Tuesday, September 30, 2014


My Dad's Awesome Blog

Wow!  I think I am now the second-best blogger in the family.  My dad has been running a blog called Upbeats on the website of the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, and it is full of both great photos and wry observations.  

Looking at past posts, I see that much of it is marked by one of my Dad's best qualities:  His unfailing (and often fulfilled) optimism, which sometimes takes the form of his trademark Trailing Edge Philosophy. As just one example, he had this to say in a recent blog post about Detroit:

I still can’t get my mind off the Detroit Jazz Festival.  The festival is appropriately held on Labor Day weekend.  However, Metropolitan Detroit doesn’t take that weekend off.  Everyone has a venue to go to and they are all terrific.  There is little reason to go out of town.  The jewel is The Detroit Jazz Festival, where our community puts its soul on display.  We show off what we do best, the roots of our music, Jazz. For some reason the 2014 festival added some extra zest to its Jazz.  This was more than planning. There was something palpably hopeful in the air.  The crowd got it and showed their appreciation.  The musicians caught the fans vibes and used them.  Something beautiful was going on.

It didn’t go unnoticed.  Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press was in all the right places and reported what he saw and heard.  He described a moment when “Barry Harris was singing a song of deeply personal expression. “See, Jazz is beautiful” he told the crowd.”  Mark went on to say, “Beauty – not in the colloquial sense of “pretty”, but in its broader meaning of pleasuring the senses – was spread throughout the downtown festival.”  ….

There is something special when we find beauty in familiar and unexpected places, like the flowers that insist on coming up in the cracks in our sidewalks.  Thank you Mark for seeing the beauty and alerting us.  Thank you Barry Harris for coming back and reminding us why you do come back.  Thanks to all the staff and the volunteers who are often too busy to enjoy their own efforts.

Also on the blog:  My Dad's poster for this year's Detroit Jazz Festival:

Monday, September 29, 2014


CTL-- More than just an intern!

CTL submitted a haiku about iPhones that I just loved:

Front pockets burn blue
Like Iron Man's glowing heart:
Generation bot.*

*I have an iPhone. 

It was concise and true and a little weird-- all things I like in a poem!

Also worthwhile was this dialogue, starting with Meghan Willome:

Dear iPhone, why are
you getting so big? I am
still the same small size.

… which drew a response from Christine:

Dear Megan Willome
bigger phone means bigger text
for failing eyesight

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Seeing the Elements

Today I am giving the sermon at First Covenant Church here in Minneapolis.  As you might remember from my post earlier this week, the text is from Hebrews 13:1-3:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
I have been brooding on this all week, and have come to a way of thinking about it, a way for the parts to fall together.  I'm in criminal law, and in my field the key is breaking down the elements of a crime and then comparing them to facts in real life.  Usually, there are three kinds of element:  Identification, action, and state of mind.  For example, in a drug trafficking case, a prosecutor must prove the identification of the seller, the fact that he distributed the drug (action), and that he did so knowingly and intentionally (state of mind), along with the fact that the substance sold was the listed narcotic.  
Those first three verses of Hebrews 13 offer the same thing.  The identify of Christians is marked by love; hospitality is a required action, and empathy is the state of mind we need to accomplish this.  They come together beautifully to challenge what we are, do, and think.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014



It's been a busy week.  I taught class, then headed out East-- I met with clinic professors and students at Yale and Columbia law schools about the clemency cases they will be taking.  This is really encouraging; we are moving from one school doing this work (St. Thomas) towards ten or more by next year.

Today, though, I am getting ready to give a sermon tomorrow at First Covenant.  When I write a sermon, it goes from a rough outline to a finished product, and then back to a rough outline for the actual talk.  I have no idea if that is how trained ministers do it… but that's the best way I have!  Please feel free to come tomorrow at 10 am!

Friday, September 26, 2014


Haiku Friday: The iPhone and Life

We don't usually haiku about stuff (except nature stuff, like snow), but the iPhone is by now so ubiquitous, so important, and so loved/hated, that it seems woven into our lives.  If you love it, hate it, covet it, or wish the world was rid of it, let's haiku about that.  Here, I will go first:

Fat slab, pocketful,
It warbles, wiggles, and yells
And I do respond.

Now, you go!  Make if 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and have some fun!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: America and the World in 2014

I suspect that President Obama thought his presidency would be about domestic issues-- health care, infrastructure, and the economy-- when he took office in 2009, and again when he was re-elected.  The world was settling, with the Cold War over and the United States backing out of conflicts in the Middle East.

It didn't work out that way.  Now there are a host of conflicts on the world stage, driven by economics, war, and disease.  A question remains open:  What is the United States' responsibility to resolve problems abroad?

There is disagreement on this-- and I am on the side of disengagement with international complexities, especially military ones.  After all, this will be our third war in Iraq in the last 25 years, and none of them seem to accomplish much.

President Obama, meanwhile, seems to be moving in the other direction.  Ron Fournier wrote an interesting and compelling piece in the National Journal, which compares Obama to President Woodrow Wilson:

One hundred years ago, a pacifist president reluctantly led the United States into World War I. Woodrow Wilson eventually won "the war to end all wars," but failed to achieve his greatest desire: a new world order. That would wait until after World War II. Faint echoes of Wilson sounded throughout President Obama's address to the United Nations on Wednesday.

There stood a man who rose to power by opposing George W. Bush's "dumb war" in Iraq, who slowly and reluctantly recognized the gathering dangers of an Islamic State, now urging the league of nations to build a timeless peace—even as he vowed to shed blood for it.

Is the President right to make this move into international disputes?  Some say no.  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Required Reading

Razor Hero of Writing Bob Darden has a great piece up at the On Faith website, titled Ferguson Isn't Over-- Why Christians Must Pay Attention.  Here is part of what he has to say:

Someone was not being heard in Ferguson. If the government — local, state, federal — isn’t paying attention, if the media isn’t paying attention, then the church, at least, should be paying attention. The church was created to champion those who have no other champion. And when the church instead identifies with the rich, the powerful, the politically connected, then it ceases to serve one of its most vital functions.

That's just a teaser, though-- really it's best to read the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Coming Up This Sunday….

This Sunday, I will be giving the sermon at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis at 10 AM.  Please come-- it is a fabulous church with great music and a wonderful animating spirit.  The regular minister, Dan Collison, is a hard act to follow, but I'm happy to be given the chance (this is the fourth time I have gotten to give a sermon there).  

The text is unbelievably good-- Hebrews 13:1-3-- and if I don't do anything but mumble this out it will be a win:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

What great, concise thoughts!  

Here is my question for you, Razorites:  Have you ever "shown hospitality to angels without knowing it," at least until later?  That is opened your life to someone who turned out to save you in some way?

Monday, September 22, 2014


Aye, Scotland!

Wow!  Great Haiku this week... be sure to read them all.

I was taken with this poem by the Duchess of Hennepin, and the idea of bringing Robert "Burns back from the dead":

The Sea --rough rocky
Cold belies the hearth warmth
Cottages taking you in.

I sit with my tea
And listen. An old man brings
Burns back from the dead.

And my dad came up with this:

Such a heavy brogue
he relied on his smile his
nose hairs and his whiskey.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, the idea of remaining a park of the U.K. is sinking in...

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sunday Reflection: Salvation and the Afterlife

On Thursday, Susan Stabile and I had one of our "Mid-Day Dialogues," on the topic of Salvation and the Afterlife.  You can check out the podcast here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


The deal with water in Detroit

Friday, September 19, 2014


Haiku Friday: Scotland!

Full of Hogwarts-yish intrigue, Scotland continues to fascinate me.  Sure, the people can apparently be contained by a twelve-foot wall, but the Scottish contributions to the arts, the academy, and the beverage sciences are hard to deny.

And now they have decided to remain a part of Great Britain!

Let's haiku about all things Scottish today.  Here, I will go first:

What is not to like?
Best monster, best whisky, and
The best accents, too!

Now it is your turn…

Just use 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second, and 5 for the third...

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: The NFL's Big Problem

Yesterday, I posted a piece on the Huffington Post sports page about the real mess the NFL finds itself in at the moment.  Here is the heart of it:

If there is one thing the NFL understands, it is symbolism. That is the essence of the business after all: taking events with no inherent meaning and making it stand for something. The NFL's genius is in bringing us iconic characters and actions that would not exist but for the artifice of the game. Without the symbols and marketing, the Green Bay Packers are just a bunch of guys on a lawn.

That's what makes the league's bumbling reactions to a series of player scandals so tragic. Each of them represents an opportunity for the league, based on known evidence, to use its greatest power -- the creation of symbols -- for a deep social good. At times it has done this, but the league's actions have been neither consistent nor intentional. That should change.

Consider the variety of social issues raised by just some of the player behavior that has made the news. Michael Vick was convicted of running a dogfighting ring, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens knocked his girlfriend unconscious, Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins bullied a teammate with racial insults, and Adrian Peterson beat his four-year-old son with a switch. This is a striking set of social issues on which there is a national consensus. We have passed the point where a significant moral argument could plausibly be made in favor of dogfighting, domestic violence, racial bullying, and corporal punishment that leaves scars. As a society we now reject those actions of violence and intimidation as wrong.

Were the NFL to use its power for good, it would consistently, quickly, and confidently condemn and sanction all of these behaviors. Right now, though, the messages it sends are muddled and weak. For example, consider the four incidents described above. They involved four different types of victims -- animals, a woman, a small child, and an NFL players -- and four different kinds of harms (animals fighting one another, a punch to the face, corporal punishment with a tree branch, and insult). The response was swift in dealing with Richie Incognito, who sent a series of texts to teammate Jonathan Martin containing threats and racial insults.

The way Incognito was treated stands in stark contrast with the Vick, Rice and Peterson cases. When Incognito's texts were made available to the Dolphins in the middle of last season, they indefinitely suspended him, which was appropriate. He has not returned to the NFL. The meandering response to Rice's actions went from nothing to a two-day suspension, to an indefinite suspension when the full video of the incident went viral. Vick was suspended only after he pled guilty. The Vikings announced that Peterson was expected to play for the Vikings on Sunday in New Orleans, before the team reversed course and "exempted" him from the team. These wobbly responses weren't driven by conflicting or unknown fact. In the Vick, Rice, and Peterson cases the plain truth of the underlying violence was publicly known well before a legal outcome was determined. A video of an unconscious woman or the photos of a beaten child speak for themselves.

It can't be that the NFL cares more about insults to a player than it does about domestic abuse or the welfare of children and animals, but it sure looks that way. The argument might be made that in the cases of Vick, Rice, and Peterson the NFL and the teams themselves were waiting to allow the criminal law process to complete its course, but that falls apart when held up against Incognito's situation. He wasn't charged with a crime, and wasn't likely to be charged with a crime. And yet, swift action was taken….

Make no mistake about one thing: the NFL is a business, created to make money. It's not a church or a prosecutor's office. Still, it is a business that is rooted in the creation of symbols and the building-up of heroes. A kid wearing a Ray Rice jersey or coming home to an Adrian Peterson poster on his bedroom door is the target of that myth-making. The NFL is one of that boy's teachers, and what it teaches is values: Strength, determination, perseverance. It takes nothing away from that business to also teach limits and respect for other men, women, children, and animals. That's the thing about creating heroes, after all; there will always be another running back to promote into heroism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The Big Ten has a football problem...

While they continue to lead the nation in mascot awesomeness, the Big Ten has taken a hit in the football department.

Michigan got creamed by Notre Dame.  Ohio State lost to an unranked Virginia Tech team, at home.  Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois.  Iowa lost to Iowa State (which in turn had already lost a game to a division I-AA team, North Dakota State).  Michigan State and Wisconsin both already have losses, albeit to good teams (Oregon and LSU).   Minnesota got humiliated by TCU, and lost there not-too-effective quarterback in the process.  Indiana lost to Bowling Green.

It looks like an ugly year, and confusing.  With the addition this year of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big 10 now has 14 members, which is just silly.  They did, at least, get rid of the bizarre "Leaders" and "Legends" divisions, which seemed like something the commissioners came up with while drunk.   Now it's just an East/West thing, like a European civil war.

Maybe at this point I will turn my football passions to the MIAC...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Please caption this

Sure, it is a bear playing drums, but it must be something more...

Monday, September 15, 2014


Gavin's road

Did you see this haiku on Friday?  I mean, how good is this?  I love it:

I stop, turn, and look.
The long road that brought me here
winds back through my past.

Many forks, dead ends.
Love, war, fate, chance changed the way.
And Her. Always Her.

I took Frost's road once,
jumped the fence and left the path,
towards uncharted land.

The road less traveled
was still a road, after all.
Simply seeking more.

All I wanted was
a life less ordinary.
Seek and ye shall find.

No way to go back.
This is a one-way road, boy.
Leave the past behind.

Turn, face the unknown.
Brace against the wind, and step.
My horizon waits.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Sunday Reflection: A gentler world

On Friday night, I walked over to the local high school football stadium (which is very close to my house) to see the Edina High homecoming game.  It was very familiar from my own days in high school:  The stands were jammed, they announced a homecoming queen, and some goofy things happened (including a streaker on the field-- how 70's is that?).

There are some different things though, too.  You have to look for them, though.  

For example, check out the picture above (you can make it bigger if you click on it).  Yeah, it's the band playing at halftime-- a great extravaganza featuring the 300+ member Edina Marching Band.  But look carefully at who is in the band.  A cheerleader is playing cymbals.  A football player is playing trombone, and so is the homecoming queen.  The old lines between band dorks and cheerleader/athletes has totally broken down.  And that's good.

My favorite moment, though, was probably this:  Before the game, the Edina Men's Chorus sang the national anthem.  And who was in the chorus?  A lot of football players, and some of the band guys, and one coach:

Let's be honest about something here:  When I was in high school, football players probably didn't do that because singing in the choir was "gay."  Nor did homecoming queens march with the band-- they were too cool.  And check out the fraternity video in the post preceding this one.  This is a fraternity at a rural Pennsylvania school doing an entire lip dub to a Taylor Swift song, and there is not a whiff of homophobia about it.  

Our world is full of hate and the likes of ISIS, but some corners have becoming more kind, and even more loving.  For that, I'm grateful.  And thanks for the song, football players...

Friday, September 12, 2014


Haiku Friday: Your Road

Sometimes here at the Razor, we go general.  That's the deal today.  Haiku about your path… up to this point, or in the future.  

Here, I will go first:

Detroit was a grid, but
Built over l'Enfant's spokes
And old trails; at once.

Now it is your turn… 

Five syllables.  Then seven.  Then five.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: Ray Rice and Criminal Law

For those of you that have missed the whole drama, Ray Rice is a pro football player, who was a star running back at Rutgers and then for the Baltimore Ravens.  In the NFL, he gained over 1,000 yards for four consecutive years.

This past February, Rice got in a fight with his fiancé at the now-closed Revel Casino in Atlantic City.  He knocked her unconscious with a punch, and then dragged her out of an elevator.  Charges were brought, but later dropped when he agreed to attend counseling.  The NFL imposed a two-game suspension, which was controversial.  This past week, a video surfaced of the incident which showed the full violence of it, and Rice was cut from the team.

Much attention has been given to the NFL's light initial punishment here, but I think the more important and perhaps more troubling aspect is the law enforcement response.   Shouldn't he have been tagged with a crime for such a violent act?

One complicating factor is that the victim, now his wife, did not want him sanctioned severely by the law or by the NFL.  She, of course, had a personal and a financial interest in Rice keeping his job.  Her role reminds me of the deeply troubling incident at Baylor involving basketball star Lacedarious Dunn.  His girlfriend ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw after an encounter with him, and afterwards she and her father told different stories to explain the incident away (allowing him to finish his college career and try for the pros).  It was explained in some quarters that Dunn's girlfriend "refused to press charges."  It's still unclear what really happened.

Let me make something clear:  The victim of a crime does not have a veto over the prosecutor's charging decisions, and should not have that power, even as the prosecutor has a duty to consider the views and safety of the victim.  The prosecutor's duty is not only to that victim but to possible future victims of the same person.  It is awkward and uncomfortable to subpoena a victim and force them to testify under threat of perjury, but the failure to do so in some cases will mean that the harm we are charged with preventing will recur.

The relationship between victims and prosecutors is often troubled, a fact that is sometimes hidden from public view.

In the Rice case, should prosecutors have deferred to what the victim wanted?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Razor College Rankings Released!

Yeah, yeah, the US News rankings were released, and they were pretty much the same as every other year.  Princeton, Harvard, and Yale were the top three?!?!  Shocking!  Not much to see here.

For reall news, check out the Razor rankings for 2014, which this year is based on three factors:  (1) Silliness of the name (56%), randomness of location (29.25%), and Irrascability (14.75%).  [See Razor law school rankings here]  Herewith, the top 6:

1)  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana PA

2)  California University of Pennsylvania, California PA

C)  Slippery Rock State University, Slippery Rock PA

4)  William and Mary, Williamsburg VA

5)  Faber College

6)  Brown University, Providence RI

Am I missing any good choices here?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


An intriguing new vehicle...

I'm really intrigued by the new Honda HR-V,  which is coming out this winter.  It's an SUV that is smaller than the mainstay Honda CR-V... closer to the size of the BMW X-1.  

In profile, it looks a lot like what I drive now, an Acura RDX (which isn't surprising-- that is a variant of the Honda CR-V).  But it has a few features I really love.  One, it is based on the cool little Honda Fit, and features the "Magic Seats" from the Fit, which fold flat into the floor.  In an SUV, that will be a great advantage when you need to carry a lot of stuff.  Two, it is going to be available as a hybrid, and THAT sounds great!  For what it is worth, Lexus is also about to come out with a (much more expensive) compact hybrid SUV, the NX.

Monday, September 08, 2014


Fall and lyrics

The Minnesotan Medievalist revealed his roots:

Sparkling diamonds,
Shimmer on the green grass,
Frosty fall morning.

And Joan Plowright looked ahead:

Breath spooks the air
Hovering like ghosts about
My mouth. I pull my

Wrap tighter to keep
Bluster captive till bitter
End. Hot tea holds my hand.

We laugh at death in
Costumes so he won't recognize
Us. Make him into

Pumpkin shame of clown.
Still when it is dark,he deigns
Boo us scared silly.

While Geoffrey and Sally returned to banter!

Sunday, September 07, 2014


Sunday Reflection: The Singing Seminarians

Yesterday, I went to my first football game here at St. Thomas.  It's division III, and the league seems to specialize in cute names:  we are the Tommies, St. John's is the Johnnies, St. Olaf is the Ole's, Gustavus Adolphus is the Gusties, and Cartleton is… the Knights.  (I guess they didn't get the memo).

St. Thomas has a very cute little stadium, and the game was a lot more exciting then some of those early-2000's games I saw at Baylor!  A flurry at the finish included several conversions on fourth-and-long, a successful onside kick, and a last-minute, game-saving interception by the Tommies.

But then, after all that, the seminarians sang the fight song.  There is something moving about that; something that fits the place.

It's not grand, but it's good.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Oh, no! Fooled by Scandanavians

The song above ("Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn, and John) has always kind of stumped me.  I thought the signature line in the song was "We don't care about the old folks/talking 'bout their OnStar."  It kind of made sense-- old people talking about the technology in Buicks.

However, it turns out I had it wrong.  Here are the lyrics:

And we don't care about the young folks
Talking 'bout the young style
And we don't care about the old folks
Talking 'bout the old style too

And we don't care about our own faults
Talking 'bout our own style
All we care about is talking
Talking only me and you

Ah, well.  Who hasn't been fooled by Swedish indie pop now and then?

Friday, September 05, 2014


Haiku Friday: Fall is Here!

Well, maybe fall isn't totally here yet.  The high tomorrow in Minnesota will be 64-- cool, but not autumn cool yet.  But… classes have started.  Football is being played.  The rhythm of life has begun to shift, and the days are getting shorter.

I love the change of seasons, and that is one reason I love Minnesota:  Summer is hot, winter is cold, spring is a sweet respite, and fall is everything it should be-- red and yellow and sweaters and new books for school.

Let's haiku about that, even if it is not quite there yet where you are.  I think fall is the most sensuous of the seasons, and there is a lot you can do with it!

I will go first:

That first red. green leaf
Found on the sidewalk, at peace
That one, I treasure.

Now, you go!  Make the first line five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and five for the third.  It can be about football, school, whatever!

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Political Mayhem Thursday: What to do about ISIL (or ISIS, or whatever they are this week)

Many are critical of the President, but not many have a good plan for what to do with ISIL, that continues to commit atrocities in Iraq and Syria.  Things have changed since last time I asked what we should do.  Many people are calling for immediate action, while others caution against the air strikes we have already employed.  It may be (as Ron Fournier argues) that the current course has its virtues.

In short, there are three options:

1)  Do nothing

Let the Middle East sort itself out-- without the cost of American lives and taxpayer money.  

2)  Do everything

Go to war.  Set troops into place, and do what you can to destroy ISIL.  

3)  Something in between

Find a half-measure… such as the current course of using air power to support whoever else is fighting ISIL.  

What would you do?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


Death Row Jesus!

Fast on the heels of David Limbaugh's "Jesus on Trial" book with the, uh, familiar cover, legendary Razorite Lane tipped me off about a Texas ministry's new media project "Death Row Jesus."  According the story in the Houston Chronicle, here is what the project is about:

The new commercial shows a shackled Jesus clad in an orange prison jumpsuit being led by guards through a prison block filled with all manner of sinners, including rapists, murderers, prostitutes, corporate sharks, even someone who could be a Westboro Baptist Church member (complete with a picket sign) sitting in cells wallowing in their actions. He is later beaten by guards and shown dying on a cross in atmospheric footage.

"Preachers, prostitutes, popes and pedophiles are all equally undeserving of Christ's love," said Miller in a press release this week, "but we all receive his forgiveness on the same terms."

I heartily agree.  The point is much the same one I made in my book, and that is raised by the Trial of Jesus that we have now done in 11 states.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


The Dump

Waco has a dump-- a big hole on the outskirts of town where you can back up your car and toss stuff in.  You paid by the pound; they weighed your car on the way in and the way out.  

The dump fascinated me, and I loved going there.  There was something very honest about it, in the way that there is an honesty to meat-eaters who occasionally kill the animals that they eat.  When you go to the dump, you find out exactly where it is that your trash goes.  For some people (including me), it pulls in favor of recycling when you can, but also towards the realization that there are worse things than tossing out a plastic wrapper-- it is going to a great big hole, and there is still some room for it.  

Monday, September 01, 2014


Pencils and crayons and… everything!

Wow!  16 great haikus last week about school supplies… but the one that intrigued me the most was this, from "Renata Tebaldi":

I went to high school,
Without my lunch. Hallelujah
for Potter's Drug Store.

Where succulent tuna
Salad lived with barbeque
Potato chips and

Pickles and icy
Coca Cola in shapely
Green glasses behind

The lunch counter and
Its white formica glory.
The round red stools like

Swiveling contraband
Mushrooms on slender steel
Stems,gateway to Flirt.

Lunch is not,so they
Say the most important meal.
But the lore of it

Lingers like some legend
More than any algebraic
Theorem or chart.

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