For some reason, the house is full of flies. How did they get in? No one knows! (actually, they do-- I leave the door open a lot).
Mid-summer is peak bug season, the time for mosquitos and mayflies and spiders and dragonflies and all of the other insects and arachnids that make this season more interesting. Personally, I love watching the way bees crazily flit from one flower to another, getting fatter and fuzzier as the summer goes on.
So let's haiku about these fellow inhabitants of our world. Here, I will go first:
Please do that thing that you do:
Gobble up mosquitos!
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!
As the Biden administration settles in, one thing is clear: He is pretty much the same guy he always was: Not big on criminal justice reform, other than "studying" it. Someone who craves consensus, but too rarely gets it. And, of course, a guy who really really loves Amtrak.
Don't get me wrong-- I'm a fan of passenger rail, and I'm for pretty much anything that Pete Buttigieg promotes. The New York Times reports that the infrastructure bill currently in play includes $66 billion for Amtrak, dedicated to backlogged maintenance, new routes, and new equipment. Here in Minnesota, for example, there is the chance that we will get a rail route from St. Paul to Duluth and a second train daily between St. Paul and Chicago.
There are real advantages to train travel, and as airplanes become less appealing each year--what is it now, fistfights?-- sitting on a train doing work seems pretty appealing.
The other teachers I have profiled here would probably remember me, but I am confident that Paul Gewirtz, who taught me Constitutional Law at Yale, would not. He has had thousands of students in his classes, and nearly all of us remember it well.
He was a dedicated teacher, one who cared deeply about his subject and was good at explaining it (it is surprising how often one of those things does not go with the other). For a while, he co-taught with his political opposite, Robert Bork, which reportedly made for a phenomenal class. Many of my classmates, of course, saw themselves as future Con Law profs themselves, so there was always a lively debate on key topics, and he managed it well. (For the record, I didn't even see myself as a future Crim Law prof at that point).
That period at the end of the 80's and into the 90's was a tempestuous time in the life of the Constitution, too, so we were living through the cases and history that students study now. I was lucky to have such a skilled guide.
If there is one tragic constant about the Justice Department, no matter which administration is in power, it is this: DOJ is bold in the easy job of locking people up and timid in the more difficult task of crafting alternatives to brute-force incarceration. Consistently, DOJ fights common-sense reform, maintains a stranglehold on access to the rusted levers of change, and resists second-guessing its decisions. Asking DOJ to do better has not worked, no matter who has occupied the top appointed positions there. It is not a question of getting the right people in place in positions of power. It is, instead, a fundamental issue of institutional failure that requires fundamental institutional reform. It is time to limit the breadth of the Justice Department to its core prosecutorial functions and to develop broader governmental institutions to address other functions now under its awkward, too-large umbrella.
Last night I was watching the Olympic skateboarding competition, which was fascinating. In part because the announcers are kind of relentlessly positive-- "He didn't land any tricks, but it sure looks like he will do a great job on the next phase of this competition"-- and in part because the sport involves some amazing athletes.
One guy had a pretty bad day. He kept falling off his board. His tricks didn't work. And at the end of the run, he fell on his back and his phone fell out of his pocket, and he looked at it like maybe the screen was broken. And, of course, the whole thing was televised around the world.
But then he got to start over and have another run.
We've all had those moments, and some of us have had them televised. That includes the people who win championships, who change the world, who make things better.
They just all gave us another moment to remember, after the one that we shouldn't. The world, it turns out, can be more forgiving than we expect.
Today we finally get the opening ceremonies for the 2020 (ahem) Olympics! I know, I know-- having them is probably a bad idea, and the Japanese hosts seem to realize that (at least the citizens do). But I'm having trouble resisting my normal excitement.
I'm not sure what the opening ceremonies will be, actually. And it seems like the games have already begun, since the US Women's Soccer Team was thumped by Sweden 3-0 already. But there are some pretty high standards to meet.
My favorite opening/closing ceremonies were features of the 2012 Summer Games in London. Yes, there was a Spice Girls reunion, but also slices of all kinds of British culture. And the Queen and her corgies. I can't stand royalty (I'm an American), but the dogs are cute.
As a student at John R. Barnes Elementary School, I spent a fair amount of time with my class in the music room with the music teacher, Dr. Fenton. I remember the names of composers she had up above the chalkboard:
You know... it was the 70's. It was somewhat confusing that she was "Dr. Fenton," and it wasn't until much later that I realized she must have had a doctorate in music.
At Barnes, I became convinced that I was bad at music. Looking back, that's unfortunate; it steered me away from what is a wonderful part of many people's lives.
Tomorrow at 4 EDT (3 Central), I'll be participating in a short webinar for FASPE (the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics) on race and criminal justice, along with Shannon Prince and Father Stephen Bell. Their last guest was historian Eric Foner, so the bar is set high!
How We Repair It: The Arc of Justice — A Conversation with Mark Osler
America have a justice system or an injustice system? Do racial
disparities in incarceration and police brutality mean that the system
is broken – or that it’s working exactly as designed? And how can the
arc of the moral universe be bent toward justice? We’ve invited Mark
Osler, a renowned social justice lawyer and legal scholar — who is also
a preacher — to join us for a discussion about the infrastructure of
oppression and the art of changing the world.
Featuring: Prof. Mark Osler, Professor and Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law, University of St. Thomas
Dr. Shannon Prince (FASPE Law 2016), Attorney, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP
Father Steven Bell
(FASPE Board Member & Seminary Faculty), Priest and Associate
Pastor, Newman Hall/Holy Spirit parish, University of California at
The Olympic Ring colors can be found in the flags of all nations.
The Medievalist had one I did know:
Trucks and flags and guns, Flying flags on vehicle. Seems a bit hostile.
Andrew had an opinion (which makes sense-- it is a good flag):
Colorado has The best flag and license plate No one else comes close.
And IPLawGuy had a bunch, of which I liked these two best:
Virginia Flag Latin motto, deep purple Dead guy on the Ground.
Ohio Pennant Unique amongst all states Which strikes me as odd.
Also, just as a side note, if you are really into state symbolism and you live in Elkhart or something, please consider these Indiana State Flag leggings (which I'm sure Mike Pence approves of), which are available at Zazzle:
Because of continuing restrictions on entry into Canada, it looks like I will not be able to go to remote Osler Island this year. That makes me sad, and it kind of hurts my soul.
Part of it is, of course, that I love that place and the people I share it with. Had I been able to go last year, it would have been my 50th consecutive year spending time there. So, yes, I miss the place.
But on a deeper level, that week or two is a retreat in the best sense-- time away from the tumult that I invite into my life through my work and other responsibilities. We see Jesus doing this, after all: retreating to the wilderness. It was there he encountered things he did not when he was surrounded by people. And sometimes, I would imagine, we was just resting.
Sometimes, in the morning there, I will get up and pad out to a point of the island that juts out towards the deepest part of Lake Saganaga. I sit on a rock.
Who doesn't love Alaska's flag? Simple, elegant, meaningful:
On the other hand, we have Minnesota's overburdened flag:
Seriously, who came up with this? The blue is nice, but then there is a little bulls-eye in the middle with way too much action. Here is a close-up of that:
So there's a tree stump-- nice. And a Native American appears to be riding by the land stolen from his people as a guy in a hat uses a plow. In the back, it looks like... maybe a drained lake? There are many unexplained dates floating around, and what look like onions are garnishing the periphery. Well, that sums up the state pretty well!
Let's haiku about flags this week. Here, I will go first:
Awarded under flying
Banners. Look for ours...
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
In 2020, a record 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to the Washington Post. That's about a 30% increase over the year before. It's almost one-third the number of people who died of COVID last year. The overwhelming majority of the overdoses involved opioids.
This is a spectacular failure.
It's a failure of public health. It's a failure of law enforcement. It's a failure of culture, and of values.
More than anything, it's a failure to pay attention to what matters most. While the traditional war on drugs was doing its thing-- and, as always, doing it with little real impact on actual drug use-- US drug companies were hooking Americans on opioids. OxyContin was advertised and pushed and marketed to doctors, and the Sackler family got filthy rich by pushing these drugs. None of them were ever convicted of anything, of course.
It's bizarre to me that so many Americans think they can ensure their safety by having a gun in their house-- a claim that is straight-up wrong-- but trot home from the hospital or a clinic or a street corner with a pocketful of lethal, highly addicted pills that have probably already killed someone they know.
The war on drugs not only didn't work, but it distracted us from the worst drug epidemic of our time, in terms of death. And now we are paying the price.
Rachel Barkow and I have an Op-Ed (er, I guess they call them "Guest Essays" now) in today's New York Times. You can read it here.
All the way back to the primaries, we feared that now-President Biden would win and then replicate Obama's first-term timidity on clemency... and so far, that is what is happening. There is a backlog of over 15,000 petitions, and another issue as well-- 4,500 people who have been released on home confinement and who have done well, proving that their sentences can be safely commuted.
Earlier this summer, just a few weeks ago, I was in Death Valley. It was an overwhelming, purifying dry heat that day-- between 107 and 110 degrees. The sweat evaporated right off my skin, so it did not even seem like I was sweating.
This weekend, it was 20 degrees hotter than that.
The West, especially, is consumed with heat and fire this summer. Yes, I think it is connected to climate change. But whether you believe that or not, there is no doubting that this is happening. And that raises some important questions.
A big one is about water. Reservoirs like Lake Powell are only at about 36% of capacity, and shrinking fast in the heat and drought. The wisdom of more and more people moving to places like Phoenix seems questionable. That part of the Earth just doesn't have enough of what people need in its natural state, and our artifices and constructions are coming apart. As with people who choose to live on barrier islands that inevitable erode and shift, the rest of us will end up subsidizing their choices.
Of course, buying a home in Phoenix or Miami Beach is what rich people do, and we usually DO subsidize their bad, bold choices in a way we often refuse to consider when the people making the choices are poor (or even when it is not their choice at the root of the tragedy, actually). That's wrong-- and something we need to think about when things go wrong. Should we help them find a new house? Sure... but only if we are willing to help the people who lost their house when they lost their job.
Last week I found myself sitting by this little stream in Michigan. Its formal name is Allen Creek, but it is just one of a lot of little streams that flow into bigger rivers in Western Michigan.
It's a lovely little creek. Deer drink from it, frogs peek out from it, and a bear lives near it. But I was thinking about the little tiny drops of water in that little stream. Without them, there is no stream, of course. And where do they go?
To the bigger river, the South Branchof the Pere Marquette, and then to the Pere Marquette itself. Then, it rolls into Lake Michigan, that huge tub of water, and then to the even bigger (by surface area) Lake Huron. From there it would go down the Huron River to Lake St. Clair, on whose shores I grew up. Then down the Detroit River to Lake Erie and OVER Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario, and from there down the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Atlantic Ocean, that amazing sea that makes England warm and nestles firm against Africa.
It's quite a journey!
Maybe we are just a drop of water, on of billions. But is that anything less than spectacular?
Someone was distributing this card at CPAC, and the web site referenced is, um, along the same lines.
IPLawGuy was recently talking about a South Park Episode where a business plan had these three steps: "Phase 1: Collect underpants. Phase 2: ?. Phase 3: Profit!" This seems to suffer the same fatal flow, though it gets right to the problem in Point 1. I'm pretty sure Nancy Pelosi melting is not going to happen.
There are weird theories on all sides, of course, but this one really leans into the magical thinking!
Haiku Friday: The most interesting city in your state
For reasons I can't quite remember, I was doing some research yesterday on Green Bay, Wisconsin. It's a fascinating place, and one of the oldest European cities in the US. It was established by the French in 1638-- 80 years before the founding of New Orleans.
But every state has interesting places. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:
You've had quite a year, old town
And now... what comes next?
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun...
230-some years ago, Haiti was the site of the perhaps the most successful slave uprising in world history, as Toussaint Louverture led his people to freedom from a brutal French regime. It has had a tumultuous history since then, right up to the present: yesterday, President Jovenel Moise was assassinated, leaving a power vacuum. Moise was a controversial leader who held power for four years and seemed reluctant to give it up. The nation has struggled to recover from a devastating earthquake 11 years ago.
The NY Times reports that four suspected assassins have since been been killed in a gun battle, and two more arrested. Many fear that competing factions may fight for control.
Americans tend to "tut tut" at this kind of mayhem, but we shouldn't. We had an insurrection in our Capitol building this year, and a president who did not want to leave office, after all. Some of the same forces that produce mayhem in Haiti-- political inefficacy, bitter partisanship, and a sense that our side must win at all costs-- plague our own political culture right now.
Politics and leadership are hard. Too often, failure compounds failure.
I was going to go on from there, but rereading those stopped me cold-- it made me realize just how much I got out of law school beyond learning the law. Those four men cared deeply about my success and fulfillment, and I learned by watching them (having not grown up around lawyers or professors)-- I watched how they collaborated with others, how they dealt with dissent, and how they treated people of all types. Do I live up to the standard they set? No, probably not. But I'm still trying.
Like a lot of other people, I was anxious to get out of the house once I was fully vaccinated. And I did! But now I have to bear down and get some work done. Here are some of my projects for the summer:
-- West has contracted a second edition of my casebook, Contemporary Criminal Law, so I have to do all the revisions for that.
-- I'm also continuing to push for clemency reform, and have an important meeting next week on that.
-- This summer I also hope to get work done on a major new academic piece-- the most substantial that I have put out in a while.
Over the last several weeks, I've had the chance to see a lot of this beautiful country of ours. It takes my breath away, even the blank spaces on the map (and perhaps mostly those). The picture above is from California, if you can believe that.
I'm always surprised to find people in remote places claiming it is "God's Country," though. That idea-- that God is more present some places than other. I suppose what they mean-- understandably-- is that in the wild places the evidence of God's creation is less obscured by what man has created.
And yes, it is important to see those places, to see the raw parts of creation.
But we really have a duty to search for God everywhere. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I do love this part of Acts, where Paul talks to the Athenians and says:
From one ancestor 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, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
He is not far from each of us, indeed, even when we are not in those wild place.
Political Mayhem Thursday: The Fate of Northern Ireland
After 100 years as a part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is adrift. Brexit effectively cleaved it economically from Great Britain, since the line between the EU and the UK now runs through the Irish Sea and leaves Northern Ireland awkwardly a functional part of the EU (along with the Republic of Ireland) while the rest of the UK is out. [For those like me who get confused by the nomenclature, the United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while Great Britain refers to the island containing England, Scotland and Wales]
A great opinion piece in The NY Times yesterday by Susan McKay really does a great job of laying out the fate of this strange political entity. As Catholics become a majority-- even as religious affiliation fades-- it seems likely that Ireland will, finally, be unified. England will lose its last raw bit of empire. And that is all to the good.
An important question is whether or not Scotland will follow suit. The Scots voted against Brexit, and benefited greatly from the European Union (of course, England did, too, but just don't seem to care as much). The United Kingdom through the fit of pique that was Brexit, might soon be reduced to Wee England. And that is probably just fine, at least for the Irish and the Scots.