Monday, February 28, 2011


This Great Week

Last night I watched the Oscars for a while. My simple observation: For some reason, actors are much less composed on camera than animators and cinematographers and film editors.

The whole thing was very glamorous, but I would not trade my life with any of them.

This week will be one to remember. Today, I talk about creeds. Later, I get to teach students who sometimes seem as eager to see me as I am to see them. At the end of the week I get to collaborate with Craig Anderson, Jeanne Bishop and others to begin our big project at Holy Comforter Church in Richmond, Virginia-- to raise the right questions in the heart of the capital of the second-biggest death penalty state in the nation. You can see a description of the whole thing here.

This Sunday, as part of that project, I get to give the sermon at that church, with the title "Transfiguration at the Mountaintop and the Kitchen Table."

Those of you who took my Oral Advocacy class at Baylor know what this means-- I will finally be able to use all the wisdom about preaching I received for eight years from my co-teachers Randall O'Brien and Hulitt Gloer. While my own performance will pale in comparison to theirs, I can at least hope to reflect their light and lessons, and part of what I will say will be a story about them, a story of transfiguration.

To those of you from that class (and anyone else)... do you have any advice?

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Speaking of Creeds

[photo by Micah Marty]

Tomorrow, I will be having a public discussion at St. Thomas with Susan Stabile on the subject of creeds. As a Catholic, she supports a liturgy which includes the Nicean and Apostles' creeds. Consistent with my own Anabaptist leanings, I don't say those creeds, even when they are part of a service I am attending.

Don't get me wrong-- I am fine with reciting a set of common beliefs during a church service, and in fact I cherish that opportunity. However, my preference is that what we recite be nothing more or less than the words of Christ. Here are my three favorite creeds of that type:

-- The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, also in Luke)
-- The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11, also in Luke)
-- The Two Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40, also in Mark)

What I love about each of these is that they not only reflect our common belief, but direct action. The Lord's Prayer recognizes the glory of God, but also commands us to forgive. The Beatitudes express God's grace, but also tell us what we need to do to be blessed-- to be pure in heart, to be merciful, to be peacemakers. The Two Great Commandments so elegantly recognize both our duty to God and our duty to one another. Each defines an active faith, and challenges us to do good even as we believe what is right.

Given that we have these, why in the world do we need the Apostles' and Nicean Creeds? These three are more ancient, more clearly the revealed word of God, more challenging, and bring both our hands and hearts to Christ when we say them.

There is a profound irony to favoring the Nicean Creed or the Apostles' Creed to these three. That irony is this: Those creeds focus on proofs of the divinity of Christ, but don't we better show our belief in His divinity by making His words the test of our faith, our unison prayer? If we believe Jesus to be God revealed to man, as those creeds claim, the way to show it would be to give priority to his teachings when we recite our beliefs and pledge our actions.

The creeds we say in unison have two important functions: They reflect our common belief, and they also identify which beliefs are most important (or else we wouldn't be saying them every week). For Christians, should not the direct commands of Christ be our highest imperatives, even if they are not our only Imperatives? Shouldn't the Two Great Commandment be more important than the rote recitation of the council-written creeds (which include things like the non-Biblical claim that Christ descended into Hell)?

Where, truly, does our treasure lie? If it is with Christ, then the words of our risen Lord should be our solemn, common vow-- nothing more, and nothing less.

[... and yes, I realize that the preceding screed is tipping my hand to Susan Stabile, Neil Alan Willard, and the other creedalists I will be facing tomorrow!]

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Pizza time for Satan and Patient Bear!

I popped over to my favorite local pizza joint a bit ago for lunch. The place is decorated with children's drawings apparently done during field trips to the place, which raises two questions:

First, what kind of a school sends its students to a pizza parlor for a field trip? How can I enroll in that school?

Second, is this really a good idea for marketing the place? For example, one of the prominently placed artworks shows that Satan is a fan of their pizza:

... and certainly, this sad image of "Patient Bear" doesn't give one much hope for speedy service:


An intriguing take on events in Wisconsin

I am reprinting here a post by my St. Thomas colleague, Chuck Reid. One thing I am learning at this school is the complexity and wisdom behind much Catholic social teaching, such as that revealed here. The post originally ran over at Mirror of Justice.

Atomization is one of the great crises now threatening American society. Both the contemporary left and the contemporary right, in their own ways, have gone about promoting the atomization of American life. The left seeks to make all associations voluntary and dissolvable, even institutions like the family. The right wishes to strip the individual of all intermediating groups that shield the person from larger impersonal forces. The individual is left to stand, naked and alone, defenseless before the power of capital and government.

Catholic social thought challenges this atomization. I've written extensively on the family and really don't need to address that further in the context of this post.

My concern rather is with the response of Catholic social thought to the atomization fostered and promoted by the contemporary right. And here, Catholic thought builds on a rich medieval heritage of guilds and trade associations to promote the value of organized labor. We might consider the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum, whose Latin title literally means "Concerning Revolution," but which is commonly rendered in English as "On the Rights of Labor."

Pope Leo XIII, the author of the encyclical, wrote in the 1890s, during a time of vast industrial upheaval that featured growing conflict between the forces of capital, on the one hand, and the demand, by workers' groups, to socialize the means of production. Leo saw both extremes as dangerous and sought to establish a middle ground where labor and capital might meet in conditions of relative equality.

His age, Leo wrote, was characterized by a great division between rich and poor: On the one hand, there were "the enormous fortunes of some few individuals;" on the other, "the utter poverty of the masses." (para. 1). The old economic order has been turned upside down. "The ancient working men's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place." (para. 3). Workers have thus been "surrendered, isolated and helpless" to their employers. (Id). "Public institutions and laws" intended as safeguards have been dismantled. (Id).

Leo is at great pains to stress that socialism is not the answer: in its demand that everything must be public, in its denial of the private, in its attack on property and ownership, socialism wars against the human personality itself. Private property and investment of capital, on the other hand, promotes cultivation, economic development, and the betterment of human life. Socialism, Leo prophesied, by denying elemental truths about the person, must lead to its own destruction. (paras. 4-12).

Mediating institutions, however, needed to be constructed to protect individuals from being swamped and overwhelmed in a world controlled by vast impersonal institutions and aggregations of wealth. Workers, in Leo's words, need insulation from "the cruelty of men of greed." (para. 42). Leo appreciated that what was called for was a system of checks and balances to control the sinful impulses of all concerned. Power to fix and determine the conditions of employment, to define wages and benefits, Leo realized, must not be allowed to vest exclusively in either employers or employees.

Leo looked to the deep wellsprings of Christian anthropology for an answer to this dilemma. The human person is a social being, naturally fitted to participate and draw succor and strength from civil groups. Christianity, Leo reminded his readers, had long made use of such groups. There have always been "confraternities, societies, religious orders" that have shaped life within the Church. This experience, Leo argued, must drawn upon in order to build unions that genuinely represent the needs of workers. These organizations must not be socialist in character (para. 54); rather they must be informed by "good will" and observe "due prudence." (para. 58). Properly defined and limited, these organizations should negotiate and mediate "[t]he rights and duties of the employers, as compared with the rights and duties of the employed." (Id).

It would be tedious and is not really necessary to trace the development of this line of thought in Catholic social doctrine. Rather than undertaking such an exercise I should like instead to state that my childhood, my early development as a person, was shaped decisively by the practical implementation of this teaching.

In the Milwaukee of my youth, in the Catholic working-class neighborhood where I grew up, unions were a way of life. They promoted economic stability and working-class prosperity. Crime was rare. Families were supportive.

The American right has spent forty years demonizing and dismantling private-sector labor unions. They have been stamped out in the name of free trade, efficiency, and greater profits to the holders of capital.

And what has taken their place? A beggared working class. Soaring social pathologies. Pay-day lenders, exploding rates of incarceration, record numbers of Americans on food stamps.

Now, the American right is targeting the last bastion of the union movement -- public-sector unions. In a perfect world, public-sector unions would be a secondary phenonemon, deriving benefits and strengths from private-sector unions. And, indeed, thirty and forty years ago, that was the case. Many of the public-sector contracts now under threat were modeled on the private-sector contracts of that era.

The Wisconsin teachers' union, as I understand it, has largely conceded the day on matters of salary and benefits. The issue now is whether the teachers' association, and other similar public-sector unions, continue to enjoy the right to fulfill their elementary purpose -- to bargain collectively on the terms of employment. This is where the line must be drawn.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Haiku Friday: Stuff from the store... or not.

I definitely need a break from dealing with the death penalty. My trip to Illinois was fabulous; not only the death penalty meeting, but a wonderful hour talking with Bernadine Dohrn about a fascinating future project. More on that later.

Anyways, let's talk about shopping. Just a short haiku about something you wish you could get at a store, or did once get from a store... I'm tired, so do whatever you want with syllable count this week.

Here is mine:

Something I wanted--
A candygram-ing Landshark.
Got it at the Gap!

Put your own in the comments section...

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Just up at the Huffington Post...

And NOT in the religion section! You can see the piece here. I'm on a full-court press on the Illinois Death Penalty... and I think we might just win.


Political mayhem Thursday: invade?

Should we invade Canada?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


A new blog!

Good news! My friend Henry Wright has begun a blog, The Edge of Law. Check it out immediately.

For those of you who don't know him, Henry is a remarkable person. First he was was in elementary school. Then, during middle school (I think) he was elected mayor of a Beverly Hills, Texas, near Waco. Then he was a philosopher. Then he went to law school, where he didn't take any of my classes. Now he's a lawyer.

He has a remarkable ability to fix things, of all types. He's an ace with tools, glazing windows, stuff like that. However, he is also good at fixing other things-- legal problems, pro football games, cats. He's remarkably versatile.

So, check out his blog!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


New Stuff at Huffington Post!

My piece derived from last Sunday's reflection is now up at the Huffington Post-- go visit it here.

As usual, I expect a cascade of negative comments, and now I have to love all those people. Crikeys! If you would like, leave a comment yourself.


Osler's Razor F.A.Q.

Q: Osler, is IPLawGuy really a biter?

A: Not that I know of. I suspect you are thinking of Pickles the Cat-- she bites. She's a biter.

Q: I have a question about IPLawGuy's Pod in Space. It appears that you can get there via the subway. How does that work?

A: It's kind of a long story, but basically IPLawGuy did some work for the subway authority in Metro City, and they owed him one, so he had them add a stop at his Space Pod. It was incredibly expensive, as you might imagine.

Q: Osler, is IPLawGuy the name of an actual Intellectual Property Law Guy? Are all these characters based on real people?

A: IPLawGuy is a real, uh, IP law guy. He lives on the East Coast and enjoys tennis and reading. He does wear a broccoli suit, but the syrup and belching are fictional. Mostly. Partly. Pickles was a real (and evil) cat, but not mine. The characters are based on actual people (and cats) who are somewhat more intelligent than the characters. Tyd With Bleach is also based on a real person, and she does speak Dutch and wear oven mitts.

Do you have questions? Ask away!

Monday, February 21, 2011


Congratulations, Intern!

It's true-- Razorite CTL, the actual Baylor undergrad who serves as the basis for the intern character, has been named a finalist for the Truman Scholarship. This is a great accomplishment, and one that will doubtlessly bring him great joy as he washes Dee Dee's Cam-ah-ro.

Oh, and it is my birthday! While not as zany as last year, I think it will be surprisingly satisfying. Especially if Dee Dee still has that mai tai machine...

Sunday, February 20, 2011


A week from tomorrow...

On Feb. 28, I will be talking with Susan Stabile about the value of creeds within different religious traditions. Prof. Stabile (who is now cured of pneumonia, fortunately) will be talking about the value of creeds within her own Catholic tradition, while I'll be talking about traditions such as my own, which eschews creeds. You can see more details here.


Sunday Reflection: The Meaning of "Social Justice"

On Friday, I got a wonderful question from a student (which is usually where the best questions, and some of the best answers, come from). Pamela Steinle, who is in my criminal practice class this semester, asked me "to you, what does the term 'social justice' mean?"

The question is an especially good one in the context of St. Thomas Law School. Social justice is an explicit part of St. Thomas' very short mission statement, in fact: "The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice." One of the reasons that St. Thomas was interested in hiring me in the first place was my own focus on social justice issues in my advocacy and scholarship.

All of which makes Pamela's question important. What is 'social justice?'

The and wrong answer (for me personally) is that social justice is a set of defined positions on social/political issues. Certainly, it can mean exactly that within a church (such as Catholicism) which carefully defines what that church views as just in a variety of contexts, but I'm not a Catholic. Certainly, there are some like me who are not Catholic, but still view "social justice" as a set of liberal political beliefs, and I reject that definition as well.

So, that's what social justice isn't. But what is it?

What I told Pamela, and what I believe, is that social justice work is engaging in a dialogue on a social/political issue that does lead to justice. In other words, it isn't a position, it's a process, a process of discussion and debate. Within that debate, those engaged DO share a very important common belief that defines the project more than anything-- that the issue is important, and worth discussing as we move towards a societal consensus.

In my own work, this definition of social justice allows me to do something remarkable: It lets me love those who oppose me. I can see both myself and those who oppose my view as engaging in social justice work, even admirable social justice work. When I talk to death penalty advocates, those people who are advocates for the death penalty have something in common with me-- we both care about this issue, think it is important, and are participating in a process that will help define what happens next.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies; and certainly that means we should love those who merely oppose us on political issues. Part of that love must be that we ascribe the best motives to them, rather than the worst; that we see them as our collaborators in a journey to truth rather than a roadblock; and as very much the child of God that we are, each as they were created.

That said, I love the ability I have at St. Thomas to wade into these ideas of social justice. In these few months I will teach in a classroom, debate a worthy opponent (at St. Thomas), lobby a governor (in Illinois), preach a sermon (in Richmond), lecture to a crowd (in Chicago), present a paper (in DC), and try a case (Richmond). It's a lot to do, but in each role I am the same person, and that person is one who is very glad to be on the journey, and to find the people who are beside me along the road.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Robocop Statue in Detroit?

This week, a proposal emerged to erect a statue of Robocop in Detroit (thanks to both Sleepy Walleye and IPLawGuy for the tip). The plan, apparently, was to put the statue in front of the abandoned old train station. However, it seems that Detroit mayor Dave Bing doesn't like that idea.

Good idea?

Friday, February 18, 2011


Haiku Friday: Steve Bartman and other brushes with fame

For nearly 100 years, the Chicago Cubs frustrated and angered their fans. Then, one brilliant fall day in 2003, the fans returned the favor. That's the legend of Steve Bartman... but we'll get to him in a minute.

Back in my college radio days, one of my jobs was to record short "station ID" messages that would play at the top of the hour. The task was just to give the call letters and frequency, but I liked to add a little oomph to it. My favorite series was the distant brush with fame" series, which included the two ID's:

1) "My name is Janet Kirkley, and my dad once almost got run over by Vincent Price in a parking lot. When I'm in Williamsburg, I make sure to listen to listen to WCWM-FM, 90.7 FM!"

2) "Hi, I'm Rick Box. I worked in a restaurant that Steve Martin ate at once, but I wasn't there then. One thing I am always there for, though, is WCWM-FM, 90.7 in Williamsburg!"

My personal brushes with fame have been pretty slight-- Jack White of the White Stripes upholstered my couch, for example, and I bought Ted Nugent's end table at his garage sale in Waco.

Still, I am wowed by friends that have more concrete brushes with fame, so I was floored this week to learn that my friend and colleague at St. Thomas, Ben Carpenter, was Steve Bartman's roommate at Notre Dame. Seriously! He even sent me this photo to prove it (which includes Ben, Bartman, and former William and Mary coach Lou Holtz):

What?!?! Some of you don't know who Steve Bartman is? Sheesh... well, long story short, in 2003 (according to Cubs lore) Bartman single-handedly stopped the Cubs from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1908 by grabbing a foul ball right out of the hands of an eager Cub who was about to wrap things up. To make it better, he was inexplicably wearing walkman headphones over his Cubs hat at the time. Here's a video:

So, let's haiku about brushes with fame. It doesn't have to be a close brush, of course. Here is mine:

That guy on the bus
With me, kinda familiar:
It's Nipsy Russell!

[Note: This isn't even my own experience-- it happened to Rich Sullivan in college]

Now, it is your turn. Five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, then five for the last... or you can make it about Bartman, in which case it can be any old mess you want.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday II: OMG! OMG! Someone on a reality show is not engaged!

This just in:

KOURTNEY KARDASHIAN, the star of 'Keeping up with the Kardashians', has told fans on her Twitter page that she is not engaged to boyfriend SCOTT DISICK, despite a recent 'exclusive' story in Life & Style Magazine claiming otherwise. The web became alive yesterday (16th February 2011) with rumours of a second Kardashian wedding, and bloggers frantically reported that the couple were to marry later this year. Life & Style claimed that the couple had "secretly" got engaged, quoting an insider as saying, "Kourtney and Scott are getting married this year. Kourtney is thrilled about it. She loves Scott, and she wants to be his wife. She's already looking at dresses and other details". However, Kourtney took to her social networking page to personally rubbish the speculation, saying, "WOW!! Where do the mags come up with this stuff? And claiming exclusives? Come on now".

Reports earlier this week suggested that Kardashian and Disick are currently in talks to get their own spin-off show on the E! network. The couple have previously appeared in 'Keeping up with the Kardashians' and 'Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami'.

Can you believe it?
What does this mean?
Who are these people? Are they actually famous? If so, why?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: The South, Slavery, States Rights and today

Going back to Virginia is an important voyage for me. I first went there when I was 18, off to college with a vinyl suitcase in one hand and a portable typewriter in the other. I flew to Newport News from Detroit, and took a cab into Williamsburg; I still remember the sense of heaviness to the air, the stillness of the place, and the cab driver telling me that he only voted for Carter the previous year because he was a Baptist. For a long time, I was quiet and watched and listened. It was a place with layers of meaning easily misunderstood and a deep sense of history, of which I was not a part.

In that first semester I went up to Richmond with some friends. We went to see the movie "Metropolis" at the old Mosque Theater (now known as the Landmark). I still have this stark memory of seeing the still-visible outline of the word "colored" over a bathroom door and the faint stencil of "whites only" over a water fountain. Something about those faint echoes stopped me cold; it was one of those times that I was as still as the August air.

But I'm not from the South. People tell me I don't understand it, and I'm sure they are right.

I had lunch yesterday with Neil Alan Willard, who worked at Bruton Parish in Williamsburg before coming here. He is a Southerner, from North Carolina, as are many of my friends.

One of those friends is Razorite Tall Tenor, who is away singing in Paris right now. Here is something he wrote in another place:

I am a child of the South, but I do not revere "the Cause" for which my ancestors fought. In fact, I rather loathe it. Growing up, I heard over and over and over again how the Civil War was not about slavery, but about states' rights. Some of my older relatives called it "The War of Northern Aggression."

The series of articles that the New York Times has been running about the days and events leading up to the beginning of the Civil War has been fascinating. I also find it extremely instructive to read the quotes from the participants in those events, including those who favored secession. Their own words - their own words - can leave no doubt but that the states which seceded did so because they wanted to maintain the institution of slavery.

And that was, is, and ever shall be wrong.

TT also pointed me to this fascinating Newsweek column by another of our fraternity brothers, Steve Tuttle.

I have always been uneasy with the answer that the Civil War was not about slavery.

Does it still matter? What is the right answer?


So are you coming to Richmond?

Here is the short version of what will be happening with our project at Holy Comforter Church in Richmond:

March 5: 7:30 Public event on the death penalty (Richmond)
March 6: Give the sermon, adult forum after the service (Richmond)

April 15: Trial of Christ at St. Thomas, Minneapolis
April 16: Trial of Christ in Richmond
April 17: Adult forum

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Commentary on the Heckler!

Over at Neil Alan Willard's blog, here.


Which church has the best music?

The Simpsons' Church in Springfield?

The James Brown church in Chicago?

The Talking Heads church in Texas?

Monday, February 14, 2011


Happy Valentines Day!

Feel free to leave your anonymous love notes to your valentine here! No haiku necessary!


To the ramparts, Razorites! Yemen needs slogans!

It appears that Yemenis have now caught the revolutionary fever that is sweeping North Africa, and many have taken to the streets to protest the government in power. It's a fascinating development, and one that could be very good (if it leads to democracy) or very bad (if almost anything else results).

Outcomes aside, here is the part of the story that I found really appalling:

Several people were injured in Sunday's demonstrations, and police detained 23 protesters, witnesses said. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the internal security forces, accused the protesters of "spreading sabotage and chaos" and "threatening security and stability." The crowds took up the protest cry that became famous in Tunisia and then in Egypt, shouting, "The people want to overthrow the regime."

Really, Yemenis? The best you can do for a revolutionary slogan is "the people want to overthrow the regime?"

Please! Is all sense of poetry dead? Please, please, fellow Razorites-- let's send the Yemenis what they need more than anything: A decent slogan.

To help you compose your slogan, here are a few fast facts about Yemen:

1) The current leader there is Ali Abdullah Saleh.
2) Saleh has given his sons key leadership positions
3) Saleh has relied on the support of the U.S. in his three decades of rule
4) As part of a coordinated effort to beat back the protesters, police were armed with... sticks.
5) The chewing of mildly-narcotic khat is popular in Yemen
6) In 1995, Yemen fought a three-day war with Eritrea over the contested island of Hanish.

So, let's get to work!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Counting the love

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Despite the name (what happened to churches one through three?) it is a cathedral-style church on Michigan Avenue, across from Water Tower Place. It was a wonderful crowd, and I got some great questions after finishing my talk. I shouldn't have been surprised.

Out to dinner the night before, amidst laughter and wisdom, I had a memory come back to me full force, from twenty-two years ago.

It was the summer of 1988, the interregnum between my first and second years of law school. I worked at the US Attorney's office in Chicago; it was the summer that I found my vocation.

I lived that summer in the Northwestern Law School dormitory, Abbott Hall, down in Streeterville between the lake and Michigan Avenue. It was an unusual July. Every day was extraordinarily hot, and it was over 100 every day for over a week. People died of the heat. The dorm did not have air conditioning, and we residents would just go over and stand in the lake. We were like a herd of Brontosauruses, just standing there in the water up to our hips with dazed and dumb expressions.

It was also a lonely summer. I didn't know anyone in Chicago. Lonely, though, often goes with self-discovery. That summer I came up with the plan for my career that I have pretty much followed. It was also the summer I decided that my work could not be divorced from my faith.

Part of that came from a walk I took many Sunday mornings. I would head west on Chestnut Street, which would be preternaturally still at that time-- there would be no cars, and if I chose I could walk in the middle of that street. Where I was walking was to the Fourth Presbyterian Church. The church didn't have air conditioning, either, so it was stifling. It was hot, but also warm; the people there had an air of genuine kindness to them. The spirit of it was defined by the minister, John Buchanan, who had arrived three years before that summer.

One morning, I walked into the church and was seated next to an older woman and her daughter, who was about twelve. When the sermon began, I saw the woman pull out a piece of paper, which was divided into sections by date, and covered with hash marks. This was the focus of some kind of game between the mother and daughter, and I shamelessly eavesdropped until I figured out that game.

It was a simple and wonderful task: They simply marked a slash every time that John Buchanan used the word "love" in the sermon. That week, it was eleven or twelve, which was about average from what I could see from my half-shaded and eager eyes.

That is as good a measure as I can think of to value the message of a church.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to return to that place where I grew up a bit a long time ago. I have changed, but it has not, at least in that fundamental way. It is still a place of love, was that for me this week, and will be for you if you wander in through those heavy wooden doors swung open to the City of Broad Shoulders.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


50 Years

Yesterday, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. I'm not sure I can describe this more beautifully than they already did in their haiku yesterday:

My message to x
We spent the last fifty years
Learning to love.

...and we love you for it.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Haiku Friday: Please leave a message

A few weeks ago, I was racing to the train station in Philadelphia, but just had to stop to take a picture of this business. Really? "Patty's Answering Service?" While it does exist, I'm a little baffled that anyone would still use a phone answering service.

I am intrigued, though. What if you could leave a message to anyone, dead or alive, known or unknown, even lost to you though still in this world?

Let's have that be our haiku goal today. Don't worry about how many syllables this week- just make it three short lines, with the first line of "My message to X:"

Here is mine:

My message to X:
I still think of you
When e're I do right.

Now, it is your turn...

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: Who is more right, RRL or Lane?

For the past few years, it has been a great pleasure to have two of my favorite former students, Lane and RRL, battle it out on these pages every Thursday. They are both brilliant and witty; but that is pretty much all they have in common (other than a certain ideological purity that stands in contrast to many people).

RRL is a small government conservative with an admirable libertarian streak. He thinks there should be less government involvement in both people's lives and commerce. He is for broad cuts in both taxes and government services, thinks there should be fewer, not more, pollution controls, and wants more freedom at less cost. He also enjoys the musical stylings of Procol Harem.

Lane is a socialist. He believes that economies do not naturally gravitate towards the good, and thus favors a mix of government ownership and regulation to ensure that social goals are not ignored in the marketplace. He is unafraid of government as an agent for good, and does not see this as a threat to freedom. He favors government action to reduce income inequalities in the United States, and strong government action to boost employment and productivity. At home, he listens to Thorhammer.

Which is more appealing to you?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Three videos about Clippy

Several years ago I switched completely over to Apple products. I wish I could list a bunch of reasons, but the bare fact is that I was just cheesed off at Clippy.

For those of you who don't remember him, Clippy was a feature of Microsoft Windows. He was an annoying little animated paperclip who would constantly pop up, make assumptions and then suggest painfully obvious "hints." Most often, regardless of what you were doing, he would pop up and say "It looks like you are trying to write a letter!" Ugh-- it still makes me mad.

Please feel free to share your own memories of Clippy.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


IPLawGuy 44: What's wrong with Pickles?


Hey, Osler-- I live in Chicago, and I am bored!

Dear Bored:

There's something really wrong with you if you can't find anything interesting to do in Chicago. Seriously.

But if you are looking for something at 8 am on Saturday of this week, come hear me speak about the death penalty to the Men's Breakfast at the 4th Presbyterian Church on Michigan Ave. in Chicago. It's that giant church across from Water Tower Place. Apparently, you don't have to be male to come to the men's breakfast, either! If you would like to come, you need to call 312.787.4570 by noon tomorrow to hold a spot.

Other than that, I would recommend roller derby.


In the garage...

Over the weekend, I was playing "Cranium" with some people, and pulled a card that required me to name something starting with "E" which would normally be found in a garage. All of my answers were rejected:

Electric rake

These answers wouldn't seems to lame if you had ever seen my parents' garage. Here are some of the objects found there at one time or another (note that the list does not include "a car"-- I never saw one parked there):

A moose head
A stack of car radios with loose wires
Large metal cans full of unidentifiable liquids, the labels having decayed
An entire art studio
A stocked fridge
Stacks of important-looking documents under a hubcap
A coal shovel (I actually now have that in my garage)
Hockey sticks filed to a point at the business end
Bucket of completely dead tennis balls
Chuck the Cat
Mannequin attached to a rotating magazine rack, wearing a hat
Fencing equipment (foil)
The U.S. Strategic Dead Battery Reserve
Surveying equipment

So.. what's in your garage?

Monday, February 07, 2011


Minnesota Monday: Reflections on Sunday

Two memories of yesterday:

First, I went to see the Decemberists at the gorgeous State Theater in Minneapolis. They put on a great show. Sure, it meant I had to miss the Black Eyed Peas doing the Super Bowl halftime, but from what I hear that wasn't such a loss.

Second, I got to speak at St. Stephen's Episcopal church on Sunday morning. It was a great crowd (it's always a good sign when they bring in extra chairs at the last minute) and I love that church and its rector, Neil Alan Willard. Part of what I spoke about was the eucharist, and when I went up during the service to take the bread from Nancy Brantingham, it seemed imbued with more meaning than usual.

The questions were great and I had many wonderful conversations after the talk and... I had a heckler! I have never had one before, so it was about time. A man in coat and tie in the back yelled "No!" near the start of my talk and then stalked out halfway through. That's pretty hard core-- heckling a talk about civil discourse, in a church-- but I think it probably helped make my point in the end.

The salt has not lost its saltiness.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Joy and Boldness

[Click on the photo to enlarge the photo of the already very large land shark]

On haiku Friday, there was a contribution from one of my most frequent posters, Anonymous, which really caught my eye:

In my dreams, life is
Bold, out-loud, full of passion
Oh, please don't wake me.

I love the word "bold." Of course, I am very often not bold in the things that are most important, but I am working on that this year. I am being bold for those things that I am passionate about, and I want that to include being out-loud for social justice where I can see it clearly. A few posts ago, I talked about Matthew 15:11, which reminds us that it is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but that which comes out. Isn't there a duty, too, to use words for change and good when we have the chance?

Here is what I am working on, all of which tie into my goal of filing off the roughest retributive edges of our criminal law system, and none of which I am doing alone:

1) I will continue to challenge the death penalty, in what I hope is the same thoughtful, contemplative way that Christ did in John 8. Part of that will be going back to something I have not done in a long time-- on Palm Sunday weekend I will be creating the trial of Christ twice under modern procedures, once in Minneapolis and once in Richmond, Virginia.

2) In my continuing work on the sentencing guidelines, I am unveiling a big idea on March 24 in Washington DC. This idea could change the corrupting fundamental dynamic of the current guidelines, which set the positive values of uniformity and judicial discretion in zero-sum opposition to one another.

3) I am continuing to work on commutations, and in the near future will finish the petition for Percy Dillon, the man whose case caught the attention of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy last year.

4) Best of all, I get to teach future prosecutors and defense attorneys every day, from the central principle that the entire criminal law apparatus is useless (or worse) if it is not solving a problem.

There is a lot of joy in me these days-- I feel a sharp sense of mission. All of this I am getting to do with the help of wonderful colleagues and collaborators, including some of the most remarkable people I have ever known. Those of you who are my friends, I hope that you will support me if you can, let me rest if I need to, and love me despite my mistakes. It could be quite a ride.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


Please... help the struggling, snowbound Wacoans

As you may have read, Waco has been deluged with nearly an inch of snow, and things there have gotten very bad. Schools, liquor stores, pet-care facilities and other institutions have been closed for days. The streets are full of wrecked cars and orphaned children, left to fend for themselves in the cruel outdoors, where wind-chill temperatures are approaching thirty degrees. Looters have have been foiled only by the fact that food stores were cleaned out at the outset of the storm. Tigers and bears are now roaming the streets, picking at the remains of those residents who have been stranded in their cars.

It will be years, probably, before the city recovers. I have received terrified reports from friends there that some residents have resorted to cannibalism (which seems awfully soon), while others have taken to locking themselves into their homes and watching hockey on VS, a channel few knew they had in their cable networks. Baylor students, desperate to stay warm, have risked expulsion by taking up the last-ditch tactic of consuming alcohol.

Please, if you can, help the Wacoans. If we don't, there may no longer be a Waco to help.

Friday, February 04, 2011


Haiku Friday: Art and Dreams

Great art, in whatever form, works like a dream-- it takes us out of our normal world, messes with our perceptions, and leaves us wondering exactly what that meant.

I want people to haiku about either art (in any form) or dreams, or both, if you want. I leave that up to you.

Here is mine:

Simple lines, like Rothko,
In my dream I am walking,
Turn, and start to sing.

And now it is your turn...

Just make it roughly 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables...

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday II: Arts funding

As states across the nation deal with deficits (some of them extreme), one item often on the chopping block is funding for the arts. At the federal level, some in the new Congress strongly disagree with any federal funding for the arts.

Should taxpayer's money be spent to support the arts?

There are three basic ways we use tax money to support the arts:

1) At a most basic level, tax money is used to pay for teaching art in public schools. This may be the least controversial use of art funding, though some say it detracts from a focus on basic education.

2) Second, tax money goes to support art museums and other arts groups. Many, if not most, museums rely at least in part on state or federal funding for at least some of their programs.

3) Finally, state and federal funds go to support individual artists at times. These may be the most controversial of all, because it allows for such an honest evaluation of what the tax money is being used for, once we see the resulting work.

Should we spend any money on the arts? If so, on what?


Political Mayhem Thursday: Egypt on fire

With the unrest getting more intense in Egypt, there are two possible and perhaps conflicting goals for the United States:

1) Ensure the flow of oil and other trade
2) Promote the development of a democratic society in Egypt

Which should we choose? And how should we pursue it?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Busy on Sunday?

This Sunday, Feb. 6, I will be speaking at 10 am at the very beautiful St. Stephens Episcopal church in Edina. Everyone is welcome, and I plan to make it interesting. This is the kick-off for my mini-tour of our nation's churches, which will also include Fourth Presbyterian on Michigan Ave. in Chicago on Feb. 12 and Holy Comforter on Monument Ave. in Richmond, Virginia, on March 5 & 6.

I will also be participating in the Martinsville 500 on April 3, driving #16, a Ford Fusion (the usual driver, Greg Biffle, is attending a high school reunion on that day, and has also committed to an event involving the opening of an "Off-Season Santa" store at the Northview Mall in Vancouver, Washington early the next morning).

This Sunday's presentation is at the invitation of St. Stephen's Rector, Neil Alan Willard, who has put in some quality appearances here at the Razor, and whose blog I am now linking to down to the left. I will be dealing with some real theological heavyweights (and Dale, Jr.!) in the next few months.


Love, and everything else

The past two days, I have discussed two incredible works: La Traviata and the Great Gatsby. The two are paired in my mind, and I have been searching for a reason.

Here is what I've got: The two have, at their core, the idea that love is greater than anything else.

In the Great Gatsby, we see people who have everything, it seems. They are well educated and wealthy, they have great parties, and they seem to have it made. Yet, they are not just unhappy, but unsettled and unfulfilled. None of them have love of any kind-- not faith, not real friendship, not romantic love. The only one of them, in fact, who even knows what he wants is Gatsby-- he wants Daisy to love him back, but he fails in that quest. In the absence of true love, they all despair in their own way, even among their riches.

In La Traviata, Violetta enjoys the company of many men in Paris, but only finds bliss and fulfillment when she attains true love with Alfredo once they isolate themselves from their former lives. In time she is convinced to leave Alfredo, and without love (once she has known it) she withers with disease.

That idea, that love (in whatever form) is necessary to real happiness... is it right?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Amazing finish at last week's Daytona 500

RRL was sick of the whole art thing, so here is an amazing video from last week's Daytona 500! Check out the madcap action around 1:40 into the video. For prior references to NASCAR on the Razor, see this and this and this.


The Family Circle

A very long time ago, when I was in law school, I found something overwhelming and beautiful. I’m not sure how this happened, but I was in New York and bought cheap seats to see the opera at the Met, and was stunned and addicted.

A few weeks later, I went back again, taking the train into the city by myself from New Haven, and then returning at one a.m., still reliving what I had seen. I bought a subscription which included Wagner’s Ring cycle, and I became a regular. The only seats I could afford were the cheapest ones of all ($10-15 at the time) in the fourth balcony, which is labeled the “family circle.” There weren’t many families up there, just people of moderate means who truly loved opera. To my left were old women who carefully carried fading librettos like they were babies, and to my right were two men who worked in lifeless cubicles in Manhattan paperwork farms. I fit in; I was a student sneaking off, my backpack jammed with books to read on the train home. Say what you will about the family circle, but it was like a church—people up there had a careful focus, the reverence of the widow and her pennies.

One night I was up there, watching Rigolletto or Carmen or some other classic for the first time. The bells were chiming (that the curtain would soon go up), and a couple came into the seats a few rows ahead of me. He was older, perhaps my age now, and she was younger, tall and striking. She took off her fur coat, but didn’t sit down. Instead she turned to him and complained.

“Really? This is the best you could do? You couldn’t hit the stage with a baseball from here. These are the worst seats in the house.”

The man stood back up and tried to talk to her quietly (I think he knew what was going to happen). I was close enough to hear: he was telling her that the side boxes had obstructed views, and though they look fancy, they are not as good to see and hear the opera from.

This didn’t help. She demanded that he get them better seats.

The man next to me joined in. “You really should get her a seat downstairs. This is just an awful place up here.”

“Terrible, terrible. All the riff-raff are here,” an old lady offered. “Criminals and codgers.”

The partner of the first guy: “I hate myself for even being here. It’s a disgrace!.” Another woman and her husband went next, and then people started to laugh.

The tall, striking woman was not stupid. She and the man both knew exactly what was happening. They conferred briefly and left, and the others clapped and yelled “bravo!” and “wise choice!” as they slipped out. She had pursed lips, and beautiful shoes.

Then we tucked in our things, leaned forward, and breathed in anxiously with the first notes of the score, lost in it, again.

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