Tuesday, March 31, 2015


So... did the Onion get this one right?

Under the Headline "Indiana Governor Insists New Law Has Nothing To Do With Thing It Explicitly Intended To Do," the Onion reports the following:

INDIANAPOLIS—Addressing the controversy surrounding his state’s recently signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana governor Mike Pence forcefully insisted to reporters Monday that the new law has nothing at all to do with what it was explicitly intended to do. “Let me state directly that in no way is this law designed to allow the kind of anti-gay discrimination that is the law’s single reason for existing,” said Pence, emphasizing that provisions authorizing businesses to refuse service to gay customers were nothing more than the only explanation for the law being drafted in the first place. “Regardless of the widespread misconceptions surrounding it, I want to reassure Hoosiers of all backgrounds that this law will never be interpreted in the way it was unambiguously designed to be from the very beginning.” Pence further clarified that the act’s sole purpose was in fact to safeguard the free exercise of religion it was in no way whatsoever created to protect.

Is that so far off?

With this whole controversy, it seems pretty inescapable that what is most different about the Indiana law (versus similar laws on the books of the federal government and several other states) is the context, which some feel shows that the law was aimed precisely at gay men and lesbians.  Not that it will only affect them-- if it was the intent of the drafters to aim it narrowly at anybody, they did a terrible job, and it looks like the first beneficiaries may really be the Church of Cannabis.

Monday, March 30, 2015


The Bunny

I have to give the haiku crown to anonymous (though only because I worried about what CTL might be describing, and because the Medievalist's seemed almost cruel to those of us who live in Minnesota):

Chocolate bunny
I liked to bite off your head

I will leave you with this video of the Easter Bunny visiting some unsuspecting kids:

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Finding Easter

Christmas and Easter represent a great duality, or really a set of them: Winter and Spring, Birth and re-birth, hope and fulfillment.

Less obvious is this: If the spirit of Christmas is giving to others, then the spirit of Easter is more about self-reflection.  It's got a darker and more mystical edge to it, and the fact that it defies the kind of commercialization that has overtaken Christmas allows deeper meaning for some people.

We have a week now to find Easter. What will that mean for you?

Saturday, March 28, 2015


A good question: Lie detectors

Friday, March 27, 2015


Now up at HuffPo...

Is my piece on the Prosecutor of Holy Week.


Haiku Friday: The Easter Terror (Bunny)

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that has always kind of creeped me out about the Easter Bunny.  His backstory is vague, he has huge teeth, and it is confusing that a mammal would hand out eggs.  

Let's haiku today about that Bunny (or another bunny, if you would prefer).

Here, I'll go first:

At Eastern Market
He slouched on a bench… the
Easter Bunny smokes?

Now it is your turn!  Just use the 5 syllable/7 syllable/5 syllable formula in the comments section below, and have some fun!

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Confusing facts and foreign policy

Every morning during the week, I open the door to my house and the New York Times is lying there, in a little blue plastic sheath.  If I shake off the snow and open it up, I find a wealth of information both wonderful and confounding.  And sometimes, pretty confusing.

For example, yesterday's paper reported the news that Saudi Arabia has organized a 10-nation military force to invade Yemen, which has pretty much fallen apart due to civil unrest.  In an attempt to explain what is happening, the Times offered up this:

The country appeared to be sliding toward a civil war as dangerous as any in the region, with elements of a sectarian feud, a regional proxy conflict, the attempted return of an ousted authoritarian and the expansion of anti-Western extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State eager to capitalize on the chaos.

The Houthis, a minority religious group from northern Yemen, practice a variant of Shiite Islam and receive support from Iran.

But they are also collaborating with Yemeni security forces still loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the longtime strongman who was pushed from power amid the Arab Spring uprising but now appears to be orchestrating a comeback in alliance with the Houthis.

So... Iran, Al Qaeda, and Isis are apparently on one side, and Saudi Arabia is on the other, with a bunch of other nations.  Sigh.  There is an awful lot I don't know.

And that's a problem.  As some politicians talk about a war with Iran, even well-educated Americans are often pretty clueless about what is going on in the Middle East.  The simple take on things is that it is Israel v. Everyone Else In The Region, but that explains almost none of the recent conflicts in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt, and, well, Yemen. 

Is it ethical to for the US to take military action in a region when we don't have an informed national conversation about the conflict we are entering?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


The Regretful Prosecutor

Yesterday Tall Tenor sent me a remarkable story from Atlantic Monthly revolving around the wrongful conviction and death sentence given to a man named Glenn Ford in 1985 in Louisiana.

Released after 30 years because the district attorney asked for the charges to be dismissed due to new evidence, the state of Louisiana is fighting against paying Mr. Ford any compensation.  Meanwhile, Ford is dying of stage four lung cancer.

In the middle of all this, one of the prosecutors in the case has written a memorable letter of regret regarding the case.  In that letter the prosecutor, A.M. "Marty" Stroud III, begins this way (after a few preliminaries:

I was at the trial of Glenn Ford from beginning to end. I witnessed the imposition of the death sentence upon him. I believed that justice was done. I had done my job. I was one of the prosecutors and I was proud of what I had done.

The death sentence had illustrated that our community would brook no tolerance for cold-blooded killers. The Old Testament admonishment, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, was alive and well in Caddo Parish. I even received a congratulatory note from one of the state's witnesses, concluding with the question, "how does it feel to be wearing a black glove?"

Members of the victim's family profusely thanked the prosecutors and investigators for our efforts. They had received some closure, or so everyone thought. However, due to the hard work and dedication of lawyers working with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, along with the efforts of the Caddo Parish district attorney's and sheriff's offices, the truth was uncovered.

Later, Mr. Stroud reveals a more human part of the story:

In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie "And Justice for All," "Winning became everything."

After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That's sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any "celebration."

In my rebuttal argument during the penalty phase of the trial, I mocked Mr. Ford, stating that this man wanted to stay alive so he could be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. I continued by saying this should be an affront to each of you jurors, for he showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict.

How totally wrong was I.

To be moral, the death penalty must be perfect-- we must know that innocents won't be killed. Capital punishment is a product of humans, though, and we humans can never be perfect, or create perfection.  The death penalty cannot, then, ever be moral.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Maybe I DO need a life coach...

Monday, March 23, 2015


Charlie Browned it

My dad wins:

first time my dad came
to watch me kick off and I
Charley Browned it

And in the non-sport category, Renee:

I had reams of note
Cards, but,-- Ephrata's debate
Team was so hot I

Forgot all I knew
About Taft - Hartley. Became
Fantasy-bound. LOST.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Every Day I Write the Book

I am finishing work now on my second book, which is about doing the Trial of Jesus all over the place.  The manuscript is due on July 1, and I am at that point where it is running in the background of my mind often, even as I do other things. 

When I get stuck during the writing process, there is this visual image I keep coming back to, a single moment. I am sitting at a picnic table outside of a Sonic restaurant in Manchaca, Texas. It is a hot April day, but I am wearing a suit. Across from me is Kent McKeever, who played the role of Jesus in that iteration of the trial.  He is wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. People walk by uncomfortably, glancing sideways at him as we eat our tater tots.

That is how my book will end.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


The Pope speaks on capital punishment

As I understand it, for many years Catholic social teaching on capital punishment has been less than absolute: That it should be avoided if a society has other ways to safely incapacitate those who are most dangerous to others.

However, a recent statement by Pope Francis seems to go farther than that:

In a lengthy letter written in Spanish and addressed to the president of the International Commission against the death penalty, Pope Francis thanks those who work tirelessly for a universal moratorium, with the goal of abolishing the use of capital punishment in countries right across the globe.

Pope Francis makes clear that justice can never be done by killing another human being and he stresses there can be no humane way of carrying out a death sentence. For Christians, he says, all life is sacred because every one of us is created by God, who does not want to punish one murder with another, but rather wishes to see the murderer repent. Even murderers, he went on, do not lose their human dignity and God himself is the guarantor.

Capital punishment, Pope Francis says, is the opposite of divine mercy, which should be the model for our man-made legal systems. Death sentences, he insists, imply cruel and degrading treatment, as well as the torturous anguish of a lengthy waiting period before the execution, which often leads to sickness or insanity.

The Pope also condemns the use of the death penalty by “totalitarian regimes” or “fanatical groups” who seek to exterminate “political prisoners”, “minorities”, or anyone seen as a threat to political power and ambitions.

But he makes quite clear that the use of capital punishment signifies “a failure” on the part of any State. However serious the crime, he says, an execution “does not bring justice to the victims, but rather encourages revenge” and denies any hope of repentence or reparation for the crime that has been committed.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Haiku Friday: My team lost!

So, three hours into March Madness, and my bracket-- which had Baylor and Iowa State going deep-- is toast.  Both were three seeds that lost to 14 seeds.  Sigh.

So, let's haiku about tough losses, in sports or other arenas.  I will go first:

I was in Boston
When Bill Buckner muffed it.
The town went silent.

Now it is your turn!  Just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and have some fun!

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: College Admissions Frenzy

Frank Bruni is coming out with a book that encourages Americans to calm down a little about college admissions. Here is part of what he said in a New York Times piece last week:

[L]ife is defined by setbacks, and success is determined by the ability to rebound from them. And there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges.

So why do so many Americans — anxious parents, addled children — treat the period in late March and early April, when elite colleges deliver disappointing news to anywhere from 70 to 95 percent of their applicants, as if it’s precisely that?

I’m describing the psychology of a minority of American families; a majority are focused on making sure that their kids simply attend a decent college — any decent college — and on finding a way to help them pay for it. Tuition has skyrocketed, forcing many students to think not in terms of dream schools but in terms of those that won’t leave them saddled with debt. 

But for too many parents and their children, acceptance by an elite institution isn’t just another challenge, just another goal. A yes or no from Amherst or the University of Virginia or the University of Chicago is seen as the conclusive measure of a young person’s worth, an uncontestable harbinger of the accomplishments or disappointments to come. Winner or loser: This is when the judgment is made. This is the great, brutal culling.

What madness. And what nonsense.

FOR one thing, the admissions game is too flawed to be given so much credit. For another, the nature of a student’s college experience — the work that he or she puts into it, the self-examination that’s undertaken, the resourcefulness that’s honed — matters more than the name of the institution attended. In fact students at institutions with less hallowed names sometimes demand more of those places and of themselves. Freed from a focus on the packaging of their education, they get to the meat of it.

To a large degree, I think Bruni is right.  Many of the most successful people I know went to schools below the top tier.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Well, that isn't helping the cause...

In a story yesterday about the possible regulation of e-cigarettes so they are treated the same as old-fashioned smokes, the Waco Trib featured this photo of a primary opponent of the measure, the owner of a "vaping" shop that sells the e-cigarettes at issue.

I haven't actually seen anyone using an e-cigarette. Is it an issue for anyone out there in Razor-land?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The Devil's Tower

On the way out to Montana to meet up with IPLawGuy last week, I stopped by Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming.  It's a remarkable sight-- one of the most memorable places I have been.  When I visited, early in the morning, there was no one else there.  I walked around the entire base of the column and saw only deer (though lots of them).

On that walk, I felt a remarkable sense of calm.  Native Americans had hung prayer cloths on some of the trees, but other than that and the path itself, there was no sign of man for most of the walk.

Vaguely, I did remember that the tower was featured in the 1977 Steven Spielberg masterpiece "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," as the place where the aliens rendezvous with humans.

When I got back to Minnesota, I rented the movie.  Somehow, the scenes with the Tower really resonated with me in a way that I didn't expect.

Some places are just special.  And sometimes you don't completely know why that is.

Monday, March 16, 2015


The Commercial

   Christine, did you have to make this get stuck in my head (last Haiku Friday)?

M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, M'ow
M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, M'ow
M'ow, M'ow, M'ow, Meow...

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Sunday Reflection: The Three-Fold Quiet

Usually I fly out to meet IPLawGuy for our annual ski trip, but this year I drove out to Montana.  It took two days each way, but it was worth it.

On the way back, I stopped at Teddy Roosevelt National Park in the far western part of North Dakota.  I parked and climbed to the top of the ridge and looked out at the scene above.  There was some wind, and the sound of the river below, but other than that it was silent.  I stood there for a long time.  There was no sign of roads or cars or crowds.  

Not so long ago I learned to not fear silence.  I did it by going to Quaker meeting, and sitting quietly amid intentional silence in a roomful of people. Once I got used to that, I learned to be comfortable with the silence of nature, in a place like that bluff in North Dakota. Now I am becoming comfortable with the quiet nature of God-- a God who does not answer our questions and pleas with trumpets and bombast and who speaks in a still, small voice (if at all).  This, among these silences, is the most challenging of them all.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Ruining Johnny's Bar Mitzvah

Earlier this week I was in a little record store in Montana sorting through old vinyl with IPLawGuy (we were on our annual ski trip/Barbie Jeep tour).  We came across an album by the punk supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes titled "Ruin Johnny's Bar Mitzvah."

I had to find out more about that and, well, it's pretty much an accurate reporting of actual events...

Friday, March 13, 2015


Haiku Friday: The Commercial You Can't Forget

I may be the only American who still refers to Mason Reese now and then, but I'm not ashamed.  His commercials were burned into my consciousness at a very young age.  His commercials were… well, pretty unforgettable.  Today, let's haiku about the commercials we can't forget, new or old.

I will go first:

Mason Reese loved
His Underwood's Deviled Ham
(Whatever that was).

Now it is your turn!  Just make if 5 syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and 5 in the third...

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Expulsions at Oklahoma

As most people have seen by now, a video emerged out of the University of Oklahoma that was really repulsive.  The members of the SAE fraternity there, clad in tuxedoes and accompanied by dates in long dresses, sang a frat song that promised that black men could never be a part of that fraternity, and referred to them "hanging in a tree."

President Boren of OU immediately decried the incident, dissolved the fraternity, and expelled two of the students involved.

Now there are fascinating facets of this emerging:

-- So who would defend SAE? That would be former OU football coach Barry Switzer.

-- This may be an SAE thing at more than one school-- investigations have begun at reports of the same chant being used at Louisiana Tech and at the University of Texas.

-- Was the song a form of speech protected under the First Amendment?  Constitutional law expert Irwin Chemerinsky thinks that it is. Courts may well agree. If so, what is the best means to address those who would perpetuate not just a chant like this, but the thoughts behind it?

In discussing racial matters in the wake of the events in Ferguson and New York, I sometimes encounter the claim that we have moved beyond race in American society.  We haven't.  Racism is still a part of American society, with devastating costs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


The last of the snow

Something happened in the last few days-- Spring came.  At least for the moment.

Not just in Minnesota, either, but all over the north.  Temperatures got up into the sixties, and people began walking around in t-shirts, eating outside, and picking up the trash that accumulated under the snow.

It won't last… but it is great for now!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Why I fit in here in Minnesota!

Yes, the high school hockey tournament was last weekend, and that means it is time for… the all-star hockey hair team:

Monday, March 09, 2015


Words about libraries

You guys can haiku on anything!  Great work on libraries last week, like this one from Renee:

Books whisper to me
Such tantalizing proposals--.
Magic phone talks trash.

Sunday, March 08, 2015


Sunday Reflection: A Nation With Christians

What a week! I started out last Sunday in Richmond, giving the sermon at the wonderful Holy Comforter Episcopal Church.  Then, later in the week, I gave three presentations in Tucson-- and got to do it without missing a class through a combination of good flights and video conferencing.  I am blessed with incredible opportunities!

Today in the Waco Trib, I have a piece that is part of a continuing dialogue there on whether or not the United States is a "Christian Nation."  Here is how it starts:

I write this on a snowy day in Williamsburg, Virginia, birthplace of much of our democracy’s structure. As a freshman many years ago at William and Mary, I remember wandering about this old village when something struck me: Where were the churches? There was only one — Bruton Parish, the tiny Episcopal stalwart — and I thought that perhaps the others had been removed for some reason.

Suspecting an anti-Christian bias in the reconstruction of the town, I went to my history professor. He told me that the reconstruction was true to the past; in colonial America, this was a city of taverns, not churches. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the others had gathered in a bar, not the church. In fact, those two Founding Fathers had worked together to disestablish the Anglican Church as the official religion of Virginia.

You can read the rest of it here.

Saturday, March 07, 2015


Sweet Briar closing?!?

Despite a long history and a significant endowment, Sweet Briar College has announced that it is closing, and soon--  at the end of this school year.  Students admitted for next year are going to have to find a different school.  That seems a little... abrupt.

When I was at William and Mary, one of our dorms (Jefferson) burned down. Many students lost all of their college possessions, including clothes.  I'll never forget the Sweet Briar van pulling up, full of sweaters. It was a very generous outpouring of support!  Of course, many of the sweaters were monogrammed, which meant the William and Mary students had to sort through them, trying to find both the right size and the right initials...

Friday, March 06, 2015


Haiku Friday: In the library

Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I love libraries.  One of my favorite things to do is to just wander and pull books out if the title interest me.  It's overwhelming, all of the information there… and there is a presence to it.

Let's haiku about our favorite libraries-- or least favorite-- and memorable experiences in libraries.  Here, I will go first:

Deep within the stacks
Stolid Sterling Library
Distraction abounds.

Now it is your turn-- just use the 5/7/5 syllable plan, and have some fun!

Thursday, March 05, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Muslim Holidays and Public Schools

In a move that will probably keep right-wing news outlets outraged for months, New York City has announced that their public schools will close for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.  The District already recognizes several Jewish and Christian Holidays.

Is there a problem with this?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015


A Good Idea on the XL Pipeline

I always like it when people who are real experts opine on controversial topics-- so much of what we hear and read is politicized criticism from generalists. 

For example, I love Ralph Cooper's recent column in the Waco Trib on the Keystone  XL pipeline. Here is part of it:

For a good part of my adult life, I taught and consulted with industry on how to reduce the risks associated with hazardous materials and hazardous waste. One of my observations was that our petroleum and chemical industries tend to store and transport stuff when it is at its most hazardous. An example is methyl isocyanate, the deadly Bhopal, India chemical.

The Keystone XL pipeline proposes to transport material at its most hazardous, over longer distances, and with many secondary consequences such as waste residues to be disposed in our already overburdened Gulf Coast. The bitumen mined in Alberta must be thinned with hazardous solvents in order to move it by pipeline, increasing the risks associated with a spill as the material crosses aquifers, rivers and communities.

And once it gets to refineries in the Gulf Coast, the process will result in wastes that must be disposed near the refineries due to cost considerations. Then the products will be put into other pipelines and rail cars and transported, some of it back north, to the markets where it will be used.
It would make a great deal more sense to build the refinery at the mine site, then convert the material into product that can be moved more safely by pipeline or rail and with a shorter distance to market. Waste could be disposed of in the mined-out areas in Alberta.

This would be less risky and likely much less expensive. It might require additional pipeline capacity to transport the cleaned-up product to markets across Canada and the northern tier of the United States. That is the pipeline that should be built, if needed, instead of a pipeline for a toxic and hazardous mixture of solvents and bitumen.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


Still pushing...

On Sunday, I flew back to Minneapolis from Virginia, where I had given a sermon. On the way out, I picked up a copy of the Washington Post, the newspaper that got me through college.  Opening it up to page three, I saw the article pictured above (and linked here).

Sometimes, when I get quoted in a news story, I feel kind of stupid about what I said-- not because I was misquoted (because I rarely am), but because what I said was kind of, uh, stupid.  But not this time.  The reporter, Sari Horwitz, pulled this out of the things I told her:

Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and an advocate for inmates petitioning for clemency, said there are “thousands” of inmates just as worthy of clemency as the eight who were granted it by the president at the end of last year.

“The injustice will be if this administration ends with them in prison,” he said. “This is one of the major justice issues of our time.”

I like that.  And I hope that the President read it. As Rachel Barkow and I argued in the Post just a few months ago (and the NY Times agrees), there is a better way to do things without all of the bureaucracy within the current federal clemency process.

Monday, March 02, 2015


Spring for Gavin

Yeah, I loved this haiku, and its celebration of heroes like Don Mossi:

Sunshine melts the snow
But baseball wakes the spirit
Spring training is here!

Sunday, March 01, 2015


Sunday Reflection: The calm and quiet

In Williamsburg this weekend, I saw something I had never seen before in my years here:  a blanket of snow that hushed everything.  In a place that is already quiet, it was transformative. Noiseless, without traffic, with the sharp corners rounded off by snow, everything is different.  

Perfect for still, small voices...

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