Monday, April 30, 2012


Haiku Winner!

By acclamation, the winner is RRL, who wrote this as his own obituary:

Robert was a good
bowler, and a good man. He
was one of us. He

was a man who loved
the outdoors… and bowling, and
as a surfer he

explored the beaches
of Southern California,
from La Jolla to

Leo Carrillo
and… up to… Pismo. He died,
like so many young

men of his time, he
died before his time. In your wisdom, Lord, you took

him, as you took so
many bright flowering young
men at Khe Sanh, at

Langdok, at Hill three-
sixty-four. These young men gave
their lives. And so would

Robert. Robert, who
loved bowling. And so, Robert
Randolph Little, in

accordance with what
we think your dying wishes
might well have been, we

commit your final
mortal remains to the heart
of the Pacific

Ocean, which you loved
so well. Good night, sweet prince.

One thing that should be clarified, by way of biography, is that RRL is not an fan of traditional bowling, as is practiced by most other Wacoans. Oh, no. He is, instead, the only Central Texas practitioner of candlepin bowling. In fact, he was able to attend law school with his significant winnings on "Candlepins for Cash." He spent a small amount on a vacation to Haiti with a special lady, and then plowed the rest into tuition.

From 1997-2001, RRL lived in a secret lair on an island in the Pacific, after living briefly in Dorchester.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Sunday Reflection: The Secret

Rabbi Norman Cohen told me something fascinating yesterday: That some Jewish understanding of a scripture is that it operates on four levels. The deepest of these levels he described as a "secret."

The hit me like a blast of light.

There have been a few moments like that for me, epiphanies really, where the nut cracks open and the secret is revealed-- some stunning truth I had never seen before.

Never, not once, was it my own analysis that opened the secret to my eyes. It always was the story of another, and the Holy Spirit. Which, I suppose, tells me what I need to do to learn.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


A statement I like...

On Wednesday, Connecticut became the fifth state in the past five years to get rid of the death penalty. In signing the legislation, Governor Dannel Malloy made a statement that closely tracks my own beliefs, and which I thought was both gracious and true:

Many of us who have advocated for this position over the years have said there is a moral component to our opposition to the death penalty. For me, that is certainly the case. But that does not mean – nor should it mean – that we question the morality of those who favor capital punishment. I certainly don’t. I know many people whom I deeply respect, including friends and family, that believe the death penalty is just. In fact, the issue knows no boundaries: not political party, not gender, age, race, or any other demographic. It is, at once, one of the most compelling and vexing issues of our time.

My position on the appropriateness of the death penalty in our criminal justice system evolved over a long period of time. As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter. Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers. In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it. I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Haiku Friday: Posthumous Words

IPLawGuy sent me an idea for Haiku Friday this week: Write your own obituary... in haiku!

Don't ask me why he wants this, but I kind of owe him one after the whole "Vail Incident." I have to admit, there is probably a high probability that my obituary actually will be in haiku-- I'm kind of asking for it, I suppose, by doing this every week. Notably, several of my students wrote their evaluations of my class in haiku last semester (thanks, guys!).

So, here is mine:

Mark Osler sure had
Some crazy professor hair
And sometimes could cook.

Now it is your turn! The winner gets a bio here on Monday-- just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables. If is is just too hard to do your own obit in haiku, feel free to do one for IPLawGuy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Just Up at the Huffington Post!

I'm hoping that the title of God and Guns at Wal-Mart isn't too provocative...

Also, I'm now on Twitter... and this will be my second tweet! My handle is @oslerguy.


Political Mayhem Thursday: North Korea

The above graphics are part of a fascinating (and disturbing) collection of posters from North Korea. (The caption to the top one translates as "Let's extensively raise goats in all families!).

After its most recent failed missile launch and scuttling of an agreement with the US, North Korea is threatening war again.

What should US policy be regarding North Korea?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


A good obituary

I love reading the obituaries in the New York Times. So often, they are a history lesson in some area unknown to me, unraveled through a single life.

Yesterday, though, the life unspooled in print was one that I knew-- Bernard Rapoport. You can check out the full piece here, including this heart of the matter:

Mr. Rapoport was just as interested in the people working at El Conquistador, his favorite restaurant in Waco, as he was in presidents and power brokers, said Ms. Rapoport, his granddaughter. “Every waitress got a lecture on why they should be in school,” she said.

One evening last year at El Conquistador, Mr. Rapoport asked a young family over to his table to chat. Before leaving, he invited Michael Aguilar, then 8, to visit his office. Michael did, showing up in his Cub Scout uniform and bearing a notepad to interview Mr. Rapoport for a scout project.

Mr. Rapoport told him that “no one’s better than him,” recalled his mother, Maria Aguilar. He also told Michael to read five books a month and report back to him, but Mr. Rapoport died before the follow-up visit could be arranged....

Hundreds of people showed up for a memorial service on April 11 in Waco: business executives, politicians and educators. And Michael Aguilar, who wore his Cub Scout uniform.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Coming up tomorrow!

Tomorrow night, I'll be giving a talk over at the undergrad campus in St. Paul. Here is a description from the on-line blurb:

UST law professor Mark Osler will give a presentation on “Hard Questions, Loving Answers and Worthwhile Engagement on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment” on Wednesday, April 25.

Free and open to the public, the event will be held at 7 p.m. in 3M Auditorium, Room 150, Owens Science Hall.

Osler will discuss how people can engage in worthwhile discussions on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment facing voters this fall.

Osler’s presentation is sponsored by the Luann Dummer Center for Women.

Monday, April 23, 2012


A Winner!

Do you have a few minutes free? If you do, I'd really recommend checking out the most recent Haiku Friday results here. It is probably my favorite collection ever.

I don't think I need to write a bio this week, since so many of the wonderful entries were autobiographical. Here are a few of my favorites:

First, from OsoGrande:

I wonder if Frost
really chose the less trod road.
It's easier said.

Choose, or the world will.
I've found the adage true, and
often ceded choice.

Whether one chooses
boldly or casts fates to chance,
God's grace is in it.

And a story-poem from Jessica:

I chose to get out
Literally, just to run
I didn't look back

To live without roots
You must become addicted
To running away

Then something happened
And I wanted to slow down
Didn't want to run

My marriage, my home
It's a new gypsy's detox
But still my legs itch.

From Susan Stabile (I loved this one very much):

Had to shave my head
The robes didn't keep me warm,
Lived with many vows.

I chose Elena
Post Buddhist-nun years, of course,
Perhaps my best choice.

What! Leave my New York
To live in the strange Mid-West?
Friends back home still sigh.

And, of course, from Renee:

One day she cried on
Her father's chest,exhausted
And he chose for her.

He chose the airlines.
At first,she was scornful of
Her job.but found STAGE.

She chose to sing there.
To tell jokes,to listen to
People's stories.To help.

She traveled with friends,
Comrades,really,and started
To choose revelry.

You know she didn't
Choose the right husband...really!
He did not like hats.

But she did choose to
Have a beautiful boy and
Nurture choice in him.

Before her parents died
She chose a cast of characters
To be her kin.Church.

Now she has chosen
In twilight,Theatre...and Pen.
And Dog to warm feet.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Sunday Reflection: Purpose

So... this wonderful thing happened on Friday in the atrium at the University of St. Thomas. We had a symposium on the topic of clemency, and it all kind of... worked. We started with two political scientists who described the decay of the pardon as a principled power of the executive, and ended with a woman who had received a commutation sitting with the prosecutor who had tried the case against her and the judge who had sentenced her. Within that frame, we heard from a Governor, a young federal judge, several academics, a former U.S. Pardon Attorney, two students, and a journalist. It was all of a whole, despite the mix of people, disciplines, and ideologies.

I'm still processing it all-- trying to figure out what it was that made it work. I wish that I could claim that I made it happen, but that isn't true; others (including our students) had much more to do with that. Of course, too, the presenters (and I was not a presenter) were unusually good-- they were passionate, informed, and engaging. The full room (150+ people) seemed rapt from 8:30 in the morning until 5 pm, which is... unusual.

What it had was a sense of purpose. We long for purpose in our lives; conflict can give us purpose, and even war, but so can faith. Sometimes, though, faith leads us to a purpose that is not just faith itself, but faith plus an engagement with the world, with loving our neighbors and caring for the whole.

So, yes, Friday had purpose. I need to figure out how that happened, because I want some more of it in my life. I'm hungry for it, and so are a lot of other people.

Saturday, April 21, 2012



Yesterday, the St. Thomas Law Journal hosted a really wonderful symposium on clemency issues. It was, at least for me, a remarkable day. For one thing, literally every person writing and thinking seriously on this topic was in the building, listening to one another. Part of the wonder of that was people meeting one another: I met Dafna Linzer, one of my journalist-heroes, and P.S. Ruckman, and David Zlotnick, and several others for the first time, which seemed odd given my familiarity with their work-- it seems like I have known them for a long time.

In terms of describing the panels, I don't thing I could do better than P.S. Ruckman's description in this post on his influential blog, Pardon Power.

More than anything, it was wonderful to see the engagement and involvement of our St. Thomas students. They made a great impression, too-- here is what P.S. Ruckman had to say:

Speaking of compelling, I have to say this, as a teacher and husband to a top-notch lawyer: I made it a point to talk to as many St. Thomas School of Law students as I could, not about myself, or my work, but about them. I asked them what year they were in, where they were from, what they liked / did not like about law school, was it everything they expected it to be, where do they want to be in the future, etc. I talked to several tables of students before the presentation, several between breaks and others going to and from the campus.

Every single student I met was not just polite, but clearly welcoming, friendly, articulate and altogether impressive. They seemed focused, ambitious, intellectually curious, and a wide world of potential just seemed to surround each and every single one of them. I haven't met so many impressive students in one place in many, many years. It was great to meet them, and an encouragement as well. Yes, it is good for a teacher to see that kind of thing every now and then.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Haiku Friday: Choices, Choices!

When I was in about 7th grade, we watched an educational film called "Choices!" It was about sex, or crime, or drugs, or maybe all three-- i don't really remember, and they all kind of run together anyways when you are 12. It had a little song that still haunts me, that went like this (and which was NOT the song of the same name in the video above):

Choices, choices!
Good ones, bad ones!
Gotta make those... choices!

Of course, the point of the movie was totally true-- we do make choices and live with them, though often we like to pretend that we didn't make a choice at all.

So, let's haiku about that today-- a choice you or someone else has made, big or small, and the consequences. Here is an example:

I did choose the law
Over being a writer...
Or that's what I thought.

The winner gets their bio here on Monday-- just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables. This should be fun!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday II: Platforms vs. Principle

Yesterday I was driving along, trying to figure out the coherence between these planks of the Republican platform, all of which a politician like Scott Walker embraces:

1) Smaller government
2) Bigger military
3) Eliminate debt
4) Lower taxes
5) Pro-life
6) Pro-capital punishment
7) Anti-Gay marriage

What a mish-mash! A smaller government conflicts with a big military and prohibitions on gay marriage and abortion. The idea of lower taxes conflicts with limiting debt. Being for capital punishment certainly doesn't mesh with a distrust of government (we trust it to kill citizens?), or with a pro-life position (even a position of protecting innocent life, given the number of people taken off death row as innocent).

So how does someone hold these contradictory positions together? I suspect in this way: By simply accepting and supporting those positions that various Republican consitutiencies want, despite the inconsistencies. There is no principle that binds them all, or even most of them, together, as they are driven by the expediencies of coalition.

The same, of course, is true of Democrats. Consider these positions which are all part of Democratic orthodoxy:

1) Environmental protection
2) Union and other jobs for the working class
3) Expanding health care coverage
4) Pro-choice and pro-gay marriage
5) Shifting tax burden to the wealthy
6) Create a more diverse, inclusive society
7) Rely on technology to solve problems

The biggest problem with this bundle is that it is simply impossible to do all that without bankrupting the country. Further, if you protect the environment, you restrict the industries that most often provide good jobs to those in the working class. Relying on technology to solve problems is hindered when you tax the wealthy people with those skills, and tends to cut out minority groups who do not have access to educational opportunities.

As a nation, we yearn for a meaningful articulation of principle-- which is what we got from Abraham Lincoln, from FDR, from JFK, from Martin Luther King, and from Ronald Reagan. Perhaps the cause of our political disillusionment today is that the two political parties have utterly failed to start from principle, and work from there towards popularity. Instead, they try to achieve a majority by annexing interest groups with little in common, a project that is anathema to what we long for: a strong moral voice that settles our fears and offers hope.


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Scott Walker Recall

In 2010, Scott Walker was elected the governor of Wisconsin with 52% of the vote. However, his efforts to overhaul the state's finances made him highly controversial, and on June 5 the state will hold a recall election. If he is recalled, he will only be the third governor in the nation's history to suffer that fate.

Here's the thing: Walker, during the campaign, promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term by cutting taxes and the pay of public employee union members. Still waiting on those jobs (it was an unrealistic goal), but he did do the things that he said regarding taxes and the unions. In addition, he has tried to eliminate much of the collective bargaining power of the public unions, and that is primarily what has made some people angry.

Walker is a career politician-- he started his run in elective office at age 22, not long after dropping out of Marquette University.

What do you think? Recall Walker?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012



Yesterday, my plan was to hand out evaluations for criminal law. I had them all ready. There were pencils in the room. Nearly all the students were there.

But then, I didn't. I didn't want to give up a minute of talking about criminal law.

I love that about what I get to do.

Here is an absolute truth: Before I go into the room to teach, I feel nervous. I'm not an extrovert by nature, so I kind of have to force myself in through the door, and luckily at the start there is some fussing around with the powerpoint and so forth. I put up the reading for the next day, and everyone dutifully copies it down.

Then there is this moment. I look up, and there everyone is-- the alert ones, the sleepy ones, the crabby ones, the happy ones-- I can see all that from the front (something I did not realize as a student). That's when the lights come up, and after that I don't wan to stop.

What a great job...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


New at the Huffington Post!

I did a little piece on "The Five Cardinal Sins of Progressive Activists" that just popped up at HuffPo-- check it out!


The Link

Yesterday's CNN piece now has over 2300 comments-- most of them from people on the right who are pretty vehement in their disagreement with us.

Interestingly, my last piece on CNN, Changes in Medicine Should Prompt New Limits on Abortion, resulted in over 1100 comments-- most of them from people on the left who were equally vehement in their disagreement with me.

Now that I have alienated pretty much everyone, I'd like to point out the principle that links these two positions.

I don't believe that government should limit people's freedoms unless there is a genuinely compelling reason to do so. Let's not lie about it, either: Limits on abortion or guns are limits on personal freedoms. The compelling reason to impose those limits (at least the reasonable ones I would suggest) is the protection of innocent human life. Yes, I do believe that late-term abortions end a human life.

I also believe that there are far more stories like this one, or other gun accidents and murders, than there are reports of legitimate uses of handguns in self-defense. Don't believe me? Go to a local news site from your town (like Look at the news archives, and get out a pad of paper. Divide the paper into two halves-- one half for stories where a handgun was used in a murder or assault or accident, and the other half for stories about successful uses of a handgun in self-defense (and yes, they do get reported). See what you find.

Government should limit itself to essential tasks, but the protection of innocent life is one such task.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Just up at CNN!

At the top of the opinion page (for the moment) is our article on the Trayvon Martin case.

My co-author, Jeanne Bishop, was on C-SPAN today talking about guns... you can see her at this C-SPAN link, starting at about 18:50.


Haiku Winner: RR!

First of all, I want to recognize how much I love Renee's entries every week. They are rich with meaning and wordplay. Even with a topic like bad restaurants, she can spin some gold... but she had some strong competition this week.

Bob's made me laugh out loud:

Only got sick twice:
And both times in a Dennys
Dude! I was Grand Slammed!

RR's was pretty awesome, too:

Breaded mystery;
what is inside matters not.
Battered by Long John.

So, what do we know about RR (besides the fact that he is one "L" short of being "RRL")?

The rumors are that he is a child of the great plains, one of those large, rectangular states where beef comes from. Despite growing up in such surroundings, he was fascinated by the sea and was obsessed with pirate stories as a child. They appealed to his sense of adventure, his longing for travel, and his deep love of fish sticks, which he imagined to be a staple food on the high seas.

Sadly, though, his real-life exposure to maritime life was limited to the Long John Silver's restaurant in his flat, landlocked town. There, even the familiar corn that was grown all around him was exotic, taking the pirate form of a "coblette." Whenever he could, he sat happily gobbling down butterfly shrimp and Krab Kobbler at Long John's.

Eventually, he gained enough weight this way that he won a football scholarship to a far-off school. This opportunity served as his springboard to many other successes, but he never forgot the pirate who started it all.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Sunday Reflection: The Prayer

I'll confess that I am uncomfortable with public prayer. I understand the importance of communal worship, certainly, it's just that my talents don't include leading prayer. It feels deeply personal to me, the practice of prayer, and I really struggle with doing that before others. I'm glad that many other people have that strength.

That said, when Rob Vischer asked me this week to say the prayer before Friday's lunch for admitted students at St. Thomas, I said "yes" immediately. Pretty much, I take on any reasonable task at St. Thomas, since I believe in the place so much.

Here is the prayer I offered:

Dear Lord, thank you for this meal and these people. As we come together as a community, let us remember those ambitions that you urge on us:

To have a blessed impatience with injustice.
To show humility in our work.
To have a passion for our vocations, and
To live out a transcendent patience within this place, one to the other.

With love for you and our neighbor,

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Law Schooled!

There is a new blog by students (not my students, but law students nonetheless) on innovation and reform within the world of law school. Law Schooled covers some of the issues Doug Berman and I have discussed on Law School Innovation, but from a new angle-- and an important one. I like it, and not just because one of their first posts was a reflection on a few of my screeds against rankings.

I hope they keep up the good work! One truth of teaching law school is that there are many moments that the students are able to do something better than we teachers, if we give them that opportunity and the smallest bit of encouragement.

While you are at it, also check out Razorite Desiree's most excellent Green Momster blog. It's not only enviro-tastic, but it includes a photo of Desiree herself as both PFD Panda and Woodsy the Owl.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Haiku Friday: The Worst Restaurant in the World!

[Check out some more terrible restaurant names here]

I've been to some pretty bad restaurants-- the place with the heavily bandaged waitress, the "square fish" cafe, Hardees. Let's blog about bad restaurants today!

Here is mine:

The portions were small,
And the food was all awful;
Why did I go back?

Now it is your turn! Just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and the winner gets their biography here on Monday!

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: Universal Health Care

I've been paying attention to the debate over health care, and I am coming to the conclusion that the best option may be a single-payer system, given that the government will be heavily involved in health care anyways, it seems the most economical system, and it is very popular in places where they have it (which is basically the rest of the industrialized Western world).

I have an open mind, though, and a disposition generally against enlarging the federal government. What is the primary problem with this model?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Something I have been wondering...

Why is it that football games keep going in the rain, and baseball games don't?


Coming up!

April is shaping up to be a busy month. Here is what I have on the docket:

1) For months now, the Law Journal at St. Thomas has been putting together a symposium on clemency, which will be held on Friday, April 20. It really is going to be a stellar line-up. It is open to all (if you register), and you can get more info here. I will be moderating the morning and afternoon sessions. Here is the plan:

8:45 a.m. Welcome
Marc Spooner, Editor-in-Chief, St. Thomas Law Journal

8:45 a.m. Commutations: Past and Present

P.S. Ruckman,
Jeffrey Crouch, American University
David Zlotnick, Roger Williams University School of Law
Cecelia Klingele, University of Wisconsin School of Law
Margaret Colgate Love, and Private Practice

11:00 a.m.
Keynote Address “Pardons and Commutations: Observations from the Front Lines”
Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Former Governor and Congressman of Maryland

12:30 p.m.
Hot Topics, Cool Talks “Commutation as Negation of a Sentence”

Judge Richard Sullivan , U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
Marc DeGirolami, St. John’s University School of Law

1:45 p.m.
Imagining Strategic Clemency

Dafna Linzer,
Doug Berman, The Ohio State University, Michael E. Moritz College of Law
Steve Chanenson, Villanova Law School
Dan Kobil, Capital University School of Law

3:45 p.m.
One Commutation: Three Perspectives

Judge David S. Doty, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
Judge Denise D. Reilly, Minnesota District Court Judge and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the State of Minnesota
Serena Nunn, Recipient of a Sentence Commutation

5:00 p.m. Concluding Remarks

2) Next up, on Wednesday, April 25, the LuAnn Dummer Center for Women at St. Thomas is sponsoring a lecture of mine over on the St. Paul Campus on civil discourse about the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota.

3) Finally, on Sunday, April 29, I will be giving the Richard Byrd Chair in Preaching sermon at St. Martin's-By-The-Lake Episcopal Church, and the 8:30 and 10:30 services, which are open to all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


A hard road for good people

In Waco, there is another difficult story. Tanner Underwood, son of my Baylor colleague Jim Underwood and his wife Carol, was in a terrible car accident on March 23, and has remained in a coma since that time. Here is the description from the CaringBridge site:

Carol, Travis, and Tanner Underwood were in a serious car accident on I-35 Friday, March 23. Carol and Travis had minor cuts and bruises, but Tanner was flown to Scott and White in Temple to treat head injuries. He has been sedated in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where doctors are monitoring the swelling in his brain and brain activity. Please continue praying for the family. We are asking God to heal him, and trust in His goodness and love for us.

Tanner is a wonderful kid-- full of life, smart, and surprising in the best way. It is unknown right now what his injuries are; but the doctors seem to hold open the chance of a full recovery. Still, it is hard to imagine the pain and doubt his parents must be feeling.

If you are someone who prays, pray for Tanner's recovery. If you are someone who hopes, then hope for the same.

Monday, April 09, 2012


Haiku winners!

Wow! Friday brought out so much talent. I spent a while savoring Renee's haikus, trying to figure out who she was describing. I was deeply moved, too, by Alice Baird's poem about her daughter, Katherine Darmer:

Beautiful daughter,
Vibrant, vital, passionate.
Miss you more each day.

Evocative, too, was Seraphim's entry:

Smart, funny Carrie
Tough, passionate RRL
Deep thinker Craig A

Renee, eloquent
New Christine, kind, luminous
Wisest of all: Dad.

And what are seraphim? Here is what I found intriguing about this highest order of angels:

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae offers a description of the nature of seraphs:

"The name 'Seraphim' does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardor or fire. Hence Dionysius (Coel. Hier. vii) expounds the name 'Seraphim' according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. Now in fire we may consider three things.

"First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God.

"Secondly, the active force which is 'heat,' which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat.

"Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others."

The seraphim took on a mystic role in Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487), the epitome of Renaissance humanism. Pico took the fiery Seraphim—"they burn with the fire of charity"—as the highest models of human aspiration: "impatient of any second place, let us emulate dignity and glory. And, if we will it, we shall be inferior to them in nothing", the young Pico announced, in the first flush of optimistic confidence in the human capacity that is the coinage of the Renaissance. "In the light of intelligence, meditating upon the Creator in His work, and the work in its Creator, we shall be resplendent with the light of the Cherubim. If we burn with love for the Creator only, his consuming fire will quickly transform us into the flaming likeness of the Seraphim."

Sunday, April 08, 2012


Sunday Reflection: Easter Walk

[Click on the picture to enlarge it]

Sometimes, the Lake is flat and still and cold, and still it is Easter.

When I was a kid in Grosse Pointe, one of our family traditions on Easter Sunday was to take a walk along the lake. For those of you that don't know the place, Grosse Pointe is defined by Lake St. Clair, a mile-wide glaciated sea that divides the United States from Canada. The shoreline is starkly beautiful, and perfectly suited for a walk.

That walk, though, was very different from one year to the next. Because Easter moves so much on the calendar, and falls at a time that the weather in Michigan is highly variable, you could be walking in a snowstorm one year and a gorgeous warm spring day the next. Regardless, we would set out to walk by the water. If the weather was brutal, we would suit up in coats, hats, scarves, mittens, and all the other clothes that had sustained us since Christmas. Spring was still a vague promise. If the flowers were bursting from the ground and the trees, and the warm spring breeze had arrived, we would run outside in our t-shirts, happy to feel the sun on our skin. The promise was fulfilled in all that surrounded us.

Weather aside, that's how Easter, the resurrected Christ, works. It comes to us in all different conditions, in the storm and the sun, and we have to walk out into it regardless. Last year was marked by a personal resurrection of sorts, a rebirth of my soul and spirit. This year, there is a chill-- there has been too much death.

Yet, Easter is there, in the storm and snow. We don't choose it; we do not bid this rebirth into being, and it is not a miracle of our hands. We need only to see it, to open our jammed-shut eyes, and today I will.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


Don't blame Steve!


What Bernard Rapoport Gave Me

On Thursday of this week, Bernard Rapoport died at the age of 94. I knew him, though not until I moved to Waco-- we had dinner together three times, and lunch once. Beyond those limited contacts, I got to know many of his closest friends, and their love for him was palpable.

Many of the people who know me have heard of him through a story I often told, of two rich men in Waco in 2002. One lived in a mansion and often seemed to want to impress people with his wealth and power. The other lived in a humble bungalow and seemed very busy giving away what he had. The irony was that the first was Waco's best-known Baptist, and the second was a non-Christian in the midst of the Bible Belt. Or, perhaps, it wasn't ironic at all. Christians don't have a lock (or even, at times, a firm grasp) on moral action.

That second person was Bernard Rapoport. I admired him tremendously, and he gave me many gifts. One was the challenge to see the good hearts of those who don't share my belief in God. Another was his son.

Ronald Rapoport was my mentor and favorite professor at William and Mary. He urged me to go to law school and to pursue law as a vocation, and he wrote the recommendation that got me into the school that fit me. That changed my life, and the traits that informed Ron Rapoport's actions-- a deep respect for education, a passion for connecting people, striking intelligence, and a genuine warmth-- came from his parents.

Last fall, I met Bill Nesbit and another friend for lunch, and B. Rapoport joined us. He was full of life, and we spent much of the lunch laughing. Towards the end, end he looked each of us in the eye and asked a question which cut to the core of our existence. There was, suddenly, a shocking stillness in that room. It is not my place to reveal what that question was, and I will not do so here. Each of us, in turn, answered solemnly, and sometimes with surprising vulnerability. It was a singular moment in my adult life, one I will always remember.

He was, in the end, a man who asked the right, hard questions: Of me, of our leaders, of our society. There is probably no greater use of a lifetime, and no better use for one's fortune.

Friday, April 06, 2012


Haiku Friday: Your Favorite Razorite!

What a week it has been on the Razor! It has reminded me how fond I am of some of the people I have gotten to know here. OsoGrande provided a graceful response to his haiku win, Bob Darden appreciated his birthday, RRL and Marta got kind of swoony over one another, and the Waco Farmer was willing to engage in a worthwhile exchange with me yesterday (and, as usual, I learned something).

So... let's haiku this week about some of the people who come on here! Christine, New Christine, Marta, RRL, Renee, Megan Willome, Bob, OsoGrande, Waco Farmer, the Spanish Medievalist, Renee, MMM, Carrie Willard, Susan Stabile, Seraphim, Woody, IPLawGuy, Jessica, Jill Scoggins, S, Ang, Justin T., Tydwbleach, CTL, my Dad, Scott Davis, DiadelKendall, Ginger Hunter, Lane, Swissgirl, Kendall, GED3, Lovely Bones, Dallas ADA, and the many others who have been here-- all are fair game.

Who do you miss? Who do you love? Who would you really like to meet? This is the week to reach out.

Here is mine:

Favorite Razorite?
I'll admit I'm intrigued
By Anonymous.

Now it is your turn! Just make it 5 syllables/7/5 or so, and the winner gets their bio right here on Monday.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Political Mayhem Thursday: What Is Romney's Issue?

Ok, gang, it looks like Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Though it would be stretch to say that Republicans are excited about this prospect, I do think there is the chance he will shake the Etch-A-Sketch and turn out to be a pretty good general election candidate.

Here's the tough part. Given that the economy is improving, and that to moderate voters the call of "Obama is a horrible, horrible socialist!" doesn't seem to work so well, what will Romney's issue be?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


The Real Michigan

Bob sent this over, and I feel compelled to share... click to enlarge it:


This year's winner of the C. Montgomery Burns Award...

... for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence has to be Kim Mulkey, right? She really was the first piece of Baylor's turnaround in sports, and her second national championship (80-61 over Notre Dame last night) was only one indicator of the good she has done on that campus.

Way to go Lady Bears!

[I do realize that recognizing actual achievement like Kim Mulkey's may not be within the spirit of the original C. Montgomery Burns Award, but I just really like the phrase "Outstanding achievement in the field of excellence" and think it fits here....]

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


Pink Slime and truth

I don't think "pink slime" is necessarily dangerous, or even the worst thing that goes into the typical hamburger. I do think it is pretty gross, though, and I'm here to applaud Jamie Oliver for telling the truth about its role in our food.

Can we live with "pink slime?" Sure, and we have for a while. Still, I think the more information we have about our food, the better, and it is an admirable thing to tell the truth about it.

Monday, April 02, 2012


Haiku Winner: OsoGrande and the Baylor Line

For Bob Darden's birthday, OsoGrande submitted this haiku, revealing a rich understanding of Baylor's essence:

Baird McGee Moore
McHam Packard Miller and
Darden, Baylor's Line

In short, OsoGrande listed seven of the outstanding teachers from the last 50 years of Baylor history. One, of course, is Bob Darden. The others are just as illustrious, and it is their biographies that I will provide today. I love the imagery he creates-- that the essence of the "Baylor Line" that is drawn through the decades is nothing less than wonderful teachers who truly love their students and their work.

Bob Baird, of course, is the father of Katherine Baird Darmer, whom we remembered on Saturday in Waco, and who remains one of the great figures of Baylor's great legacy of teaching. He was at his best on Saturday, in the painful role of talking about his departed daughter. He was strong and passionate and above all else, honest. I will remember that moment always.

From 1966 to 2006, Dr. Daniel McGee taught Ethics at Baylor, influencing several generations of students. One of them those students (whom I admire very much), Lyndon Olson, endowed a lecture series in his honor.

Rachel Moore was one of the best-loved literature teachers ever at Baylor-- a school which has always boasted excellent teachers in that area. She won the Collins award in 1999 (as have Bob Darden and others listed here), which is probably the highest honor a Baylor teacher can receive from her students. W. Winifred Moore was a legend as pastor of Amarillo First Baptist Church from 1959-1989, and was the founder of the Center for Ministry Effectiveness at Baylor. A firm believer in traditional Baptist values, Moore had a profound effect on many of the Baptist ministers working in Texas today.

David McHam began teaching journalism at Baylor in 1961, and trained many of the significant writers in Texas (including Bob Darden). In 1994, he was named the Most Outstanding journalism professor in the nation.

Robert Packard taught physics at Baylor for 50 years, until 2002. He was beloved by his students for his knowledge and teaching style. His personality in the classroom made scientists out of many who did not know they had that interest.

Of the beloved teachers at Baylor, the greatest may have been English professor Ann Miller. She was named Outstanding Professor 12 times, and while I taught at Baylor I often heard people speak of her with true reverence for her teaching ability.

Certainly, if the form had allowed, there would have been more names, as well-- Baylor has had a wonderful legacy of masterful teaching. OsoGrande was right to put Bob Darden among those names.

Sunday, April 01, 2012


Sunday Reflection: On an untimely death

Here is what I said at yesterday's service in Waco for Mary Katherine Baird Darmer:

In my office, there is a small shelf of my most precious possessions. It is a line of battered old books, treasured like diamonds. There is a taped-up, scribbled-over Bible, and Randall O’Brien’s necessary book on forgiveness, Buddy Shurden’s “Four Fragile Freedoms,” and then one book that I keep because it contains a single sentence; a sentence fragment, really.

That sentence fragment was written by Bob Baird, as he described his ambition for Baylor. It is this: “A confident engagement with God’s diverse world.”

“A confident engagement with God’s diverse world.”

That—a confident engagement with God’s diverse world—is exactly what Bob and Alice Baird, this church, this town, Princeton University, Columbia Law School, and the harrowing years of judgment as a prosecutor gave the world in the person of Mary Katherine Baird Darmer. It was a life that was singular, significant, memorable, genuine, striking, and bold. Above all else, it mattered.

In the legal academy, everyone is smart, and many people went to places like Princeton and Columbia. Yet, in that world, my world, Mary Katherine Baird Darmer stood out. I will describe three traits among many that made her different.

First, she listened. If you caught her in the kitchen, after a meal, and told her an idea as she leaned against a counter, she would be quiet and still. She might cross her arms and look down, doing nothing other than hearing you. Sometimes, she would nod, and her hair would bounce, and then, when you were done, she would move. Her hand would come out, palm forward, and she would start to speak, and she would bring that fierce intelligence to bear on what you had said, and she would make your idea better. There is a selflessness, a patience, in that kind of listening that is too rare.

Second, she had that combination of intellect and faith that comes from from a family like hers, from an academic community of faith like this. It was an intellect that could, at times, challenge or affirm those on the right or the left, because there was an internal compass of truth that did not always lead her to what was expected or typical or even towards what was familiar.

Finally, and you all know this, she was unfussy and bold in a field that too often is mucky and opaque. She spoke with clear-eyed passion and conviction that rose from a heart for justice, a heart nurtured in this place, by so many of you who are here today. It was with that heart, that voice, that she challenged those who would tell gay men and lesbians that there is no love for them, on Earth or in heaven. Nor was her clear, strong voice limited to any one area. When our nation took up torture, she began an essay by saying this: “…Waterboarding is torture, and torture is illegal and wrong.”

She was unafraid to use a prophetic voice; that is because you, many of you here today, were not afraid of a prophetic voice when she was a girl. She was a listener, and she no doubt heard prophetic voices among her family and friends as you sat after dinner, talking about what matters. That voice of hers came from someplace, and this community of people, of old friends, is that place.

When will I miss her?

I will miss her when I have an idea that is almost right, when I need that “confident engagement with God’s diverse world.” That will be often, and always, and that hole will remain, and she will be remembered; she will be remembered.

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