executed innocent people. The high number of death row prisoners eventually exonerated makes a strong case that other innocent but less fortunate prisoners have been wrongfully put to death.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


The Teaser!

The Dallas Morning News is featuring a little teaser on my Viewpoints piece which will appear there tomorrow. I guess they think it is "Not to be missed!" You can see the teaser here.

Is "head shot" a real journalistic term, or has someone seen too many violent movies?

Monday, January 03, 2011


Art and Ethics

I spent some time last night talking about art-- specifically, about the lecture I used to give for PR, where I used paintings to make points about ethics. Some of you remember that lecture, probably. I loved giving it, and miss working with those paintings. I'm thinking of working something like that up for the first day of Criminal Law this Spring.

We pass art all the time and fail to see it. For example, look at the photo above (click to enlarge it.. no, really, do that!)-- not such a great photo of me (I'm no model). Still, what really is fascinating, if we care to notice, is the painting of the guy over my left shoulder. He is intense, brooding-- and staring directly into the camera from a long-ago time and far-off place. His presence remains, though he is long gone.

Artists know more about immortality that the theologians do, I think. Like true experts, they explain by showing rather than telling. When we see those pictures of Detroit, for example, we might say that the photographer is "immortalizing" the decay, and that is literally true. Those images will live on, and define how people think of that place and time. That guy looking over my shoulder... that is the only physical presence he has left in the world.

One hundred years after you are gone, what will an internet search reveal about you? Will a trace remain, an image, a link to something you wrote? Will you still exist in this world?


Michigan Monday: Things Fall Apart

Richard Howell, in yesterday's comments section, noted the remarkable photos of Detroit printed recently by Britain's Guardian. You can see those photos here.

It's not the first time that outsiders have seen the decay of Detroit as a ripe source of art, nor will it be the last.

One question is why do people continually photograph the most tragic parts of that city? To me, as a (mediocre) photographer, the answer is pretty clear-- because those are the most compelling, unique images that the city has to offer. Detroit is beautiful, but it is beautiful in large part because it has been largely allowed to return to nature.

I see it even in what I choose to photograph. For example, if I am in New York I tend to take pictures that take advantage of the skyline, and the contrast between nature and humanscape. For example, this picture, taken from the reservoir in Central Park, where they rent the cute little rowboats (as always, you can enlarge the photo by clicking on it):

Contrast that with a few of my pictures from Detroit:

Having looked at the Guardian photos, a New York Razorite made the following observation in an email (I would also recommend Sleepy Walleye's comment below):

Every time I look at pictures of Detroit, aside from the human aspect, the tragedy is that beauty and craftsmanship like the one left to rot and decay into dust is just not possible to reproduce any more in this day and age ANYWHERE in the world. The simple truth is that structures such as the Plaza Hotel, the Public Library, Michigan Central Station and many more, would be impossible to build not just because they would be exorbitant, but because that craftsmanship is literally extinct.

To me, given America is a relatively young nation, letting Detroit and all its landmarks decay like that, is equivalent to Italy letting Florence crumble to pitiful ruins after the Medici family was no longer a powerhouse and economic flourish no longer a factor.

Detroit is not just a mere blight of the iconic American auto industry and a reflection of its tragic fall, it is a cultural suicide and a shame for all the rest of America.

Sunday, January 02, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Religion and Politics

Should one's faith direct a person's political views?

The obvious answer is yes. If faith is what directs us in making moral choices, that should naturally extend to our actions when acting as part of a community.

In real life, though, things aren't so simple. Too often, there seems to be a current that runs the other way: A person's political views direct their faith. For example, I am always confused when I hear a preacher describe governmental fiscal restraint as some kind of Christian ideal. From my reading, it is simply not something that Jesus addressed. When I see people like Glenn Beck, this cross-current seems especially strong. It's dangerous, because it risks subverting the gospel beneath politics. The opposite needs to be true.

What if Christian faith directed our political choices, not only in the sense of what our positions were, but in terms of what we saw as important? I would hope that faith would begin with what Christ taught directly. For example, he spoke repeatedly about respecting the Sabbath. Yet, not only do we fail to reflect this belief in our political views, but even in our own personal lives as we accede to the demands of a popular consumerist culture.

Atheists often decry the influence of religion on politics. For people of faith, the bigger concern might be the influence of politics on our religion.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Happy New Year from the Razor!

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