Monday, September 30, 2019


Hmmm... well, that worked.

I really wondered if "Ed Begley, Jr." would work as a haiku subject, but it did! It was a good sign, of course, that when I posted the link on Twitter, Ed Begley Jr. himself "liked" the post. So, there's that.

And the haiku! We had this from the Medievalist (and he's right about Columbo!):

Bad guy, Columbo,
Thinks he's smarter than Peter,
He goes to jail.

And Jill Scoggins weighed in with this, bringing us up to the moment:

Current: vying for
Connie on Young Sheldon. Will
He win her heart? Hmmmm

IPLawGuy seems to be having stranger dreams than mine involving EB2:

Better than my dream
English lawyer passing out
his business cards.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Perfect

This week, President Trump described his call with the Ukrainian President as "perfect."

No, that wasn't the worst thing that happened this week, but it was telling in a way.

I've never heard a person of deep faith describe themselves or anything they did as "perfect." I think that faith--and the accompanying acknowledgement that there is something greater than yourself--makes it impossible to make that claim. Perfection can be an aspiration, an unreachable goal, but it will never be ours. Not even the smallest thing; there is an ideal, a form, a way, that is beyond what we are capable of.

In the end, I suppose that faith demands a certain humility-- a humbleness of heart that rests easy with the idea of our own imperfection.

I do know this: I don't want people to think I am perfect, or that what I do is perfect. I want them to know, to see, that I am broken and imperfect. Only then can love and grace enter in.

But, in the realm of politics right now, I don't think love and grace are what they are after. And that is the biggest problem of all.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


Do you know what I love?

Well, yeah, pandas. And clemency. But also trick plays:

A few observations:

1) So many of these are hockey tricks!
2) The Patriots seem to use a lot of trick plays.
3) With a lot of the basketball clips, I couldn't tell what the trick was, exactly.

Friday, September 27, 2019


Haiku Friday: Ed Begley, Jr.

I know this will be a challenge, but here we go...

Lately, Ed Begley, Jr. has been appearing in my dreams, mostly as a background character and sometimes as a student in my class. I'm not sure what to make of that, but let's haiku about Ed Begley, Jr. this week! Here, I will go first:

He's on every show
And most of the movies, too;
I miss St. Elsewhere.

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

And if you don't remember the pretty remarkable cast of St. Elsewhere, check this out:

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Cannabis and Clemency

I know-- the big news right now is about the Trump-Ukraine fiasco, and I do have things to say about that (as I did earlier this week). I'm going to wait until some more facts come out (and they will) before I launch back into that.

Yesterday, I was in Los Angeles to speak at the launching of The Weldon Project,  It's a simple idea, being brought forward by one of my former pro bono clemency clients, Weldon Angelos. Here's the idea: Those in prison for marijuana offenses should get clemency, and legal marijuana companies should be the ones to fund that effort. He's right.

I'm not a pot smoker, and don't believe in the magical qualities some people seem to be assigning it-- in fact, I think it is a public health problem, like tobacco and alcohol (though probably of a lesser quantum). I do think it should be legal for recreational use. And I think it is especially ridiculous that people are still serving long sentences for marijuana in states where it is now legal.

It is the second time I have been to California to see Weldon.

The first time was when I was negotiating his release from prison in 2016. I flew out and rented a car to drive up to the facility. It was deep in the Central Valley, in the middle of almond fields as far as I could see. It was dry and precisely cultivated; a different world than I was used to.

Then I went into the prison, which was like all the others: concrete and steel. Weldon was doing 55 years for selling small amounts of marijuana while possessing a gun, and we had to get him out while the chance was there. Some things that should make me nervous don't. This did. And it worked.

Weldon is a remarkable, focused person in freedom. He works in the North Dakota oil fields, which is not an easy job. He has started this organization, to do good work, and that is not easy, either.

And I believe in what he is trying to do now. It saddens me that instead of having discussions about things like this, our attention necessarily has to be on the chaos that President Trump creates. I told Politifact something this week: that to this administration, politics IS the law.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Yale Law '90: Stephanie Dangel

Every Wednesday, I'm profiling a member of my law school class. They're a fascinating group, and it has been an adventure to catch up on all they have done.

In a group that included an awful lot of smart people, Stephanie Dangel was a standout. I remember her telling me about her hometown--Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania--and feeling a certain kinship since my family was partly from little Pennsylvania mountain towns like Shamokin. But other than that, she was way ahead of me. She had graduated from Penn and had then gone to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar while I was scuttling around Detroit in a broken-down Volkswagen Rabbit as a process server.

After law school, she clerked for Justice Blackman, during the time that Casey v. Planned Parenthood (a crucial abortion case) was being decided by the Supreme Court.

After the clerkship, she kind of swerved. Instead of staying in DC or going to New York, she moved back to Pennsylvania and worked for a firm in Pittsburgh. After six years, she decided to stay home for a while with her two kids. Before long, she edged back into public life, working with the Steeltown Entertainment Project-- both making movies and heading up their legal affairs. As a kid who grew up around arts projects in Detroit, I really appreciate groups like that which bring the arts into cities where things were built.

Now she is teaching at the the University of Pittsburgh's law school and has been the Executive Director of the Innovation Training Institute there. It sounds like good and fulfilling work-- and it's good to know that I'm not the only one who has found their place outside of DC, New York, and California.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Is it illegal?

I was fascinated today by the unfolding story involving the following facts and rumors:

Here are the facts that seem clear right now:
-- Joe Biden's son, Hunter, made money sitting on the board of a Ukrainian company.
-- A Ukrainian prosecutor began investigating the company with which Hunter Biden was affiliated.
-- Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire the prosecutor, who was viewed as corrupt (they did fire him).
-- In a phone call in July, President Trump pushed the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelinski, to initiate an investigation of the Bidens.
-- At the same time, the United States withheld military aid that it was scheduled to provide to the Ukrainian military.
Here is the key thing we don't know:
-- Whether or not there was a quid pro quo sought by Trump: You get the aid if you investigate the Bidens

If there was no quid pro quo, I'm not sure there is a way that the case could be prosecuted as a felony--most corruption crimes are premised on an exchange of goods for an action.

If there was a quid pro quo, it could be a "high crime or misdemeanor" under 18 USC 600, which provides the following:

Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

Monday, September 23, 2019


Haiku of Crime!

Excellent work! I suppose that could have gotten pretty dark, but it didn't... for example, there was this gem from Megan Willome:

Why, when September
blows in, do I crave a book
that's a bit crime-y?

And the Medievalist, as usual, had a reflection that read true:

He broke my window,
Tried to steal my Ford Fiesta,
Bled everywhere, failed.

As did Gavin's:

They say crime don’t pay.
Well, it sure is popular.
So it must be fun!

I'm pretty sure Susan Stabile's was rooted in experience:

Two converged on me
And ripped my necklace away
I froze in my place.

While IPLawGuy was more philosophic:

Why Antiheroes?
Do not glorify bad guys
Root for good ones!

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Sunday Reflection: The Floods

Houston is under water again-- another storm, more floods.

Water is a tricky thing. Too little can be fatal, and so can too much. The Bible is full of water stories: the flood, of course, and baptism, and Jesus walking on it, and all of the fishing-- quite a bit of water for stories set in the desert.

I suppose that there is a subtle message in all of this: the things that sustain you can kill you, too.  It's an unsettling message, isn't it? 

Saturday, September 21, 2019


My all-time favorite music video

What's not to love? This video has all of the following:

1) It's a stationary marching band blocking the sidewalk in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.

2)  Then there's the random dancing girl at the far right, who appears just to be a passer-by who got into it.

3)  At 0:45, we have the off-kilter singing of the lyrics to "The Love Boat," at which point the drum major throws it in and just joins the group.

4)  Then, for about thirty second, the whole thing seems to be on the verge of devolving into just yelling until....

5)  At 1:23, one drum picks up the song again and the chaos resolves back into song.

6)  Then, at 1:38, the volunteer dancing girl totally gets her groove on. 

7)  At 2:15, the band ties up the song by inexplicably chanting "Love Boat! No Mercy!"

8)  Then, at 2:20, they launch into the classic "Bulldog," written by Cole Porter when he was a Yale student, and out of nowhere a completely-out-of-place professional-grade SEC-style baton twirler appears.

9) At 2:45, more singing. And some barking. Because, "Bulldog."

10) Then, at 3:20, sirens are heard (apparently, someone called the cops on the Yale Precision Marching Band) and the Sousaphones are seen making a run for it-- they probably have a warrant out for them.

All in all... that's autumn gold, man.

Friday, September 20, 2019


Haiku Friday: Crime!

I know, I know-- it's not nice to dime out your friends... but it's pretty clear that the guy involved in the attempted robbery, pictured at right, looks exactly like IPLawGuy.  He even has that exact outfit, which he wears for formal events at his law firm.

However, I have never seen that shark before.

Crime is a constant, even as rates ebb and flow. Some of us have committed them, some have been victims, some just saw movies about it, but at one time or another we all think about it. Let's haiku about that this week!

Here, I will go first:

Someone stole my tapes!
But only took some of them.
Feel a bit judged.

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

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: State's rights and federalism, except for California (and everywhere else)

In the continuing march towards dispensing with every principle they ever stood for (ie, vigilant national defense, attention to deficits, personal liberty, actually conserving things, etc. etc. etc.) Republican leaders now seem to be totally dispensing with federalism.

The latest affront is President Trump's apparent plan to swoop in to remove homeless people from the streets of California cities, and to prevent that state from enforcing environmental standards. I frankly have no idea what semblance of federal authority could even arguably be said to support the incipient plan to move homeless people to an aircraft hangar-- but that doesn't appear to be a part of the calculus.

I'm not a Republican, but there were many Republicans I respected; they had principles. Not always the same ones I have, but I could work with that.  (After all, Democrats have some principles I don't agree with, either).  What I see now, though, is just brute partisanship.

Seriously-- what might the current guiding principles be for this Republican party?

I suppose the closest we can come to a guiding light is the mantra of "America First," which at least ties together two courses of action: anti-immigrant policies, and restrictive trade policies. But is that it?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Yale Law '90: Judith Sandalow

On Wednesdays, I am profiling my fellow classmates from my law school class-- I want people to know about the remarkable people in that group other than the one who is in the news again. This week it is the memorable Judith Sandalow.

Judith Sandalow came to law school with a lot of tools some of us (me) lacked: confidence and a sense of mission. Those of us who knew her learned from her as much as we did some of the professors-- and she was a major factor in my maturing as a conscientious adult. In our third year, we were chosen (along with one second-year) to go on a tour of rural Alabama and then address the Alabama Judges' conference in Tuscaloosa. We were sent on this mission by Dan Freed, the professor who set me on my life work in sentencing. The trip was a blast. If you really want to get to know someone, drive around Alabama for a while. And it was a great thing to get to know Judith.

After law school, Judith had a laser focus on a crucial issue: legal representation of children. She started with a fellowship at Georgetown in juvenile justice, and then started her own juvenile justice clinic through an organization called DC Law Students in Court.

In the year 2000, she became the Executive Director of the Children's Law Center in DC. At the time she took the post, the Center had a staff of three. Now, it has a staff of 90 and helps more than 5,000 students in DC every year.  She is one of the nation's leading experts in the field, and has mentored an accomplished group of younger lawyers.

One of the things Judith has brought to the fore is the connection between poverty and the suffering of children. It's an important issue-- and one that many of us would rather not see or think about. That is why a public conscience like Judith is so important: she and people like her make us see what otherwise might be hidden.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


In the mail

Every week I get lots of mail, but I don't always have time to read it. Yesterday was a day to get caught up, and I had a big boxful that had built up from the start of the month.

Much of it was from prison. I read those first; after all, someone had to work for four hours at a prison job just for the stamps they put on the envelope. There were 16 letters from prison this time around.

Previously, most of that mail was from people who wanted me to take their clemency case for my clinic: assign a student, learn their story, and tell it in the confines of the petition form. That's not true anymore. Now, the mail falls into three groups. The smallest group, actually, is from people who want us to prepare a petition for them.

The largest group is from people who are asking "what is going on?" Usually, they filed a petition three or four years ago, and have heard nothing. Or they filed a motion under the First Step Act and have heard nothing. Or they did both and have heard nothing. It's a sad commentary on how things are going-- basically, it is stuck. There is a huge backlog of clemency petitions, and the administration is neither granting or denying them.  They are just being ignored.

The second largest group are from people who want me to connect them to someone else-- usually Kim Kardashian ("or any Kardashian" as one writer put it today) or Shon Hopwood. There is a belief out there that KK can have any petition for clemency granted, but that is based on a sample size of one (Alice Johnson, pictured above with KK and Nkechi Taifa).  No one else has been released under clemency based on a Kardashian-- the real route to success with this administration is to be featured on Fox News.

It needs to change. We need a better process. President Trump would be wise to make that change. Democrats challenging him are wise to promise that they will. And in the meantime, people--many of them as good and whole as Alice Johnson-- will wait.

Monday, September 16, 2019


Signs, signs....

Good haiku! We had this from the Medievalist:

Courthouse, Middlebury,
"No parking! And this means you!"
I parked elsewhere.

And this from IPLawGuy (who I am pretty sure did NOT heed the message):

Mother's Day warning:
"Drive Like Your Mom is Watching"
on I-95.

Sunday, September 15, 2019


Sunday Reflection: The unknown

For many of us, fear of the unknown structures our lives. We choose what we know over that which we don't, in so many areas: we choose companions who are like us, we live in places that seem familiar, we choose jobs that offer tasks we know already. 

I was driving with my dad in the passenger seat yesterday. We were out in the country in rural Iowa on a two-lane road and came upon a sign that said "road closed ahead." And sure enough, it was. There was a big orange and white structure blocking our half of the road.  We could take a long detour or go back the way from which we had come.

Or, I guess, we could drive around the barricade. "Just go around it," my dad said, "there's a little road just down past the barricade to the left." He was pointing to tiny lines on the map in his lap.

Which I did not do. Instead, I turned around and went back the way we had come.

Why did I do that? 

I suppose I might have too much respect for barricades. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019


Something to think about...

Two of my sharper political friends, Ron Fournier and IPLawGuy, agree on something important: that  Democrats need to remember that we are still in a "change" election cycle, and that they lost last time with a status quo candidate. A "change" candidate does not have to be radical-- Pete Buttigieg seems both moderate and to be a "change" candidate, for example.

IPLawGuy called me as he was driving down the Eastern Shore with the top down in his unrestored 1971 Mustang.  "They're going to do it again!" he yelled over the wind noise and, apparently, rain.  I think he meant that the Democrats were going to nominate Biden.

In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats win with change agents--particularly those from outside the beltway-- and lose with status quo candidates.

Ron had this great observation on Twitter:

‘92: Change agent wins (Clinton) ‘96: Re-elected vs status quo foe (Dole) ‘00: Change agent wins (Bush) ‘04: Re-elected vs status quo foe (Kerry) ‘08: Change agent wins (Obama) ‘12: Re-elected vs status quo foe (Romney) ‘16: Change agent wins (Trump) ‘20: You decide!

Friday, September 13, 2019


Haiku Friday: Memorable signs

 Signs are supposed to clear things up, but that isn't always the case. Small towns, especially, have signs that are funny-- sometimes on purpose, sometimes not.  Let's haiku about those this week!

A sign in Waco
Promised "Colon Massage."
Not interested!

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Points of Agreement

We seem to be entering a political season of rage. Largely fueled by President Trump's preferred campaign tactic of denigrating his opponents (and sometimes his own allies) in the coarsest ways, we too often see things as Us vs. Them.

In truth, if we are honest, there are always points of agreement.

It's no secret that I am a Democrat who did not vote for Donald Trump. I'm genuinely excited by the talented field of Democrats running for president. Still, there are things that I agree with Donald Trump about, even as I strongly disagree with him on climate change and the environment, taxes, health care, and many other issues. Here are those points of agreement (besides his signing of the First Step Act, which I have already discussed):

1)  Involvement in foreign conflicts

Donald Trump campaigned on avoiding wars like the one we started in Iraq. In office, he has generally followed through on that, and we have not become entangled in conflicts abroad. I'm glad for that. I want the United States to have less of a military presence abroad, and to have much less involvement in other countries' civil wars.

2)  Trade imbalances

I share Trump's concern that fewer consumer goods are manufactured in the United States than were made here forty years ago. I also agree with his point that good jobs and good wages in industrial jobs were lost because of NAFTA and granting most-favored-nation status to China (both of which happened in the Clinton administration). I do realize that other factors--particularly automation--played a big role, too, but I'm convinced that trade policy was also a factor. In a place like Detroit, that was devastating to the economy and especially to blue-collar workers. Unfortunately, Trump's correct assessment of the problem doesn't change the fact that the problem is hard to fix without a time machine; it's unclear that tariffs can create lasting change. It could be that the ship has sailed.

3)   He was kind of right about 2 Corinthians 3:17 being inspiring (even if people thought it was funny that he called it "two Corinthians instead of "Second Corinthians," a mistake I can see myself making): "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Yale Law '90: Hon. Pamela Harris

On Wednesdays, I have been profiling my fellow members of the Yale Law class of 1990. This week, the focus is on Judge Pam Harris of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pam Harris (like way too many of the people I have profiled-- I need to mix it up some more) was double-Yale, coming to the law school from Yale College. She hung around with some fun people, and in class was someone who seemed to get the material in a deep way. Her comments were blunt and correct, reflecting an understanding that some of us (well, me) had not gotten to yet.

Like several others, she married another member of the class, Austin Schlick (who will be profiled in the future). That happened in 1994, right in the middle of a remarkable cycle of accomplishment, which included the following:

1990-91: Clerked for Harry T. Edwards, DC Circuit
1992-93: Clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
1993-96:  DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (basically, the lawyers to the lawyers in the DOJ)
1996-99: Professor, Univ. of Pennsylvania law school

In 1999, she joined the firm of O'Melveney & Myers, one of the nation's most prominent law firms, and she became a partner in 2005. But-- and this is the part that fascinates me-- she didn't just settle in and work at a firm. Between 1999 and the time she was appointed to the Fourth Circuit in 2014, she also co-directed the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Clinic at Harvard Law School, was a Visiting Professor at Georgetown Law, directed the Supreme Court project there, and had another stint at the  Office of Legal Counsel.

Then, in 2014, she got that call from President Obama. Frankly, a judge who is blunt and correct is a great thing, so I'm confident Pam is a great addition. At the time of her appointment, a New Republic article surveyed Obama's nominations and named Harris as the "Most important one yet," noting that only 4% of Obama nominees had a public service background while 70% came from corporate law. Those who feared that she would be a politically-motivated liberal judge have found that things are (as they should be) more complicated.

If your really want an antidote to some of the more toxic confirmation hearings we have been through recently, you might want to watch this-- and appreciate the kind of smart, thoughtful person that Pam Harris remains:

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


We're up to six!

Yesterday, Kamala Harris became the sixth candidate to embrace the idea Rachel Barkow and I have advocated: Fix the clemency process by taking it out of DOJ and putting it in the hands of a board. The others are Booker, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren. It''s a movement!

Why do that? Well... I just happen to have an article about that! It's titled Clemency as the Soul of the Constitution, and you can read it here (after downloading it for free).

Monday, September 09, 2019


Buncha Mad-good Haiku!

Haiku Friday was about things that make us mad. And there was some great work!

I loved the sad story embedded in the Medievalist's:

Package lost in mail,
Post office has no idea,
Lost in Mexico.

And Christine had several, but I liked this the best:

Cups/Plates in the sink
Is it a stretch to wash them
Use the dishwasher?

Going 30 years
Can't teach an old dog new tricks
Will keep him anyway.

Meanwhile, Jill Scoggins' rang all-too-true:

Nothing stings like your
idea co-opted by
your boss sans credit.

And finally, truth from TallTenor:

Ev'rything to do
with that evil orange crook
makes me very mad.

Sunday, September 08, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Ten yards

I love watching college football, but don't like college football. It hurts too many young people and warps the values of universities that pay a single coach more than an entire academic department and pretend that the players are students like any other.

One of the compelling things about college football is that things are so finite. On any given play, with some exceptions, very little actually happens-- one team advances a few yards, then everyone stops to talk about it for a while. The goal for the offense is to gain just ten yards for a first down-- ten yards!

But I think it is the fact that the scope is so small that makes it so compelling.

And why does that appeal to us?

Perhaps it draws us away, gratefully, from a world that is so large, in a universe that is unimaginably huge; that we are one of billions of people in a universe with billions of stars and planets.

But for a minute, 100,000 people care intensely about an ultimately insignificant thing that happens between kids on a few yards of turf.  We create this thing we understand, and build it up.

But we are built that way, I suppose. Though, importantly, we choose what it is that holds that importance for us-- what three yards of the world we choose to care about intensely. And for Christians, Jesus was pretty clear what should be important, what we should construct our little world around: those in need, and our relationship with our God. It might be that the faith and football are in tension with one another... but don't tell Baylor (or pretty much anyone in Texas). It's another thing about faith that they probably will not want to hear or discuss.

Saturday, September 07, 2019


Good advice

Friday, September 06, 2019


Haiku Friday: What makes you mad?

Believe me, I know that there are great injustices in this world-- my work makes it impossible for me not to see that. But what usually makes us made is not a great injustice, but an inconvenience or bit of inconsideration on the part of someone else.

Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

Can't you read the sign?
This trail's for bikes, not walking!
Your trail is right there!  {pointing}

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

Thursday, September 05, 2019


Political Mayhem Thursday: Actual Mayhem in the UK!

If you haven't been watching the UK's Parliament the last few days, you have been missing the best show in town. Things are going kablooie over there! Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister has gone full-on Trump, and it isn't working. He lost his control of the government when members of his Conservative party defected on a Brexit vote (and one crossed over, literally, to a minor part). Then he lost a fight on a snap election and... well, his plan isn't working very well.

But the theater of it! Go to about one hour in in the video about (1.00.00) to get to the fun stuff. The yelling! The creative insults! The accents! The Speaker's turn of a phrase! The kooky Scots!

It's pretty remarkable to see that someone else's government can get as messed up as ours. Though... maybe it isn't messed up. After all, what are we really seeing?

-- the bullying tactics aren't working
-- principled members of the leader's party chose principle, and opposed a bad idea
-- there is a genuine exchange of ideas in real time

Y'all can go to the Downton Abbey movie... I'm going to stick to watching this!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019


Yale Law '90: Pauline A. Chen

On Wednesdays, I am profiling the remarkable members of my law school class. In fact, I did not realize how remarkable they are until I started profiling them! This week I profile author Pauline Chen.

Back in law school, Pauline Chen was hard to miss. She had raced through Harvard, and was unusually young for our class. We were assigned to the same small group (a set of 16 students assigned to the same classes), so I came to respect her intellect quickly. She was remarkably well-read, a brilliant and witty conversationalist, and a good friend to many of us. On at least one occasion, she cut my hair in the hallway, and did a pretty good job (I have a long history of low-bid haircuts).

After law school, she went in a different and better direction than many of us: off to Princeton to get a Ph.D. in Chinese literature. Her dissertation focused on Tang-era poets. She then began her life as a professor, and she taught  literature at the University of Minnesota and then Oberlin. While settling into the town of Oberlin, she began to focus on writing after fighting off cancer. Her first book was a novel for young readers titled Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas.

Next, she turned to something for adults: A re-imagining of a classic Chinese tale known as the Dream of the Red Chamber. The story is beloved in China, and she was taking on a lot to mold the story in her own way, emphasizing the issues of sex and class to raise new questions. It was a success. Her book, The Red Chamber, was published by Knopf, recommended by the Chicago Tribunediscussed on NPR,  and was translated into French, Italian, Dutch, and Polish.

In an interview about the book, Pauline said something I have been thinking about for a while: "I did not understand that the experiences which made me nervous and uncomfortable, which I was quick to bury, also made me creative." That is a hard truth.

There is something to what Pauline has done that I find really striking; creating great art, making recorded music that matters, or writing an important book (which she has done) is perhaps as close as we can come to immortality. After we are gone, those things remain, down through generations, after our descendants lose track of who we were. Sometimes, I wander into a used bookstore and find an old, old volume. Often, I buy it. The person who wrote it talks to me, tells me a story. I hold their thoughts in my hands and savor them, and miss them when I am done. They are there. I am grateful for them.

Pauline always seemed like she would do something remarkable, and she has.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019



It has been mesmerizing and scary to watch Hurricane Dorian hovering over the Bahamas, not far from Florida. I have never been through a hurricane, though-- it seems like there is nothing else like it.

My deepest impression of it is from a book that Prof. Joanne Braxton assigned when I was in college: Zora Neal Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God," which contains a depiction of the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane from the perspective of people living in dwellings never meant to withstand that kind of storm. For some reason, that scene sunk into my bones, and that is what I see and feel when I think about a hurricane.

Right now it is storming here in Minnesota, lightning and hard rain, but it is a flea compared to the cobra of a hurricane. Our storms, at worst, are softened by the cold to snow that drifts and billows.

I hope that the storm goes back to sea. Perhaps it will.

Monday, September 02, 2019


Labor Day plans

Here was IPLawGuy's haiku:

September 20
The REAL end of the summer
Seersuckers three more weeks.

And yeah, he means it. Here is a picture of him in said seersucker at the Health Camp in Waco:

Sunday, September 01, 2019


Sunday Reflection: Labor and Faith

The happiest people I know are those who have managed to merge their deepest beliefs with their work. Many of the unhappy people I know are those whose deepest beliefs are not lived out through their work. The most unhappy are those who have to do things at work that they do not believe in.

What we do with our days matters in many ways: it sustains us financially, it defines us to the world (think how often people ask "what do you do?"), and it gives us something to do each work day. But none of those elements means that our work necessarily fits in with what our spirit cries out for. We have to intentionally choose that, chase it down, take risks, and often make sacrifices for it. It may not be the best-paying route, or the job people expect you to take. Luck matters, too, of course, and the resources we start out with-- but many people with great resources fail to seek out work that deeply fulfills them.

I've told this story before, but it really speaks to me:

When I was in my early 20's, wandering in the wilderness without much of a sense of what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be, I popped up to a shopping mall just outside of Detroit. There, in the parking lot of Eastland, I came across a guy crouched down next to a nice car, looking at the front quarter panel. It seemed kind of fishy, so I walked closer. The man looked up and while touching the metal of that panel said "I made that." 

That's vocation-- to come across something you built, that someone else enjoys, and feel the pride I saw in this guy. I wanted that in my own life. I knew, even then, that it might not come with a lot of money, and I was ok with that. I still am. 

Sometimes I wish I could find that guy again, and thank him. He led me to a good place.

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