Sunday, June 30, 2019


Sunday Reflection: "The Way It Is"

Eight years ago, I wrote about how this song resounded with me.  I was a kid who got told a lot (always by people other than my parents, I should note) that my concerns over justice issues were naive, and that once I was grown I would understand "the way things are." This was a code, a way of inculcating what we now call white privilege. I was on a committee at church and urged over and over that the church join in racial justice initiatives. Every time I was dismissed, and often was told that when I was older and had experience with the world I would feel differently-- that I would understand "the way things are."

You know what's great about being 56? No one tells me that anymore.

I am being sincere about that. It is great to be hard to dismiss as naive or young or unexperienced. Many of the people who disagree with me don't say anything at all, which is unfortunate, but some gray hair has its advantages in that I'm not often dismissed outright. Yet, I am saying the same things.

Those memories of being told that people are protecting the status quo because that is "the way things are" came back this week. First Cov got thrown out of its denomination for not bowing to the weight of the past. Meanwhile, down at Baylor, the battle continues over whether a discussion about LGBT students can even be had in an open and honest way.

The weight of history is hard to overcome. But underneath those hills are buried the bodies, the hopes, the stories of people who were discarded and marginalized.

And those are the people Jesus sought out, who he fought for, who he said were blessed. If we are Christians, that is the team we have been assigned to, not the advantaged (even if we are advantaged ourselves). We need to fight for those Jesus begged us to protect, not the people we are most comfortable with.

Perhaps what the status quo defends is the "way it is." But that is not, if the arc of history truly bends towards justice, the way that it will be.

Saturday, June 29, 2019


Sad, sad, sad

As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports here, First Covenant Church of Minneapolis was involuntarily removed from its denomination yesterday, and minister Dan Collison was stripped of his ordination. The reason? An openness to treating LGBT members like everyone else who comes in the doors. 

I suppose I am in a stage of grieving over this right now, and more complex thoughts and reflections will come later.

Already, though, I realize that First Cov will go on, and will thrive and grow as an unaffiliated church (the congregation owns the building, so that is possible).  

Friday, June 28, 2019


Haiku Friday: The TV I never watched

I was playing a trivia game last week, and was shocked at how little I knew in the television category-- I only knew about game shows through SNL parodies, and had never seen most of the shows mentioned. I am often given a hard time, too, because I have never seen either of the two best shows on criminal law: The Wire and Breaking Bad.

So let's haiku about that this week-- the shows you know about, but never saw. Here, I will go first:

So much I missed
By skipping "The Wire," but still
People quote it to me.

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019


PMT: The Debates! (Part 1)

My primary takeaway from the debate was this question: Is MSNBC so hard up to sell advertising that repeated showings of the Life Alert ad above is the best they can do?

Well, maybe that was not my primary takeaway.

I was taken by how messy the whole thing was-- including the period in which the second-string moderators had their mics still on while offstage. There was a lot of cross-talk. 

Generally, I was impressed by the candidates. There are a lot of good choices. Personalities are emerging. Warren seemed well prepared, and Klobuchar clearly delivered her points. Booker decried "thoughts and prayers" about gun violence by saying "In my faith, they say faith without acts is dead." 

Too many of them just seemed to want to talk about what they were ready to talk about, not what they were asked about... but that seems to go with the territory on these things.

What did you think?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


Yale Law '90: Cornell William Brooks

Cornell Brooks was someone I learned from when we were in law school. He had something that held me in awe-- he had already earned a divinity degree from Boston University (after undergrad at Jackson State), and that combination of knowing law and faith was something I really admired and probably envied. While at BU, he won awards both for scholarship and preaching. While he was doing that, I was tracking people down on the streets of Detroit as a process server. It was a little intimidating. 

After law school, Cornell accomplished great things-- and I mean, very literally, great things. 

He worked for the DOJ on housing discrimination, he was a civil rights attorney for a non-profit, ran for Congress, and he ran the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Then, in 2014, he was elected the Chief Executive of the NAACP. It is a challenging job, especially at a time of continuing racial conflicts in the wake of the tragic episodes in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere involving police shootings. He led the Journey for Justice in the summer of 2015, traveling over 1,000 miles from Selma, Alabama to Washington DC. I remember being tempted to join. I'm sorry that I didn't.

In that role, Cornell got to speak out on a number of issues at the center of our national conversations. Here he is talking about the racist church murders (they were not just "shootings"- they were murders) in Charleston:

Since stepping down from the NAACP, Cornell has been teaching and preaching, and is a regular contributor at CNN. Primarily, he teaches at  Harvard's Kennedy School school of government. His title there is "Professor of the Practice of Social Justice and Leadership," which seems to fit. In January, I spoke to his class on "Morals, Money, and Movements: Criminal Justice Reform as Case Study." It was quite a day: I loved sharing the room with him, in front of 80-some students from all parts of Harvard's graduate and undergraduate programs.

One thing I saw in the students there was the way they looked at him with a combination of admiration and engagement. It was a familiar look, even some 30 years later.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


The movement grows...

Last week, the 538 web site did a great thing by reaching out to the Democratic campaigns to get the candidates' views on a number of criminal justice issues.

Given my interests, two things jumped right out at me. First, a survey of important issues actually included the issue of taking clemency out of the DOJ! That's awesome. Second, according to the chart, nine of the candidates support the move. 

Troublingly, though, Amy Klobuchar is not among those nine. This is odd, given that she wrote a CNN op-ed promoting the idea, and included it in her extensive list of things she would do in the first 100 days of her presidency. 

I'm hoping that this was an oversight by a staffer rather than a change in position-- but I'm troubled by the fact that she amended her answers to two other questions (as described at the bottom of the 538 piece) but does not seem to have corrected her answer on clemency.

If it really is a change in position... I'm curious where that is coming from.

Monday, June 24, 2019


On building things

Good job with the haiku last week-- the topic was a little weird, I know, but as usually the Razorites came through with some quality work.

Ok, I just loved this one from Kitty (who, I suspect, is speaking from experience):

Building with legos,
Lincoln Logs and other toys.
Grandsons are the best.

Jill Scoggins offered three, but this was the one I love the most:

Write a news release:
Twain said, "Good writing is re-
written, not written."

Sunday, June 23, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Blowback and Harry Potter

Since the publication of my op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that defended First Covenant Church-Minneapolis's choice to treat LGBT people as fully human, I have (predictably) gotten a lot of feedback. The emails, posts, and letters pretty much fall into three categories.

First, there has been a significant number of supportive messages, which I really appreciate. Many of those include a story about the writer, usually about themselves or a loved one being pushed out of a family or a faith because of bias against gay men and lesbians or those who support them. They are heartbreaking even as they are encouraging.

The second group contains the angry missives of those who think I have done something terrible. They often (and this is very odd) say I should be thrown into a lake of burning sulfur. It's really hard to believe these people are reading the same gospels I do.

Finally, there is a third group that consistently asks the same question-- it is remarkable how this same view comes up again and again. They pose this dilemma: "Didn't Jesus tell sinners to go and sin no more?"

It's not a bad question, and I will answer here.  Jesus did say that, to both the woman at the well and the woman about to be stoned for adultery. But I don't think that means we are to go around doing that.

Most importantly, we are not Jesus. We are the person in sin. How people look at the John 8 story and cast themselves as Jesus-- every time!-- is beyond me. There are all these other characters in the story: the woman about to be executed, the Pharisees, the people with the stones. Clearly, we are those people, not the incarnation of God on Earth! What arrogance to always cast ourselves as the savior-- and yes, I have done that, too. 

One problem with making yourself Jesus is that we lack Jesus's ability to identify sin. He knew the true nature of it, and often surprised people with his mercy (he even tells the woman in John 8, "neither do I condemn you").  Our lack of such an ability makes it especially dangerous to go around pointing fingers. Moreover, Jesus never reproves someone for being gay. It it really was so important, you think that would have been a significant part of his life.

Perhaps most clearly, what Jesus teaches over and over ("the log in your own eye," "judge not, lest ye be judged," etc.) is that we are not supposed to go around judging one another. Isn't that what's most important? What Jesus actually teaches us mortals?

But, I suppose, we all want to be God, not the sinner. And thus, the sin compounds.

In the larger scope of the church world, the restrictionists-- those who define themselves by who they exclude, who squander their religious freedom on judgment of others-- are going to lose the same way that segregationists always do in the long run.

And Harry Potter plays into this.

When the Harry Potter books were coming out, I lived in Waco. Many people there tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to bar their children from reading the books, believing that they were Satanic or at least somewhat witchcraft-y.  And, of course, there is a lot of witchcraft in a series of books about witchcraft. These people are the same ones who recoil at the thought of gay parishioners in their church.

At some level, those people were scared that Harry Potter taught a set of values other than their own. They were right, too, but not in the way they thought.

The core moral value in the Potter books was inclusion. Harry and his friends were good, because they fought for inclusion of people outside the wizarding mainstream (the "mud bloods"). The bad guys-- Voldemort et al-- were exclusionists.  They wanted purity. It was the love of others that saves Harry from danger, again and again.

Love and inclusion are, of course, also core values that Jesus taught. The only people he cast away and vilified were the judgmental and exclusionary Pharisees. 

The Harry Potter generation is going to take over your church. It is inevitable, a function of time. They will bring with them values that overlap between the gospels and the Potter books. In the end, love wins. That is how this story ends. And that's ok.

Saturday, June 22, 2019


Credit where due...

As most of you know, I was critical of Brett Kavanaugh's performance at his confirmation hearings. It was a rough time for the nation.

It is important, though, to watch what happens next. And yesterday Justice Kavanaugh authored an opinion in Flowers v. Mississippi that was pretty good.

Curtis Flowers was prosecuted six times for the same crime, due to a series of prosecutorial misdeeds and mistrials. It was a capital case, so it was the defendant's life that was at stake as the sixth verdict (and death sentence) made its way to the Supreme Court. The issue was the prosecutor's exclusion of black jurors through jury selection. In over-ruling the Mississippi Supreme Court, Kavanaugh's majority opinion (only Thomas and Gorsuch dissented) identified the racist intent of the prosecutor and upheld standards against such racial bias.

The opinion is well-written and accessible: you can read the whole thing here.  Here is an intriguing part of Kavanaugh's analysis:

In this case, Carolyn Wright was a black prospective juror who said she was strongly in favor of the death penalty as a general matter. And she had a family member who was a prison security guard. Yet the State exercised a peremptory strike against Wright. The State said it struck Wright in part because she knew several defense witnesses and had worked at Wal-Mart where Flowers’ father also worked. Winona is a small town. Wright had some sort of connection to 34 people involved in Flowers’ case, both on the prosecution witness side and the defense witness side. See, 240 So. 3d, at 1126. But three white prospective jurors—Pamela Chesteen, Harold Waller, and Bobby Lester—also knew many individuals involved in the case. Chesteen knew 31 people, Waller knew 18 people, and Lester knew 27 people. See ibid. Yet as we explained above, the State did not ask Chesteen, Waller, and Lester individual follow-up questions about their connections to witnesses. That is a telling statistic. If the State were concerned about prospective jurors’ connections to witnesses in the case, the State presumably would have used individual questioning to ask those potential white jurors whether they could remain impartial despite their relationships. A “State’s failure to engage in any meaningful voir dire examination on a subject the State alleges it is concerned about is evidence suggesting that the explanation is a sham and a pretext for discrimination.” Miller-El II, 545 U. S., at 246 (internal quotation marks omitted). Both Carolyn Wright and Archie Flowers, who is the defendant’s father, had worked at the local Wal-Mart. But there was no evidence that they worked together or were close in any way. Importantly, the State did not ask individual follow-up questions to determine the nature of their relationship. And during group questioning, Wright said she did not know whether Flowers’ father still worked at Wal-Mart, which “supports an inference that Wright and Flowers did not have a close working relationship.” 240 So. 3d, at 1163 (King, J., dissenting). And white prospective jurors also had relationships with members of Flowers’ family. Indeed, white prospective juror Pamela Chesteen stated that she had provided service to Flowers’ family members at the bank and that she knew several members of the Flowers family. App. 83. Likewise, white prospective juror Bobby Lester worked at the same bank and also encountered Flowers’ family members. Id., at 86. Although Chesteen and Lester were questioned during group voir dire, the State did not ask Chesteen or Lester individual follow-up questions in order to explore the depth of their relationships with Flowers’ family. And instead of striking those jurors, the State accepted them for the jury. To be sure, both Chesteen and Lester were later struck by the defense. But the State’s acceptance of Chesteen and Lester necessarily informs our assessment of the State’s intent in striking similarly situated black prospective jurors such as Wright.

Friday, June 21, 2019


Haiku Friday: Building things

Every once in a while, I get the chance to use power tools and build stuff. Recently, for example, I had the pleasure to facing the challenge of cutting a round hole in the middle of piece of plywood. Like most challenges, there was a tool for that: the saw pictured above, which attaches to a 1/2 inch power drill. It was awesome; it drilled a perfect hole in the middle of the board, a feat I did not think myself capable of.

This week, let's haiku about building things. It doesn't have to be the kind of construction I did-- feel free to talk about building a garden, or a good syllabus, or whatever. This is a time for creativity, after all!

Here, I will go first:

Terrifying teeth
Spin like a deathly skirt fringe
The sound is sinful.

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

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: The debates!

I love political debates.

Even when they are complete debacles (ie, the Gore/Quayle/Stockdale debate above), they are fascinating. I love hearing smart people talk about important things. And that sometimes happens.

The first round of Democratic debates among the 2020 presidential hopefuls has been broken into two groups. On Wednesday, June 26, we will see the following:

Bill DiBlasio  (Mayor-NYC)
Tim Ryan (Rep.-Ohio)
Julian Castro (former mayor of San Antonio and HUD Sec'y)
Cory Booker (Sen.-NJ)
Elizabeth Warren (Sen.-Massachusetts)
Beto O'Rourke  (former Rep.-Texas)
Amy Klobuchar  (Sen.-Minnesota)
Tulsi Gabbard  (Rep.-Hawaii)
Jay Inslee  (Gov.-Washington)
John Delaney  (former Rep.-Maryland)

Then the next night, Thursday June 27, we will hear from these characters:

Marianne Williamson  (author)
John Hickenlooper  (former Gov.-Colorado)
Andrew Yang  (Business Guy)
Pete Buttigieg  (Mayor, South Bend IN)
Joe Biden  (former Sen.-Delaware & VP)
Bernie Sanders  (Sen.-Vermont)
Kamala Harris  (Sen.-Calif)
Kristin Gillibrand  (Sen.-NY)
Michael Bennet  (Sen.-Colorado)
Eric Swalwell (Rep.-Calif)

I added the explanatory parentheticals after I realized a lot of people have no idea who Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell are (among others).

I suspect the first night may be the most interesting-- Warren, Klobuchar and Booker are all wicked smart and well-prepared for this battle, and Inslee, Castro, and O'Rourke all have important takes on specific issues, I think the second one may bog down a little because it is a mix of high-profile people (esp Biden) trying to avoid mistakes and a lot of people desperately trying to gain attention.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Yale Law '90: Hon. Richard Sullivan (US 2nd Circuit)

Over the next several months, I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

I have known Rich Sullivan for a very long time-- 38 years! I was his RA in college at William and Mary, where he was a year behind me. From the first time I met him, I knew that he was smarter than the average bear. He is one of my friends that I most admire.

During his freshman year, we became close enough that when his parents could not make it down for Parents Weekend, a friend and I took on the role, dressing up the way we incorrectly imagined parents from Long Island dressed (loud shirts, shorts,  cameras) and took him to Shoney's for dinner.

After college I lost touch with him. Which made it all the more surprising when I found him moving in next door to me at Yale Law School! After that, our friendship was for good.

In law school, Rich was one of those people you always hoped would say something in class, since what he had to offer was always not only well thought-out but also often both insightful and unique. He was (and is) a conscientious Catholic, and I learned a lot of what I know about Catholicism from him. Within the student community, he was leader-- of the Federalist society, but also of the intellectual life of the school.

After law school, to a certain point, our careers tracked one another. We both clerked for a federal judge for a year (he clerked in the 10th Circuit), then spent three years working at a big firm (in New York). After that, in tandem, we both moved on to jobs as federal prosecutors, he in New York while I took a job in Detroit. 

There things diverge. I was a run-of-the-mill prosecutor for five years before leaving for the academy. Rich, on the other hand, became a superstar who was known to be both fair and innovative. In 2002, he became the first chief of the Southern District of New York's International Narcotics Trafficking Unit, which focused on what federal prosecutors do best: taking down the most important transnational organizations. They accomplished remarkable things, convicting warlords, major traffickers, and cartels.

In 2005, he left for federal practice, but that did not last long. In 2007, he was appointed to be a judge for the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Last year, he was elevated to the Second Circuit, the appellate court for New York, Connecticut and Vermont. 

Over the past several years, we have put on a debate on narcotics sentencing at Harvard, Yale, Penn, NYU, and St. Thomas. He is my favorite person to debate, and over time I think we have each convinced one another a bit. 

He is a wonderful judge. A few years ago, we were set to go out to dinner. I got to the courthouse early and dropped in to see him sentence a defendant. Those proceedings can be dry and formulaic, draining the human aspect from a crucially important societal function.

Rich was not that kind of sentencing judge. His sentencing was long-- as it should be-- and fully acknowledged the human dignity of the victims of the crime and the defendant. As I watched, I admired him more than ever. And given that (inexplicably) Shoney's still exists, someday we might go back there.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Bonjour, Razor!

Nous, la nation française, avons de nouveau loué l’espace généralement inoccupé d’Oslers Razor pour débattre de questions d’une grande importance.

Connaissez-vous Camille Abily? Tu devrais être! Elle est le féroce milieu de terrain offensif de l'équipe de France. Alors qu'elle jouait pour Lyon l'année dernière, elle a marqué un but alors qu'un lion sauvage tenait son bras gauche serré dans ses dents!

Ou que diriez-vous de Laura Georges? Elle est l'une des principales défenseures de la ligue allemande et joue fièrement pour l'équipe de France lors de la Coupe du monde. Elle est tellement concentrée qu’on sait qu’elle a joué lors de l’attaque d’un serpent venimeux au milieu du terrain.

Je me rends bien compte que ces deux anecdotes font penser que nous, Français, sommes constamment attaqués par des créatures sauvages. Ce n'est pas vrai. Vous pouvez demander à IPLawGuy, car il s'est rendu plusieurs fois en France et n'a jamais subi une telle attaque.

Monday, June 17, 2019


Non-hipster dads

So, based on haiku received last week, it appears that most people have non-hipster dads.  I guess that I am just lucky!

For example, this from Christine:

Hipster; not my Dad
He preferred London dry gin
Couldn't grow a beard.

and this from IPLawGuy:

My Dad:
Stiff Upper lip, still hiding
A sense of humor.

Amy, though, had a different take (and a fair question):

There must be a
Hipster soul. Otherwise, it's
just trying too hard:

Osler's dad's beer is
Hipster soul. Too-long, groomed beards
Is trying too hard.

[Can chicks be hipster?]

Sunday, June 16, 2019


Sunday Reflection: The mass shooter

The United States has  a problem that other nations don't have: people taking a gun or guns to a public place and killing as many people as they can.

Almost always, it is white men who commit these terrible crimes. Their reasons are hard to discern: sometimes they seem aggrieved about some personal issue or break-up, other times there is a deep racial animus, and sometimes mental illness plays a role. For some of the killings, it is almost impossible to discern a motive.

Often, though, it seems that the killers are lashing out against people they think are threatening them, or are seeking revenge on those who have hurt them (or at least are perceived to have done so).

I'm at a loss to explain how people get to the point of such evil. We don't put much effort into figuring that out though-- and shouldn't it be important? Part of the problem is that we don't trust what killers say and don't want to validate them, and there is that danger if we pay too much attention to what they say about what they are doing. For some, in fact, that chance to "explain" seems to be what they are seeking from the crime all along.

I understand the need to deny them that public explanation. But I also long to understand how people can become capable of such heinous acts.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


1971 in real life

As part of haiku Friday yesterday, I posted the opening credit scene of the 1971 film "Shaft." As I watched it, one segment (starting at about 2:20) caught my attention: the part where Shaft weaves through some kind of demonstration where protesters are holding signs saying the following:

"Fidelifacts spies on homosexuals"
"I lost my job through Fidelifacts"
"Fidelifacts traffics in human lives"
"I got my job through the New York Times" [with a picture of an ostrich in a boater hat]

It turns out that rather than being a staged bit for the movie, this actually is a snapshot of a fascinating bit of history.

The makers of the movie just filmed Richard Roundtree going through an actual demonstration that was sponsored by the Gay Activists Alliance, just a few years after Stonewall. The target was Fidelifacts, a company that provided employers with information about the (supposed) sexual preferences of people seeking work-- so that those employers could actively discriminate against them. The New York Times has an excellent description here.

It's intriguing that a movie viewed by many as "Blaxploitation" also contains this bit of factual gay history, seemingly by accident...

Friday, June 14, 2019


Haiku Friday: Hipster Dads

Now here is a topic we haven't handled before! We have a lot of hipsters here in Minneapolis; the entire coffee and beer economies rely on them.

If you are wondering, here are some of the core traits of hipsters:

-- enjoy very cheap OR very expensive beer
-- work in the gig economy
-- unusual or unkempt haircut and/or facial hair
-- enjoys music that is outside of the mainstream
-- usually smart and witty

Of course, dads are the original hipsters.

Here are a few hipster dads I know:

1) IPLawGuy

IPLawGuy hits almost all of the hipster qualities (his preferred music, for example, is a cross between hillbilly yodeling, Led Zeppelin, and novelty songs from Dr. Demento). The one exception is that he does not work in the gig economy.

And if you are wondering, he is not covered in powder cocaine in this photo. It's uh, something else. I'm not sure what. Maybe something from the 1977 Dodge Dart he is restoring in his driveway? Or drywall powder from redoing his home office with stuff he found behind an abandoned Food Lion? Hard to say.

2)  My Dad

He is depicted here hanging out in his studio with a few of his hipster buddies. He actually meets ALL of the hipster criteria listed above, and does it all with style. He has his own blog about jazz.  His favorite beer is the hard-to-obtain, very cheap, and relatively inoffensive Boxer Beer from Monroe, Wisconsin. The Beer Advocate gives it a 2.2 (out of 5) rating, making it the 47,467th best beer in America.  Really. But you can get 35 cans of it for $10 if you go to this one gas station in Superior, Wisconsin (again, really). Which is the most hipster thing you can do, probably.

Anyways, let's haiku about hipster dads this week. Even if your dad was not a hipster, haiku away about him anyways! Here, I will go first:

Digging through old stuff
A photo: Dad at dinner
with Shaft. John Shaft. Sing!

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Don't mess with my church

As I have mentioned before, I am honored and happy to hold the Ruthie Mattox Chair of Preaching at 1st Covenant Church here in Minneapolis.

That church is facing a singular challenge right now.

Over the past several years, the church has reached out to the community around it as part of its revitalization. As a downtown church, that brought in real diversity: young and old, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight. It was the last of these that led to some challenges, and the choice of 1st Cov to treat LGBT members as fully human, able to take part in all that the church does.

The denomination 1st Cov is a part of, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has been hostile to this change. As a result 1st Cov is on the verge of being involuntarily separated from the denomination at the annual meeting later this month in Omaha.

This saddens me. So, course, I wrote about it. I hope you will read that piece, which is appearing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today, and which you can read here.

One of the leaders of the charge to crack down on FCCM and LGBT inclusion is James L. Voling, who is a partner at the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels here in Minneapolis.  Oddly, Faegre trumpets itself as a supporter of the LGBT community. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Yale Law '90: Michael O'Connor

Over the next several months, I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

If you have read Bryan Stevenson's excellent book Just Mercy, you have already come across the remarkable work of Michael O'Connor. He appears in Chapter 7 of that book, when he comes on board to help Stevenson and Bernard Harcourt represent Walter McMillan, who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Stevenson, O'Connor, and Harcourt pursued the case until McMillan was exonerated after six years on death row.

O'Connor came into law school like a ball of fire. He got to college late, but then blazed through his undergrad studies at Penn State and graduated summa cum laude. At Yale Law, he was both brilliant and deeply principled, a moral figure who often (rightly) challenged the rest of us. He cared about working people, the poor, criminal defendants, and the disadvantaged with a consistency that gave him credibility and gravitas. While in law school he was the student director of both the Green Haven Prison Project and the Jerome Frank Prison Legal Services. He did some of the things I should have done in those years. I really admired him at the time, and I still do today.

Our paths have intersected since school: He was my immediate predecessor teaching criminal law at the University of St. Thomas. He now serves as a professor of law at the University of LaVerne in California. His work stretches beyond the usual scholarship professors put out there-- with his partner and wife Celia Rumann, he has worked on a variety of non-traditional projects, such as this film documenting the work of Northwestern University Law students in Malawi:

We all have our critics, and Mike has had his (it comes with the territory when you are and advocate or an academic, and he is both). It is telling, though, that the message of his critics is always pretty much the same and boils down to this: that he is too zealous in his advocacy for the condemned, for the poor, for the disadvantaged, and for his students. If that is the worst thing people say about you, you have lived a damned good life.

He may not be as well-recognized and has not been monetarily enriched in the way that some other classmates have, but Michael O'Connor has done a lot of good in this world. I hope that our paths intersect again in the future.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Answering the phone

Today I rode my bike into work. I love the ride-- I go over a creek (twice), around a lake, through neighborhoods, and down into the heart of the city. I forgot my helmet, so I was feeling vulnerable, but I was also feeling fast so I went quick and careful (mostly).

When I got in, my phone started ringing. All of the following called: a reporter from the Washington Post, a reporter from the Texas Tribune, a reporter from Vox, Weldon Angelos (a former client and current collaborator), someone who just wanted advice about how to help their kid who is in prison, a grouchy guy who didn't like something I wrote, my sister Kathy, a pro bono client calling from prison (interrupted periodically by a loud recording intoning "THIS CALL IS FROM A FEDERAL PRISON") and a student who had some questions about a job interview.

By mid-afternoon, I realized that my to-do list was not going to get dented.

But that doesn't mean nothing was accomplished. All of those people called about different things, and in a way that is kind of amazing-- what a great job I have!

At about 6:45, I hopped back on my bike and rode home. The sun was getting lower, and filtering through the trees. By the lake, people were walking or wading in the water. Sailboats were setting out, a class, heading unsteadily into the deeper water. It all was of the whole, and that was pretty good.

Monday, June 10, 2019


Quiz Time!

Many years ago, I was the host of Virginia's longest-running and most-popular (by our estimation) radio quiz show, "Quiz Kid."

So, here is a quiz: Can you name at least three of these musicians?

Sunday, June 09, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Religion and Politics

Most people, including politicians, will say that their faith is an important part of their life, and is the basis of their sense of right and wrong. Not all people, of course-- some folks have principled systems of belief that are not rooted in a theology. But most politicians do claim a faith; it is telling that no member of Congress asserts an atheist identity, and only one member of Congress-- Senator Sinema of Arizona-- describes herself as religiously unaffiliated according to a Pew Research Center Analysis.

Other than Republicans defending their views on abortion or LGBT issues (or brave Pete Buttligieg on the same-- and he really is brave in this way, given that the rest of his party seems very wary of talking about religion), the people running for office rarely talk about their faith unless they are talking to a faith group. This is especially true of the current crop of presidential candidates. I suspect there are three reasons for this:

1) For some, the truth might be that their faith isn't really that important to them, but it would be unpopular to admit that publicly.

2) For others, they are afraid of being characterized within the parameters of our toxic religious stereotyping-- ie, the bigoted Christian or the pro-terrorist Muslim.

3) Finally, I suspect some are quite moved by their faith, but don't want to be depicted as completely captive to it-- ie, the charge that JFK would take directions from the Pope.

The result is that we end up knowing little about the interaction between a leaders' faith and their actions. And isn't that a problem? If faith is their source of discerning right from wrong, isn't that something that should be revealed and discussed openly?

I would love a debate to feature this question: "How does your faith inform the choices you make, and would make as President?"

As a culture, we seem to want to avoid that kind of discussion. I don't know why that is, though. Do you?

Saturday, June 08, 2019


Oh, so you don't care about the Women's World Cup?

Well, then... check out this highlight reel for Australian star Sam Kerr. It's pretty amazing:

Friday, June 07, 2019


Haiku Friday: Concerts

[Clip above: this year's Coachella. The audience is so young!]

It's been a while since I have been to a great concert, but some of the best I have seen have been outside at this time of year. So let's haiku about summer shows this week! Here, I will go first:

Detroit's warm June nights
Were just perfect for music
And yeah, I partook.

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

Thursday, June 06, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Making sense of the border

Before I launch into this discussion, I want to make something really clear: I don't think that immigration is a major or important issue in the United States. I don't think that immigration at the current levels threatens safety, creates crime, or threatens the economy. In fact, I think that each of the issues I raised this past Tuesday (Guns, national debt, climate change, Russian interference in elections, income disparity, and health care) are far more important than immigration-- each of those issues threaten our country and the well-being of Americans in ways more direct, immediate and important than anything having to do with immigration. 

So, anyways... apprehensions at the southwestern border are way up of late. There can be a lot of causes of that: more people crossing, greater enforcement, and a few big incidents, for example. I'm not sure it means anything, really. If you look at the graph of the Bush era above (from the Times), big spikes are followed by big valleys, perhaps correlation with seasonal changes.

But, in the end, it is not a crisis (except, of course, for the migrants themselves-- and that should matter). There are crises going on that directly impact the well-being of many Americans-- and we need to pay attention to those rather than simply obsessing over this.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019


Yale Law '90: Joseph Tsai

Over the next several months, I am devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling some of my Yale Law classmates. Everyone knows about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are so many other people who are fascinating and accomplished!

Joe Tsai (like last week's featured classmate, Kathleen Clark) was double-Yale: he attended Yale College before matriculating at the law school. Of all the people in our class, Joe is likely the most successful in terms of entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

After law school, he worked for three years at Sullivan and Cromwell in New York, and then at a management buyout firm. In 1995, he moved to Hong Kong to work at a private equity firm. There, he met Jack Ma, who was floating the idea of an online international import/export marketplace. Tsai joined with Ma as a co-founder in the venture, which became Alibaba. That entity is now by far the largest online market in China. Tsai's role as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer was key to the growth and development of the new entity.

Tsai, as the second-largest shareholder in Alibaba, has turned much of his efforts to philanthropy (he is also a part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, the Carolina Panthers, and the New York Liberty). Among other things, he and his wife provided the funding for the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, which engages Yale students in a variety ways with support for their own innovative plans, ideas, and dreams. It's pretty cool. I love it when people use their success to leverage and encourage the success of others.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019


The Cost of Inattention

I know that everyone is constantly up in arms about things that President Trump has said, often through Twitter. And a lot of it is beyond imagination-- why would you tweet out insults about the nation you are about to visit?

But as the press and much of the nation stays in a state of constant tumult over this, little seems to be said about the fact that nothing-- nothing at all-- is being done about (arguably) the six biggest challenges facing our nation right now. Let's discuss those (in no particular order).

1.  Guns

Since 2009, the United States has had 57 times more school shootings than all of the other G7 industrialized nations combined.  We have had 288, Canada had two, France had two, and Germany had one. There is something terribly wrong. We can and should have a discussion about solutions (and people may have very different solutions) but the fact is that our political leadership is avoiding the discussion.

2.  Debt

I have written about this before-- the Trump tax cuts exacerbated the acceleration of our national debt. Republicans are very very concerned about this-- but only when they are not in power. Our political leadership, again, is simply avoiding this discussion (as is much of the media).

3. Climate change

The fact of this is before our eyes. Yet our political leadership is avoiding the discussion.

4.  Russian interference with our past and future elections

When Robert Mueller appeared last week and finally made a public statement, he was opaque on some things and muted on others. But on this he was crystal clear: Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and is intent on doing so again. And yet, our political leadership is avoiding the discussion and the press is not engaging the issue. Instead, we obsess over tweets.

5.  Income disparities

This was a big issue in the last election. It has not gone away. And yet, our political leadership avoids the discussion.

6.  Health care

It seems that no one is satisfied with our health care system. But our political leadership is doing nothing to propose alternatives.

When we obsess over tweets, we effectively give the Trump administration a pass on all of these issues. The press is culpable as well-- they know that the profitable click-bait is in the tweets, and they cover every salacious bit and ignore all of the above most of the time. The Trump administration has successfully turned our political discourse into a reality show, plump with manufactured drama and disconnected from what is going on in the real world outside of the mansion. [and yes, that is a picture from the web series "Burning Love," which was awesome]

Monday, June 03, 2019


Ice cream poems

Yeah, I did get some! And it was awesome.

Here is what Christine had to say (she was inspired!):

Peering through the glass
Kaleidoscope of flavour
waits before my eyes


Dad says "Hurry, pick"
Sugar cone, two big scoops of
mint chocolate chip

Hot summer night
Rivulets of vanilla
Tongue catching them all


I inhale deeply
smelling sugar in the air

Gavin said this is about Grafton, N.D., but it sounds pretty familiar to me:

DQ cone in hand
Sittin on the tailgate
Watch the girls cruise by.

And the Medievalist brought the real deal:

Yogurt and lemon,
Together in the same cone,
Nights in Santander.

Sunday, June 02, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Unchastened

I was really struck by two things that happened about the same time.

First, the Children's Theater Company tried to get attorney's fees from a woman who, at age 15, was raped by one of the CTC's teachers-- even after a jury had found the CTC negligent in the matter (though not financially liable, since they did not directly cause the harm). 

Second, Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, who said he was aware of sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania but did not report it,  tweeted this:  "A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ “Pride Month” events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children."

The CTC case, at least, took a turn towards responsibility. The directors of the theater reversed position and withdrew the request.

In each, though, there seems to have been a lack of being chastened when each had been involved in a colossal harm.

Who is hurt when those who hurt others are not chastened by the experience?

I would think that the harm is both to yourself and to the larger society. It is a blow to integrity when someone involved in a systemic, widespread process that allows the rape and molestation of children posits himself as a moral authority about sex and children. It is not good for the faith, or for the man.

Some might say "Wait-- so, the church can't participate in the public degradation of gays and lesbians anymore? But that is an important expression of our religious freedom!" And well, yeah, you do have that freedom, and you can express whatever you want. But it is going to do much more harm than good. Especially when it comes from someone tarnished by the widespread, systemic sexual abuse of children and the cover-up of the same that the Catholic church-- and Bishop Tobin-- was a part of.

I am chastened, and have said this, by the mistakes I made as a prosecutor: for too long, I did not think through the effects of the sentences we sought. When others are chastened, it makes me respect them.

There is a part of the parable of the prodigal son that is often forgotten. When the lost son returns, he is chastened: he tells his father "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your servants."

We all remember the next part, where the father celebrates his return and prepares a feast. But the chastening is just as important. After all, we are lost son, not the father-- all of us are that person at one time or another.

Are we up to the task?

Saturday, June 01, 2019



Does anyone really understand this sport? Even the guys playing it seem kind of confused...

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