Sunday, December 31, 2017


Sunday Reflection: That there is a God

Because of the places I have taught and the people I have befriended, I know a lot of theologians. Their work is fascinating sometimes, especially the work by those who mix in a lot of history and linguistics. It's dense and challenging and rings true. Other times, it seems too distant from the heart of faith-- a commentary on someone else's thoughts about a text, strained through a distant intellectual tradition: Augustine thought this about what Paul said about that, and later commentators had additional thoughts. Great. But sometimes the whole discourse is really about something minute and small; it is placed entirely within the limits of our understanding, and pretends we can comprehend what we cannot.

I find myself drawn to the bigger questions. What does it mean that there is a God? Beyond "is there a God?" that may be the biggest question of all. Yet in my own heart, that matter of theology is settled.

If there is a God, and it's not me, then there is something eternal that is greater than me-- something I cannot and will never fully comprehend, that is always larger and greater than I.

Think of all that changes with that thought! It's a whipsaw of humility. It forces me to accept mystery. It demands that my answer very often be "I don't know." It places me firmly on the ground.

Today, the last day of the year, I go back to that. And I give thanks. And I build from that.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


Hopefully your Christmas wasn't a downer...

Friday, December 29, 2017


Haiku Friday: Reflections on 2017

So this is the last of 2017, an eventful year, and perhaps we should haiku on that. Feel free to talk about what happened to you, to others, to us all. It helps that "2017" has five syllables!

Here, I will go first:

Twenty Seventeen--
Lost a cause and wrote a book
But causes come back.

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

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The insidious internet

The internet can be an ugly, ugly place. With a cloak of anonymity, some people become utterly malicious, intent on insulting, demeaning and lying about people they don't like. It's a phenomenon that has driven some wonderful writers from their task.

It's probably time to face facts, too: Melania Trump just might not be the right person to take on internet bullying.

So, what to do? Here are some options:

1)  The platforms themselves--especially Twitter and Facebook--could be more aggressive in policing their forums and weeding out people who are just plain nasty. The problem is that it is difficult to develop objective standards to do this, which can consistently discern strenuous debate from abuse.

2)  We could allow and encourage other users to abuse the abusers.  There was an intriguing New York Times piece about this yesterday, describing an effort to take on trolls who falsely assume the identity of prominent commentators and then make biased remarks in their name.

3) We could do nothing, and individually ignore them. I just don't read the comments to what I write anymore. There is a kind of revenge in that, I guess; some dork spent an hour crafting a string of insults that I never read. But that does not work for everyone, and some people care a lot more about what others think of them than I do. (being a prosecutor is good training for that--when you do the right thing, someone will always be mad at you and you learn to just let that be).

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Too much caution

The Star-Tribune had a story yesterday about a document circulated at the University of Minnesota regarding Holiday parties. Among other things, the document claimed that the colors red and green (or silver) and images of Santa were "not appropriate" for gatherings there.

That's a stretch. And it makes me sad that it was probably lawyers who came up with this. Sigh.

Am I wrong? Is this good advice?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Boxing Day, crisp and cold

Here in Michigan, it is 3 degrees out, which is unusually cold. I love it-- the air is still and crisp, and it's fascinating to watch the lake freeze over, bit by bit, with little rivers running through the ice and birds standing on the new ice.

To me, it seems normal. When I was a kid, in the 1970's, this part of the world went through a "mini ice age," a series of very cold winters that provided lots of snow and cold. It was a great time to be a kid who loved sledding and skiing and walking through the snow.

I suspect this is an anomaly, not a return to those days. But for now, I am going sledding...

Monday, December 25, 2017


Merry Christmas!

Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope that you enjoy this day.  There is something to make of it, however you approach it.

Here, in Detroit, the snow came yesterday and piled up in drifts all around. I love that; the way it quiets the world. It seems especially appropriate on this day. Jesus did come and shook everything up for millenia. His birth was such a turning point that we measure time from the presumed year of his birth, the first Christmas.

But yet, there is a call to stillness, too. A baby cries, yes-- and I imagine the baby Jesus did-- but sometimes is so calm and quiet. A sleeping baby is a remarkable thing, and there is a reason that people can't stop watching.

Awake and asleep, change and calm; it is part of the whole we know to be true.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Sunday Reflection: The Tired Joseph, the Brilliant Moment

Today I have a piece in the Waco Tribune-Herald about Joseph and Christmas and brilliant moments. It begins like this:

In the old Nativity scene at my parents’ home, one of the very realistic aspects is written on the face of Joseph: He looks tired. He should. It had been a pretty rotten week for him until a brilliant moment arrived.

Above is a picture of that Joseph. He lost part of his nose, too, perhaps when my sister would put on her angel costume and move him around like an action figure as she played with the creche.

Later in the piece, I describe something else:

One busy Saturday in the H-E-B grocery store on Wooded Acres I pushed through an aisle looking for pasta sauce. Coming toward me was a woman in her 60s, tall and elegant. As she approached, she slowed and looked at another woman, this one in her 40s, who was eying a bottle of Bertolli Five Cheese. An inveterate eavesdropper, I faked an interest in lasagna noodles and loitered.

As the older woman came close, she made eye contact with the younger one, straightened to her full height and said sharply, “Third position!”
The younger one flushed a little, stood bolt upright and moved her feet quickly, one in front of the other and facing opposite directions. As she did so, her hands went out to her sides and her fingers melded together like lithe spoons. She held that pose for a moment.

Then they both laughed. The older woman reached out and touched the younger one on the shoulder and moved past, no longer a 24-year-old ballet teacher instructing an eager 6-year-old girl. I don’t know what came before and after that moment for either of them, but it was a brilliant moment, full of life and deep connection. It was a little like Christmas.

How do they connect? To find out, check out the whole piece (you can do that here). And have a wonderful Christmas Eve!!!

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Ceelo Christmas

I will be down at my Dad's studio today, listening to my brother and Luis Resto and whoever wanders in play some Christmas music. Hopefully, it will work out something like this:

Friday, December 22, 2017


Haiku Friday: Holiday Trip

It's the time of year when people hit the road, whether it is to see relatives, go to the beach, ski, or (like the Griswold's, depicted above in the elusive Vermont-ish region of Illinois) just out to get a tree.

Let's haiku about those trips this week, in the past, present, or future...

Here, I will go first:

The long drive now ends
I turn down Colonial Road
And everything slows.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Done Deal

So, the Republican tax bill is done-- now it is certain to become the Republican tax law. In case you missed it, here are some of the key provisions:

1) The corporate tax rate is cut from 35% to 21%.

2) The inheritance tax is lifted for nearly everyone.

3)  Lower taxes on private jets.

4) People with an income over $1.5 million per year are allowed to fill their yachts and jets with money from the US treasury on two designated days a year ("Trump Days").

5) "Pass-through" businesses will be taxed at the capital gains rate.

6) The individual exemption will be replaced with a much larger standard deduction.

7) The standard exemption will be eliminated in favor of a much larger individual deduction.

8) Taxes on cat owners, Washington Nationals fans, and intellectual property lawyers will double.

9) The deduction for State And Local Taxes (SALT) is eliminated.

10) Tax on salt is doubled.

11) The individual mandate tax under the Affordable Care Act is eliminated.

12) All tax credits under the Affordable Cat Act are eliminated.

13) Business owners can expense their thingees at the new whats-it rate.

14) Frontier Airlines is eliminated.

15) Both the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the city of Falls Church, Virginia are opened to oil drilling, strip mining, and factory hog-slaughtering operations.

16) The Pancake House excise tax is tripled.

17) The Fancy Beer surcharge is imposed nationally.

18) In 2025, indentured servitude will again be allowed for individuals making less than $300,000/year.

19) Police authorized to go door-to-door seizing citizen's vinyl records.

20) Tax system is simplified as rates are amended from 10%, 12%, 29%, 16%, and 39.6% to 14%, 11%, 35%, 22.3%, and 16%.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


A prosecution story

I had a piece in yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune about our local prosecutor, Mike Freeman. Last week, he expressed some real frustration with the police here relating to their investigation of an important case, and people went berserk.

The truth is that they system is built so that there is tension--or should be--between a prosecutor and the police. It is the prosecutor's job to say no to the police when things are done poorly or a case is not ready-- and no one wants to hear that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


The Best SNL Christmas Song Ever

The Foo Fighters (led by Dave Grohl, who we have discussed here before) did something great on Saturday Night Live last week. Check it out (and wait for the turn, midway through...):

Monday, December 18, 2017


A season's traditions

Thank you, Jill Scoggins, for this (on Haiku Friday last week):

Great-grandmom’s Santa.
Worn red velvet, lead boots. Ties
me to my Moma.

’Cuz at Christmas, you
always go back to be that
kid you were before.

That Santa with its
celluloid face, webbed mesh trunk,
makes me as I was.

My Moma’s joy, the
one most like her, her buddy.
Unconflicted love.

Lost her in ’01.
I still sometimes reach out for
my phone to dial her.

There were also three poems about one subject: the felt ornaments my mom has made for the past several decades. My dad explained here:

using some felt and her
old sewing machine Phyllis makes
her Christmas magic

then her time is spent
Placing the ornaments with
her love in the mail 

And then Sleepy Walleye chimed in:

Little felt treasures
Arrive each year from Grosse Pointe
Thanks to Mrs O

And Christine:

Made from felt with love,
A proud recipient of
Phyllis' magic

While Megan Willome, in her way, left me wondering what the gift was that she gave:

Girl on a wooden
swing, gift to me in first grade
for a gift I gave.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


Sunday Reflection: God and Taxes

So, it looks like the Republican tax scheme is going to pass into law before Christmas, giving huge and permanent tax breaks to the rich while inflating the public deficit in such a way that inevitably social welfare programs will be cut. This is the party that claims the support of the majority of America's Christians.

I just do not understand that.

Yes, I know the line that Christian Republican's love: That Jesus's teachings don't apply to government. 

But, why? Shouldn't we aspire to have those values inform all that we do, in our public and private lives? How is it that the important roles of voter and public servant are somehow exempt from the truth of Christ-- in fact, become the mirror image of Christ's teachings about wealth and poverty?  

"As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me" is what Jesus taught. I think that "you" includes government officials, and all of those who set our national priorities and policies.  We are seeing a sad abrogation of those values now.

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Where does that highway go to?

And in case that made you want to see the original:

Friday, December 15, 2017


Haiku Friday: The Tree (and more)

I do love this time of year.

My own tradition is to get a tree, put it up, and wait a while before decorating it. I love that time period, too-- there is something wonderful about having a tree, a living tree, in the house. It is unexpected and weird, and it fits the time of Advent, this period of waiting. And the smell!  I stand by it in the morning and just breathe it in...

Let's haiku today about our favorite decorations, be it a tree or an ornament or menorah or whatever. Here, I will go first:

The gray Christmas mouse
Lived each year by the clock, 'til
A real mouse ate it.

True story-- that happened. Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Jones's win/Moore's loss-- does it matter?

The big politcal news of the week-- and it IS big--is that Doug Jones, a Democrat, defeated Republican Crazyperson Roy Moore in Alabama's special election for the US Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This will reduce the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, and seems to be a rebuke to President Trump, who actively supported Moore.

Does it matter?

It's going to be a difficult thing for the Democrats to recapture the Senate in 2018, because they are defendant many more seats, and many more vulnerable seats, than the Republicans. Overall, 24 Democratic seats are up for election in that cycle, but only eight seats now held by Republicans.  While the Republicans in Nevada and Arizona might be vulnerable to a Democratic pickup (the Arizona Senator holding that seat, Jeff Flake, is not running), while there are vulnerable Democrats in West Virginia, Montana, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, all states that went for Trump in 2016. It still seems unlikely that the Senate will flip.

But... it could be that the Jones victory (and Moore loss) is about something larger... is this a turning point? And if so, what are we turning towards?

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


I sure hope Melania has a handle on this whole online bullying thing...

Yesterday, President Trump tweeted this:

"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!"

So... how IS Melania Trump's campaign against online bullying going? 





  Anyways, I kind of wonder what her other options were for a First Lady initiative. Maybe preventing age-gap marriages? Eliminating golf? Barring the overuse of gold accents in interior decoration?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017



I'm not sure why, but I find this really compelling-- it is fascinating (to me, at least) to watch Detroit and the Texas cities, in particular:

Because, you know... they have some good points. They have some bad points..

Monday, December 11, 2017


Taking the Test

Even reading haikus about tests made me a little nervous!

Jill Scoggins probably was the one that most directly addressed my question (about habits and traditions related to tests):

Rewrite all class notes
by hand. Tactile feeling makes

it stick in my brain.

But maybe we would all be better off if we thought about it like Fallen:

So few tests matter.
No paper scenario
Can mimic this life.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Hope and Heartbreak

It's been kind of a hard year. In a piece out today at The Atlantic, Bruce Rubenstein explains why.

2016 was pretty unique for me, of course. The rejuvenation of clemency I pushed for years finally happened thanks to the work of many good and hard-working people (most importantly President Obama), and over 1700 people were given shortened sentences. Now some of them come and visit me, which is a miracle each time. But, of course, that moment in history--that short age of mercy-- ended in January, 2017. Since the inauguration there has been a single use of the pardon power, and that was for Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

The Arpiao pardon was kind of a knife in the heart for me-- it celebrated the excesses and abuse of power by law enforcement rather than heal the effects of those wrongs. It's hard to explain how wrenching that feels- to have the momentum for mercy not only stop, but go backwards to reward a lack of compassion and humanity. 

I guess... imagine that you are a musician, one who loves to play and is wonderfully talented, like the man my father captured in the photo above. For a year, you get to be in a remarkable group and make music that people love-- you create beauty. Then, suddenly, the band breaks up, the venue closes down, and it all stops. But something worse happens, too: An announcement is made that now music will just consist of metal scraping noises (I know, I know, IPLawGuy-- that happened, kind of). Not only can you not play music, but now the very idea of music has been turned to something bad.

I'm heartbroken. And I'm able to say that from my comfortable house with my good job and a car that can take me wherever I want to go. I can only imagine how it feels for the multitudes in prison, the one whose fingers were crushed when the window slammed shut on them.

For a few years, I carried a coin with me that bore the image of the Roman goddess of mercy, Clementia. It was sort of the opposite of carrying a heavy weight-- the idea of that goddess made me lighter. A few weeks ago, I wrapped it up and put it in a drawer. 

Why? I suppose that it is just not her time right now. The Greek and Roman Gods were like that, of course; they would go away for a while, on a quest or diversion. But they were not gone. And Clementia, too, will come back, will regain her power, because she embodies something that is deep within the human spirit, that we can repress but not extinguish. 

And so, Advent. A baby. Hope. A world transformed. New days are coming, for me and those multitudes.

I will do my part.

Saturday, December 09, 2017


The only version...

... of "The Little Drummer Boy" I have ever liked (but I like it a lot):

Friday, December 08, 2017


Haiku Friday: Test day rituals

Yesterday I gave the final for my sentencing class. I got to the room a little early, and could tell that some of the students were finishing up some little ritual-- for example, on guy was listening to some kind of psych-up song on headphones. 

I had them, too, of course. For example, I always ate a banana before a test. Why? No one knows. It's a mystery.

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

So many habits
I see being played out
Most common? Prayer.

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

Thursday, December 07, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Who is winning the war on Christmas?

In the wake of having totally given up on the War on Deficits, it looks like Republican leaders are finally taken up a war they can win: The War on Christmas.

Let's not forget how that war has been going. Here is one description from The Atlantic:

[President Trump recently tweeted that] “It is my tremendous honor to finally wish America and the world, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

Hearing the words would have come as a relief for millions of Americans who disagreed with President Obama’s decision to repeal Christmas. Recall that when Congress tried to tell him to stop, he said, “No way, no, no, no. I am Obama, and I do what I like. Political correctness!”

For eight bizarre years, the south lawn was dark and empty. There was an iron pentagram on a tower that said “Happy Holidays.” In the place of the National Christmas Tree, there was a glowing orb that emitted shrieking sounds. Anyone who touched it was overwhelmed by sexual urges. One passer-by saw the display and said, “That’s not very Christmas!” He was never seen again.

I there is one thing that makes me sad, it is Christians demanding their "rights," such as the right to have everyone recognize their holiday.  It's such an odd exercise; given that the faith itself has nothing to do with rights and getting, and everything to do with sacrifice and giving.

So, how do you think the war on Christmas is going?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017



The latest tumult is over President Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. I think I have a handle on it now-- I was confused for a while about the implications of this.

There will be problems. Symbolism matters, and this is a huge one that could effectively end what is left of the peace process in the Middle East. Though it won't affect Americans in our day to day lives, I suspect it will mean another hit to our international reputation in some places.

Does this matter?

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Should I give it a rest?

If you are still interested in the Mueller/Flynn deal, I have a piece about that in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune; you can read that here.

Then I was all worked up to write a screed about the tax bill, which just seems like the worst legislation in a long time. I'm baffled at how any principled Senator could vote for it, unless they are deluded enough to think that every economists is wrong...

But, wait.

I think I am at risk of outrage exhaustion or something. It is just draining to constantly write about what is going wrong. On the one hand, I feel a duty to say it. On the other hand, it seems that others say the same things, more publicly, and better.

What do you think? Do I need to back away from the madness a little?

Monday, December 04, 2017


Dumb bunnies (in haiku)

I love this, Megan Willome:

Lawyer leaves gun in
briefcase. Tries to enter court.
Arrested. Take care.

And Gavin wrote this about me, I think:

Measure twice, cut once?
Pffft! I know what I'm doing.  
Three inches too short.

And I need more info on Gale's... (which is good!):

Roman emperors
Augustus Tiberius
Claudius Nero

We study the five
Emperors but only men
In their time a King.

Sunday, December 03, 2017


Sunday Reflection: So, Advent...

Of the whole year (well, the liturgical year), Lent and Advent are the deepest for me. Sure, Christmas and Easter have their charms, but I guess I am a sucker for anticipation.

This year will be a little different. I have been more still over the past several months, since I have been holed up writing. My reflection, though, has been focused on that work, and now I have the challenge of pulling out of it and thinking more broadly.

It is a time, too, when I really do need the Christ child to come. It has been a difficult and challenging year spiritually-- not due to the failure of God, but the failures of men (including myself, as always). I need to prepare for joy. I guess Advent is coming at just the right time...

Saturday, December 02, 2017


Because it is always good to learn more about Spinal Tap...

Friday, December 01, 2017


Haiku Friday: Being Dumb

So... did you ever have one of those not-so-smart weeks? I'm having one of those. I seem to be having brain problems or something.

Let's haiku about those less-than-perfect moments when we goof up a little. Here, I will go first:

I only mess up
When I talk or move around
Otherwise, I'm good.

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

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