Wednesday, May 31, 2017


It's a tough question...

Middle East policy is hard and complicated. Among many rivalries, there are two main blocs (Sunni and Shia) that are generally allied with Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively. Both of those countries foment anti-Americanism through government channels and education. The Obama administration sought a balanced approach between the two blocs, while the Trump administration strongly favors Saudi Arabia.  Of the two, Iran is closer to a functioning democracy, though, with at least some important posts filled through free elections while Saudi Arabia allows only municipal elections.  At the very least,  it would be hard to argue that Saudi Arabia is more democratic than Iran.

Which raises a question: Why is the Trump administration so critical about Iranian elections and silent about Saudi Arabia?

That was the question put before State Department spokesperson Stuart Jones yesterday:

It is a tough question, but fairly predictable. I'd be more critical of the guy if I wasn't pretty much like that in class now and then...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


A life well-lived, Champ

I have written here before about the influence some special neighbors had on me as a kid-- Bill and Jane Smith. Mrs. Smith died last week at 91, and I know that I am just one of many people who is flooded with memories of her.

She was a lot of things over her long life: a woman in advertising in the 40's and 50's, a businesswoman, a remarkable mom, a dynamic partner to her husband Bill, and a remarkably enthusiastic alumna of William and Mary. To hang out with them was a delight, and singing would often break out. Bill always referred to his wife as "Champ," and he was right.

To me, though, she was something different than all of that. The Smiths lived three doors down from us on Colonial Rd. in Grosse Pointe Shores. As a little kid, for reasons no one quite remembers, I got in the habit of hanging out on their porch. Mrs. Smith would bring me a book, and then another when I was done. After I finished a few, she would bring me an apple. It all seemed very normal at the time, but she later told me she found the whole thing completely amusing-- the kid who would sit down and expect a book to be delivered.

They kept a jar of lemon drops by their front door, and sometimes I would stop by for one on the way home from school (it's unclear whether or not my Mom knew about this). And when I say "school," I'm including high school; at that point I was still stopping by regularly.

Mrs. Smith urged me to apply to William and Mary and I did; and when I decided to go there she was the first person who knew my decision-- even before my parents-- because I had stopped off on the way home for a lemon drop.

Later in life we stayed in touch. They played a role in my inadvertent destruction of the 1984 William and Mary homecoming parade, for example (uh... long story).  Just a few years ago she came to hear me give a sermon at Holy Comforter in Richmond, where the Smiths had moved. It was such an intimidating audience, to have her there!

I'm a lucky man; lucky to have known Jane Smith. Heaven now is blessed with her spirit.

Monday, May 29, 2017


The Hummingbird

I knew that Christine would come through with the perfect haiku!:

A red trumpet droops
Hummingbird seeks sweet nectar
Match made in heaven.

Hummingbirds fascinate me, and this was such a wonderful description.

And Woody came back!:

Where does not matter
Plant what will endure, legacy
Sow the seeds of truth.

I love that sentiment. And then, too, Renee, with a prayer poem:

In England they are
Trees, purple and red, heads bowed
Forever. Beribbon'd mouths. 

And this is why they call him the Spanish Medievalist:

Nineteen sev'ty nine,
I discovered Spain so
Now it is my home.

What a harvest!

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Straight Up

One of my favorite students at St. Thomas was Nicole Swisher, who (among other things) helped win Ronald Blount his freedom via our clemency clinic. After law school, Nicole headed off to Arkansas to clerk for the 11th Circuit.  Upon her return, she started working at a mid-size firm here in Minneapolis. I follow her when I can on her blog, Wildly Elegant (which has had a few iterations over the years).

Last week, Nicole posted something remarkable: a very honest and compelling description of why she has chosen, at 29, to move in with her parents. You can read the whole thing here, but this is part of what she says:

Some of my friends know that last month I moved back in with my parents.  I am 29 years old: how embarrassing!  I have lived on my own many times, moved many times, been through law school, lived in Arkansas for two years, traveled a lot, I have a great job, my own dog and wonderful friends.  When I was making the decision to move home I would lay in bed thinking: how on earth can I leave this apartment that I love, in a location that I love, what will people think?  Am I insane to even contemplate this?  It’ll be so far from work!

There are three main factors that contributed to my decision to move home with my parents.  One: debt.  Two: loneliness.  Three: depression.  But there is one main reason I did so: God led me there.

There is wonderful and striking honesty there, and strength. She simultaneously portrays herself as strong, thoughtful, intentional, vulnerable and challenged. It is a truth many of us live but few of us write about honestly.

Her posts, too, often incorporate faith elements seamlessly into her discussions, because that is how her mind works. That, too, is rare. Too many of us (including me) often shove the faith part in our pocket for part of our walk.  

So, Nicole... thanks for the inspiration!

Saturday, May 27, 2017


Oh, Jared!

It's kind of odd how we (well, me, anyways) tend to think of Jared Kushner as kind of a wacky teenager who is up to hijinks at White House. The truth is that he is one of the very few people Donald Trump seems to trust.

Here are the jobs he has been tasked with by the President:

-- Solving the opioid crisis
-- Bringing peace to the Middle East
-- Diplomacy with Mexico
-- Diplomacy with China
-- Reforming care for Veterans
-- Reinventing the government so it works like a business

And now, of course, reports have surfaced in the Washington Post that Kushner may have been taking the lead on, uh, certain relations with Russia:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Friday, May 26, 2017


Haiku Friday: What are you planting?

Yes, I know that this is a total set-up for Christine, but I think the rest of it can have fun with it, too. It IS that time of year, after all.

Of course, you can construe this subject broadly-- feel free to refer to planting a good or bad idea in someone else's mind, or planting you flag in a new land.  Just have some fun with it!

Here, I will go first:

Hardy through the year
Can survive harsh winters, heat
Who? Minnesotans!

Now it is your turn! Use the 5/7/5 pattern and show us what you've got!

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: So, what do you do?

The bombing in Manchester this week-- at an Ariana Grande concert attended mostly by young girls and their parents-- was heinous and appalling. It illustrates the divide between the civilized world and radical Muslim extremists.

President Trump has been criticized for simply calling the terrorists "losers," a term he has applied to everyone from Hillary Clinton to Rosie O'Donnell. Admittedly he was off visiting with the Pope, and did not have his usual resources at hand.

Still... what is the right response?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Goat cheese and obstacles

My parents are in Provence this month. It seems they are having a great time, too. In fact, I'm just going to rip off his blog post for this week because I think it is really wonderful. The photo and words below are his, not mine. You should check out the whole thing here.

Sometimes obstacles are put in your way. There is a lot of lamb and goat cheese dished out in this lush agricultural area. It seemed every time we got in the car we ran into the source. All traffic stops and gives way as the dogs and their masters use the narrow roads to bring the beasts to higher ground each spring. No one minds as the world slows down at times like this. No one creates a new law to prevent this from ever happening again. Smiling people ran out of their shops to observe this springtime tradition. This is the way that life is here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Terror in Manchester

Yesterday in Manchester, England, a suspected terrorist bombing killed 19 people and injured over 50 at an Ariana Grande concert.  It was a show largely attended by young teenagers and their parents, making the targeting even more reprehensible. 

We have perhaps become inured to these things, but we shouldn't be. It seems like isolated incidents become a rolling tragedy and then, as we lose interest, background noise. Until it happens at home.

This, in juxtaposition with the US news cycle of the last few weeks, is deeply unsettling. Donald Trump is a disaster of a president, creating a crazy mess every few days, at least. It is kind of amusing really-- I'm not the only one who finds himself trying to catch up with the latest crazy incident a few times a day and chuckling.

But here is the thing... eventually, a real tragedy that demands a response by national leadership will arise, a Katrina or 9/11 or genuine foreign threat. Then it won't be funny-- we will be at the whims of a leader who is not respected, does not command authority, and is no longer in a position to lead.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Haiku on quiet moments....

Not every day involves touching a glowing orb with some Saudi guy who looks kind of freaked out. No, some days are quiet, and that is good. We haikued about that last week, and the results were fabulous.

First, I have to say, Gavin has totally nailed this form. I love what he does, including this:

Stars give way to dawn
Sleeping bag hugs my body
Air is crisp and cold

Coffee sounds so good
But my pack is over there
Just five more minutes.

And OsoGrande! Whoever you are, just keep on doing what you do...

Wordsworth wrote: world is
too much with us near and soon
lays waste our powers.


Sunday, May 21, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Comey and Niebuhr

When IPLawGuy and I were at William and Mary, there were some interesting people rolling around with us in the student body, including Serge Kovaleski (the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the New York Times with a handicap that was mocked by Donald Trump), Jon Stewart, and... Jim Comey. It was an interesting place!

I stumbled across a fascinating article by Steven Weitzman in Christianity Today that describes the undergraduate thesis that Comey wrote on Reinhold Niebuhr and the continuing intellectual impact Niebuhr's work has on Comey. Weitzman describes Niebuhr (a professor at Union Theological Seminary who died in 1971) this way:

Niebuhr developed a view known as Christian realism, believing the human ego would undercut our attempts to better the world. According to Niebuhr, people need to shed their self-righteous illusions and perfectionist pretensions to set their sights on more modest solutions. Niebuhr warned that people should never assume they could eliminate evil. In fact, they should be on guard lest their moral ambitions lead them into a self-deluded and destructive pride. 

For a lot of Christians, they know about Niebuhr because he gets quoted in a lot of sermons. Others of us have read Niebuhr and agree with part or all of his analysis (most people seem to agree with either the "dangers of ego part" or the "pragmatic view that allows evil to be confronted" part).

I took two things from Weitzman's excellent article.

First, if this all comes down to a conflict between Comey and Trump (and it may), it is all the more reason to bet on Comey. He has rooted his thoughts in a consistent moral philosophy which emphasizes an examination of the dangers of self-interest and the nature of evil. On the other side is a man with no apparent moral philosophy at all, who constantly falls prey to the hazards of ego.

Second, it emphasizes the importance of the spiritual lives of students. What they develop then, if they are allowed to do so, can deeply impact the rest of their lives and vocation. It's a good thing for me to remember as a teacher!

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Not Being Boring

This song haunted me during the AIDS crisis. And even hearing it now, it makes me pensive and quiet. There is a deep sadness behind it, but a true sadness.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Haiku Friday: Languid

There are quiet days, too.

Let's haiku about those-- the languid moments. Somehow, they stand out in memory even when other things fade.

Here, I will go first:

Sunlight crashed the morning
Hotel Chelsea.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Bringing Robert Mueller off the bench!

Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller (above) as the Special Counsel to investigate Russian influence on the election and the Trump administration. It's a good and welcome development, and one that promises a renewed hope that facts will rise to the surface out of the swamp of politics.

Of course, and awful lot of facts have surfaced in the last week:

-- We learned that Donald Trump directly divulged classified information to the Russians; an act that is legal but possibly pretty unwise;

-- Also, we found out that Jim Comey apparently reported in a memo that President Trump asked him to back off of the investigation into Gen. Flynn, his first National Security Advisor; and

-- Most recently (and least significantly), it came out that some House Republican leaders knocked around the idea that Trump was paid by Putin (perhaps in jest). 

Mueller is a good choice, and this helps restore Rosenstein's credibility in some minds after his role in the Comey firing. In Rosenstein's letter outlining the appointment, it is clear that Mueller's mandate is broad. 

A Special Counsel is different that an Independent Counsel (a position that no longer exists) in that it is... less independent.  Mueller can be fired by Trump-- much as Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was fired by Richard Nixon (via Robert Bork) in the Saturday Night Massacre in  1973 (Bork replaced Cox with Leon Jaworski, who pretty much finished the job).

So what happens next?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Dispatch from France!

So... my parents are spending a month in Provence, where there are many people and places they love. They have spent the Spring there for three decades or so now-- long enough to know very well what to see and appreciate there. My dad wrote about it on his blog this week:

I am in the first stage of exploring – the getting out of your chair stage. This will be the time that I stumble on the the subject or direction that I will be taking. I left Detroit with the idea that I will be painting large canvases filled with movement and color. The motion of the trees, fields and vines as the strong clear winds of the mistral sweeps through them has always captured my imagination.. The wind turns the leaves over and over as the sunlight comes through them. While we are here the pace of our lives becomes slower and we give more of our time to seeing, smelling and hearing nature all around us. This is a wonderful place to explore and create.

In the coming weeks, I will begin to paint in a friend’s atelier and keep you posted. When I start to paint I often stand back and spend a lot of time looking at an empty canvas. I will often stop and wipe out an ugly start. Sometimes find myself staring out in space. Is this staring at my empty canvas part of my creative process?  I think so. I will find out.

You can read more here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


The Rolling Disaster in DC....

Dafna Linzer posted this over on Twitter yesterday:

And that's not even working in the Sessions charging memo on the 10th!

Oddly, there is a part of me that looks at this and says "well, at least he is observing the Sabbath."

If it keeps up like this, the DC national media is going to die of exhaustion. And, frankly, we kind of need them right now!

Monday, May 15, 2017



There were some great haiku, but I was most intrigued by the Medievalist's:

My dandelions
Are a constant source of peace,
Both yellow and white.

So... does he grow dandelions on purpose? Or is it code for marijuana or something? Hmmm....

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Sunday Reflection: The Other St. Stephens

As some of you know, I am a member of the lovely St. Stephens Episcopal church in Edina, which is set next to a creek in the middle of a neighborhood.

Last Sunday, I went to church at another St. Stephens, in London. It is in the Westbourne Park neighborhood, next to Notting Hill, jammed into every square foot of an oddly-shaped urban lot in the middle of a fascinating residential area.

It's quite a church-- and quite different than the St. Stephens in Edina. The congregation is relatively young and diverse and there were kids everywhere-- there was even one scootering around in the sanctuary before and after the service. The liturgy was informal and there was no eucharist. The sermon was wonderful.

The story on the church is that it fell into full abandonment not so long ago-- abandoned to the point that the roof fell in and all that was inside was destroyed. But then the Church of England decided to revive it, and community pitched in to rebuild.  What a great story!

And you know who would love that place? My mom.  Because she appreciates a place like that, and people like that, and a story like that, which altogether is why I feel the same way.

Saturday, May 13, 2017



I've been curious what Melania Trump's "cause" will be, in the tradition of recent first ladies. The most precise guess I can find is "children's issues," which seems pretty vague.. but there is plenty of time for her to decide.

Friday, May 12, 2017


Haiku Friday: Things to do outside

The sun has come out in Minnesota. It probably won't snow anymore. Every morning the streets fill up with people on bikes-- when you get the warm weather here, you make the most of it!

The trees are flowering, too, which is a wonder to behold. I have a crabapple tree behind the house that normally is nothing much to look at, except right now-- and right now it is glorious, covered in white flowers.

Since everyone is getting outside while the getting is good, let's haiku about that this week: all the great things that await us in the beauty of the spring and summer.

Here, I will go first:

Me and Lego Guy
Hanging out in the sunshine
Yeah... he fell asleep.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Jim Comey

Hoo boy.

Look, it is always going to come off badly when you fire someone who is investigating you. Sending Kellyanne Conway out to explain does not make things better, either. I thought Comey did a lousy job with the Clinton investigation. But Trump chose to keep him on, and only after he ramped up the Russia investigation was he fired.

I'll be straight-up about this: I think things look pretty bad for Donald Trump right now-- not that he will be impeached, not that he will be otherwise forced from office, but he looks bad as a person, as a moral actor. He is doing something wrong here. Whether there is a political price to pay or not, it was wrong. And that should matter.

Sure, I know, that is something that shouldn't surprise us, some will say. But we can't stop saying that something is outrageous when it is.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


A turn for the worse

Yesterday, Rolling Stone's Tana Ganeva published a great story about the DOJ's turn back towards the War on Drugs (and let me explain why I have a problem with that).  It's sad, and has the potential for real tragedy. We know what a waste that effort was, and yet we are seeing easy, wrong answers prevail over complicated correct ones all over the place with this administration.

Seriously, what's next? Hammer pants?

[and, for what it's worth, MC Hammer was all in for clemency]

Tuesday, May 09, 2017


The war that didn't end

In the wake of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, we went to war in Afghanistan. With varying degrees of intensity, we have been at war there ever since.

The goal initially was to topple Taliban rule, defeat Al-Qaeda, and capture Osama bin Laden. All of those objectives have now been achieved (though remnants of Al-Qaeda remain).  Though we turned over leadership of the military efforts in Afghanistan in 2014, we are still at war there-- including dropping the "Mother of All Bombs" last month. 

Why are we still there? Do engagements like this ever end, and should they? 

I don't see these questions being asked, and for the most part Americans have forgotten about the conflict. Yet, our money and soldiers are still going there.  I worry that the end will be defined by an unattainable goal, such as the eradication of all vestiges of Al-Qaeda. Am I wrong?

Monday, May 08, 2017


Haiku about rain...

There were so many great poems  about rain last week (and welcome back Renee!).

Can I just say it? Gavin is really good at haiku:

Dad, Grandpa, and me
Watch the prairie sky turn black
From the west it comes

Hot day turns cool fast
In the distance thunder rolls
Wheat sways in the wind

The first drops fall hard
Fat, wet bombs crater the dust
No more work today.

And welcome Michael O'Connor!:

They call them “soft” days.
Moisture fills the Irish air
Encompassing all. 

And since it turns out that not just men can write poetry (someone wrote to tell me that I had the only "male-dominated" poetry page he had seen, and I'm not quite sure what to make of that), we had compelling work from Jill Scoggins (of Louisville, if you couldn't tell):

Now: Oaks. Tomorrow:
Derby. Weather: Thunderstorms.
Calling all mudders.

Retired horseracing
reporter husband shows me
how to read the form.

"See that? It shows track
conditions in horse's past.
That's the way you tell."

A mys'try unlocked.
Info understood at last.
Hint: sly is sloppy.

And Carina, I always love learning a new word:

Misty morning here
My daughter's smile is so big

Sunday, May 07, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Who you find in the pews

Today I have a little piece in the Waco paper about one of the women in my church there, Argye Hillis. You can read that here.

For those of us who go to church, too often we look straight ahead instead of around us. But the two great commandments tell us that we need to do both. And when we do, we find people like Argye. Here is a bit from her (very well-written) obituary in the Waco Trib:

In 1968, they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. With her children in high school, Argye finally got a chance to finish her college education, earning a B.S. in Mathematics with highest honors at Towson State University. She then combined her interests in biology and mathematics to earn her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins studying with Dr. Frederik Bang. Argye became the chief statistician on an important study on the treatment of blindness. This was the first of Dr. Argye Hillis' many scientific studies and over time she developed a national reputation for her insights in medical mathematics, particularly in the field of ophthalmology.

And that all comes AFTER the part where she raises her kids in the Congo during a revolution...

Saturday, May 06, 2017


Just wondering...

When you see this interview with George W Bush, do you feel differently than you did a few years ago about him?

Friday, May 05, 2017


Haiku Friday: The Rain

This is the time of year where you might wake up to sunshine or rain, and either way it is beautiful. Spring is like that.

It's simple, sure, but let's haiku about the rain today-- the way it is wherever you live, or however you remember it, or however you hope to see and feel and hear it.

Here, I will go first:

In Williamsburg,Virginia
May's rain was languid.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable schedule, and have some fun!

Thursday, May 04, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Designed to Fail

Just up online (and forthcoming in print at the William and Mary Law Review) is a new article I co-authored with Rachel Barkow titled Designed to Fail: The President's Deference to the Department of Justice in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform.  You can download it here.

There is a lot packed into the article, but in a nutshell what we are saying is this: The Department of Justice was a significant drag on the Obama administration's efforts to address over-incarceration and other aspects of the criminal justice system. In the future, a progressive administration is going to have to acknowledge this and push for reform without deferring to the old heads at the DOJ, whose institutional interests almost always lie with the status quo. 

President Obama and Eric Holder made significant headway in criminal justice, but because they did not restructure things like the clemency process or negotiate legislation beyond the Fair Sentencing Act, those gains are going to quickly evaporate. Even before the Sentencing Commission, they pulled their punches and often fought against broader change. They were too often timid when they needed to be bold, and late when they needed to be early.  The price is being paid now, under an administration hostile to reform and eager to return to the failed policies of the 1980's and 90's.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


Writers Strike Averted!

Late Monday night, television producers and writers reached a last-minute deal, narrowly averting a strike. 

That may not seem like such a big deal, but last time the writers went on strike-- in 2007-- it was kind of a disaster for American culture. Networks scrambled to create largely unscripted reality shows to fill the gap. Among other horrors, that era gave us "Fat March," a show where fat people were made to march along the highway:

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


Over at my dad's blog...

He has some great things to say (and some wonderful photos, too). Check it out here.

This was my favorite part:

Wayne Shorter had just been in Detroit in his role as the Detroit Jazz Festival’s Resident Artist for 2017. This remarkable jazz saxophonist offered to be part of a master class held at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. When he entered the club he was greeted with awe and respect. Great artists can be a little intimidating. Any intimidation melted away under the weight of Wayne’s manner and words, while the awe and respect carried on throughout the evening. At this moment in his life Wayne Shorter has little to prove. He still can’t enter a room without having something to say that needs to be said. Wayne came into the room where the young musicians were preparing to play and sat down in a chair facing them. Without speaking he waved to them to start playing. While they played he did what jazz artists do best.  He listened. He responded to what he just heard by saying that it is what you personally bring to the gig that is more important than your instrument and all your newest tricks. He told them to live life so that they would have something to say and know when it is appropriate to say it. They learned that their music would be only as good and as big as their lives.

Monday, May 01, 2017


About the dogs

There were a lot of great haiku last week, so I recommend going back and reading them all.  One thing I noticed is that for a lot of people, their dog makes them happy.

Like Alecia:

The warm sun's caress
My dog's tail wag in greeting
Me with a free day.

And Christine:

My morning wake up
A wet nose pokes mine; sniff, sniff
wagging tail, hurry .

And IPLawGuy:

Hound named "Larry"
He jumps on my bed and makes
It all so furry!

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