Tuesday, June 30, 2015


If you missed it...

This was a moment of great meaning, that perhaps only this president could have given us.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Up now at HuffPo: The case against killing Dylann Roof

Check it out here.


Howard the Duck

The Medievalist really upped his game this week, by reminding us of the worst movie ever:

So, Howard the duck.
Leah Thompson loves a fowl,
Was this a good film?

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Sunday Reflection: John Kasich and the Book of Matthew

In a recent interview, Ohio Governor and probably presidential candidate John Kasich said something puzzling:

Kasich, who is expected to launch a presidential bid in the coming weeks, said his Catholic background pushed him to run for governor.

"I got a calling, folks," he said Friday in a speech referring to Bible verses from memory more than once.

"I don't turn to Matthew to figure out what my views are," Kasich told reporters after his appearance on stage. "What my faith does for me, I hope, is gives me strength, it allows me to have patience, it helps me to love my enemies, it helps me to care more about other people, to be more empathetic toward other people."

Why would a Christian NOT turn to the Book of Matthew to figure out what his views are? That is, after all, the book that contains Christ's longest and most direct teaching, the Sermon on the Mount. Oddly, he then cites principles that are best articulated by Jesus in Matthew: to love enemies, and show empathy.

I know that many people are uncomfortable with politicians who say that their faith will influence their work, but that is the answer I most respect.

Think of it this way: There are only four possible forthright answers to the question "Will your faith influence  your work in the job you are seeking?"

1) To honestly say "My faith will influence the choices I make in the job I am seeking."
2) To dishonestly say "My faith will influence the choices I make in the job I am seeking."
3) To honestly say "My faith will not influence the choices I make in the job I am seeking."
4) To dishonestly say "My faith will not influence the choices I make in the job I am seeking."

First, we can dispense with the dishonest answers because they are, well, dishonest. Yet, I suspect that choice number three is both dishonest and popular.

Next, let's consider #3, the claim that one's faith will not influence the choices one makes in office. What kind of faith is it that gets checked at the door when one goes to work? If faith truly establishes one's principles, why would you abandon that in some of the most important decisions that you make? If a person's honest answer is that their faith wouldn't influence their work, then they have a "faith" that puts their own judgment above the desire of God for the world.

Thus, the first choice is the best, as it offers both honesty and a whole view of faith. Does that mean that we would have a state religion? No, because no one elected official is the state. Rather, it means that people of faith probably cannot faithfully hold some elected positions. If your belief system, spoken plainly, means you won't get elected, then your ambition should give way to your faith.

I've never run for office, nor will I. I'm aware that some of the things I believe, directed by my faith, are deeply unpopular in this country. People don't want pacifism or a government that primarily devotes its resources to helping the poor, the sick, those in prison-- the least of those among us. Yet my faith (and what Jesus says in Matthew) tells me that these are the principles to live by, the goals we must have, in whatever job we hold. So, there are some jobs I cannot hold. And perhaps John Kasich would be better off choosing either a faith that includes the Book of Matthew or his ambition for the presidency, rather than following his ambition while editing his Bible.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Jindal Candidacy Meets Lukewarm Reception With His Family

It's creepy enough filming a family discussion with a camera hidden in a tree, but why would Jindal release this video of his kids lukewarm reception (even when prompted) to his candidacy? Weird. It looks like he does have about a 66% approval rating with his own children, which may be above average for American parents.

Of course, it could be worse…

Friday, June 26, 2015


Haiku Friday: Bad old movies

I was having trouble sleeping a few days ago, so I wandered down to the TV and watched the horrible Arnold Schwarznegger movie "Total Recall." It tells you everything you need to know about the movie when I tell you that Arnold's acting is about the best thing in the movie.

Still, I can't stop thinking about the stupid thing!

Let's haiku about bad movies this week. I know you have seen some.

Here, I will go first:

People live on Mars
And there are lots of face melts!
Is that Sharon Stone?

Now it is your turn! Just make the first line five syllables, seven for the second, and five for the third.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Confederate Flag

I'm from the North, but I have spent 14 years of my adult life in the South. And it wasn't a few years living in Austin, either. I went to college at a state school in Virginia (William and Mary) where the great majority of students were from the South. I also lived and worked for ten years in Waco, Texas. I've seen the confederate battle flag a lot, and I despise it. I would have no problem with its disappearance from the American cultural landscape.

When I was a freshman or sophomore in college (so, 1982 or 1983), I was walking one night with a few friends through a dark part of campus, thick with trees. There was a group coming towards us, a large group of men. As they got closer I could see that it was the members of an all-white fraternity, Kappa Alpha. They were wearing grey confederate uniforms and carrying a confederate battle flag.  This wasn't an isolated incident-- KA chapters did the same thing all over the nation, calling them "Old South Parades." I remember people standing out of the way, black and white, and letting them pass as they sang some "Old South" song. I remember, too, just being ashamed. I was ashamed of my school, ashamed of my nation, and ashamed of myself, for not stepping into the middle of it and making a disturbance, and leading others to do the same.  I remember one black student, standing across from me as they passed, and will never forget the look on his face. It wasn't anger, or confusion-- there was no confusing what was going on. It was sadness.

That moment convicted me of the damage these symbols do. I have heard the claims that the confederate flag represents "heritage," but it is a heritage of slavery and the economic and moral system that went with it.

The South has no lock on racism. There was plenty of that in Detroit, of course. But the toxic symbolism that reinforced the racism was, and is, more pronounced in the South.

States should not display Confederate symbols, but individuals have the right under the First Amendment to display a Confederate battle flag (or a skull and crossbones or a swastika or an effigy of the Pope). But if you do, that tells me something about you. And what it tells me is that you have something in common with those Kappa Alphas and their "Old South Parade."  America deserves better, and we may be getting there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Bring on college football!

As a sports fan, this is the least fun time of the year. Baseball bores me to death unless I am at the park watching the game, and that is the only league going (other than the WNBA, which I have never seen).

So, I spend some of my summer daydreaming of fall. Here is what I am looking forward to:

1) A renaissance for Michigan football?

With new coach Jim Harbaugh, it appears that everything will be different. They are recruiting well, but that impact won't be felt for a few years. In the meantime… a little bit better this year?

2) Baylor and TCU, round two

In the Big 12, TCU is the favorite with Baylor close behind. Man, it is hard to be Texas these days! They must hate seeing that….

3)  Minnesota getting better

The upward trajectory under coach Jerry Kill might continue-- and if it does, Minnesota could be on track to surprise some people.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Most Promising New Mascot (Misc.)

Sleepy Walleye sent me this excellent new mascot picture. Can anyone identify his team?

Monday, June 22, 2015


Recycling problems?

Here in Minnesota, most communities seem to provide giant blue bins where you dump everything in without sorting it out. It's very easy, and leads to less trash-- my own recycling bin is often more full that the trash bin.

However, it appears that this model-- where the recycling facility sorts everything out-- may be failing as big recycling plants are losing money. According to the Star-Tribune:

Trying to encourage ­conservation, progressive lawmakers and environmentalists have made matters worse. By pushing to increase recycling rates with bigger and bigger bins — while demanding almost no sorting by consumers — the recycling stream has become increasingly polluted and less valuable, imperiling the economics of the whole system.

“We kind of got everyone thinking that recycling was free,” said Bill Moore, a leading industry consultant on paper recycling who is based in Atlanta. “It’s never really been free, and in fact, it’s getting more expensive.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Creating

Yesterday, I was talking to my mom, and we were laughing. My family is like that; the default seems to be happiness and appreciation for what is, and much of that is my Mom's inner light. It is my dad's gift, though, to create things. 

As I have spent the last weeks on writing this book, I am starting to feel and understand something that he has often said: That as he paints, he gets to know the characters on the canvas. He is meeting them, really. Of course, they are real people, already in existence, but he means that he is getting to know this one moment of them, the one with light and color and life.

The same thing is happening as I write. I have never felt that before, but because he taught me to look for it, I knew what was happening, and grew into it. 

I am lucky. And I am thankful.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


If you haven't seen this...

Friday, June 19, 2015


A Terrorist in Emanuel AME Church

I decided to break tradition and turn away from haiku this week, in order to have a timely reflection on an act of terrorism that is particularly repulsive: Dylann Roof's killing of nine parishioners at a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday.

Much has already been said, of course, and some of it is right on-- for example, that we need to describe this as terrorism. What else would it be?

There are three points I would like to add to the conversation.

1) Despite efforts to paint the killer as a "lone wolf," we must recognize that someone like him is produced by a culture (or what some might consider to be a sub-culture) within our society that is built upon top of the structural racism in the society as a whole.  He didn't, at age 21, develop an ideology of racial hate all on his own. Our nation needs to root out and address that sub-culture with the same energy we bring to addressing Muslim extremists, because it presents the same danger-- violent death-- to innocent Americans.

2) Like every other part of the country, South Carolina has a race problem-- they just aren't as good at hiding it. The state flag and the U.S. flag flew at half-mast yesterday at the South Carolina state capitol in the wake of the killing, but the Confederate battle flag was still at the top of its flagpole… because it is permanently attached there and cannot be moved without legislation. Meanwhile, SC Governor Nikki Haley said that "we do know that we'll never understand what motivates" people to commit acts of violence such as this-- about an incident in which a white man shot up a black church while declaring that he was there "to shoot black people." It's pretty clear what this terrorist's motives were. I find it remarkable that anyone would suggest that we don't know the killer's motives, or that the killing "wasn't about race."

3) Over the course of my life, I have been to black churches several times, with a friend or my dad and sometimes by myself. Even though I was a stranger, even though I was potentially dangerous, I was always warmly welcomed. That warmth was a part of this case, too. CNN quoted Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the church's Minister (and victim of the shooting) Rev. Clementa Pinckney (pictured here): Johnson told CNN her friend recounted the man coming into the church, asking for the minister.
"My cousin, being the nice, kind, welcoming person he is, he welcomed him to his congregation, welcomed him to the Bible study, and he sat there for an hour ... At the conclusion of the Bible study, they just heard just a ringing of a loud noise, and it was just awful from what I heard," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, I know that not all white churches would show that courtesy to a black man who wanders in. That juxtaposition, which lies in the background of this tragedy, deeply saddens me as a person of faith and an American.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Trade Policy!

So, it looks like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has been derailed, largely by Democrats. I'm a little confused about it, but IPLawGuy sent me some good clarification:

I think Charles Lane’s (not a right wing nut) column explains TPP well:
[The]  four high-wage nations — Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand — accounted for 56 percent of all goods traded with the United States in the TPP area during 2014, according to U.S. International Trade Commission data.

Lower-wage Mexico, Peru and Chile account for roughly 36 percent of TPP-area goods traded — yet the United States already has free-trade agreements with them, so they represent zero new low-wage competition for U.S. workers. The United States has trade surpluses with Peru and Chile, by the way.

TPP candidate Singapore has no minimum wage; so what? It’s a city-state of 5.5 million people, with a per capita income of more than $55,000 per year , and with which the United States already has free trade — and a $14 billion 2014 trade surplus.

A mere 5 percent of TPP-area trade in goods involves Vietnam and Malaysia — where wages are, indeed, substantially lower than in the United States, and with which the United States does not already have free trade. The United States has trade deficits with both.

--So if Lane is right, the only problematic nations are Vietnam and Malaysia.   But if we’re concerned about our influence in the Far East (vis a vis China), we need to do deals with them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


He's in! He's Trump! Does it matter?

Since you may have missed it:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Writing spaces

There have been times in my life where I have fantasized about having a certain car. Fortunately, that often involved reasonably-priced cars. For example, for a while I really was in love with the Mazda3. So much, that I indulged myself and bought one (and I LOVED it).

At the moment, the material possession I will admit a longing for is a writing shed. If you hadn't guessed, that is a shed where you go write stuff. Part of this is coming from my current predicament where I am finishing a book and find myself itinerant rather than rooted, as I seek out quiet, calm spaces. 

And, yeah, a writing shed is a thing. Here, for example, is George Bernard Shaw's:

And here is Virginia Woolf's (which I love):

What would your shed be like?

Monday, June 15, 2015


Haiku of the Drink

I learned so much last week! Like this must-try recipe from the Medievalist:

Lemonade, orange,
Mixed with a bunch of ice,
Ginger ale on top.

And Jill Scoggins spoke the truth:

100-plus in
Austin. Only ice-cold draft
Shiner does it. Ahhhhh.

But, as usual, my dad knows me best:

some cold lake water
scooped with a cup while
canoeing on Sag.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Light

I grew up paying attention to light. When I see a moment with great light, I have been trained to reach for my camera and save that moment. 

 The color of those tomatoes is beautiful, yes, but color is nothing without light. In fact, light can create beauty even in the absence of color:

I took both of these pictures on a very hard day, when my family was in mourning. In fact, the tomatoes were resting only a few yards from that milk chute. I remember looking at these two images in my camera that sad day and thinking "no wonder God is often perceived as light." Even when color is gone, the light will still be there, whether or not we choose to see it.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


IPlawGuy was right!

As regular readers of this blog know, my friend IPLawGuy regularly recommends new music that I need to listen to. Lately he has been pushing a host of bands, including Postal Riot, Minsk Manx, and Robby Tootle and the Hornblowers. The one I have really started to enjoy, though, is Slater Kinney, seen here having apparently locked their drummer out of the house:

Friday, June 12, 2015


Haiku Friday: Favorite Summer Drinx!

It's summer-- even in Minnesota! And in the summer, it's important to stay cool and hydrated. For whatever reason, what you are sipping is more important in the summer. Let's haiku about that this week! Here are a few of the summer drinx you might consider:

-- Iced Tea
-- Lemonade
-- Soup
-- Ice Cold Beer
-- Iced coffee
-- Boiling Hot Beer
-- Sparkling water
-- Sauvignon blanc
-- Festus Brau
-- Frozen margarita
-- Lukewarm tap water in your cupped hands
-- Blue drink
-- Wine cooler
-- Water from the hose

Here, I will go first:

Large cherry limeade...
It's worth the drive to Sonic!
Later, chew the ice.

Now it is your turn. Use five syllables for the first line, seven syllables of the second, then forty-seven for the third line. No, wait, just five for the third line.  Sorry.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Pool Party

By now, just about everyone has seen this:

When I first saw it, I thought it must be fake. There was something about the crazy cop (Eric Casebolt) doing a barrel-roll right in front of the camera that just seemed staged-- that it would turn out to be filming for a Will Farrell movie or something. But, as the scene continues, it becomes clear that it is no fake. It's just really disturbing.

The police officer who does the barrel roll-- and then manhandles a 15-year-old girl in a bikini-- has now resigned and issued an apology. Well, kind of an apology:

“He never intended to mistreat anyone,” his attorney, Jane Bishkin, said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “He apologizes to all who were offended.

There are three problems with this statement. First, he wasn't there when the statement was made. Second, it's hard to see how he "didn't intend" his actions. By any reasonable definition, his actions were intentional. What's the non-intentional scenario?" That he slipped and then his knee fell on her back, and then it was all just a big misunderstanding… that just doesn't work.  Third, the apology is to those who "were offended." When a person's misdeed involves physical violence, the problem isn't people being offended. He needed to apologize to the black children he threw around.

The apologists for Officer Casebolt seem to want everyone to believe this had nothing to do with race, but the incident was racial from the very beginning. There was a scuffle between a black woman and two white women over a racial comment. The kids coming out of the party seemed to be sorted out for differential treatment by the police on the fly, with the black kids being the targets of the police.

I find it odd that so many people are committed to the thesis that there is no racism in the United States-- that every event that seems racist can be explained away somehow. Of course there is racism in the United States. What is so difficult to fathom about that?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I still miss Calvin and Hobbes...

Do you?

I think Bill Waterson was proud of the line "There's treasure everywhere!" And he should have been.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


Hero: Judge Mark W. Bennett

One amazing thing I have found in my academic life is that so many of my heroes become my collaborators. Bill Underwood, Randall O'Brien, Hulitt Gloer, Susan Stabile… I am fortunate in many ways, and this is one of the most important.

One of those hero/collaborators has been Judge Mark W. Bennett of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, who was the subject of an exceptional profile by Eli Saslow in the Washington Post this past Sunday.

I first heard from Judge Bennett the day that the Supreme Court ruled in our favor in Spears v. United States. It was Judge Bennett's opinion we were able to have reinstated; the Court said that he could, in fact "categorically reject" the federal sentencing guidelines' 100-to-1 ratio between powder and crack cocaine for sentencing purposes. He sent an email within a few moments of the opinion's announcement. I printed it out and put it in a folder marked "Bennett email" and put that folder in the top drawer of my desk. Later, we appeared together on academic panels, and co-authored a law review article about the roots of over-incarceration (you can download that here).

Saslow explains better than I can why I so admire Judge Bennett, who does the very hard work of seeing the people he sentences and emotionally engaged with the lives he judges:

And now it was another Tuesday in Sioux City — five hearings listed on his docket, five more nonviolent offenders whose cases involved mandatory minimums of anywhere from five to 20 years without the possibility of release. Here in the methamphetamine corridor of middle America, Bennett averaged seven times as many cases each year as a federal judge in New York City or Washington. He had sentenced two convicted murderers to death and several drug cartel bosses to life in prison, but many of his defendants were addicts who had become middling dealers, people who sometimes sounded to him less like perpetrators than victims in the case reports now piled high on his bench. “History of family addiction.” “Mild mental retardation.” “PTSD after suffering multiple rapes.” “Victim of sexual abuse.” “Temporarily homeless.” “Heavy user since age 14.”

Bennett tried to forget the details of each case as soon as he issued a sentence. “You either drain the bathtub, or the guilt and sadness just overwhelms you,” he said once, in his chambers, but what he couldn’t forget was the total, more than 1,100 nonviolent offenders and counting to whom he had given mandatory minimum sentences he often considered unjust. That meant more than $200 million in taxpayer money he thought had been misspent. It meant a generation of rural Iowa drug addicts he had institutionalized. So he had begun traveling to dozens of prisons across the country to visit people he had sentenced, answering their legal questions and accompanying them to drug treatment classes, because if he couldn’t always fulfill his intention of justice from the bench, then at least he could offer empathy. He could look at defendants during their sentencing hearings and give them the dignity of saying exactly what he thought.

“Congress has tied my hands,” he told one defendant now.

“We are just going to be warehousing you,” he told another.

“I have to uphold the law whether I agree with it or not,” he said a few minutes later.

I find it painful to read this. But it should be painful to deprive someone of freedom, to take them away from their family, to smash their hopes-- especially if it is not solving a problem.

Monday, June 08, 2015



There were some great haiku last week-- and Christine summed up much of the field-- but the one that spoke to the real me, the one who loves the combination of hockey and figure skating Tonya Harding brought to the world, was this poem by Megan Willome:

Go, Tonya Harding!
You'll carry the Portland vote.
Watch out, Hillary.

Sunday, June 07, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Every Day I Write the Book

Right now, I am working hard to finish up my book about the Trial of Jesus, which is due to the publisher on July 1. I am pretty much on target, and I love this period where I am writing every day. There is a wonderful rhythm to it that I experience too rarely.

Previously, I have written two books. One was a novel, and the other a non-fiction piece about the criminal process described in the gospels. This book is somewhere in between in that it contains a real story, but the narrative is like a novel. Everyone ends up different.

The other thing I am finding as I write the story of a few years of my life is something I did not expect. I think we all imagine that we write the script of our own life-- that the things that happen are all the result primarily of choices we have made. And while I think we are responsible for our choices, in writing it out I am realizing how much of what went write is the result of the choices that other people made: their good ideas, their prompting, their collaboration and hard work. I too often forget that.

Saturday, June 06, 2015


Two views on clemency

Earlier this week, I guest-blogged over at Doug Berman's must-read blog (well, if you are a sentencing geek), Sentencing Law and Policy.

Then, yesterday, former Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love wrote a fascinating response, which you can see here.

Check them both out, and get your fill of clemency policy analysis!

Friday, June 05, 2015


Haiku Friday: The Candidates!

I am really enjoying the election roll-out, as presidential candidates announce their campaigns. This week, Rick Perry, pictured here, announced that he is in for another go-round. Is it just me, or has he gotten a lot smarter since he started wearing those thick glasses?

Anyways, here are the candidates (or at least some of them):

John Kasich
Rick Perry
Hillary Clinton
"Nature Boy" Ric Flair
Rand Paul
Mike Huckabee
Tonya Harding
Lincoln Chafee
Ted Cruz
Jeb Bush (declaring mid-month)
Jim Webb
Keith Richards
George Patacki
Lindsey Graham
Bernie Sanders
Patrick Starfish
Ben Carson
Carly Fiorina
Rick Santorum
Martin O'Malley
Rink Allegro
Bobby Jindal
Chris Christie
Marco Rubio

Let's haiku about (any one of) them this week!  Here, I will go first:

What a group this is!
Only one makes sense to me...
Go, IPLawGuy!

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

Thursday, June 04, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Girls and Boys and Sports

This year seems to have a news vibe around gender identity issues, coming to the forefront as Olympic Decathlon champion Bruce Jenner has transitioned to a woman named Caitlyn Jenner.  As people become more aware of transgender people, one inevitable point made by some has been "what if boys just fake it so they can be good at girls' sports?" It has always struck me as a silly argument-- is that really going to happen?-- but politicians and others treat it as very real sometimes.

In that context, I was a little confused when I read this in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Rochester Century's Jessie Aney defeated Edina's Michael O'Neil 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday in team quarterfinals of the Class 2A boys' tennis state tournament at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center….

Aney, whose tennis résumé is more impressive than her slicing backhand, was lured by the members of the Rochester Century boys’ tennis team to play with them in hopes of a winning a state tournament berth. She won the 2011 Class 2A girls’ singles and 2012 girls’ doubles championships and has accepted a tennis scholarship to North Carolina.

The move worked when the Panthers ousted longtime champion Rochester Mayo in the Section 1 finals.

“I thought coming into this season there were four teams that could win [the section],” Century coach Nick Crossley said. “Getting Jessie kind of put us over the edge.”

With Aney playing No. 1 singles on Tuesday and setting the tone for the rest of the team, the Panthers continued their roll, defeating Edina 6-1 in the Class 2A team quarterfinals at Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis. Aney defeated Edina’s Michael O’Neil 6-2, 6-2, keying a Century sweep of all four singles matches.

When I first read this, I was deeply confused.  Had Jessie Aney become a boy? And if so, why did she not change her name? On re-reading it, though, the truth became clear-- Jessie Aney is (still) a girl who just is really great at tennis. Like, good enough to beat the number one player for Edina, where there are some pretty good tennis players.

The world is changing. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


The video where I explain myself, kind of.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


There is something deeply disturbing about "Freebase Monster"

I'm not sure where I stumbled on this, but… what is going on here?

Monday, June 01, 2015


Lake Erie's finest...

Oh, yeah… Cedar Point. It was where the Grosse Pointe Shores swim team went every year (I am second from the left in the third row in the photo above).  Christine (center of the third row) remembered it well:

The bus departs at
6am for Cedar Point
forty screaming kids.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?