Thursday, April 30, 2020


PMT: Sports?

As things have gotten weird, the absence of sports has gotten to seem normal. No pro baseball. No Masters tournament in golf. No March Madness.

And, in the fall, perhaps no college football-- my favorite spectator sport. According to ESPN, there are four possibilities:

1) A delayed start to the fall season,
2) A shortened season which would all be in-conference (it seems to me like this and number one would likely go together),
3) A spring season, and
4) A regular season with no fans in the stands. Duke has been doing this for years, and it seems to work for them!

There is something bizarre about the fourth option-- college football is all about the crowd and the school, after all. The haunting silence would be disorienting, and I'm not sure it would be much fun.

IPLawGuy and some of his friends in DC have created a league where they are playing the major-league schedule themselves in his backyard. They only have enough players for seven National League teams, so it is a little stilted, but still something. In the opener, the Houston Astros beat the Cubs 47-0 (no one has told them that the Astros moved to the American League, or else they just won't accept it). They are trying to get their games up on YouTube...

Wednesday, April 29, 2020


Yale Law 1990: Natalie Williams

I've been devoting Wednesdays to profiling my classmates in the Yale Law class of 1990.

Natalie Williams was someone you always knew would make a difference. She came to Yale Law from Cornell, and after school has had one of the most fascinating careers of the whole group (and that is saying something, if you have been following along the last several months). 

After law school, Natalie clerked for someone who has become a historic figure: Sonia Sotomayor, who at that time was a District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York. She also worked as an associate at a big firm (Debevoise) and as Associate White House Counsel in the Clinton Administration. She later served as Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in New York under Governor Spitzer, and eventually found herself in her current position as General Counsel for Responsible Banking & Data at J.P Morgan Chase in New York.

Among other outside pursuits, she serves on the Board of Directors at the New York YWCA. 

One thing that surprises me as I do this is discovering the critical mass of my classmates who work in New York. Perhaps I should have seen that coming...

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Sometimes Dads know just what to say

At least my dad knows exactly what to say sometimes. Over at his blog this week, he's focusing on the power of humor to get us through these times. You can check the whole thing out here.

A lot of it is just jokes. Here is one of the better ones:

A couple goes to see a marriage counselor. They say their marriage is on the rocks because they never speak to each other. The counselor tries to get them to talk, but they just sit there with their arms folded and their mouths closed. So he pulls out his upright bass and starts taking a solo. Instantly, the couple turns to each other and starts conversing for the first time in months. Shocked by this, the couple asks the counselor: “How did you know that would work?” 

“Simple,” he says, “Everyone always talks during the bass solo.”

But there are more-- so check it out.

Monday, April 27, 2020


Great Haiku about... you know...

Wow! Lots of great haiku about the dumb things people are saying these days.

Steve was back with a limerick (still allowed):

The makers of Lysol and Clorox
Eschew their use as a detox,
By a serious brain quirk,
Dr. Trump thinks they’ll work,
And Dr. Birx cries out, “It’s a crox!”

My dad chimed in:

They say that I am
doing a great job, I mean

As did IPLawGuy:

"Over by Summer"
Maybe summer the next year
put away false hope.

And Christine:

Stands with confidence
Spewing medical advice
Sarcasm my ass.

The Medievalist is back with a bang:

Shedding light inside,
Will cure it for sure he said,
All the germs laughed.

And Megan Willome had my personal favorite:

A relative said,
"Just gargle with vinegar."
It was on Facebook.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


Sunday Reflection: Who is lost

Do you remember when they were predicting that 60,000 might die of COVID-19 by August? We are getting close to that already. Before long, the death total will be greater than American deaths in the Vietnam War.

The New York Times had a story about one of those deaths. Cesar Quirumbay was a tailor in a fancy shop in Manhattan; as the Times elegantly put it, his hands were the last to shape a suit before a wealthy person wore it. He, of course, was not wealthy or famous. Yet he did an important thing well.

My students have begun answering calls from those in prison who are applying for Medical Release under a new program just started by the Department of Corrections here-- something I called for almost a month ago in this editorial in Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  We (along with people at the other two MN law schools) are helping those who need it as they seek a medical release. I like that about Minnesota: you write an article urging change and someone in power calls and says "Ok, help us do this."

We are fortunate that we have had no deaths in prison here... yet. Eight of the ten worst hot spots in the nation, in fact, are jails and prisons:

Marion Correctional Institution — Marion, Ohio (2,197 positive tests)
Pickaway Correctional Institution — Scioto Township, Ohio (1,643)
Smithfield Foods pork processing facility — Sioux Falls, S.D. (1,033)
Aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt — Guam (856)
Cook County jail — Chicago, Ill. (812)
Cummins Unit prison — Grady, Ark. (695)
Bledsoe County Correctional Complex — Pikeville, Tenn. (576)
Neuse Correctional Institution — Goldsboro, N.C. (457)
Lakeland Correctional Facility — Coldwater, Mich. (424)
Harris County jail — Houston, Texas (267)


I have read things where people are minimizing the danger of this pandemic. It reflects a dishonesty that is going to lead to more unnecessary death.

This is a time for truth and action.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Driving a stick

I'm now about the only person I know who has a car with a stick shift (IPLawGuy used to have one, but then he got a Mazda CX-15, the largest of all SUVs, which did not come with one).  I love driving with a manual transmission, but it looks like I am a member of a quickly shrinking group.

Friday, April 24, 2020


Haiku Friday: Dumb things people say about the pandemic

So, there should be a lot of material for this one.

Here, I will go first:

Worker at Costco:
"Now we have to wear masks. Why?"
I have an answer.

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

Thursday, April 23, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: Stocks and Germs

There are several strange anomalies floating around out there, but one of the strangest is this: Even with a lot of volatility, the stock market has remained fairly strong even as everything else related to the economy has been trashed. We have record-high unemployment, terrible rates of business failure, are looking at entire segments of the retail industry being wiped out, the national debt has skyrocketed, we face political instability, US oil and gas producers are being decimated, consumer spending has crashed, and the world faces and epic food crisis... yet the stock market seems relatively unaffected.

Part of it may be that government interventions have largely been focused on maintaining cheap money on low interest rates, funneling tax money to corporations, and bailing out financial systems right and left, all of which benefits big companies. Or maybe it just seems like everything will be ok once this all blows over.

But it won't be ok. It won't be the same even when things get better-- and it will probably take a while to recover from this. And the stock market will correct to match the rest of the economy sooner or later (probably sooner).

When that happens, the wealthy will be protected-- they have been short-selling the market in a way that hasn't been seen for years. Meanwhile, people who have parked their retirement in an index fund or a few stocks will get hammered. Again.

Because that is the way this works, unfortunately.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


Yale Law School 1990: Jamie Baker

I'm devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling my fellow members of the Yale Law class of 1990. It's fascinating to see the many different paths people have taken from the same small place.

Jamie Baker, like a lot of our class, was double Yale, coming to law school with a degree from Yale College. He had the wisdom to take some time off in between, though, and spent that time as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. By the time he got to law school, he had a lot more life experience than many of us.

After law school he returned to the military (and, in fact, did not retire from the reserves until 2000). He served in a variety of roles, including as a legal advisor in both the State Department and the National Security Counsel.  

In 2000, he was named to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, where he served until 2015-- the last four years as the chief judge of that court.

Currently, he teaches at Syracuse, where he is also the Director of the Institute for Security Policy and Law.  He was also appointed by President Obama to the Public Interest Declassification Board, which  promotes transparency in U.S. national security policy. 

This is a pretty good speech:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


In the Episcopal Church, the big may end up eating the small

I've always been fascinated by (and sometimes been a member of) the Episcopal Church. As part of the Anglican communion, Episcopalians are a fascinating entity: the fairly progressive wing of a modern worldwide church that carries deep traditions along with a striking diversity largely built of England's empire.

In the U.S., the Episcopal denomination (like Roman Catholicism, which is much larger) is made up of churches which vary widely in size. I have had the pleasure of worshipping with the same liturgy in huge, ornate cathedrals and cozy little buildings. Here in Minneapolis, for example, there are a number of small and medium-sized congregations, and also St. Mark's, a cathedral church on the fringe of downtown.

Usually, this diversity is a strength of the denomination: some people want a cathedral, while others prefer a smaller group and more intimate space, which is probably closer to home than the cathedral. Now, though, with services within church buildings canceled for the foreseeable future, there is a problem looming.

It comes down to this: Cathedrals are way better at tech and video presentation than smaller churches. Of course they are-- they have more resources and experience. For example, check out this Easter service presentation from St. John's cathedral in LA:

Wow! Those people know what they are doing. They start with the organ, which is beautiful. The liturgy is read in a pacific garden, perfectly lit. They have a YouTube channel! People who understand media put this together, and it shows.

I thought to contrast this with the video from a much smaller church, and I watched a bunch while preparing this post. I don't that it is fair, though, to single one out here-- clearly, the people making them are doing their best. They just don't have the experience or resources of the bigger churches, though, and have to rely on static shots, awkward musical interludes, bad sound quality, and various technical snafus.

Does it matter?

Yeah, probably. I know a lot of people who usually go to a small church are now watching services from the cathedrals instead. "But, Osler," some people have told me when I talk about this (and don't know my first name), "they will go back to their own churches once this is over."

For the most part, that is very true. Probably 80-90% of the congregants will go back to their home church, very gladly, when this is over. It will be a joy to re-convene.

But 10-20% may choose not to. They might just keep watching the Cathedral's show on the internet instead, or just never get back in the habit of going to church again. And that 10-20% would be a huge loss to a small church, coming all at once after a period of diminished contributions during the pandemic.

What should happen? If the larger body wants to maintain small churches, particularly those in smaller communities, it should consider the following:

1) Financial support to smaller churches may be an imperative in the short term, or programming will be cut so much that the death spiral of lack of content/no reason to go/shrinking membership will accelerate. Church deaths could be significant.

2) In the immediate future, Bishops may want to have an emergency conference (by video, of course) and have the Rectors with good internet presence teach the ones who are struggling. Not all is about resources, after all: consider St. John's simple choice of reading the liturgy in the garden rather than the sanctuary or an office. Establishment of best practices goes a long way. Training is imperative.

3) Develop partnerships between the big churches and the small ones; perhaps the small ones could splice in the musical performances from the cathedrals, while maintaining their own liturgies otherwise.

Just some thoughts from a fairly objective observer, who loves the role of big churches and small...

Monday, April 20, 2020


Haiku of this moment

Wow! Lots of great poems last week on the Zombie Apocalypse we seem to be in the midst of.  Among them all, I was really taken by the truth of Holly Collison's:

When some of them die
The propaganda will be
They chose martyrdom.

Though Andrew's was great:

Free Minnesota!
Says Trump even though the Land
Of Lakes is free.

As was JR's:

This one is easy.
Those crazy ass idiots
Are $%@ing morons.

TRW Joe had a few variations, which is kinda genius:

Let them see themselves.
What is happening to them?
Need to meditate.......

[#2 version, replace 'see', 'them' & 'meditate' with 'ask', 'me', 'medicate']

Meanwhile, Steve asked for (and received) permission to throw in a limerick, and came up with several, including these winners (I love the word "alona"):

The siege of virus corona
Is leaving us feeling alona,
Keep your distance, however,
Whatever the weather,
Or you’ll be on your own in a coma.

This act of titanic stupidity
Will only increase our morbidity,
While Lewis does blather
And causes a lather,
It’s a dangerous act of quiddity.

Sunday, April 19, 2020


Sunday Reflection: Professing

A few days ago, Fox News treated Dr. Phil like he was a medical doctor (he's a clinical psychologist) and solicited his opinion about the pandemic. He had lots of opinions. Some of them were just flat-out wrong (a gross exaggeration of the number of pool drownings) and others were false analogies (ie, the number of car accident deaths in a year compared to coronavirus deaths-- false because only one of them is a contagious disease and we have had a month, not a year, of the coronavirus). 

Sometimes I get to be an expert on TV-- I've opined on CNN, MSNBC, CBS News, ESPN, and many others-- and it is kind of fun and interesting. But watching this debacle has made me realize the limits of what any of us should opine on. I have worked in the field and studied criminal law, sentencing and clemency, and I probably have reason to hold myself out as an expert in those areas. And, of course, I have no problem opining about things I experience directly, like church (including online church).  Outside of that though, I don't want to be Dr. Phil. And even in our areas of expertise, we are often wrong.

It's fascinating to me that people draw out many different main themes from the Bible, and particularly the gospels. For some it is about justice, or community, or righteousness, or (oddly) abortion. For me, the main theme is humility. That value is written into every parable, every story, every step of Jesus's path and words. 

There is a God. I am not God. Those two statements, taken together, profoundly challenge the way many of us (including me) are inclined to think.  It means there is a always a force greater than ourselves. There is always something beyond our understanding. There is always something we do not see. We can never be certain, other than of those two facts, so long as those two facts are true.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


Ice Cream Sandwiches for Everyone!

Ever wonder how ice cream sandwiches are made? No? What the hell's wrong with you???

Ok, let's start over. It's been a tough week.

Hey, look1 Here's how ice cream sandwiches are made:

And yes, I realize this comes off a little bit too much like the Simpsons' visit to a box factory:

Friday, April 17, 2020


Haiku Friday: Zombie apocalypse

There is so much these days that just seems like it is out of a movie-- usually a horror movie or some kind of dystopian fantasy. I walk around downtown Minneapolis and it is so quiet you expect to see a tumbleweed blow past, or a wolf trot by. Which might happen soon.

The picture above isn't from a zombie movie; it's from a protest in Ohio against government restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. But zombie movie and reality seem to be getting closer each day.

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

Crazy white people
Screaming at a tall building
Now appearing here!

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

Thursday, April 16, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Cost of Covid to Kids

According to the Washington Post, the schools in Fairfax County, Virginia (a wealthy area just outside of DC) have pretty much melted down. First, they took a month off, with no classes after March 13 until this week, when they were supposed to start distance learning. That transition, even with so much prep time, didn't go very well. The system they use, Blackboard, proved to be unreliable. Perhaps worse, it was insecure, and miscreants were able to enter the virtual classrooms and post chat comments like "F___ you, yiu smell like gay" (which is not only offensive, but pretty confusing-- how can the sense of smell be the basis of online harrassment?).  

After a few hours of that, they shut the whole thing down until Monday. Which, by my calculation, will be the fifth week of lost instruction for a 189,000-student district that should have resources many smaller districts lack-- and still couldn't pull it off.

Here in Minnesota, things have gone somewhat better. In my town, Edina, the administrators had a head start because they had been working on a distance learning plan to cover snow days, which are kind of a big deal in Minnesota! Even at that, there was some awkwardness at first and some technical issues. Still, it was nothing compared to Fairfax County.

I'm a teacher. In fact, I'm a teacher who had to switch over to distance learning on four days notice, which was kind of a shock. Fortunately, I work for a very well-run school, and my students are well into their 20's and older, with the maturity that usually comes with that. I'm struck by how challenging it is-- at the end of teaching a few classes, I'm whipped. 

The cost to those students who aren't plugged in or who are suffering through failures like the one in Fairfax will be significant. Five weeks is a lot of school, no matter the level. You can't usually, for example, expect to pass an AP test if you missed five weeks of material (this year, apparently, they are adjusting the tests-- but that just means that AP students will be less prepared for college). 

And, of course, all of this will hit the least affluent the hardest. Their schools have fewer resources to handle the transition, and the families have less access to technology and WiFi. This is just another aspect of the pandemic that is going to exacerbate income disparities over the long run.

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 are largely masked right now by disconnection and dispersion. But when we look back at this in 20 years, the tragedies wrought by a thousand small blows will be very clear to see.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


Yale Law '90: Cathleen Kaveny

I am devoting Wednesdays to profiling my classmates in the Yale Law class of 1990. I remember some more than others, but they are all pretty fascinating now!

Prof. Cathleen Kaveny of Boston College was one of my classmates who was pursuing two degrees at once. She got her law degree from Yale in 1990, and a Ph.D. in ethics a year later. Her dissertation was titled "Neutrality about the Good Life v. the Common Good: MacIntyre, the Supreme Court and Liberalism as a Living Tradition," which sounds absolutely fascinating (Alasdair MacIntyre was a Scottish philosopher).

This all was coming after undergrad at Princeton, and was followed by a clerkship with Ninth Circuit legend John Noonan. After that she did the usual three-year stint (for our class, anyways) with a big law firm, Ropes & Gray in Boston.

Then she got where she belongs: in the academy, pushing students and ideas to new places. For nearly 20 years, from 1995 to 2013, she was a professor at Notre Dame, before moving to Boston College where she is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Law and Theology. Along the way, she has had visiting professorships and fellowships at Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago. [Side note- how does one become a Senior Fellow at the Martin Marty Center? And how should I address my pleading letter regarding same?]

She is the author of four meaty books, published by the presses at Oxford, Harvard, and Georgetown, and has written for both the Washington Post and New York Times along the way. In each, she combines issues of faith, ethics and law-- a familiar place for me.

Actually, for a place that is thought of as profoundly secular, Yale law--and our class in particular-- seems to have a fair number of people actively engaged in a faith vocation. Just among those I have profiled so far we have, for example, Rev. Cornell Brooks, Rev. Kelly Carlson, and Catholic super-scholar Lucia Sillechia. I'm glad to add Prof. Kaveny to that list.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


The News is getting closer to The Onion everyday

So... Florida governor Ron DeSantis (pictured here one-gloving it for some reason) has declared professional wrestling an "essential business." Which really does sound like a headline from the Onion

I wish that wasn't the weirdest news of the day, but it's not. That would be the fact that the president of the United States said this out loud at a press conference, while discussing the plans some governors are making about COVID-19 and re-opening the economy:  “The authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total,” Trump said, adding, “The president of the United States calls the shots.”

That's... troubling. I'm no constitutional scholar-- well, actually I kind of am a constitutional scholar-- but that's not the way things are supposed to work.

At any rate, I'm feeling down. I spent yesterday writing motions to get out of prison because of COVID-19 that make total sense-- these are people who committed non-violent crimes in the 1990's, suffering from conditions that make them particularly vulnerable-- but have little chance of succeeding. But still, I have to try. There is a lot at stake.

To cheer us all up, let's watch this video of my favorite essential worker, "The Genius." His trademark wrestling move was clobbering people with his metal Harvard diploma. Which, as I understand it, is just one of those things Harvard people do (also note the introduction, featuring future Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura):

Watching this, it is hard not to miss the fact that Lanny Poffo (Macho Man Randy Savage's brother, who plays The Genius) is trying to egg on the crowd by being stereotypically effeminate. In that way, it's pretty homophobic. Of c0urse, if that is the intent, the clear implication is that gay men are really smart and can defeat Hulk Hogan in a fight, so there's that. WWE gets confusing if you think about it too hard. Of course, that might explain the thoughts of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Monday, April 13, 2020



On our theme of baking, Cookie Monster offered us this haiku:

I want cookies! Yum.
Give me cookies! Covid-19
Is making me blue.

Susan Stabile, who knows a thing or two (and is more patient than Cookie Monster) gave us this gem on Easter morning:

For breakfast today:
baked oatmeal - a first for me.
It was quite yummy.

Meanwhile, TRW Joe proved himself to be a man of Cookie Monster's heart:

The cravings begin.
Out come the ingredients.
Oatmeal cookie time!!!

Sunday, April 12, 2020


Easter, 2020

This Easter is going to be different, isn't it?

For many of us, we are away from those we usually spend this holiday with. (For me, the coronavirus will keep me apart from Susan Stabile and her epic leg of lamb, for one thing). For others, there is the fear of illness or the reality of it. Some have lost work in the last few weeks. It is not a normal time.

I can't say when things will get better. I don't know that.

But I know this lesson of Easter and all that Christ brought: that in hard times, we must be good to one another. We must forgive, and heal, and turn away from quests for money or power. We must care for people and about people we usually don't care for or care about. We must be selfless in a way we too rarely are.

In Holy Week, we have people doing good and bad things. Judas sells out his friend and teacher for money. The crowd screams for retribution against Jesus, that he be killed. Peter slices off the ear of Malchus, the slave, and then denies Jesus three times. But, too, there is Mary Magdalene, quietly paying attention. There is the sacrifice of Joseph of Arithimea, who gave up his tomb for Jesus.

For our time, it might be good, too, to remember what happened next.

Jesus appeared to the disciples as they were fishing. They went to shore and he made them breakfast. That is maybe my favorite story in the Bible. And it is what we long for, isn't it? A return to the mundane, to simple love and presence in community. And the story of Jesus tells us that will happen.

Saturday, April 11, 2020



So, if you are just hanging around at home with nothing to do, I have some ideas!

First, check out my sister Kathy's instagram account here. She recently uploaded a big backlog of pencil drawings she has done over the years, and they are pretty great.

Second, I'm intrigued by the mysterious account "Real Car Spotting MN," which is weirdly mundane. Is that a Voyager minivan parked next to a snowbank? Why, yes it is! The person running this is oddly obsessed with landau roofs.

Third, as always, check in on my Dad's blog for photos, words, and jazz.

And finally, is everyone else as fascinated with Heathcliff as I am? For example, if I am reading this right, in the panel below we have Heathcliff meeting up with Garfield, who complains that his house is full of "phonies." How weirdly compelling is that???

Friday, April 10, 2020


Haiku Friday: Pandemic Baking (and cooking)

Every time I go to the store, they are out of flour.

There's a reason for that: during this pandemic (pan-demic?) people seem to be baking like they have never baked before. With the gyms closed, I suspect we will emerge a fatter people.  

But the baking is great. I'm seeing pictures of all kinds of creations no one had time to make in the past. Let's haiku about that this week! Feel free to throw in non-baked foods if that's what you have going on right now.

Here, I will go first:

The winners from this?
America's dogs (snuggles! walks!)
And Betty Crocker.

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

Thursday, April 09, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: One and only issue

I wrote to a friend recently about making a behind-the-scenes movement to promote clemency reform. "Forget it," the friend told me, "the only issue right now is coronavirus."

It's true, of course, and that is probably as it should be. Our government can't walk and chew gum at the same time; usually, it does neither. And the pandemic is a genuine emergency.

That does mean that shoved into the background are all of the issues that a responsible government would have been dealing with all along (but this one hasn't): climate change, the exploding national debt, failing infrastructure, criminal law reform, the lack of a health care strategy, catnip legalization, etc. etc. etc.

And, when we are kind of back on our feet and back at work, the economy staggering, some of these issues will become even more urgent. 

To deal with them, we will need some measure of bipartisanship. Unfortunately, the kind of bipartisanship that is usually forged in a crisis is not showing up much this time. The price for that continuing antagonism may be dear. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2020


Yale Law '90: Prof. Jon Hansen

I've been profiling my classmates in the Yale Law Class of 1990 on Wednesdays lately; it's a pretty intimidating group.

Perhaps my favorite thing I have stumbled upon while researching my classmates is this gem from the New York Times. Jon Hanson is a torts professor at Harvard Law School (which, I hear, is ok), and leads one of the 80 person first-year sections there. In the article, he describes a few theories about the high number of marriages in his section: “We spend a lot of time scratching below the surface of doctrines, professional norms, and we spend time in a more personal place,” he said. “I try to bring in a human component into section. I welcome partners and spouses. I ask students to share baby pictures, and ask students to guess who they are. We see something about backgrounds, commonality. I try to build in opportunities to display their other sides.” 

That's a pretty great take for a professor. His students are lucky.

Jon came to Yale Law from Rice, a secret garden in the Museum District of Houston. After school, he got a plum clerkship with Second Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes, who was a mentor to many of the people I admired in school. After that, he did a Post-Doc back at Yale and then commenced his 28 years on the Harvard faculty.

Though he teaches torts, much of his interest lies at the intersection of social cognition, history, economics, and law, and he runs the Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard. 

By all accounts, he is a great teacher. There are few things I admire more.

Here he is talking about that fascinating work:

Tuesday, April 07, 2020


Will the end be fast or slow?

I suspect that many of us imagine the end of the COVID crisis to be as sudden as the onset: over the course of a week or so, everything will open back up and return to normal. We all go back to work, take vacations, pal around and shake hands again.

That might happen, I suppose, but I think it is unlikely. The COVID virus is here for a while, and it probably won't "suddenly disappear" as someone (cough cough) once suggested. Rather, it will bounce around the world for the next year or so, at least, one hot spot cropping up and then another.  Even when a vaccine is available, it won't be implemented immediately-- and that is at least a year away.

In time, of course, some people will become immune--having survived the virus-- and they will have greater freedom. That is already the way it is in China, where those with immunity are able to go to malls, hang out with friends, and do all the things we now long for. Others, who have not had the virus, still face limitations.

In the fall, will I be teaching online or in person? Or will the people with immunity be in my classroom, while those without look in via Zoom?

That two-class society will create odd incentives-- for example, many people who consider themselves low-risk will be tempted to expose themselves to the virus so they can earn that greater level of freedom. Others might find ways to fake it, by using false documents or other means. My dad has suggested a badge system, where those who are immune can go to work, to shop, to the gym, so long as they have the badge. And you can bet that people will want that badge.

It will be a series of shifts and shocks, and this weirdness will not go away as suddenly as it came. Rather, it is likely to disrupt our society in ways we don't see coming over a period of a year or more.

Monday, April 06, 2020


More good work!

There were some good haiku last week! I liked this one from Christine:

Some things never change
Mom, take me for a walk, please..
They need a treadmill.

And while there wasn't one by IPLawGuy, we had this one about him:

Chester the Great Dane
Is probably eating up
IPLawGuy's shoes.

But my dad's was actually kind of profound:

We call them pets when
we pen in wild animals
now we can relate.

Sunday, April 05, 2020


Sunday Reflection: A sermon

Times continue to be strange. Bill Withers died this week. His music played a big role in my life: I used it as a device escape un-noticed while giving my "Last Lecture" at Baylor (the Waco Trib story explaining that is here).

I also wrote a short sermon, just to meet a challenge (I'm not scheduled to give one for a while). If you are interested, here it is:

Wisdom and Knowledge: To each for the Common Good

1 Corinthians 12

"7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines."

         I once taught a class with two men who were quite different than me. I was a lawyer, trained in criminal law. They were both preachers, steeped not only in theology but in the mundane yet profound challenges of pastoring-- the part where they had to listen to and address a myriad of issues lived through by the real-life people in their congregations. One of them once described this to me as "walking theology."

         When we taught, we had the practice of not telling one another what our take on the reading would be; instead, we riffed off of one another and shared the time more or less equally, each getting one-third of the class period to play out our thoughts or discuss with the class. It was while teaching that class that I learned the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I had knowledge, at least in my little field. They had wisdom.

         That wisdom could often be bold, even when my knowledge counseled no such boldness. A student would spin a theory about the text (which was Aristotle's On Rhetoric), and I would nod reasonably and then, often, disagree as gently as I could. Not them; they would say "yes!" and then add to it, re-shape it, circle back with affirmation. It was all truth to them.

         One year, tragedy struck. One of those two men suffered a debilitating stroke and nearly died. He lost the ability to speak and movement in most of his body. I remember visiting him in the hospital and walking out after, sitting in my car and crying. With time and lots of hard work in physical therapy, he regained enough movement to walk with a walker and talk with labored pauses. It certainly didn't seem that he was up to teaching again, and on the first day of class the other preacher and I sat in my office and prayed before class.

         That is when he came in, his walker scraping on the ground.

         We were wary of putting him in front of the large class; it seemed like too much. But we went together to the classroom, and looked through the window in the door. There, next to the first row, was a profoundly disabled student. She weighed perhaps 40 pounds, set into a motorized wheelchair and aided by her mother, who would take notes. My colleague looked back at us. "God never lets me feel sorry for myself, I guess," and then pushed open the door with the walker, went to the lectern, and gave the best lecture I have ever heard. That was wisdom.

         What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge? I suspect it is what my friend exemplified in that moment: humility. Those who crow and preen usually have knowledge or power (or, sometimes, both). But the wise importune without exalting themselves.

         Of course, as Paul seems to be telling us, it takes all these things in our community: knowledge, wisdom, healing, prophesy, language, and the Spirit can inform them all. The secret is to recognize our own talents and then to defer to others when they express their own.

         Collaboration--what Paul says community requires-- is a subtle art. The best collaborations (Rogers and Hart, Lennon and McCartney, Ben and Jerry) usually involve people with different skills who come together and complement one another. Even Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire fit this mold, even though they were both dancers; beyond that ability, Astaire was a singer while Rogers excelled as an actress and comedian. What they each brought made the whole of their film performances unparalleled. 

         And why combine our talents? Paul tells us that, too: for the common good. And never have we needed it more.

Saturday, April 04, 2020


Wait... what?

Heathcliff is often a little inscrutable, but this one has me stumped. Is the premise that cats like to eat garbage? Because... I've never seen that.

Now, the cat is in a line with a raccoon--which does eat garbage, in my experience--but also with non-garbage eaters including a dog. Am I missing something here?

Friday, April 03, 2020


Haiku Friday: At home with pets

One of the good things about teaching online is that I'm getting to meet a lot of the cats and dogs living with my students.  Cats, especially, seem to like sauntering in front of the camera during class, stopping directly in front of it. It's kind of fun.

People are getting to spend a lot of time with their pets these days. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

Ash (Leopard Gecko)
Has never had it so good:
Many adventures!

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

Thursday, April 02, 2020


Political Mayhem Thursday: Who to blame?

Yesterday's New York Times featured a story about a group of 70 UT-Austin students who ignored warnings and celebrated Spring Break in Mexico. Now 28 of them have tested positive for COVID-19, and many others may have it as well. 

So, yeah, it's easy to blame them, and people like them, for the pandemic. And President Trump. And China. And a bevy of slow-moving actors who didn't do what needed to be done. And blamed they are!

It reminds me of an incident I saw once while skiing. I came upon a little family group stopped partway down a steep hill. The mom was lying on her back screaming in pain, her leg broken into a very unnatural position. The dad was next to her, with their kid (who apparently had cut mom off going down the slope). The dad was yelling at the kid: "Hunter, your mother may be seriously injured!"

A few thoughts.

First, yes, Hunter's mother was seriously injured. There really was no maybe about it.

Second, it seemed like maybe not the best use of dad's time to blame the kid right at that moment, as his wife writhed in agony. 

And that reminds me a bit of all the blaming going on now.

Certainly, history will sort a lot of this out. I don't doubt for a minute that Trump and Spring Break partiers will not be well remembered (probably Trump will come off worse than the college kids).  Accountability will happen. But this- the days before the worst of it-- might not be the time to focus on that. 

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