Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
My Teachers: Ed Crapol
I had many great professors at William and Mary, including some (Joanne Braxton, Ron Rapoport) whom I have previously written about here (and will again). Ed Crapol is a new character for the blog, though.
Once I decided to become a history major, IPLawGuy recommended that I take Prof. Crapol's class on America and Vietnam. It was hugely popular, and I soon found out why. He was a great teacher, and loved the subject.
But there was something else, too. It was perhaps the first academic experience I had where the United States was presented with any kind of moral ambiguity-- where the USA wasn't clearly heroic. I found this shocking and thrilling, and soon, essential. I love my country, but that love has to acknowledge and consider the flaws, and Prof. Crapol's class revealed a way of doing so.
He had been the first in his family to go to college, and eventually worked his way through the University of Wisconsin to get his Ph.D. It was a journey of passion for him, and that (like my other favorite teachers) came out in the way he taught.
I loved law school. I mean, I loved it. And I still do. I suspect that Prof. Crapol was the same way. I hope that can instill my teaching with a fraction of what Prof. Crapol brought to us.
For most people, if we think about our heart-- beating away, every day, every minute, with a motion and noise we can detect if we try-- it freaks us out. There is something deeply unsettling about the reliance we have on this thing at the center of our bodies.
The miracle isn't that they fail; it is that they almost always don't for our days here on earth. What a remarkable machine it is, like so many other parts of out bodies.
But they do fail in the end. One of the remarkable things I took from the Chauvin trial was Dr. Tobin's assertion that all deaths are really due to the heart stopping-- disease or injury just cause that outcome.
Life is, in the end, tenuous. We are designed that way. So it is imperative that this be a good day of life, with gratitude and perhaps a moment of joy.
Over the years, I have seen some fantastic public art-- the kind that is on display out in the open, rather than in a museum. It might be sculpture, or murals, or graffiti. Chicago, New York, and Detroit all have some wonderful public art, while other towns might paint a few cows and call it a day. Let's haiku about the good and the bad this week. Here, I will go first:
I walked by it
Every day: Joan Miro's
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Yesterday, President Biden devoted time to laying out some plans about criminal justice. It was... uninspiring. In short, he announced that communities can use federal stimulus money on bolstering their police departments.
Since I began tracking candidate-then-president Biden's proposals in this area a few years ago, I've seen a remarkable consistency: his answers almost always involved either study groups or more spending. And in this area, neither really address the core needs, which are about new and better ways of doing things. Yes, I know that it sounds like his studies would be good for this, but in criminal justice we already have plenty of studies to look to, and more studies often just serve as delaying tactics in the absence of action.
Most of what needs to be done-- improve clearance rates for crimes and reduce prison time-- doesn't really need more money. It needs willingness to change.
It almost seems like maybe they don't really want to change things.
I'm devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling my classmates, teachers, and students.
In the Autumn of 1981, I began college. I was from far away, and hadn't fully taken into account the cultural differences I would face in going to a state school in Virginia. Most of the students there had friends from high school on campus somewhere, and just seemed to know how things worked better than I did. I wasn't even good at walking there-- my pace was to fast compared to the laid-back Virginians.
I figured that at least my classes would provide some common ground, but that idea was quickly squelched in my introductory history class.
The professor was an older man whose name I do not remember. He probably was in his 60's, meaning that he was born before 1920, at the height of Jim Crow-- in fact, he probably grew up around veterans of the Confederacy. He had a deep affection for the Old South, and referred to the Civil War as "The War Between the States." He was dismissive of the Civil Rights Movement, which ran contrary to "states' rights." Slavery, other than as the economic model of a certain time, was not a part of what he taught.
I knew, even then, that he was wrong. He was wrong in what he ignored, he was wrong in what he believed, and he was wrong in what he taught.
That experience shaped me nearly as much as those with the good teachers I had. I knew from then on that some of my professors would be wrong, and it was up to me to discern which of them (and when). Sometimes our teachers truths are misguided, or just not true.
I know that, as a teacher, I have sometimes been wrong. That lesson is there, too.
But as an 18-year-old kid far away from home, that first important lesson was a hard one.
The moon is nearly full. For some reason, I see it most clearly when the weather is at its most severe: the purifying heat of the summer, or the brittle cold of a deep Minnesota winter. I am near the ocean now, and the moon pulls the water this way and that as it causes the tides; it's not just an abstraction up there in the sky but something that shapes the shoreline near me in a different way every day.
When I was a little kid, I was fascinated by the way the moon followed me as a I rode a tricycle down the sidewalk of Harvard Road in Detroit. I showed my brother how it worked: no matter how fast or slow we went, it followed us. Then we went home for dinner, and reported our findings.
The simplest things in our lives, the things we don't notice for months, are always there, waiting for us to see. What a life; what a grace.
Last week in Sunday Morning Jesus Club we were talking about Acts 17, where we found this (as Paul spoke to those in Athens, which of course would be a tough crowd given the long traditions and established beliefs of that remarkable place):
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor[i] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[j] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
I'm not a huge fan of Paul; I think he was wrong a lot and too often arrogant. But this exchange is moving and elegant. He starts not from his own beliefs and culture, but from theirs: the temple to an unknown god is a doorway, and the allusion to their poetry is powerful.
I also love the idea that we grope to find God, even though he is not far from each of us. How true is that?!?
Because they are intelligent, fierce, resourceful, and interesting, bears have an outsized influence on our society. Think about how many famous bears there are: Smoky Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Paddinton, Fozzie, Super Sugar Bear, Yogi Bear, Tian Tian, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, etc. etc. etc.
So let's haiku about bears this week. Here, I will go first:
A noise in the woods
Close to our cabin (too close!)
The bear slinks away.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Though it is a relatively large denomination, most of America's Protestants are not a part of the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches. Nevertheless, journalists often treat the SBC as if it is representative of the faith as a whole, lavishing unwarranted attention on it and seeking out its leaders (like Jerry Falwell and Jerry Falwell, Jr.) and key figures to comment on nearly anything involving religion or culture. That laziness has led to a skewed view of Christianity by many people outside of the faith. That has been true since conservatives won a battle with moderates at the end of the 20th century.
Now, the SBC-- which has been losing members for a decade-- is seeing a battle between conservatives and ultra-conservatives for control of the denomination. The ultra-conservatives, who don't seem to really grasp what Critical Race Theory is, are obsessed with CRT, spurred on by Fox News).
The SBC will probably fracture again, with control in the hands of the ultra-conservatives (though the conservatives won most of the battles at the recent annual meeting of the SBC).
Should we care?
No. They get too much attention already. Let them bicker and fight and prod one another on to greater irrelevance.
For about a year, I profiled members of my class at Yale Law every Wednesday. Since then, I have enjoyed profiling my students. Next week, I'll start profiling my teachers. And after that, I'm going to mix it up-- rotate profiles of my classmates, students, and teachers. Lots still to come!
It's been an unexpected joy to do these profiles. It is so easy to let people slip out of our lives and memories, and there is cost to that. So many of the people I profiled in both groups are people I deeply admire. At the same time, while researching my classmates, there were some whose work just wasn't admirable-- they had spent much of their vocation on things that would make life worse for many people. Fortunately, their numbers were small compared to the group I was thrilled to find.
I hope you have been enjoying the profiles- and let me know if you have any suggestions.
That's me with my 6th-grade teacher, David King. I met up with him in Arizona a few years ago when I was giving a talk there.
He was a fantastic teacher, and one of the people I thought of when I decided to become a teacher. As I have recounted before, I was a problematic student sometimes. But he was patient and kind, and I try to replicate that when tested (I fail sometimes).
My mom recently dug up a cache of my homework from grade school, and it is surprising how mediocre most of it is! I had a way of running out the clock on writing assignments of a certain length by using very long numbers ("Mr. Roberts had 34983759834737927579275792472938 clocks, and always knew what time it was" or "His name was Bob, but everyone called him Broaljgnkkdjgkamroiapoiifnj." It sounds like I was, uh, lazy.
My grades for "citizenship" were especially bad. I'm not sure why, but I have some hunches...
Today I have a piece in the Waco Herald Tribune that is sure to make some people mad. I argue that if Baylor was really about being "Biblical," then they would either not have a statement on sexuality that condemns LGBTQ people, or they would have one that restricts sex to a first marriage, given Jesus's clear teaching on remarriage after divorce. Their current position-- designed around excluding LGBTQ people-- lacks integrity.
I'm pretty used to having people mad at me. If you are a prosecutor and you do your job well, some people-- agents, defendants, supervisors--are going to be mad at you some of the time. I developed a thicker skin in those years.
Status quo is heavy rock, and many people are perched to easily on top of it. Change is hard, and fraught with peril. But we have to change, individually and collectively, if we are to survive and thrive.
Of course, sometimes people are mad at you because you are wrong, or insensitive-- just having people mad at you doesn't mean you are like Jesus! But boy, people were mad at him a lot. And no wonder; he threatened power.
This week's NCAA Div. 1 track and field championships had a lot of records, including an incredibly fast race in the 5000 meters on the mens side. One thing I love about this is the mix of schools involved:
It is hot here-- nearly 100 degrees the last few days. In Minnesota, we aren't so good at dealing with that, but those 10,000 lakes sure help!
Water, in nature, is a traditional theme of classical haiku, actually. We don't have to limit ourselves to water in nature, though. We can haiku about water to drink, the water coming out of the hose, the water running down a driveway as a guy washes his car. Be creative!
Here, I will go first:
At dusk, I hear frogs
Deep voices from shallow water
Calling out to God.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: School in the Fall... Normal?
I'm a teacher. That's the biggest and most important part of my job, the center of my vocation, and what I love to do. I want to be very clear: it will be best for everyone if we all teach and learn in person this fall, and the best way to do that is to make sure everyone gets vaccinated.
That could require make vaccination mandatory-- and if so, that should be ok. I'm baffled by people who claim their "religion" bars them from getting a vaccination, when I know they are Lutheran... I mean, are you just making stuff up on the fly? Because you don't want to do something doesn't make it a religious belief.
For some, it seems that getting vaccinated is somehow being disloyal to Trump-- a view that makes no sense at all, given that he got vaccinated right quick himself (even after he got COVID).
For Black Americans, there is the legitimate memory of things like the Tuskegee study in the 1930's, where people were used as unknowing subjects of a cruel experiment. Hopefully, the fact that all groups are being given the same vaccines will help allay those concerns.
In the end, getting students back in school is the most important thing once the virus is under control. Online learning has been a disaster whose full extent won't be known for years, as the true cost of too many students losing a year of school is known.
But in the end, vaccination should not be political-- it should just be a moral choice to protect those around us.
I'm devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling my former students, alternating between Baylor and St. Thomas.
Henry Wright (that's him at the far right in the photo above) was unusual among my students because we were friends first, then he came to law school and was my student (which was, in fact, a little awkward). He's a Waco guy, having grown up in the town and gone to high school with a number of other notable characters in my Waco life. He went off to college at SMU and only six years after that was elected the mayor of Beverly Hills, Texas, a small community adjacent to Waco (which, despite being small, presented a number of wacky problems and very strange situations that he handled adeptly). During this time, he also started teaching philosophy at Baylor, where he was a popular professor (as is his wife, Lenore).
There have been a few people in my life who I've sometimes felt I'm not smart enough to hang around with, and Henry is one of them-- and I mean that in the best way. He has a breadth of knowledge that spans from art history to connecting a beam to a joist, both of which make for good conversation in the right setting.
In 2006, he started talking about coming to law school, and I encouraged him to do so. And then there he was at Baylor Law, excelling in a way that older students rarely do-- he still had the intellectual chops to run with the kids just out of college. Now he works for a small firm in Waco, and continues to teach at Baylor. His hometown is lucky to have kept him close!
And I need to get to Texas and see Henry again soon....
A few nights ago I re-watched the 2011 movie "Contagion," which I had seen in a theater when it came out-- back when it was pretty normal to go into a big room full of people, sit next to strangers without masks, and hang out for a few hours.
It's a good movie. But from this historical perspective, it's more interesting as prophesy. Sure, there ARE distinctions to be made between the events in the movie and the recent events of our lives. For example:
-- The virus is more lethal than coronavirus.
-- The vaccine is produced more quickly.
-- The Fauci character is Black.
-- The primary proponent of a fake cure is a blogger, rather than the President of the United States.
-- The unrest in Minnesota is more destructive.
Other than that, pretty spot-on. It's worth a watch, now that we are coming out of it....
This morning I'm giving the sermon at 1st Covenant Church- Minneapolis. The service starts at 10 eastern/9 central, and you can see the service at this link.
One of the things I talk about in the sermon (which was taped on Thursday) is this awful moment a few years ago when my dad had a terrible reaction to something during hip surgery and had to be brought back to life. If you listen to the service, you'll notice that I come up short right then-- it was just too hard to talk about fully, and I didn't.
A day later, IPLawGuy lost his dad after a bout with cancer. It progressed fast-- from diagnosis to chemo to hospice in a matter of weeks. Tom is my best friend; it's hard thinking of what he is going through right now.
His dad, Ty Brooke, wasn't famous, but only because people who do the most important work-- building communities, starting businesses, making sure that the institutions we all rely on work-- rarely are.
After a few other lines of work, he started a business. He bought a franchise to rent out tents and work equipment-- the kind of place you go when you need a post-hole digger. He built it into something bigger, with multiple locations, and left the franchise behind. He hired people who needed work, and he adapted when his clientele changed-- people like me stopped fixing their own homes, and instead the people who rented a generator or a post-hole digger spoke other languages.
He married a strong woman, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Grinnell who was successful in her own right as an editor at US News & World Report. They were partners in the best sense.
He cared deeply about his community-- he was the guy who signed up, and led when leadership was needed. I once saw a list of the organizations and groups he was a part of, and it was... long. The best parts of the communities we live in came from people who signed up, people like Ty Brooke.
But, more than anything, he was a good dad. I know this because my friend would quote him, or tell a story about him, and it wasn't worship or pride-- it was just that Tom knew what was right and wrong because someone taught him by example.
If you are fully vaccinated, life is kind of returning to normal! I walked into school without a mask this week, and it felt thrilling and transgressive (though it was ok by the new rules there). So, now that things are opening up... what will you do with this new freedom?
Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:
Maskless I will stride
Down the whole produce aisle
And breath in freely!
[I realize that is not so adventurous, but still...]
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
The Democratic Primary on June 22 will, barring a shocker, decide who the next mayor of New York will be. Most Americans outside of New York have heard of Andrew Yang, but not his seven major opponents. Here is a thumbnail sketch of who they are:
Adams is the Brooklyn Borough President (each of the five boroughs of NYC has its own leader). He was a career police officer before that, ending his career as a captain. His focus is (duh) on public safety. He's a noted workaholic, and has been criticized for comments telling people to "go back to Iowa" instead of moving to New York.
Donovan was Housing secretary and Budget Director in the Obama administration, and prior to that ran housing for the Bloomberg administration in NYC. As one might expect, he is focused on housing, and envisions NYC being a set of "15-minute neighborhoods," where most of what you need would be within a 15-minute walk of your home. He's a long shot at this point.
Garcia is a former Sanitation Department commissioner who has also held a number of other civil service jobs, including being the "food czar" during the pandemic. She sees the departure of police officers as an opportunity to re-shape the department, and describes herself as a "practical progressive." She also wants to rebuild the BQE.
McGuire is a former investment banker and executive at Citigroup. His focus is on the economy of the city. He draws from his business experience when talking about how to fix the city. He is a favorite of the financial community. His key word regarding the police is "accountability." He is not taking public money for his campaign, relying instead on donations from individuals on and off Wall Street.
Morales comes from the non-profit world, particularly in the field of housing. She focuses on the problems of poverty, which affect nearly all parts of the city's operation. For example, she links the rise in some types of crime in New York to housing and food insecurity. Economically, her focus would be on small businesses.
Stringer is New York's Comptroller, and previously served as Manhattan Borough President. He believes that NYC faces a crisis like the one in 1977-- some of New York's darkest days. He wants to get tourists back and juice the economy. He has been a moderate Democrat, but is running as a progressive. On crime, he wants to increase clearance rates (that is, how many crimes are solved) and focus on violent crimes.
Wiley is a civil rights lawyer who served as counsel to Mayor DeBlasio. She wants to focus on quality-of-life issues like the subway, trash collection, and broadband. She wants to hire a police commissioner from outside of the NYPD, She wants to dramatically increase the stock of public housing through new construction,
I'm devoting Wednesdays on the blog (despite the misdirection in yesterday's post) to profiling my former students, alternating between St. Thomas and Baylor.
Allen Andersen was in my classes and clinic, and a welcome addition to both. He's out in the world now, working at the Scott County Attorney's Office as an Assistant County Attorney. I'm glad he's there-- he is exactly the kind of person that the profession needs. I very much believe he has a lot more ahead of him, too. He's going to excel in several jobs before he is done.
I learned something crucial from Allen, something that I talk about quite a bit these days.
Allen is a Marine (I have a lot of them in my clinic for some reason), and served in the Corps as the leader of a motor transport platoon, driving heavy trucks. One day in clinic we were talking about how we work at retail and wholesale-- that we both took individual cases, and tried to make the system better. Allen talked about how in the Corps sometimes they had to build the road before they could drive down it. That's a great metaphor for where we are right now with clemency: people want to drive down a road (clemency grants) that has not yet been built (because the system of evaluation is broken). We need to build the road before we can drive down it.
Professors sometimes say that they learn from their students. I'm here to tell you that it is absolutely true-- and that nugget is not the only wisdom I got from Allen and his classmates.
I'm taking a little break from profiling people today. I have been reflecting on my students though, all of them. Like a lot of people, sometimes I wish I could have done more: taught better, taught more, provided more guidance, spent more time with each of them. Sometimes I read tests and feel inadequate-- how did so many people not get this one thing I thought I taught clearly?
Teaching is the best job I've ever had (and I've had some great jobs). There is a reason that people leave other jobs to become law profs, but almost never leave a law prof job for something else (notable exceptions include Hon. Elena Kagan, Rep. Katie Porter, and former President Barack Obama). One reason is the agency we have over what we do; another is the importance of the task. I have never, ever, found a law prof who didn't think he or she had an important and fulfilling job.
We teach two ways: by what we say, and what we do. I always want my students to see me do things that are worth doing. I am willing to let them see me fail at it, too (I'm skilled at that, after all). It's worth it.
I say it here a lot-- I'm a lucky man. And my vocation, and the students I get to serve, are two things I am very grateful for.