Monday, March 31, 2014


Mmmm, mmmm, haiku!

There were lots of great haiku last week on the subject of comics.  But Christine's actually taught me something new!

Turned to read them first
every morning a journey
damn the New York Times

There are no funnies
to be found, except Sunday
in Week in Review

Tried reading on-line
For Better or for Worse - sigh
Its just not the same

The Times Week in Review has comics?  Oh... I think she means political cartoons.  The NSFW haiku by Archie about Betty/Veronica was very nice, as well.

The one to spoke to me most directly, though, was the Medievalist's:

Going to Bloom County,
Was very therapeutic,
With penguin and all.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Sunday Reflection: More than you can bear...

I've often heard people say that "God won't lay on you more than you can bear."  I have a few issues with that.

The first is the assumption that God is ladling out tragedies to various people, measuring carefully to make sure everyone gets enough.  This doesn't comport at all with what I see around me.  Some people (myself included) largely avoid tragedy for much of their lives, while others suffer blow after blow.  To ascribe this to God with such certainty seems unnecessary.  God is much more than any of us, and we don't understand what he is doing much of the time-- that is in the nature of the God/man relationship.   It might be that God micromanages each event on earth, I suppose, but it also might be that he has allowed us to suffer unequally without his direction at each moment.  We don't know which it is, or if it is at some point in between.  The Bible is clear that God knows all that happens, but that does not mean that he directs each thing that happens.

My second problem is that it seems that sometimes a persons burdens are too much to bear.  They may claim that they are a "survivor," but often that means that they are not dead.  The emotional damage of tragedy has marked them, transformed them, into something much different than what might have been if their lives had proceeded without tumult and despair.

The older I get, the more comfortable I become with the answer of "I don't know," and that includes my answer to the question of "why does God allow tragedy?"

Saturday, March 29, 2014


For David Best….

David Best and I made a bet on the Wisconsin-Baylor NCAA game on Thursday night.  The deal was that the loser would have to write a haiku of praise to the opposing team.  And… Baylor lost, 69-52.

Here is my haiku of humility:

Oh those bold cheeseheads!
They look like (Eddie) Muenster
But they play gouda!

Friday, March 28, 2014


Haiku Friday: Comics!

Most of us grew up reading the comics, and most of us liked it.  Let's go there this week:  You can haiku about any cartoon you remember.

Here is mine:

Garfield is not good
But Garfield without Garfield...
Now you are talking!

Now it is your turn.  Use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Casinos didn't save us

I lived in Detroit when casinos were hailed as the savior of the city's economy.  Detroit would become a tourist destination, and money would be pumped into that desperate place.  It didn't work very well.  Hordes of tourists don't flock to Detroit.  Instead, people from Michigan (including Detroit) go there and lose their money.  Casinos were a sucker bet.

Here's the thing:  Gambling is pretty much for people who can't do math.  You can't both play and win, because the edge is with the house.  If you win, you have to stop, but people don't do that.  They stay and gamble some more and lose what they have won.  That's how it works when one side has an edge, however small-- in the end, the side with an edge will win unless the other side stops playing at precisely the right time. 

We humans don't do that very well; we are adverse to walking away when the winning is easy (or at least it feels that way).  We aren't always so great at calculating our odds, either.  Lots of people, including me, gave a relatively unknown company some personal information in order to play the "Billion Dollar Bracket" challenge.  In short, it offered one billion dollars to anyone who composed a perfect bracket prior to the 2014 NCAA tournament.  No one won.  The video above explains why.

The only way to win at a casino is to own it-- and you don't even have to be a master strategist to do that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Wait a minute… did they find that plane?

I've been out of touch with the world lately, and I'm kind of surprised there doesn't seem to be much news about the Malaysian airliner that went "missing."  What the heck happened?

Nosing around, I've discovered the following theories:

1)  Pilot sabotage (but why would they do that?)
2)  Mechanical failure
3)  Theft of the plane
4)  Sucked into a black hole

What's yours?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Good stuff from Alia Malek at Al-Jazeera America...

Al-Jazeera has unveiled a remarkable multi-platform analysis of federal crack sentencing issues- you can (and should) check it out here.

As part of that series, Alia Malek did some great digging around to produce one of the more complete analyses of commutation on the ground right now.  You can see that piece here.  Among other things, she worked hard to figure out what will happen next, something that many people (including me) couldn't help her with very much.

As I have mentioned here before, I've been impressed with the reporting that Al Jazeera has been doing, and I hope that it grows and thrives.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Gavin knows...

Huzzahs to Gavin, who penned this excellent haiku about March:

Young boy, March birthday
New ball glove, but look, oh no!
Still five feet of snow.

That's a picture and a story and a sad, sad truth!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Another hero

Last week, I wrote about the remarkable Kent McKeever, who is in the midst of doing something very brave and very public.  This week I want to write about another hero, who does work that quietly moves our country closer to what Kent seeks.

I first met Jeremy Haile in a policy meeting.  We often have found ourselves in the same places: in a conference room at a law firm or a meeting in the Old Executive Office Building.  The first time, though, I remember very well.  Jeremy came over and waited until I was done with my conversation.  He introduced himself; he had just started to work at the Sentencing Project with legendary analyst Marc Mauer.  He knew some things about what I was doing, and mentioned having read some of my work.  We started talking about Texas, which I had just left and which was his home.  After a few moments, he used the word "faith."  It was like a secret handshake.  He understood why I was doing this (and why Kent does too) because we share that.

He comes to this work from a slightly different background than I do.  He was in the Peace Corps, serving in Armenia, after finishing at Abilene Christian (a school that produced many of my favorite people).  Then he went to law school at George Washington before working for Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett for several years.  Now he works on the same federal sentencing issues I do, and I count on him.

The letter I wrote to the Washington Post was drafted at his suggestion:  He correctly figured that the article that spurred it would have struck me the same way it did him.

Jeremy works in the trenches of legal change.  He worries about bills being marked up, about vote counts, and about sponsors. He understands those things in a way that people like Kent and I don't.  In the end, it will be Jeremy that makes change happen in the specific, real, meaningful way that matters the most.  And he does it because it is what faith, our faith, compels.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


The Haircut

Yesterday I got a haircut (yeah, it's that time of year).  The haircut guy (there real should be a technical name for the person who does that) asked what I wanted.  I told him not too much off the back, but I needed to lose some of the weight off the sides.  "Oh, a hockey cut!" he said.

If you aren't from Minnesota, that might not make sense.  Here, there is such a thing as hockey hair.  In fact, after the state hockey tournament every year, there is even a video.  Here is the one from last year-- yeah, really, 2013, not 1977:

And if you want even more, here is the video from this year:

Friday, March 21, 2014


Haiku Friday: March and Events in March...

March is  a month like no other.  It's in-between seasons (most places, anyways), and the weather is unstable-- it might snow, or it might be hot.  You just don't know.

Like October, it is a time that things tend to start and end.

Let's haiku about March.  It doesn't matter what you write about; there is a lot that can happen this time of year.

Here, I will go first:

Taking a long lunch
Xavier is playing Penn
Somehow, this matters…

Now it is your turn… make the first line 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line is 5.  Have some fun with it!

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: A Hard Juror to Strike

First off, I'm happy to say that I will be a guest on the wonderful NPR show "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook today.  The subject is a great one-- incarceration and narcotics.

Second, I'm fascinated by a scenario that played out in Waco yesterday.  It's been an interesting week in the courthouse there-- especially with Kent McKeever showing up for jury duty on Monday-- but what has caught my attention is the capital murder trial of Carnell Petetan, Jr.  The case involves several of my former friends in Waco and (on the defense team) my former student Michelle Tuegel. 

Baylor President (and former federal judge, solicitor general, and special prosecutor) Ken Starr was on the jury panel, and the prosecutors struck him from the jury.  Some will be surprised; I think most people would expect him to be a pro-government juror.  However, the reasoning seems sound.  Here is how Tommy Witherspoon astutely described it for the Waco Tribune Herald:

One of the objections prosecutors had with Starr was his potential reluctance to convict someone based solely on the testimony of one eyewitness.

“I’d find it very difficult, even if I believe him or her to be honest,” he said. “I might believe him or her, but he might be wrong. I’ve seen too many people on death row who were factually innocent and were convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony.”

Starr said he is not against the death penalty in appropriate cases. He was Chief Justice Warren E. Burger’s law clerk for two years when Burger sided with the U.S. Supreme Court majority in voting to reinstate the death penalty in Gregg vs. Georgia in 1976.

Starr told the attorneys he advocates a statewide review, similar to one done in California, that would study the exercise of discretion by prosecutors in seeking the death penalty.

The story also notes that Starr has represented two death row inmates. 

It's wonderful that such a worthwhile discussion of the death penalty would take place where it should. 

Do you agree with Judge Starr?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Chose my brackets!

I do love this time of year-- the NCAA basketball tournament is my favorite sporting event of the year.  Once, purely by chance, I won the bracket pool at the US Attorney's office, but that was purely undeserved.  I have a weakness for good academic schools regardless of basketball talent.  Sure, it often works with Duke or UNC or Stanford.  Not so much with Harvard or UVA.

What's your secret, if you have one?  What's your final four?  Here is mine:


(yeah, I'm ok with #2 seeds….)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


In the Washington Post today...

[click on the photo to enlarge it]

Last Friday, the Washington Post featured a front-page article about some federal prosecutors who are "fighting back" against the Attorney General's initiatives to reform drug sentencing.

I was inspired to write a response, which the Post is publishing today-- you can see it here.

This is becoming a very important debate, and it's a crucial one at the heart of the issues I care about the most.  The door to meaningful reform is slightly open, and there are some who want to slam it shut.

Monday, March 17, 2014



There was plenty of good haiku last week, but this one by Renee was special:

She goes around with
A rag on her head or bald--
funny peacock with

Grin that wraps it's arms around
You. She calls her pink

Pills, "The Girls," orders
Them to do bidding. Even
Emily Poet

Didn 't have hope like
That. Hope not like a birdie

Got Teddy Kennedy's
Cancer. It ain't pretty ,but
She won't say, "Uncle.


Sunday, March 16, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Lent and Bullets

As many of you know, my friend Kent McKeever, a lawyer and minister, is spending much of Lent wearing the orange jumpsuit of a county prisoner.  I am struck by his depth of conviction and his insight; I learn from his experience every day.  He is keeping a blog of the event, and this is how he describes the project there:

I am a follower of Jesus.  Lent is a time of penance, of sacrifice, of humility.  It is a time to commit oneself to a spiritual discipline that will draw us in to God’s presence and prepare our souls for Easter.  I have also for a while now understood Lent to be a time to reflect on Jesus’s life.  How did Jesus live in a way that led him to die as a criminal on a cross?  I want to take seriously Jesus’s words that he has been sent to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “to release the oppressed” (among several other purposes in Luke 4:18-19) and find out more of what they mean in the context we find ourselves in today in the United States and beyond.  As followers of this criminal Jesus and children of a God of justice, how then should I live as neighbor to the 65 million brothers and sisters in the United States suffering as an underclass?  What does seeking love and justice with 2.3 million prisoners really mean?  Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything standing against love.”  What is our power to correct everything that stands against love and how are we using it?!  Until I am swayed by personal conviction or impassioned reason, this is my working definition of love and justice as I seek to follow Jesus, love God, love all people, and invite the world to do the same.l

I am a husband and a father.  I am an attorney.  I am a youth minister.  I am a white male, privileged in a way that prevents me from ever really experiencing the depths of the harsh realities of the lived experiences of those looked at with disdain or as an underclass or as those that should be cast aside or left out.  I have seen too many stories of broken lives stymied by the lack of fair chances and banged my head against the wall for too long now to continue in my ignorance.  For the sake of my family, friends, neighbors, our nation, our world, I want to know more.  I want to experience in the slightest what it might be like to carry a dehumanizing stigma with you everywhere you go.  I really have the impression that I have no earthly idea what it is truly like.  Thus, this Lenten journey in the uniform of the imprisoned is my small, small part in seeking understanding and solidarity, justice and love. 

In our communications about the project, one thing I wrote to Kent was that I "hope he doesn't get shot."  He wasn't sure if I was joking or not... but I wasn't.  It's entirely possible that someone might think he is an escaped convict, a situation might escalate, and that could happen.  Possible, but not probable.  Still, when you are talking about getting shot, "possible" isn't so great.

I mentioned that possibility because I knew it would not dissuade him.  He was doing this project as a way of gaining empathy for those in (and just out of) prison-- and Jesus said that when you visit those in prison, those in the orange jumpsuits, you visit Him.  One of the risks that the people he seeks to empathize with is that of being shot.  It's real.  That possibility raises ethical and political questions that many would rather not face... but Kent does.  And that is why I admire him.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Local Lawyer Dons Prison Jumpsuit for Lent

Two of my favorite people in Waco:  Kent McKeever and Julie Hays:

Local Lawyer Dons Prison Jumpsuit for Lent

Friday, March 14, 2014


Haiku Friday: Heroes

Yesterday as I walked into school I found orderly lines of chairs filling the atrium.  Though nothing was to happen for another two hours, the chairs were already starting to fill up with a wildly disparate group of people, speaking a dozen languages.  I knew what it was-- citizenship day, when our school hosts a big naturalization ceremony.

I wandered around among the people, listening to all the voices of people who had chosen to become Americans. It was moving to see and hear them.  I wanted to talk to them, to meet them and congratulate them.  I'm not good at that; I tend to be shy.

Then I remembered one of my heroes, Hulitt Gloer.  When we taught together he did something that never occurred to me:  As students filed into the room, he would go up in the rows and chat with them, finding out who they were and what they did.  It was remarkable-- it had never occurred to me do anything like that, and he did it so naturally.  Of course you should go out and talk to your students.  And so I did that, yesterday morning:  I went out and talked to the people waiting so patiently to become Americans.  I'm so glad that I did.  The stories were remarkable, and I'm saving a few for later posts.

But that is what heroes do, isn't it?  They demonstrate a better way to be.  Hulitt did that.  Let's haiku about heroes today, big and small.  I'll go first:

Co-teachers?  No way.
I was the learner, the sponge, 
He was the master.

Now you write one!  Just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables... and I think we will get some great entries today!

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Between Two Ferns and the Party of Scolds

Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: President Barack Obama from President Barack Obama     

If you haven't seen President Obama's interview with Zach Galifianakis on "Between Two Ferns," here is your chance!  I think it is brilliant.  The President needs to reach out to younger people to make the Affordable Care Act work, and this is a great way to do it.  It's hilarious, it makes a point, and it shows a side of the President-- cool, human, and funny-- that we too rarely glimpse.

If you don't really get it, that might be because you aren't familiar with Galifianakis's schtick.  He's basically a jerk to everyone, and his guests don't want to talk to him.  For context, check out this previous interview:

Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: Happy Holidays Edition from Zach Galifianakis     

Now, of course, Republicans are just outraged by this!  Why?  Because they are outraged by anything Obama does.  (Admittedly, in the Fox News clip linked here, one of the guys appears not to have gotten the memo to be outraged, but super-offended guy makes up for it).

There are things about my own beliefs (Christian, small-government sympathies) that should draw me to the Republican party, but they have thoroughly defined themselves as humorless "get off my lawn" cranks who are outraged by almost everything they didn't come up with (and sometimes with things, like the fundamentals of the ACA, that they did come up with).   The constant negativity is a lousy case to make when what you want to do is gain power.

Republicans have important points to make, especially about the budget.  It would be easier to hear if they weren't such scolds.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Great and true news for St. Thomas Law!

National Jurist magazine just released an interesting new set of rankings, evaluating the best schools for practical training as a lawyer.  Here are the top ten:

1)  St. Thomas (MN)
2)  Northeastern
3)  Wisconsin
4)  BYU
5)  New Hampshire
6)  Brooklyn
7)  Pepperdine 
8)  Maryland
9)  Baylor
10) Loyola/Chicago

A few observations about this:

A)  Wait a minute!  Where is my alma mater, Yale Law?  Oh, that's right… we didn't learn much about how law works on the ground.  That really wasn't what the school was about (at least at that time-- it is probably more focused on practicality now).

B)   We are in pretty good company here-- these are all good, solid law schools.  

C)  I suspect that people at Baylor, where I taught for ten years, might be surprised to find themselves behind St. Thomas, but having taught at both places it makes sense to me.  The survey expressly disfavored programs that rely heavily on simulations (like Baylor does) and favored those with programs where students get out into real courts and work with real clients.  I'm not sure that disparity is  warranted, because though simulations don't directly serve the community, they can be fine educational tools (I use them extensively now in two of my classes, in fact).  

D)  St. Thomas absolutely deserves the acknowledgement of this strength.  We have wonderful clinics, led by Virgil Wiebe.  How many schools have clinics run by a Rhodes Scholar?  The picture above shows two of my best clinic students, Sara Sommervold and Charles Dolson, giving a presentation to other students about their visit to prison to visit their client.  Charles is now a third year student; Sarah has graduated and is working for Northwestern Law School's Wrongful Conviction Center.   It's not just the clinics, though-- our students get great externships and all of them-- every single one-- has a professional mentor in the community.  When I talk to my upper-level classes about criminal law, they come to the discussion with real-life knowledge, because they are already handling courtroom tasks, they know judges and prosecutors and defenders, and they teach me about what goes on in Minnesota courts.  I love that.

E)  And I love this, too-- the picture in the National Jurist article is from the very first time we did the Trial of Christ.  My co-counsel was student Jon Scheib, shown standing at the podium as Susan Stabile looks on.  It's the perfect picture for that article.  It shows the trust we have in our students-- to go out into the world, to engage with real people, and to stand beside us (not behind us) as we continue to define this great new school.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


The Grace Cab

In what might be my favorite church bulletin typo of all time, the St. Stephen's program listed the following as the lyrics to "Abide With Me":

I need thy presence every passing day;
What but thy grace cab foil the tempter's power?

I LOVE the idea of a Grace Cab, sent by God to foil the tempter's power.  We call a cab when we are in need, when we can't do for ourselves, after all.  And sometimes that cab is nothing less than grace; saving us from ourselves.

What but thy grace cab, indeed!

Monday, March 10, 2014


"Clothes without paint stains..."

How could I not love the haiku my dad wrote-- that's him in the picture I posted last Friday:

Clothes without paint stains
are not often worn when I
am living my dream.

Sunday, March 09, 2014


Sunday Reflection: The Religion of Sports

Last night was the high school hockey championships here in Minnesota.  The Xcel Center was packed, and like lots of other people, I watched on television (the game is televised state-wide).  It's a pretty remarkable event, and die-hard fans can remember games from decades ago.  There are fascinating sub-plots, like the tiny schools from the north woods like Roseau and Warroad who make it to St. Paul nearly every year.

It's got some similarities to the way football is in Texas, and in both instances it's not uncommon to hear people to refer to the sports as a "religion."

I have never liked that description.  Religion takes many forms, but it isn't often, at its heart, about competition and besting others.

I might be wrong... how do you see it?

Saturday, March 08, 2014


Photo quiz!

Quiz!  Who can identify this room, and its political significance?

Friday, March 07, 2014


Haiku Friday: Favorite Shirt

Not all clothes are created equal.  Some things become our beloved favorites, worn and worn until they die of natural causes.  It might be a great pair of shoes, a comfy sweatshirt,  or just the right hat.

Let's haiku about that today-- the clothes that we love the most.  It doesn't have to be a shirt, and it doesn't even have to be yours... you can even haiku about someone else's inexplicable tastes.  

Here is mine:

Jeans made of Cool-Max
Now, they're mostly made of holes
Oh, I loved them!

Now it is your turn!  Use the 5/7/5  syllable count, more or less, and revel in the memories... 

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Ukraine and Russia

The most important issue on the world stage is the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine.  The most important question is this:  What should the rest of the world do?

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Lent begins

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


The Beauty of Late Winter

It is cold and snowy this March in Minnesota, and I know that is supposed to make me do one of two things:  Either complain bitterly and express a yearning for the beach, or laugh at how those people in places like Waco or Atlanta don't know how to handle a little snow, just a fraction of what we have to deal with.  Both of those seem ungracious, though, and at the moment not true.

There is great beauty in this late winter, with its high sun and beautiful light.  I like it.  

There is a small, gentle river that runs all through Edina and Minneapolis, Minnehaha Creek.  It twists and turns all over, like a string dropped by a child onto the map of my town.  The people who built the houses and streets had the wisdom not to submerge it or pave over the creek, and in the summer there are people in kayaks and canoes and tubes floating down behind St. Stephen's church, through Arden Park, and then close by my house.

Two days ago, late in the day, I set off over the creek on my skis.  I wasn't the only one; there were tracks in the deep snow, and a fellow traveler here and there.  The creek-top trail takes you through parks, between backyards, and under the bridges of the streets now and then.  It is remarkably calm on the creek, silent and still.  As I skied, the light changed as dusk fell and began to filter through the willows and the maples by the creek.

Sometimes I would stop and guess where I was, trying to place myself on the usual map of streets and stores and stoplights.  It takes so little to change the world.

Monday, March 03, 2014


Oh, that place!

I loved the story Jill Scoggins told in haiku:

My long-loved place for
Crawfish: Farm Royale. How I
Wish it still to be!

Beer trays filled with red
mudbugs, onions, corn. We’d
Grab ‘em all at once.

Pinch the head, then tail.
Pop out the meat and eat. Bliss.
Then swig beer. Repeat.

A long-gone relic
From Port Arthur’s past. But I’ll
Always remember.

And then this, from "Pierce Arrow":


Crepes that wept poems
In your mouth. Bechamel which
Haply made acquaintance

With mushrooms dancing
A minuet with fromage
And jambon.Asperges!!!

It is rare that I want to go to Port Arthur and Paris at once!

Sunday, March 02, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Deliberations

One of my favorite parts of doing the Trial of Jesus is the deliberations.  After our closings, we divide the audience into groups of 12, and have each one deliberate with a verdict form.  I try to subtly eavesdrop.

The incredible thing is that the deliberations bring out things I had not noticed about the trial, angles and inflections and insights that were hidden from me even at the heart of my own work.  I find it remarkable how we can have several juries, and they each come to a different path of consideration.  Mostly, they discuss intently.  When they first form, there is a little awkwardness, a feeling out of how the talking will go.  By the end, though, there are fierce and intense discussions.  We often find it hard to get them to stop.

Jesus directed us to gather in groups in his name.  I think I am beginning, only now, to understand the wisdom of that.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


Caiaphus and Associate

Last Sunday, we tried Jesus in Tucson, Arizona, at Grace-St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  One of the great pleasures of the trip was getting to persecute (er, prosecute) Jesus with my old student, Gordon Davenport, as co-counsel.  Gordon is a federal prosecutor now, and a darn good one.  He still has a pretty healthy appetite, though.

We lost, though.  I think my problem is jury selection... every time we try this defendant in a church, it's like the jury totally worships the guy!  Maybe we need a change of venue...

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