Thursday, February 28, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: Come on, Sequester!

Plane traffic snarled! Beef uninspected! ATM machines spewing cash into the streets! Cats living with dogs! The hyperbole over the sequester is getting pretty intense. The sequester, of course, is a set of automatic federal spending cuts if Congress does not take proactive measures by tomorrow.

There is a part of me that would love to see the sequester kick in, and here is why: This is probably our best shot at getting some serious cuts to the defense budget (8%). I've expressed here before that any responsible cuts need to address both entitlements and defense, and I fear that defense will end up being exempted.

Where are the Razorites on this? Need we fear the sequester?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Songs it would be OK to never hear again...

Last weekend, I went skiing in Wisconsin with (among others) my sister Kathy and IPLawGuy (pictured above). It was a great trip.

However, IPLawGuy spent the entire trip singing "Sky Pilot" at the top of his lungs, particularly on the chair lift. It was fun but eventually a little disconcerting...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Just Up at HuffPo...

Is my new piece on firearms, Guns and Kittens. This is part of what I will be talking about on Thursday night at 7 pm at the 331 Club here in Minneapolis.

Here's one thing I love: HuffPo listed the keywords for the piece as "Animals, Cute Animals, Gun Control, Arizona Citizens Defense League, Crazy Cat Ladies, Guns, Kittens, Pet Regulation, Politics News."


Caption contest!

Who can come up with the best explanation for this photo of IPLawGuy at work?

Monday, February 25, 2013


Ex-love and haiku

Hey, what's the deal with Geoffrey and his ex??? Check out this exchange from haiku Friday:

Geoffrey Mustang Boy said...
Pierre,he eez gon...
Gon' like scallops in Coquilles St.Jacques bless me for I 'ave sin!

I 'ave eaten all
Of your deen-aire and mine too...
Je regret.Keez me!

Our toes meet under
Ze checkaired tablecloth...Merde!

You are not the only one who knows a foreign language,Mustang Sally!

Mustang's Former Sally said...
Oh,give me a break
Geoffrey! Your French is for the
Feelthy pigeons! Go!

By the way,I remember the stink you raised in Pierre's Bistro (which is no more,probably because of the little incident you recall. When the police arrived to arrest you for taking a swing at Pierre for running out of napkins,they discovered mold on the Mousse au Chocolat. I blame you personally)over that missing napkin. You always lost your napkin at dinner,because it slid off of those sleasy sharkskin slacks you used to wear. Hit the road,Jack,er Geoffrey!

What interesting lives these people live!

Meanwhile, I really loved this haiku by Antonia Promessa:

Frescoes, I believe
We're in Tuscany tonight,
Pink roses,she lifts her veil.

Flickering candles, I order
Scallopine,the lemon
Scent arrives.Mangia.

Perhaps we will walk
Through the villa's gardens after.
A nightingale sings.

Her name? Arezzo,
Violins you from moment one.
Stop! Pasta and kisses.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Sunday Reflection: The Cheerleader

It's Lent. In the past few years, Lent for me has become deep and pure and real; something it never was before. I can't wholly explain it. It's not just being busy with "Lent-y" things, though I am. For example, here is some of what I am doing this Lent (all these events are open to the public):

Thursday, Feb. 28: Talk at Drinking Liberally, 7 pm, 331 Club, Minneapolis

Sunday, March 3: Talk at St. Stephens Episcopal, Edina, 10 AM

Sunday, March 17: Sermon at Wren Chapel, College of William and Mary, 11 AM

Tuesday, March 26: Trial of Jesus, St. John's Episcopal, Boulder, Colorado

Thursday, March 28: Trial of Jesus, First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas

Here's the thing: I'm confident that there will be some remarkable moment in all of this. I just don't know what it will be, or when. That's because I've learned that Lent is a Holy Spirit time, where we engage with a part of God that is mysterious and larger than us, the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would be with us once he was gone.

This patience to wait and see, expectantly, is something I have learned late in life. Too often, I have tried to create meaning through force of will, the way I try to create an article or a change in the law, but the Holy Spirit doesn't work like that.

In a much lesser but analogous way, it's similar to the peace I have made with baseball. Over the course of my life, I have tried to understand everything about my favorite team, swung over to apathy, and traversed everything in between, yet baseball is still a mystery. I enjoy it though, and here is why: I have learned to wait and watch for The Moment-- that one moment that will distinguish that game from all of the others in what is by its nature a ponderous and nuanced sport. Sometimes it will be something on the field, or in the stands, even outside the stadium altogether.

A year or so ago, I was at a Twins game. They were, and are, terrible at baseball. They have lost almost 100 games each of the past few years, and it is looking pretty grim for 2013. Still, that night, something happened-- they won on a walk-off homer by a .168 hitter. That little miracle, though, wasn't The Moment. In fact, The Moment came about three seconds later.

In my row of the stands was a woman in her 40's who had been watching the game with casual interest. When the baseball went over the wall she was transformed. She leapt to her feet, put her two hands directly over her head in fists turned perpendicular to the field, and lifted her right leg, so her knee was bent and the right foot was carefully set next to her left knee. She leaned back, smiled broadly and yelled. It was a cheerleader pose, no doubt carefully learned at a dusty hot summer camp 30-some years before, and in that burst of elation it had come out, fully formed and perfect. That was it; The Moment.

So it will be, though greater in meaning and import, in this time before Easter, and I will wait for it with an open heart and hard work. I hope all of you can come share some of it with me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Wednesday, Washington DC

All I will say is this: If you are going to talk sentencing policy, this is a pretty amazing group... and that is all I will say.

Left to Right:

Hilary Shelton, NAACP
Jeffrey Robinson, NAACP
Jasmine Tyler, DPA
Lisa Rich, Tex. Wes.
Nkechi Taifa, Open Society
Jesslyn McCurdy, ACLU
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conf. on Civil Rights
Laura Murphy, ACLU
Nikki Thompson, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
Marc Mauer, Sentencing Project

Friday, February 22, 2013


Haiku Friday: Favorite Restaurants

So, my birthday surprise was a visit from IPLawGuy, and tomorrow we will head down to the Wisconsin Dells to do some skiing. On the way, we will stop in Tomah, Wisconsin to dine at Mr. Ed's TeePee Supper Club, pictured above. It's kind of a snowmobiler's paradise. Plus, they have food.

So, what's your favorite restaurant? Tell me about it in haiku! Here, I will go first:

IPLawGuy eats
Fried stuff and garbage and beef
He'll love Mr. Ed's!

Now it is your turn... just make it good and fun and 5/7/5, and no one gets hurt.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Birthday Mayhem Thursday

Today I turn 50 years old. That's a big one.

In some ways I am torn by that. It seems impossibly old, somehow, and I'm not quite sure how this happened so fast. Still, I also am very happy to find myself where I am at this age.

The world has changed remarkably in the past 50 years. If I were to list the most significant world events in the last 50 years, these would be the top 3, in no particular order:

-- The Falling of the Berlin Wall

It is hard to imagine a better symbol for a political development. The fall of the Berlin wall was a tiny part in a large restructuring: The end of the cold war. When I was a child, we were taught to live in fear of nuclear war by a cartoon turtle who showed us how to "duck and cover" under our desk during a nuclear attack. It was both absurd and terrifying. What a different, and better, world it is now!

-- Racial Reconciliation

This has to be on the list, and I want it to wrap up both what has gotten better in the US (there is more to do) and remarkable developments abroad, such as the peaceful change in government in South Africa. What a different, and better, world it is now!

-- The Development of the Internet

The internet has knit together the world, brought down oppressive governments, freed information and knowledge from cost and censorship, and even made the Razor possible. What a different, and better, world it is now!

What would you add to this list?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013



Every few years or so, I take a month off of drinking any alcoholic beverages. It's not that I'm much of a drinker the rest of the time-- pretty much just wine with dinner-- but I think it's good to take an inventory of what the role of drinking is in your life.

During these periods, I'm always surprised that I notice the role of alcohol in society more. I see the ads everywhere, notice all the places it is sold, and am more aware of when other people around me are drinking. It's like a part of life that is usually in the background pops out.

Has anyone else tried this, with a similar result?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


The value of land

Going to Silicon Valley last week was shocking in many ways. As much as anything, I was taken aback by the home prices there. In the town of Atherton, for example, the average home price is around $3 million. Crikeys! It is not that different in surrounding communities.

How can people afford to live there?

Monday, February 18, 2013



There were some wonderful haikus last week on the subject of college. Like Renee's:

Mount Holyoke called
From pictures of chic girls
But Dad held purse strings.

I want to see those pictures of the chic girls... I'm imagining this kind of austere New Enland Sleek.

I also went bonkers for this one from CTL, just for the truthiness of it:

Get into college
With least possible effort?
Baylor had FastApp!

Received acceptance
By text message, I knew it
Was the place for me!

It is, by the way, true about the FastApp. Apparently, you don't even have to fill the whole thing out yourself. A few key stats and... Hello, Baylor! (or not).

I've spent the past few days at Stanford, which is a stunningly beautiful place. It contrasts with the other Western school I spoke at this month, the University of Arizona, in some fascinating ways-- even though it is fairly compact and in a built-up area, the Stanford campus just doesn't seem as urban.

I've been pondering recently what the central purpose of college (undergraduate school, not law school) should be. Is it training, direct or indirect, for work, or is it something broader and deeper?

For me, the experience I had at William and Mary informed almost every aspect of my life-- work, yes (I learned to be a decent writer there), but other areas, as well. My social life certainly is different because of what I learned there; I'm an introvert, and learned the value of forcing myself out of my comfort zone now and then.

Somehow, I want it to be something more than just job training. I want it to be person-building, if that makes sense, and thinking about it kind of makes me want to teach undergrads, at least a little.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Sunday Reflection: "Ask, and you shall receive."

When I was very young, maybe in first grade, my mom took me to a science fair held at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church (pictured above). It was fascinating to me, and nothing caught my attention more than a box of rocks that had come from a volcano. They were black, light, and rough to the touch. I didn't play with them or anything-- just held it and marveled. They were for sale for 20 cents each, and my mom asked if I wanted one. I said no, I didn't.

That answer wasn't true at all.

we were halfway back to our house when my mom heard me crying in the back seat. I really wanted that rock.

Poor Mom! She had offered to get me a rock, but I had said no, because I thought she didn't really want to spend the money. I not only didn't ask for what I wanted, but I didn't accept it when offered... and instead of making my mom happy with my sacrifice, I left her confused and probably a little frustrated.

I still do that, sometimes, and it still doesn't work. I'm a slow learner.

My problem with "ask and you shall receive" is it is sometimes used to reverse the role of God and Man; that is, it makes us expect God to be our servant. We ask him for something, and he hops right to it! That is inconsistent with much of the rest of Christianity, and with the nature of God, however conceived, at a very basic level.

But, maybe, the better lesson is that if we want to receive, we do need to ask? It might be that the very act of stating an expectation will make us rethink it...

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Me and the Particles...

So, Stanford has put me up for the night on the grounds of... their particle accelerator. The first tip-off was the unusually formal guard gate, and maybe the fact that my lodging seems to be under the control of the department of energy...

It's a beautiful place, though, and you really have to love the fact that the pictures here are all of... well, particles colliding. Really.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Haiku Friday: Choosing your college

A few days ago, I told the story of how I chose to go to William and Mary. Most, but not all Razorites have a similar story; for those of you who didn't go to college (often a decent choice) or haven't yet had the chance (because, say, you are in 9th grade), go free-form and haiku about what you did when you left high school, or where you hope to go.

Here is mine:

Lemon drops did it;
Smiths fed them to me for years!
Then I was ready.

Now, it's your turn! Just make it 5 syllables/7/5, and write only in English, Spanish, French, or Romanian.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: SOTU

So, what did you think of the President's State of the Union speech on Tuesday?

I have to say, he really got a wonderful groove at the end there...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Bill and Jane Smith

An anonymous commenter yesterday asked for me to explain how it is that I ended up at William and Mary for college. It's a great question, and the answer might surprise you.

I applied to a surprisingly small number of schools; in the end I was choosing between Duke, William and Mary, and Michigan. I was wait-listed at Harvard, and turned down by a few others. I applied to Duke because, through what must have been some kind of clerical error, I was recruited as an athlete (in cross country). William & Mary, well... I applied there because of Bill and Jane Smith.

They lived a few doors down from me on Colonial Road in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan (Christine lived the same distance away, in the other direction). Every day, I walked past their house on the way home from school, and sometimes would stop there for a lemon drop-- they kept a dish by the front door. Sometimes, the stop would be longer... legend has it that I would knock on their door, and demand a book. Then I would sit on their porch, read the book, finish it, then ask for another. Sometimes, as I read, Mrs. Smith would bring out an apple. What a mooch I was! They were always glad to see me. They are that kind of people.

Over time, the older Smith kids, one by one, headed off to go to the College of William and Mary, the alma mater of Bill and Jane. When my time came, they encouraged me to apply there, wrote a recommendation, and helped me at every step.

Still... many of my friends were going to Michigan, and Duke was a higher-rated school. I was torn. On the day I had to decide, I remember walking down Colonial Rd., back home after school. It was a dead end street with little traffic, so I liked to walk right in the middle of the road, where there was a slight ridge.

As I walked past the Smith's house, Mrs. Smith skipped out to see me. I looked at her, thought about the two of them, and how they were-- their warmth, their smarts, the songs they sang-- and realized I hoped to be like that someday. I told her I was going to go to William and Mary, and that is how I decided. I haven't regretted it.

They now live in Richmond, in a beautiful row house in the Fan, and I saw them there not long ago. Their daughter, Laurie Smith Dowdeswell, was visiting, so I got to talk to her, as well.

Last month, there was heartbreaking news. Laurie's daughter, the Smith's grand-daughter, Shana, had died at age 23. Shana was a talented actress and much beloved in her hometown of New York.

When I heard of her death, I was profoundly sad. The Smiths had already lost a son, Sandy, who taught me how to play tennis. Now they had lost a grandchild, Laurie had lost her daughter... I wondered if there was anything more difficult.

Life is built of all this, I suppose, but I long for the part where I sit on their porch, munch an apple, and wait for another book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A Question about New Jersey

New Jersey if a fascinating place in many ways, one of them being their somewhat bizarre prohibition on self-serve gas. Apparently, this stems from a 1949 law which sought to prevent people from spilling gas all over and making a mess.

New Jersey, isn't alone-- Oregon has the same law.

Now, here is the weird part: New Jersey also always seems to have lower gas prices than surrounding states. Since margins are thin in the gas biz, and you have at least double the labor costs, how can this be?

Any ideas?

Monday, February 11, 2013


Holler for Texas!

Wow! Great haikus last week. Loved 'em all.

I got a good email from an old friend last week, suggesting that maybe two days devoted to haiku every week might be too much-- and hinting that devoting Monday to the arts or sports or recipes might be a better idea. What do you all think?

At any rate, though, I do have to recommend Jill Scoggins' tip that everyone check out this list of reasons to love Texas.

I would add the following to that list:

-- The Hula Hut
-- The town of Alpine
-- Every stinkin'restaurant in the entire city of San Antonio
-- Boots
-- Robert and Mary Darden
-- Frozen Margaritas

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Sunday Reflection: Burned Over

I need to admit something.

I am wiped out. This Spring is a little too full, and I am losing airspeed. I fear that I am about to become the 787 Dreamliner of law professors.

There is no one to blame but myself; I signed up for all this. By "all this," here is part of what I mean:

-- I'm teaching nine credits this spring, over three classes. That includes a four-hour block for one fairly intensive class (criminal practice) on Fridays. That makes Friday a very long day.

-- This week, I also was one of the coordinators for a mock trial contest, so I had to be there on Thursday and Friday all afternoon and night, and then from 8-4 yesterday.

-- On top of that, I've got some serious scholarship work to do. This coming Friday, I am speaking at Stanford, on the topic of abortion. That won't be restful! Also, by Friday, I need to finish a book review for the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.

-- In the middle of all this, I decided to write an op-ed called "Guns and Kittens." It needs some more work.

-- Today, I am speaking for black history month at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, at the invitation of my friend and colleague Nekima Levy-Pounds.

-- A few days after the Stanford talk, I am going back to DC, to urge broader commutation on the crack cases I have worked on for years.

-- Then, the next day, the 21st, I turn 50. How did that happen? It feels very odd.

It's kind of like all of me is tired: My body, my mind, my soul.

But, I also know this. There will be a moment, tomorrow, in church, when there will be this glimpse of the Holy Spirit through the quiet, or in a child, or a question, or a song. Just a glimpse. But that is enough, really, enough to buoy me up, to set my feet and to feel joy. Life is good, all of it, and today, though I'm tired, my ears and my heart will be open.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


Ultrastorm Golgathor!

I think I can do a better job of making us storm names than the weather service, who decided to call this winter storm "Nemo." Really? Will the east coast next get slammed with Winter Storm Little Mermaid?

For those of you caught in the storm (IPLawGuy), here is some advice:

1) The longer you are driving, the more chance of an accident, so get to where you need to go as fast as you can. If you can get there in 10 minutes driving 80 or 20 minutes at 40, obviously you are better off being on the road for half the time.

2) Go the the store in the middle of the storm (following the above advice) and buy lots of bread and milk, even if you don't eat much of those things. After all, the storm may last two weeks or so, and in that time your tastes in food can change.

3) Be sure to allow your children outside unsupervised to play in the snow. It's soft, and therefore very safe.

4) Lighting a fire can make things cozy, even if you don't have a fireplace!

Above all, have FUN! We only get this kind of Ultrastorm two or three times a year!

Friday, February 08, 2013


Oh. Oh, my.

Just... oh, my.


Haiku Friday: Texas

Today, let's haiku about Texas.

Here is mine:

Dry and hot, all that
But, guess what? I'm coming back.
Austin, March two eight.

Now, you go! 5 syllables/7/5...

[And re Austin: It's true. On March 28 at 7 pm, we'll be doing the trial of Jesus at First Baptist Church in Austin. Two days before that, we'll be in Boulder, Colorado, at St. John's Episcopal-- and that production will feature out own IPLawGuy!]

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: Performance-Enhancing Drugs

The number of athletes, in a variety of sports, who have lost their place in history due to the use of performance enhancing drugs seems to grow every month. Most recently, Lance Armstrong admitted (after years of denials) that was using such drugs, and Ray Lewis fended off allegations he used a banned substance made from deer antlers.

Given that there is a constant struggle to define and contain the use of such drugs, should we even try? What harm is caused by their use? What should the limits be on steroids and other performance enhancers?

It's a tricky subject, but I know Razorites will have opinions...

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


On Ritual

Today at noon I'll be having yet another religious battle royal with Susan Stabile, this time with the addition of Chato Hazelbaker (details here). Our topic is going to be the role of ritual in faith.

I'm somewhat torn on this one. The role of ritual is one thing that has drawn me to the Episcopal church, but I have mixed feeling on that. I draw deep meaning and connection from the Eucharist, but too often ritual becomes rote-- unthinking repetition. I've raised this before relating to the recitation of creeds, but there is a broader problem as well. The Christian faith should challenge us, trouble our easy answers, and there is a tension between that imperative and the easy sameness that ritual can provide.

Come see the fireworks!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


The Letter Jacket

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a wonderful piece by my St. Thomas colleague, Lisa Schiltz. In it, she describes what sports have meant for her son with Down Syndrome:

Like every parent of a high school athlete, I know my son's sports activities are teaching him valuable lessons about teamwork and fitness. But because his disabilities make it hard for him to talk, I can only speculate about what he is thinking when he puts on that slight swagger that seems to come with his new letter jacket. Probably something like what most 17-year-old athletes think as they join the crowd of students wearing that same badge of belonging and accomplishment in the halls of Minnetonka High:

"Boy, am I looking cool today!"

In her Op-Ed, Lisa does something that is both hard and rare: She combines her own experience seamlessly with an argument on a policy debate. It is hard to do that without seeming self-centered or preachy (I have been guilty of both in some of my own writing), while still retaining a lived-out truth.

As with Jeanne Bishop's piece at CNN this past Sunday, though, I found some of the comments really disappointing. There is a mean-spiritedness to our discourse that confounds me. I suspect that the anonymity allowed by the internet has something to do with it; we tend to be more civil when our names and reputations are attached to what we say.

That said, I appreciate all the more the civility of people here on the Razor. It's remarkable that we can discuss hard topics without that edge of mean-spiritedness, and in large part it is that warm engagement that keeps me doing this.

Monday, February 04, 2013


Haiku Winner: Jessica!

Ok, there were lots of great haikus last week (among other wonderful writing by Razorites). For example, there were new voices, like this from Jo Anne Beaty:

Hats, scarves, coats, mittens
Wind, rain, snow by the North Sea
St. Andrews, Scotland

And this from Maddie:

Snow-drifts, shoulder-height;
Ice-hut village on the lake,
Me, child of the north.

And from Rivkelah:

Woke my son up early.
"Can I say a bad word, please?"
"Holy Crap, it snowed!"

Or Anonymous:

Asthmatic oldest
skis in subzero weather
Hello urgent care.

But the most significant haiku was from Jessica:

I was different then
When I wrote, twelve hours ago
Now I am a mom :)

Here's the scoop: Jessica and her groovy hubby Cody just found out that they are going to adopt a child, who will arrive later this month. They are going to be the fun parents at another table in the restaurant who you secretly wish were going to claim you, too...

Sunday, February 03, 2013


Sunday Reflection: In the Desert

Sorry for the late posting today, but it was a travel day, coming back from Tucson. Through a kind invitation from Hank Shea (pictured above in his current locale), I had the pleasure of giving three lectures at the University of Arizona-- one on commutations, one on the history of crack, and one on the tension between prosecutors and victim/witnesses. Then, earlier today, I got to speak to a room full of Episcopalians (and a couple of Catholics, too) at Grace/St. Paul church, on the topic of civil discourse. That invite came from Martha Whitaker, a friend from way way back.

Being in the desert always makes me think of Jesus. The terrain he walked (and they were always walking) was much more like Texas or Arizona than the lush, lake-dotted Minnesota that is my home. Walking in the desert, there is a sense of what it might be like to walk behind Jesus with the others, the dust rising beneath our feet, the landscape a winter palette of browns. There is a spareness and severity to the desert that insists on both attention to your surroundings and urges introspection-- how could one not ponder larger things, when the stars are so plentiful?

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Is RRL in prison?

Did anyone else worry when they saw this haiku posted by RRL yesterday?

Winter, in prison,
and the food was real good. Now
set me free warden.

It's very unusual for RRL to leave the realm of politics and write poetry in the first place. But this one... is it metaphor, or is he actually in prison?

And if he is in prison, who got his personal train car?

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