Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Calling men to tell them of freedom

Yesterday was a pretty extraordinary day.

For the past two years, Ronald Blount has been calling me every Friday. Working with my clinic students, I submitted a clemency petition for him about that long ago. He was a small-time player in a crack conspiracy a long time ago; his involvement was driven by his addiction to crack. No one would ever reasonably call him a kingpin, but he received a sentence of life in prison.

When he called, we talked about all sorts of things-- family, sports, cooking.  Mostly, though, we talked about clemency. Sometimes I feared that I was giving him false hope.

A few months ago, I had the chance to visit him in prison. Before I left, he leaned over the table and we prayed together.

Yesterday, I got to call him. I was calling to tell him that President Obama had granted him clemency, and that he will be home right about Christmas time.  He was just one of three of our clients at St. Thomas who got clemency yesterday. In all, six of our clients now have been either granted clemency or released. I got talk about it a little on NPR yesterday.

God is good. Ronald Blount said that on the phone yesterday, but I already knew.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Oh, Waco...

This story, like many of the weird news that comes out of Waco every once in a while, takes a little explaining. To make it clearer, I am presenting it in timeline form below.

1) June 5, 2015: A police officer in McKinney, Texas quits after he pulled a gun on some black teenagers holding a pool party. A video went viral, showing that officer throwing a 14-year-old girl in a bikini to the ground.

2) June 12, 2015: Karen Fitzgibbons, an elementary school teacher in the Texas town of Wolfforth, is relieved of her duties after she posts a screed on facebook in response to the events in McKinney. In that post, she wrote that the blacks are the ones causing the problems and this ‘racial tension.’ I guess that’s what happens when you flunk out of school and have no education. I’m sure their parents are just as guilty for not knowing what their kids were doing; or knew it and didn’t care. I’m almost to the point of wanting them all segregated on one side of town so they can hurt each other and leave the innocent people alone. Maybe the 50s and 60s were really on to something. The firing-- and the text of the post-- makes the news nationally and is widely reported.

3) Early summer, 2016: Fitzgibbons applies for a job with the Waco Independent School District. On her application she truthfully describes that she was let go from her previous job because of a social media post that had racial implications.

4) July, 2016:  Fitzgibbons is hired as a third-grade teacher at Waco's Hillcrest Professional Development School.

5) August, 2016: Waco ISD abruptly shifts Fitzgibbons out of the classroom and into an administrative position when they "realize" the nature of her previous issues.

What a bizarre story! So far as I can figure, there are three possibilities here, and none of them are good:

1)  Despite the fact that her application plainly stated that she had been pushed out of another job for a racist post, that wasn't seen as a problem and no one at Waco ISD bothered to do even a simple online search using even just her name, which would have led to dozens of stories about her racist screed.

2) Someone did look up Fitzgibbons' back story, knew what she had written, and they hired her anyways thinking no one would notice or care. When the story was in danger of going public, the District reacted.

3) No one really read the application of someone who was applying to teach third grade.

Monday, August 29, 2016


Summer's end...

Christine has lived in many places. I loved her haiku about summer's end:

Up North:
Sign "Closed for Season"
The lifeguard stand sits empty
The world moves slower

Upper South:
Ball Park, fewer fans 
Traffic snarls behind school bus
Open the windows

Deep South:
Hurricane season
We watch The Weather Channel
Maybe November

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Sunday Reflection: The value of gentle souls

Christians often do remarkable gymnastics to get around the entirely plain message Christ delivers in the sermon on the mount:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

What is happening here? Christ is expressly rejecting an ethic of retribution (an eye for an eye) in favor of endless charity, selflessness, and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is harder than retribution. Retribution makes us feel good, like so many other things that Christ proscribes.  Forgiveness, the true and deep kind that involves sacrifice and humility, does not offer that kind of instant gratification, and it often comes with public censure for being "naive" or "soft."

It's hard to follow Christ, since that path so often leads away from our desires and society's values. I struggle with it, and often fail. When someone hurts me (and they do), I am tempted to hurt them back, and sometimes I do. That isn't living out my faith; it is failing.

Gentle souls, those who live out this difficult faith, are undervalued in our society. We are part of a culture that celebrates victory and "greatness." We see sports, especially those that value winning a game over a vanquished opponent, as essential to building character. Gentleness doesn't win a trophy, and rarely appears on the pages of the paper.

Maybe we need new trophies, and better papers.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


The book is out!

Yesterday, my book came out! It's an exciting thing, knowing that it is out there in the world now.

Megan Willome wrote, very kindly, about it over on her own blog yesterday. Here is part of what she said:

We live in a season of polarization in which we define ourselves by our boxes. Osler kind of blows that up. He has stuff in lots of boxes, and he’s constantly challenging his own beliefs and assumptions, moving those boxes around, rearranging the contents. His job as a law professor and advocate for clemency is to trouble the water. He loves his Bible, especially the Gospels, but he’ll trouble you if you get the chance to hear him. He holds himself and everyone around him to a higher standard.

That’s because in a world of hashtags, where retweeting a celebrity counts for activism, Osler and his students and colleagues are working to reform the criminal justice system. He never lets us forget that Jesus was a prisoner, too, one executed by capital punishment.

There are two moments in the book that undid me, one in Rome, Italy, and one in Manchacha, Texas. Life isn’t safe. Not for the people you meet in the book, like Jeanne Bishop, who have lost loved ones to murder. Not for any of us. It wasn’t safe for our Savior, either.

Yesterday, too, I had a post over at Tweetspeak, a pretty great poetry blog. You can read that here.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Haiku Friday: When does summer end?

What does summer end?

To some people, it is when school starts back up, and to others it is when the leaves begin to turn. Geography plays a role, of course-- summer ends early here in Minnesota.

Let's haiku about that today. Here, I will go first:

There is that one sound
That a sleek flying goose makes
Southward now, southward.

Now it is your turn! Just make it 5/75, syllable-wise, and have some fun!

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Is the Media Failing Us?

On Sunday, I had a piece in the Waco paper, and part of what I had to say related to modern media:

The examples we set before our children, unfortunately, are often debates between politicians who start with character assassination and go downhill from there. This kind of virulent discourse is propelled by the media. CNN and other news outlets seem to specialize in shouting matches between paid consultants for different political clients.

A story in yesterday's Washington Post confirmed my fears. Titled Pundits-- or Propaganda Pass-Throughs?,  it laid bare some of the real dynamic going on in the media:

The cable networks (and increasingly the broadcast networks as well) have long employed paid analysts to offer insight and perspective on a presidential campaign. They have traditionally drawn from the ranks of former politicians, campaign operatives and seasoned political journalists. Although these analysts often have loyalties and biases, they usually weren’t employed to tout a specific candidate.

[Trump Surrogate Jeffrey] Lord is part of a new breed that has emerged on CNN during this campaign: the in-house advocate. He is one of four commentators employed by CNN to speak for, or in defense of, Trump.

So, what do you think of this trend? Is it a good or a bad thing? And, more broadly, is the American public being well-served by the media in this election season?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


My Schedule Coming Up!

On Friday, my new book Prosecuting Jesus comes out, and there is a lot coming up! (You can order the book here). Here is my schedule for the coming months, covering events in nine states:

September 11 & 12: Chicago Book events, 4th Presbyterian Church (IL)

Sept. 14: Hank Shea and I will be moderating discussion of policing with Nekima Levy-Pounds, R.T. Ryback, Nkechi Taifa, and others at UST

Sept. 16: Panelist at narcotics symposium, Vermont Law School (VT)

Sept. 19: Speaking to Minneapolis Speech & Debate Club

Sept. 28: UST book event, St. Paul campus

Sept. 29-30: Religiously Affiliated Law School Conference (Virginia Beach VA)

Oct. 6: Roundtable discussion at US Sentencing Commission (DC)

Oct. 9: Sermon, First Covenant Church, Minneapolis

Oct. 12: Book talk, 7th and James Baptist Church, Waco TX

Oct. 16: Book talk at Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis

Oct. 20-21: Braxton Institute retreat (MD)

Oct. 26: Narcotics Policy debate w/ Judge Richard Sullivan, Harvard Law School (MA)

Nov. 1: Chapel Speaker, Carson-Newman University (TN)

Nov. 3: Keynote speaker, TCCLDA Dinner

Nov. 9: Mid-day reflection with Susan Stabile (UST)

Monday, August 22, 2016


Is Gary Johnson right?

In an interview this week, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson said this:

HARWOOD: Is it part of your objective to do something that sets off a chain of events that busts up the two-party system as we now know it?

JOHNSON: Maybe we're there already. I mean, maybe that's going to be the consequence of what we do — at a minimum.

HARWOOD: Let's say Hillary Clinton 's elected, and you have a solid showing. Trump loses. Where does the Republican Party go after that?

JOHNSON: This is the demise of the Republican Party. This is an opportunity, I think, for the Libertarian Party to become a major party.

Is he right?


Before he was IPLawGuy...

I was really fascinated by IPLawGuy's haiku:

Thank God for College
Left so much crap far behind
Slow starter first step.

Some of the people here I knew in high school and before, but I didn't meet IPLawGuy until college. I was a freshman and he was a senior. He seemed to have the world on a string, a total success-- the station manager of the radio station, for one thing. It never occurred to me that he would have ever been anything other than that. But, there is always something you don't know... a good thing to remember and an incentive to be kind in this season of new beginnings.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Miriam the Brave

I have an op-ed in today's Waco paper about Miriam the Brave. Here is how it begins:

From afar, the recent dustup over the use of the name “Pantherettes” for the Midway High School girls’ sports teams might seem like a trivial thing. On closer inspection, though, it is a story with depth, meaning and a fascinating hero.

In short, a Midway student challenged the name and the school board voted to amend the rules so that all teams, both boys and girls, would be known as the “Panthers” — a vote that was reversed in a subsequent, recent meeting in the face of public opposition to the change.

You can read the rest of the story about Miriam McCormick here.

I really do admire Miraim and the family that nurtured her. There are strong forces in our culture to maintain the status quo, even when change is necessary, and that means that there is often a deep personal cost to those who propel change. Many of them (Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus) are killed for their efforts. 

We are quick to reward children who respect their heritage and culture.We are less quick to admire those who respect and know their people and culture enough to try to make it better.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Ken Starr leaves Baylor Law School

The drama at Baylor continues, and I'm a little stumped by the latest development.

Ken Starr (as of the start of this year) held three positions at Baylor: he was the president, the chancellor, and a tenured professor of law with a chair. In the wake of Baylor's debacle related to sexual assault, Starr was removed as president and then resigned as the chancellor. That left him as a law professor, and he said he was going to stay in that job and commit himself to that role.

But then, just yesterday, Baylor announced that Starr would no longer be affiliated with the law school. Here is how Starr described it in the Waco Tribune Herald:

“Frankly, the university determined that it wanted a break in the employment relationship, so I’ve accepted that decision and will, of course, honor the decision,” Starr said in an interview late Friday afternoon. 

I don't know anything about how this happened, or why, and I'm not going to speculate on it.

But I do know that Ken Starr would have been a remarkable teacher and scholar, if that is what he really wanted to do, and would have been by far the most influential member of the Baylor Law faculty.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Haiku Friday: Off to College

Across the nation, freshman are just now arriving at their dorms, ready for orientation (or not, I suppose). 35 years ago, I walked up the steps of Dupont Hall at William and Mary. I got out of a cab with a hard-sided Samsonite suitcase in one hand, and a portable typewriter in the other.

Let's haiku about that today-- what it was like, what you imagine it to be, or what it meant.  Here, I will go first:

I loved the trees
And the slow way people walked
The scent of fresh books.

Now it is your turn... just use the 5/7/5 syllabus method, and have some fun!

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Gratefulness

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a strange but compelling piece by Garrison Keillor titled Make the Most of Your Brief Time on Earth. Mixed in with his usual descriptions of church suppers, ointments, meatloaf, and the State Fair (all of which I favor, by the way) was this:

Life is good if you have your health and not all bad even if you don’t, which is sometimes forgotten in an election year, what with the high-pitched oratory on behalf of the embittered rich and people with ingrown toenails and what not. Apparently we are on the verge of losing our Second Amendment rights and will need to defend ourselves with tent stakes and bug spray. So I’ve heard people say.

Embedded in there is a fleeting reference to my least favorite part of the American political dialogue: the constant complaints by the most advantaged about their burdens. What we rarely hear, especially this go-round, is anything about gratefulness to be in this nation. I'm not one who believes in American exceptionalism (I think God graces people around the world, in every nation, by the equal value of their souls), or will ever be heard saying "USA #1!" unless I am discussing women's basketball or energy consumption. Yet, I am constantly grateful to live where I do, in this nation at this time. That is something that comes before any complaint I may have.

Certainly, there are those who suffer greatly under the failures of our nation: our failure to address racism, our failure to retain meaningful employment opportunities for a broad swath of the population, and our enduring frustration with educational institutions, particularly among the poor. It is legitimate to point to those problems, and important to address them.

But even with these challenges, there must be a time to see the good, as well... even if you are running for President.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


More to do on clemency....

Yesterday, a great piece by Vann Newkirk came out in the Atlantic, arguing that much more can be done with the time this administration has left. Vann used Rachel Barkow, Van Jones and I as sources, and did a great job putting our (sometimes disparate) views together.

I've spent a lot of time this summer on a new article on clemency, one which I sent to Vann when he called while investigating this piece. I hope to have it available on-line in the next few weeks.

It's wonderful that the President has used clemency vigorously for those who merit it the most: men and women who are serving very long sentences for non-violent drug crimes. So far, my students have won the release of six people-- men whose stories I know and care about. Weldon Angelos is free as well. It would be easy to congratulate ourselves and be done.

Many people-- including the Pardon Attorney, Robert Zauzmer and the Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates, have been working very hard on this project. I don't mean to diminish their efforts by urging more. But with the finish line close, the kick is about to begin.

But, it isn't done. It isn't even close. There are five months left; we will use them wisely and remain hopeful based on the good intent and heart of this president and those who surround him.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Return from Osler Island

Late last week, I got back from my usual sojourn to Osler Island (which is shared with Sleepy Walleye's family). It was my 45th consecutive year going to that remote place. It doesn't have running water or electricity or cell phone service or the internet, but everything you might actually want or need is there. This year, a big tree fell on the outhouse, but we fixed it (you can see the newly-sawn logs in the photo above). I don't mind using a chainsaw (it's so efficient!), but sawing off my own arm is always floating around in my head as a realistic danger. Luckily, that didn't happen.

It's always a challenge coming back. It takes a few days to get used to my usual pace, and I'm not quite there yet... but it will happen.

It's been a good summer.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Summer, still...

Thanks, Gavin, for this:

Mirror calm lake. Dusk.
Silence. Peace. Serenity.
Bobber twitch then dive.

Just the fish and me
My soul stores these moments up
Like squirrels hide fall nuts

For winter will come
Harsh, cold, grey, and oh so long
What will keep me warm?

Memories of this
Will warm me through the cold months
Better than the fire.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Megan Willome asks the right question

In the August issue of Wacoan Magazine, Megan Willome did a Q & A with me about my book which comes out in two weeks, Prosecuting Jesus. I love the way it turned out, because Megan asked questions that made me think about things in a new way, and really understood the book.

Here is one question and answer that, when I read it in the magazine, made me realize that her question had led me to an important answer-- one that I probably had not articulated in this way (even to myself) before:

WACOAN: The book is full of controversial topics besides the death penalty, but they’re not presented as topics or arguments. They’re presented as stories. What have you learned about the power of stories?

Osler: It’s something that took me a long time to learn. Part of learning it was doing the trial. In doing the trial, I had to see the Bible in a new way. I had to virtually memorize the Gospels. And something that reinforced in me was the centrality of narrative, that Jesus tells stories all the time. He lives his story. He always starts the story with where the listener is. He talks to the woman at the well and talks about water. It’s the opposite of what academic so often do. We start off trying to impress people using words they don’t know or referencing places they’ve never been. Jesus does exactly the opposite.

Unfortunately, I myself have too often been that kind of academic. I need to work on that...

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Last week in U.S. News...

While I was off at Osler Island, U.S. News & World Report published a piece on clemency that I co-authored with Erik Luna of Arizona State and the Cato Institute. Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 12, 2016


Haiku Friday: Things Yet to do this Summer...

It's mid-August. The stores are featuring "back-to-school" sales, and when I was returning from Osler Island yesterday, I saw some yellow leaves on the trees at the Canadian border.  Summer will be over in a few fleeting moments.

What is left on your to-do list for the summer? Let's haiku about that-- but feel free to cover anything else that relates to this end-of-summer time.

Here, I will go first:

Something is missing
From this summer's happenings:
Not been in water.

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: Is development good?

One of the things that has come up during this campaign has been the need for "infrastructure improvements." It's true, too-- we need to properly maintain our bridges and roads.

What goes with all of that, though? As population increases, we build more roads, more bridges, more buildings. Wild spaces disappear, and the world becomes a more uniform expanse of concrete and metal.

This happens because of political choices we make: to build new roads, to encourage and finance development, and to zone land for new uses.

Should development be more or less restricted than it is now?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Something else the world doesn't need...

So, this is something called a 'Pittsburgh Salad." It is a salad with a whole order of fries dumped on top.

It's an actual thing, too-- I know from experience. While driving through north-central Pennsylvania a few years ago I stopped at a diner and got a salad and whomp-- fries on top.

At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live if I ate all those fries. But I'd spent so many nights thinking how excellent this would taste and I grew strong... 

Ok, no. Actually I just ate it. I felt a little queasy later.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016


Pokemon Go!

I'll admit it: Yes, I have been playing Pokemon Go. I'm not obsessed or anything... but I have spent a few minutes down on Nicollet Mall catching Pidgeys.

It's not a great game. Some people seem upset that other people stand around playing it. But, still, it is kind of a welcome change in the way some people interact.

For example, one of the busiest places in Edina these days is a little plaza near the entrance to Chuck E. Cheese. It's actually a very pleasant place, with a little lake behind and other (better) restaurants around. It is chock-full of people most of the time, talking to one another and walking around.

They are there because it is kind of a Pokemon Epicenter-- there are four Pokestops only a few yards away from one another, and when people put lures up on them there is just one big Pokemon festival going on.

And is that so bad?

Monday, August 08, 2016


Vulcan Ears

So... was the Spanish Medievalist correct in his haiku? You be the judge!

I have Vulcan ears,
A mouse coughs behind a wall,
I can hear it all.

Sunday, August 07, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Freedom

On Wednesday of last week, President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 people. Eleven of them were clients of the Clemency Resource Center that Rachel Barkow and I started at NYU, through the great work of Deb Gramiccioni, Erin Collins, and the staff there. Three more of the 214 were represented by my students here at St. Thomas, through the Federal Clemency Clinic.

This just about as good as it gets as a teacher: getting to see your students change the world in some discrete, observable way.  

Ashley Bennett won the freedom of William Freeman.
Eric Hylok and Jamie Waldon won the freedom of Charlie Lawaury.
Marc Spooner and Derek Hansen won the freedom of Billy Ennis.

All of them had been sentenced to very long sentences (including life without parole) for non-violent drug crimes.  All have already served at least a decade in prison. 

The reaction of one of them was this: "God is good." 

Saturday, August 06, 2016


The Olympic Masots!

So these are the mascots for the Rio Olympics.

Anyone want to venture a guess as to what they are supposed to be?

Friday, August 05, 2016


Haiku Friday: The Human Body

The human body is what defines us in so many ways. As I get older, there are things I notice that are new. What surprises me is that some of them are good, not bad. For example, I feel things with my fingertips in a way I did not when I was younger.

Let's haiku about the aches and joys, the beautiful and the hidden, all the things that come with being human.

Here, I will go first:

My leg can still push
The pedals of my bike and
Off I go to work.

Now it is your turn! Just follow the 5/7/5 recipe for syllables, and have some fun!

Thursday, August 04, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: My Fears

I agree with many readers here that Hillary Clinton is likely to be less dangerous as president than Donald Trump. Still, though, I have fears either way.

First, I need to be up front about what matters to me. I can't say that I know and understand all of the important issues before us: global warming, terrorism, economic adjustments, income inequality, etc. They are all important. I don't want to diminish that.

There are two issues that are particularly important to me: I want the new president to develop a reformed process for  evaluating clemency petitions and avoid war. Those two are not equally important, obviously-- the second is more important, but I know more about the first.

Here are my fears:


If Hillary Clinton is elected, I fear that she will be too political and not principled enough to reform clemency. She is fundamentally cautious, and caution will lead to no change; we will continue on with a broken process that produces poor results. I also fear that she will pursue war, particularly in the first term. She will do so in close consultation with military leaders, at least, and I suspect that they might be able to talk her down.


I have little hope that Trump would reform clemency, unless somehow we could prevail on him as a businessman to improve a bad system. He just does not seem to even perceive issues at that level. Worse, I do fear that his ego would lead to war-- and that if it did, he would not listen to cautionary words from military leaders.

What do you fear? [Next week, I'll write about my hopes]

Wednesday, August 03, 2016


Food and Place

For ten years, I lived in Waco. My neighborhood was hemmed in by three streets (Valley Mills, Franklin Ave., and Waco Drive) that were brimming with fast food joints. Within a half-mile or so of my home there was every variety of fried food-- catfish, chicken, burgers, donuts-- and not much else.  Did that affect my diet? Of course it did. I love fried chicken, and I ate it. I ate donuts pretty regularly. I ate burgers. 

Then I moved to a part of Minnesota where the closest thing to fast food is a bagel place. There is a wide variety of food, but not much of it is fried, and a lot of it claims to be healthy.

How did this affect my health?  From what I can tell, not by much. In both places, I usually ate at home and exercised regularly. My weight and cholesterol is about the same. Frankly, that kind of surprises me.

How evil is fast food? Have you had it affect your health?

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


The teams I follow...

Football season is coming! Let's get ready by making some lists.

Teams that I like:

1. Michigan
2. Baylor
3. Yale
4. Minnesota
5. William & Mary

Teams I don't like:

1. Alabama
2. Florida State
3. LSU
4. Auburn
5. James Madison

Yeah, I suppose I do have a bias against the SEC. I'm willing to admit it. And I realize that I am roaming across three divisions here, but that is where my loyalties are.

What are your lists?

Monday, August 01, 2016


Things I learned from last week's haiku...

Did you catch all this?

1) Amy is moving to Bosnia.

2)  Gavin seems to be doing things right:

Cool, clear mountain lake
Idaho, dang near heaven
Better watch out trout!

3)  Darin is going to Traverse City (always a good call).

4)  The Spanish Medievalist, not surprisingly, is in Spain.

5) Wait? The outhouse is ruined, mom?

6)  And Renee is on her way... someplace mysterious...

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