Saturday, February 28, 2015


The weight of a Lenten Cross

I have this piece up on the Huffington Post right now...

Friday, February 27, 2015


Haiku Friday: Hopes of Spring

I know that spring is coming.  I like winter, of course; if I didn't, why would I live in Minnesota?  Still, it is the change of seasons that is thrilling.  I love the first snow, I love the first flower, I love that first hot day, and I love the magic of early September, when you need a sweater for the first time in months.

Traditionally, haiku is about nature themes. I don't go there often, but lets do it this week.  Write about the hopes for spring, or a glimpse of it...

I will go first:

The barbecue grill
Huddles beneath the deep snows,
It yearns to breath fire.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The continuing political effects of American Evangelicals

Frank Bruni has an intriguing piece in the New York Times, arguing that Evangelical Christians have a political influence on the Republican party that is out of proportion to their numbers:

Another presidential campaign is taking shape, and potential Republican candidates are beginning to speak with extra care — and sometimes with censorious hellfire — about certain social issues. As ever, they’re bowing to a bloc of voters described as Christian conservatives.

But these voters are a minority of Christians. They’re not such representative conservatives.

They have a disproportionate sway over the Republican Party. And because of that, they have an outsize influence on the national debate.

Bruni cites an upcoming data set compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute, which shows that if you take Evangelicals out of the mix, Republicans are split about evenly on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bruni doesn't do much to suggest a reason for this, but IPLawGuy once gave me an explanation that made a lot of sense.  A veteran of many Republican campaigns himself, he told me that the Evangelicals were the foot soldiers of a campaign in that party-- the people who knock on doors and lick envelopes, and man the phones.  They are dedicated, organized, and willing to work. I think that makes sense.  To those who would complain about this outsized influence, IPLG would say:  "If you want to make change, get involved in party politics."  I think he was right about that, too.  He was wrong about "White Castle is the best place in St. Louis for breakfast," and "a car lasts longer if you leave the windows open on the highway," but it all evens out in the end.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


John Oliver on elected judges

I love that he took on this topic.  I think it is more complex than he recognizes, though... and there are some decent arguments for electing judges.  For example, in a state like Texas it is one way that local political difference find effect-- because the culture and politics of Austin is different than what you find in Amarillo.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Bad Suggestions

So, I'm not sure I totally understand what all is going on at,  but it looks like a compilation of what someone got to complete their search from a partial or full phrase entered into Google.  For example, in the above search a query for "halloween costume" turned up "Zombie Dennis Farina" and "sexy zombie Helen Thomas."

And anything that can combine "zombie," "sexy," and "Helen Thomas" has something good going on...

Monday, February 23, 2015


Ciao, Chow!

There were some great haikus about Italian food last Friday!  It isn't often that an anonymous post strikes me as great, but this one was:

Gnocchi has my heart
Firm on the outside, pillow
Of delight inside.

If nothing else, the phrase "gnocchi has my heart" is a winner.  I love that.  Meanwhile, in the long-form category, it is hard to beat this masterpiece by Jill Scoggins:
Stepmom’s spaghetti:
Flavors perfectly balanced.
Baseball-sized meatballs.

“Don’t use lean ground beef,”
she says. “More fat is better.”
Her mom’s recipe.

Handed down from mom
to daughter through the years. Or
to daughters-in-law.

(Men don’t cook in this
family) Time-tested. No
need to improvise.

Piles of al dente
pasta mix with sauce so light,
so good, so perfect.

Served as a side dish
on Sundays after church with
fried chicken or roast.

I’ll never enjoy
any other near as much.

Meanwhile, in the not-vegetarian-today category, we had this from Desiree:

Italian sausage,
Peppers, onions on a bun

Italian soul food.

And what made me most hungry?  Antonia Promessa:

My love for him? His
Carbonara,bacon and
Cheese married egg so

Exquisitely that
When you tasted it you closed
Your eyes.Pleasure flowed

Like the blood of a
Satisfied cat from tongue to
Talon. Sated, stretched...bed.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Sunday Reflection: 52

Yesterday was my sixth birthday ending in a "2": 2, 12, 22, 32, 42, and (now) 52.  I have spent them in six different places, too-- the first in Detroit, the second in Grosse Pointe Shores, the third in Williamsburg, the fourth in Grosse Pointe City, the fifth in Waco, and the sixth here in Edina.  

Of them all, this is my favorite age to be.  Here is why:

-- most importantly, at this age you kind of know how things turn out.  There isn't anxiety about what you will do when you grow up.

-- yet, you aren't done yet.  There is more to accomplish and learn and see.  

-- a classmate wrote something today that struck me, about our upcoming law school reunion: " the competitive aspects have long dropped out and people will have reverted back to the fun people you knew in school ..."  I think that is true.

-- for most of us, our bodies are still in pretty good shape, but we have learned their limits.  I know when the last ski run should be.

--at this point in life, you know your strengths and weaknesses.  That lets you know when to lead and when to follow, and there is a time for both.

-- over time, faith life matures; joy and tragedy convince you of how much you don't know, and that is a gift.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


So, it's my birthday!

Last night I went to see the town's annual Pops concert by the Edina high school band.  The theme this year was "The Wizard of Oz," a movie that I have found (even as an adult) to be extremely creepy.  Angry flying monkeys?  Witch sisters, one of whom is completely green?  Kansas being presented as a rural utopia?  A talking scarecrow?  "Munchkins" celebrating someone being crushed to death by a flying house?  I mean, c'mon… isn't this some kind of horror film?

Anyways, the highlight for me was the sculpture above, which was ten feet high and placed next to the stage.  It is a mask of the Wizard (though there are some shades of Roswell-style alien there, too).  I think it oddly compelling.  Do you think they would sell it to me after the show?

Friday, February 20, 2015


Haiku Friday: Italian Food

I know this one is a little... specialized, but Italian food is something close to my heart, despite the fact that I'm not at all Italian. 

Here, I will go first:

Susan Stabile stops
"What, you've never had this, Mark?"
I shake head, eager.

Now it is your turn.  Just make it 5 syllables, then 7, then 5...

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Realities of ISIS

The world changes fast.  Not long ago, we were just trying to figure out what to call ISIS.  Now we are coming to recognize a difficult truth: That ISIS has eclipsed al-Queda to become the most important jihadist group in the world.

An excellent article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants,  lays out some fascinating truths, starting with an answer to the riddle contained in the article's title:

In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

Wood also establishes something important and fascinating: That unlike most jihadi groups, ISIS needs territory, since part of the destiny it envisions is to be a caliphate.

That opens up possibilities-- if we can stop ISIS from expanding its footprint, we can defeat its ambition.

Is doing that worth the cost?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Not OK, Oklahoma!

Apparently, there is a movement in the Oklahoma legislature to ban AP history because it does not adequately teach "American Exceptionalism":

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4....

For other lawmakers, however, Fisher is thinking too small. Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern (R) claims that all “AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core.” She has asked the Oklahoma Attorney General to issue a ruling. Kern argues that “AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.”

Oklahoma, I've found, is a very strange place.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


What was the deal with Eddie Murphy?

I got to watch the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary show with my sister and brother, which was a blast. Much of it was great, but the low point was the bizarre appearance by Eddie Murphy, which lasted 73 seconds and seemed to end with the feed being pulled.  Making it more weird was the excellent 3 1/2 minute introduction by Chris Rock. What happened there????

Meanwhile, Bill Murray provided my favorite part of the show-- The (heretofore unknown) Love Theme from Jaws.

Monday, February 16, 2015



From last Friday:

Thump thump thump thump thump
heart song with the first view of
Mont Ventoux, Provence.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Sunday Reflection: A coalition for mercy

This past Thursday, I was in Washington I was part of an event put on by Generation Opportunity, the group that put together (along with Freethink Media) this great video about my client, Weldon Angelos:

It was a fascinating evening.  Two congressmen spoke: Democrat Bobby Scott, and Republican Thomas Massie, and they agreed.  I served on one panel (with Weldon's sister, Lisa, and FAMM's founder and president, Julie Stewart), and the other featured representatives from the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation.  It was exactly what people say is missing in Washington-- agreement across the political spectrum on an important issue, clemency.

I once wrote an article (available here) arguing that mercy is an expression of natural law within legal systems.  However much we try to dispel the effects of mercy (usually in the interest of uniformity in sentencing), it comes back.  Judges who are liberal and judges who are conservative both force mercy back into the system.  It is like water, that will flow inexorably to the place it needs to be, eroding away over time whatever walls we might erect.  

And that is good.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Get Back, Loretta!

There are things from the 60's that don't hold up so well, but this does:

Friday, February 13, 2015


Haiku Friday: Mountains

As someone who has spent his adult life in Detroit, Waco, and Minneapolis, I am no expert on mountains.  That makes them all the more fascinating to me, of course.  Let's haiku about them today… I will go first.

Peaks of Mount Clemens
Tower high over Detroit
Or so I dreamed.

Now it is your turn-- use five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third, and have some fun!

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The State of Debate

Yesterday's debate with the Hon. Rich Sullivan at Penn Law was really wonderful-- even without the event, it would have been great to see Rich, Judge Jan DuBois and Christian Latham (CTL) all at the same time.  And as a special bonus, my law school (and Philly-clerking-year) roommate and great lawyer Mike Schwartz came, too!

This project works in part because Judge Sullivan and I have always learned from one another in our disagreements.  That is something I learned from Judge DuBois as his clerk-- one of several lessons he taught me which have made all the difference.  Another-- which was at the heart of this event-- was to stay in touch and work with the people you admire in your life.

Debate as a worthwhile discussion has fallen away in this country.  There are at least two key factors.  One is the media's decline into featuring people yelling at each other in place of actual analysis.  They sell conflict, for its own sake.  A second factor is our political culture, which is built largely on describing opponents as bad people, rather than describing distinctions between policy points.  Both sides are to blame for both of these trends.

Am I wrong?  Where does good worthwhile debate still occur?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


When "too late" comes too soon...

Apparently, Jon Stewart is leaving "The Daily Show."

This is really bad news for me, since I kept telling myself I needed to start watching that show and never really got around to it (just like "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad").  Now it is too late.  Sigh.

Jon Stewart went to William and Mary two years ahead of me, and we both worked at the radio station.  Many people with good taste told me he had a great show.  Yet, I never got to see it.  I guess I had better rush to catch up now!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


105 Years of Tallness

One of my favorite sights in Waco was the 22-story ALICO Building, which is by far the tallest buidling in town.  The remarkable thing is that it has held that status for 105 years, since it was constructed in 1910.  What other town has had the same tallest building for over a century?

Downtown Waco was rocked by a tornado in 1953; 114 people died, 2,000 cars were destroyed, and most of the businesses in downtown were wrecked.  The ALICO survived, though, as it swayed several feet but held strong in the end.  

Monday, February 09, 2015


Heart of Breakfast

Thanks to all the excellent haiku-ers last week!  Breakfast was on the menu… and I want some of what Christine is making:

KitchenAid Mixer
silky smooth batter, cast iron
sizzling, buttery...

Powdered sugar
lemon wedges, fork tender,
a tasty morsel.

And Renee can make the coffee:

Java the steam chugs
To my insensate station
Gears grind. Toes move. Wake!

Sunday, February 08, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Easy evil

Yesterday, I made the terrible mistake of going to see the awful film Jupiter Ascending.  Among the many, many bizarre twists in this movie, my favorite might have been that a wide variety of advanced civilizations lived in hellhole cities that paled in comparison to the film's depiction of Chicago.  Which… raises the question of why those civilizations couldn't create a decent city, or why all those aliens didn't move to Chicago.  

While that was kind of a unique development (as was Channing Tatum doing his "dumb look" through much of the movie), other aspects followed the well-established formula for space epics.  For example, you can tell immediately who the heroes are.  The good people are all attractive, while the bad people are pretty much all appalling lizard-people or gollum-ish harpies or leering jerks or sallow-eyed psychopaths.  In the rare instance where they are attractive, they are too slick and surrounded by the lizard people, etc.

Their evil is pretty apparent, too-- they are harvesting people by the planet-full to make a profitable life-extending serum.  They take hostages and snarl threats.  It's pretty easy to know who to like.  

Of course, movies have long made it easy to know who is on which side.  I mean Darth Vader-- all you need to hear is the name!

In the actual moral universe we inhabit, it's not that simple.  As Jesus taught, the most important evil is often within ourselves.  But that is hard to confront. Maybe that is the best way to understand these movies: as a metaphor for the battle within ourselves, a personification of that inner dialogue we all have when confronted with hard decisions.  There are the ugly thoughts, propelled by self-interest and resentment that are countered by the good ones born of grace.  And, in the end, we can hope that good will surmount evil in that much more realistic battleground.

Saturday, February 07, 2015


Bob L'eponge est ici!

But will the movie be in French?

Friday, February 06, 2015


Haiku Friday: Breakfast food!

There is something wonderfully evocative about breakfast food-- it brings back memories, is the setting for our most casual moments, and is at the root of traditions.  I love the fact that when Jesus returns from death to meet with his followers, he goes to the shore and makes them breakfast.  There is something deeply human yet divine in that.

What is that one food that does it for you, that has meaning, that you long for or remember?  Let's haiku about that this week.  I'll go first:

Island toast: eaten
Only at Osler Island.  
I wait, eagerly.

Now it is your turn-- just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables and have some fun!

Thursday, February 05, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Income inequality

So… There is income equality in the United States.  It's inherent in capitalism that people will have varying degrees of income.  However, many people think that the wide disparities between rich and poor-- or, really, the disparity between the very rich and everyone else--  in this country is too wide.  The gap has expanded since the 1970's,  Between 1979-2007, the top 1% saw their after-tax income rise by 275%, while the middle class saw an increase of about 40%.  

Is this a problem?  If so, what should be done?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Upcoming, and the Daily Beast

Next week is going to be fascinating.  I'll teach on Monday, then head off to DC & Philadelphia for a series of events relating to criminal law.  On Tuesday, I'll be at a meeting of law enforcement officials at the Vera Institute of Justice, then on Wednesday I'll head up to Penn Law to debate Judge Richard Sullivan (SDNY) again on the issue of narcotics sentencing.  The moderator will by my mentor Judge Jan DuBois (EDPa, for whom I clerked 25 years ago), at an event organized by our own CTL. 

Finally, on Thursday I'll be back in DC to speak at an event discussed yesterday in the Daily Beast-- a collaboration with the Koch Brothers and FAMM in support of commutations for people like my client Weldon Angelos (who is pictured above).   Here is what Tim Mak had to say in his article:

Weldon Angelos could have hijacked a plane and spent less time in jail. But due to mandatory sentencing laws, the father of two was sentenced to 55 years in jail for selling pot – a term so long even the judge who gave it to him protested its injustice.

A group backed by the Koch brothers agrees, and is now fighting to get him out of prison.

Angelos is an extreme case: even though the crime was considered non-violent, Angelos carried a firearm during a series of marijuana sales to a Salt Lake City police informant – so federal mandatory minimums required that he be put in jail until he’s 80 years old.

Judge Paul Cassell protested the sentence when he was forced to make it in 2004, a move he told The Daily Beast he considers “the most unjust, lengthy sentence that I had to hand down.”

At the time of the trial, Cassell noted that Angelos’ sentence exceeded the minimum required for an individual convicted of airline hijacking, detonating a bomb intended to kill bystanders, and the exploitation of a child for pornography.

Angelos is now 35 years old and has spent some 11 years behind bars.

Judge Paul Cassell told The Daily Beast he considers the mandatory sentence, “the most unjust, lengthy sentence that I had to hand down.” He has more than 40 years left to go. Even though his crime was non-violent, parole is not an option at the federal level.

His only hope for relief from his sentence is an order by the president.

“If we’re going to deprive someone of liberty, and deal with the high cost of incarceration, it better solve a problem. And in this case, it doesn’t solve any problem,” argued Mark Osler, Angelos’ lawyer, who filed a clemency petition on his behalf in 2012.

This is where the Koch brothers come in.

The case is being highlighted by Koch-backed group Generation Opportunity, which targets millenials, in a broader campaign to press for criminal justice reforms this year.

They will kick off the campaign with a documentary highlighting Angelos’ predicament, premiering at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum next week.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


Je suis Left Shark

So, the Super Bowl was a great game with a great halftime show.  That doesn't' happen so often, but it did this year.  Given that I watch one pro football game a year, and this was it, I'm pretty happy about that.

One of the heroes of the evening was the infamous Left Shark.  In one of her songs, Katy Perry's halftime show featured two dancing sharks.  Well, one of them-- the one on the right as you watch-- was dancing.  The other one was kind of "dancing," in the way that drunk people do when they think they are looking pretty good.  Right shark is obviously following the choreography, while Left Shark is pretty much just hitting himself with his flippers.  Check it out:

I'm planning on doing what I can to work "Right shark/Left shark" into my vocabulary as much as possible, like this:

"IPLawGuy can get a little Left Shark when he plays pool."

"That Nationals' pitching crew is all Right Sharks."

"Man, I need to blow off some steam. Let's go downtown and get our Left Shark on."

Monday, February 02, 2015


Thanks Colonial Rd. peeps!

Lots of great haiku last week, including some from my own childhood street, Colonial Rd.  I was most intrigued by Amy from Blairmoor's though:

827 Blairmoor
In love with next door neighbor
Unrequited love.

And, as is often true, Renee:

Muse Road grew pebbles
Grey,grit dust and a poet.
She learned to walk through

Life barefoot feeling each
Stone,some jagged painful,some
Round with blessed peace.

And she told each stone
To others,hoping to see
Them walk too bold Children.

Sunday, February 01, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Dedication

As most of you know, I am not Catholic, but I do work at a Catholic law school.  This has (for the first time) brought me into regular contact with priests and nuns who have dedicated their lives to the vocation of faith.  They are imperfect, certainly, and I understand the criticism that some have of the problems that have arisen within Catholicism involving people who have chosen that path.  Still, their choice is remarkable.

One of my worst faults is that I am a part-time Christian.  Not by intention; really, but just because I find myself directed by other motivations. I have made very important decisions that were not rooted in my faith, and sometimes I didn't even consider my faith in making them.  Instead, I relied on what made sense to me at the time, or went along with what the world seemed to require of me at the time.  

When I see a nun, though, I am reminded what a soft luxury that is.  I can slip into some other persona seamlessly, and speak as a lawyer or a professor or a writer and let that be my persona at the moment.  I do, too.  They can't.  They are always expected to be a nun.  

It's a challenging thought to consider:  What if I gave up all of my other identities, as priests and nuns do?  Even when they are lawyers and professors and writers, that doesn't become their master status, even in a moment-- they are always defined by their vocation of faith.  What strength it would take to do that and do it well!

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