Monday, February 28, 2022


Winter into spring...

 These poems will make more sense if you know something important: CraigA, my dad, and the Medievalist are all from the north (Boston, Detroit, and Minnesota, respectively), while Christine and Desiree are in the south (NC and Virginia). Well, actually, it's a little more complicated than that. Christine is from Michigan but lives in NC. CraigA is from Boston but lives in Virginia, and the Medievalist is from Minnesota but lives in Texas. Or something like that.
 So... to the poems!

From CraigA:
Snowbanks crusted brown,
More snow inside car than out.
Come spring thaw, come spring!

From my dad:
We have learned not to
put snow shovels away when
temps are in sixties.

From the Medievalist:
 Never remove ice
Scraper from the back seat of
Your car until June.

From Christine:
Always enjoy some
Surf and sand come mid-winter
Time to warm the bones.

From Desiree:

Broke shoulder skiing,
But now the sling is off, sooooo
I’m ready for spring!

Sunday, February 27, 2022


Sunday Reflection: On the ground


I thought this homestyle video by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was pretty remarkable. It's good communication: authentic, heartfelt, simple and meaningful. While our own leaders tend to give speeches at a podium in front of a flag (as Zelensky has, too, in the past), this meets the moment he finds himself in. 
And the heart of the message-- "we are here"-- is powerful. They are are not hiding or leaving the country. They are there. 
One of the problems with our faith, too often, is we can't just be satisfied with the simple, powerful messages Jesus gives us over and over. Instead, we slop "theology" all over it and turn it around and muddy what is most powerful. I mean... is there really any theology more important than the simple words of Jesus? Instead, we take things he didn't say (i.e. "God helps those who help themselves"--actually said by Benjamin Franklin) and treat them as simple truths while fussing over and distorting the simplest messages of Jesus ("when you feed the hungry, you feed me."). 
God is beyond our understanding. Yet, we can receive truth if we are willing to do so.

Saturday, February 26, 2022


From last night's show...


Friday, February 25, 2022


Haiku Friday: Winter into Spring (?)


Around here, winter hangs around like a houseguest in week two. You know it isn't time to part yet, but... you're ready.
Let's haiku about this season-- whatever is going on with you right now. Fortunately, we have people on here from all over. Here, I will start:
The chill in my bones
Chased off by the seat heaters
It's the little things...
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!

Thursday, February 24, 2022


San Francisco: As bad as they say?


It has become a media staple: stories like this one profiling how San Francisco has just gone all to hell and is principally occupied now by addicts who poop all over. 
I haven't been to San Franciso in a while, but I have trouble believing that things are really that bad. Certainly, there is a challenge there with a homeless population partly displaced by high rents and people on the streets with mental illness or addiction issues. But it is hardly dangerous, relative to other cities. It's not even in the top 20 for murder rate, for example. (You want dangerous? That would be St. Louis or even Indianapolis, both located in red states-- and both of which have far higher crime rates than San Francisco).
The focus on anecdote rather than data is especially prevalent in stories like this, some of which seem to be trying to blame imaginary high crime on liberal policies.
The sad truth is that we don't seem to understand very well what makes crime rise or fall. I really wish that wasn't true, but that's reality. At the least, though, we could stop pretending that crime in the aggregate is worst in places like San Francisco.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022


Our University of Michigan Problem


The University of Michigan is going through some hard times. In descending order of importance: They employed a sexual predator as team doctor, leading to the victimization of hundreds of athletes, the president resigned after a sex scandal, and last weekend their basketball coach, Juwan Howard, punched a Wisconsin coach in the head because he was upset about a timeout called near the end of the game.
The first two issues come from a deep-rooted and poisonous culture. 
On the third, I have an idea what the real problem is: the Wolverines don't have a mascot. In situations like this, conflict is often farmed out to the mascots, who work it out between themselves. Here, check this out-- it's Michigan State v. Wisconsin:

 As it turns out, Howard received only a five-game suspension for his actions, which seems a little low to me-- and you all know how I come out on sentencing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022


The costs of war


War in Ukraine looms. Meanwhile, we have pretty much forgotten about the site of our longest war, Afghanistan. What's going on there is pretty bad.

Before the Taliban took over the Afghan government, as Ezra Klein points out in the New York Times, foreign aid made up 45% of the Afghan GDP, and 75% of government spending.  That's a remarkably high reliance on outside sources... and nearly all of it was cut off as sanction against the horrifying Taliban. Not surprisingly, the economy there has crashed, and people are deeply affected. More than half of the population is suffering what the World Food Program calls "extreme levels of hunger,"  and 98% lack enough food to eat. It sounds like a pretty desperate situation.

We bear some of the responsibility, for allowing the country to become so reliant on our aid in the first place. And having done so, we have snatched it away in hopes that it will punish the Taliban. Somehow, though, I suspect that the Taliban leaders are eating well.

War destroys. 

Monday, February 21, 2022


Olympic Education via Haiku

 The always awesome Jill Scoggins had a fantastic insight into the winter Olympics, and I can't get it out of my head!:
The stone looks like a
Roomba and sweeping’s required.
Curling is housework!

Meanwhile, Desiree has been watching:
Relay with three rings
of skaters. No baton switch.
Just a good, strong shove!

My dad had two winners! First there was this:
Bitter cold bitter
rivalries all forgotten
hugs are remembered.

And then this:
Alone at the top
look down at boots do not look
over icy edge.

And there was one from, uh, "Romana Tatanova":
So much drama, queens!
The figure skating is both
Awesome and Awful.

And finally, an entry I really loved from CraigA:

Struggling to stay
Awake, Olympic hockey
my love and passion.

Sunday, February 20, 2022


Sunday Reflection: Jesus. Guns. Babies.


Pictured here is the campaign bus for Kandiss Taylor, a Republican candidate in Georgia. She's running for governor, just not very well-- she's polling at under 5%. 

What's gotten attention is her promotion of JESUS/GUNS/BABIES. I get it, sure; it's kind of a quickie way to summarize the mindset of some people in our country (though you could probably add TRUMP as a fourth item). 

I really appreciated two observations about this by Jane Coaston in the New York Times. The first is that it kind of makes it sound like Jesus is shooting babies out of guns, which would be super confusing.

The second, and deeper, observation was this: "This is what our politics has become: We’re often just fans of a party — or even a religion — not believers in actual tenets." I think it is a pretty good description of a lot of people (and maybe, sometimes, me). Many Catholics I know really are more fans of the Catholic church rather than actual believers in what differentiates it from other Christian sects; they like the sense of history but not the patriarchy, for example. And many Protestants seem to be fans of Christianity without really engaging with the Bible and Christ, much the way a lot of people get really excited about what they imagine the Constitution says. 

I feel most Christian when I struggle with the lessons of the faith most deeply, and least attached to my faith when I'm not thinking about it much but describing myself as a Christian more than ever.

Anyways, back to Ms. Taylor-- is anyone besides me worried about the OTHER part of her bus, that says "I'm the ONE you've been waiting for!" Isn't that supposed to be Jesus? Failing that, it sounds like a terrifying come-on to a really depressing romantic relationship ("Honey, I don't think the baby should have a gun"). 

Saturday, February 19, 2022



I'm a little worn out. In addition to the usual round of classes, meetings, etc., I'm giving five talks on different subjects over the course of about two and a half weeks, at New England Law School, University of Wisconsin, University of Chicago, Baylor, and William and Mary.
That means that what feels good is to lie on the couch and listen to something like this:


Friday, February 18, 2022


Haiku Friday: The Olympics


Against my better instincts I have been watching the winter Olympics. All these sports! 800 kinds of skiing, including one thing that seems to involve a lot of backwards skiing, and that even where you shoot at the other competitors with a gun (pictured above). Also, hockey.
So let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:
Snow squalls, skis, and guns
How Wisconsin is that, huh?
But Norwegians win.
Now it is your turn. Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!

Thursday, February 17, 2022


PMT: The end (?) of the pandemic


Now that new COVID infections have crashed to "just" 130,000ish a day, people are looking to the end of the pandemic. But... slow down, cowboy!
It's probably too early to declare victory. After all, we have been there before, especially last summer before the Delta variant hit us hard. It could be that there is some new variant out there lying in wait, ready to discourage us all over again.
Or, maybe not. 
We are all very ready for this whole mess to end, certainly. I know I am. And it could be that the damn thing comes back at us hard and we just don't care anymore... and that is when it would get really bad.
The way nations get tired of war, I can see that we are tired of this fight. And that's when things can be most dangerous.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022


Tou Thao Speaks


The trial of three former officers who were involved in the killing of George Floyd took a fascinating twist. We knew already that the least culpable of them, Thomas Lane, was going to testify on his own behalf, but didn't know whether the other two, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, would follow suit.

Now we know-- they will. And yesterday Tou Thao took the stand. That's him in the photo above, with his attorneys Robert and Natalie Paule (Natalie was my student at UST). I think it was the right choice.

On direct examination, he pointed out that he never touched George Floyd and was facing away from him for most of the incident. He described his role as being a "human traffic cone," tasked with holding the crowd at bay.

For jurors, this could be a tough decision. For those of us watching, it is frustrating as we aren't able to watch the testimony in real time

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


Michael Luttig on Jan. 6's deeper danger


The public's focus (understandably) on the events in and around the Capitol on January 6, 2021 has been on the insurrection-- people with Trump gear breaching security and creating mayhem in the center of our democracy. The more important story is interwoven with that mayhem, but distinct: the effort by then-President Trump to undermine the election in 2020, and his potential to perfect the technique in 2024.
Conservative former federal judge Michael Luttig had a fascinating piece in the New York Times yesterday, which I highly recommend doing once you are done with Wordle. You can read it here. Here is part of what he has to say:

The clear and present danger to our democracy now is that former President Donald Trump and his political allies appear prepared to exploit the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the law governing the counting of votes for president and vice president, to seize the presidency in 2024 if Mr. Trump or his anointed candidate is not elected by the American people.

The convoluted language in the law gives Congress the power to determine the presidency if it concludes that Electoral College slates representing the winning candidate were not “lawfully certified” or “regularly given” — vague and undefined terms — regardless of whether there is proof of illegal vote tampering. After the 2020 election, Republican senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri tried to capitalize on those ambiguities in the law to do Mr. Trump’s bidding, mounting a case for overturning the results in some Biden-won states on little more than a wish. Looking ahead to the next presidential election, Mr. Trump is once again counting on a sympathetic and malleable Congress and willing states to use the Electoral Count Act to his advantage.


Monday, February 14, 2022


Pandemic Poems

 We had some great work this week!

This from Christine:

It's not over yet
Adapting to new normals
Travel with self test.

And Desiree (who must not live in MN if this is "Spring"):

Spring brings allergies,
Or could it be something else?
Test with fingers crossed.

And the Medievalist:

Control group dying,
They won't get vaccinated,
More spring funerals.

And Jill Scoggins:

I always said I’d
never go without makeup.
Mask said, “Yes you will.”

And Your Time Has Come: 

The long awaited
Hope that we will recognize
People that we hug.

Plus this from "Michimom" (also know as "Mom"):

In pandemic time
I’ve been thankful for a home
with someone I love.

Sunday, February 13, 2022


Sunday Reflection: War


The threat of war in Europe is greater now than it has been since the Bosnian conflict three decades ago. Russia has massed troops on three borders around Ukraine, and the US has warned that an attack seems imminent.
Perhaps it won't happen. But if it does, there are a lot of dangerous outcomes. And expansionist Russia will threaten not only Ukraine, but Romania and Bulgaria as well, not to mention Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  If Russia gets what it wants, it will encourage China to move against Taiwan. It is a perilous time.
If war happens, the US could easily get sucked in. Already, troops have been committed to nearby countries and it will be hard to long keep out of the fray.
It's a good time to pray for peace.

Saturday, February 12, 2022


Wordle has taken an ugly turn for me

 Wordle 237 6/6


After a great initial run (I got it in two lines twice in one week), Wordle has been kicking my butt of late. Yesterday, I barely solved the puzzle-- and the answer, which I got in the last line, was, appropriately, "Ulcer."
I still love the game. I'm just getting dumber. Or something. 

Friday, February 11, 2022


Haiku Friday: The Pandemic

 Might it finally be ending? The numbers are going way down--at least in terms of new infections-- and many think we may be at the start of the end. We are all ready for it to be over! It's weird to have this mixture of exhaustion, hope and fear all at once. Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:
Teaching in a mask
Is harder than it might look
(If you could see me).
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, February 10, 2022


PMT: The police killing of Amir Locke

 Last week, just three blocks from my school in an apartment building where several of our students live, Amir Locke was shot by the police as they executed a warrant. He was roused from sleep, and holding a legally-possessed gun. The video is horrifying, but you can see it here.

Locke was killed in a dynamic entry raid where the police were searching for a homicide suspect (who wasn't there). As a fed. prosecutor I had a role in such raids (getting warrants). The Locke tragedy brings to the surface two truths about these raids that should inspire reform.
Even when they go as intended, such raids are violent. The first person through the door-- he one "on point"-- will often shoot the dog if there is one. People present will be put to the floor and handcuffed. Doors are broken down. Children are grabbed up and isolated or removed.
These raids are traumatizing for those inside, many of whom are innocent of any crime. If you are a kid, you might wake up in the arms of a cop, see your mom tackled, and your dog bleeding out. And that is when they have the right house and it goes right.
Second point: These are manufactured "split-second" moments of decision where people like Locke are shot. That means there is no time for reason, and if there is implicit bias (black men=more dangerous), that is one source of instinctive action. Racial disparities are inevitable.
 These raids can be in service of legitimate goals: finding people or things necessary to maintaining public safety. BUT there are other ways of getting those people and things. All the trauma and tragedy these raids are in part a product of a lack of imagination or patience.
In other words, dynamic entry raids are how law enforcement is accustomed to getting people and things. To avoid these tragedies and the trauma created in even "good" raids, other techniques need to be developed. Stopping no-knock is not enough. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2022


Why he does what he does

 I don't think I have ever posted this-- and I'm not sure whether I even knew it was out there-- but I love this video of my dad, John Osler, explaining what he does. Maybe I should make a video like this!


The Industrial Heritage Olympics


I told myself I wouldn't spend much time watching the Winter Olympics, but here we are. Monday night I was watching the women's freestyle jumping, which was amazing.

The "Big Air" venue in Beijing is in an "Industrial Heritage Park," which apparently means an old steel factory and environs. It's kind of like if they had the Winter Olympics in Detroit (in a good way). Actually, that would be pretty interesting! And who wouldn't want to see downhill skiing at Mt. Holly?

Tuesday, February 08, 2022


Watcha Doin' on Thursday?


Thursday afternoon at 4:30 Eastern time/3:30 Central, I'll be giving this short talk on a paper that has been simmering for a while, and got thoughtful articles in response from Joyce Vance, Barb McQuade, and others (which are printed in the same issue). It's free and open to anyone, so feel free to register here.

Monday, February 07, 2022


Warming up

 I'm not quite sure how, but my dad and Desiree ended up doing variations on a theme in addressing my topic of warming up.

My dad went first:

stomp the snow off boots
take gloves off then take boots off
coat off then brandy.

Then Desiree followed up:

Stomp the snow off boots
Take gloves off then take boots off
Coat off….hot shower.

Christine, willing to depart from the template, offered this:

Some tomato soup
And a grilled cheese sandwich should
Do the trick nicely.

Sunday, February 06, 2022


Sunday Reflection: The Good Church

 It is a very hard time for many, many churches. Church membership was falling before COVID, and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated that trend. The period without in-person worship sent a lot of people adrift, and it is still unclear in many churches what the post-pandemic world is going to look like. It might be a time to re-make some churches, and I want to talk about the ideal.

A good church offers four things, all with a focus on Christ: Respite, Wisdom, Challenge, and Joy. It is very hard to do all four well. Some churches are strong on joy and not so great on wisdom. Others are wonderful at creating a respite, but do nothing to challenge their members. The combinations of failure are many, but the fulfillment of all is rare. I've seen it, and when it is there it is incredible.

By respite, I mean that the church offers a haven from a world that gives us harshness, hatred, competition, and heartache. That respite can be a calm place, a loving voice, or the warmth of a group. In the liturgy, respite can be achieved by silence, music, and welcome.

By wisdom, I mean that the church offers up truth from the deep well of scripture, and addresses the concerns of the world through the long history of the faith and the elegance of the Gospels. In the liturgy, it primarily comes through the sermon-- and we all know the difference between a sermon full of wisdom and one without it!

By challenge, I mean that the church is willing to do more than affirm existing beliefs, by taking Christian principles to address the too-easy assumptions of our culture. For example, we live in a society that celebrates wealth, but share a faith that focuses on the worth of those who are not wealthy. That requires us to challenge the role of money in the way people are valued. Racism, too, is something that our imperatives require be challenged. In the liturgy, challenge can be offered in the sermon, but also in the projects and discussions among those in the congregation.

Finally, by joy, I mean that church can provide that transcendent awareness of the divine that fills our hearts. In the liturgy, music can bring this to us, or it can come from a beautiful moment of wholeness elsewhere.

It is a tall order-- but a good aspiration.

Saturday, February 05, 2022


Live at the Soup Kitchen

 Like me, Erma Franklin (and her younger sister Aretha) was a Detroiter. This was filmed live at the Soup Kitchen there:

Friday, February 04, 2022


Haiku Friday: Warming Up

 This is the heart of winter, at least where I live-- and this week, winter visited most of the country, with cold and snow deep into the South.

So, what do you do to warm up? We all have our favorite routines. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

Nothing warms me up
Quite like a big bowl of soup
Twice, if you make it.

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

Thursday, February 03, 2022


Political Mayhem Thursday: Canada Chaos!


Canada has handled the pandemic better than we Americans, with lower death and infection rates and higher rates of vaccination. That doesn't mean all is well north of the border, though.

Protesters against vaccine and mask mandates, some of them in long-haul trucks, have been creating mayhem in and around the capital city of Ottawa. They have blocked the border crossing with the US, taken over some streets, desecrated monuments, and apparently even swiped food from a homeless shelter. And it's not just in Ottawa-- out west, the northern terminus of I-15 in Montana comes to an abrupt halt, as truckers have blocked the entry into Canada.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Trudeau has COVID, and is confined at home. 

In many nations, it seems there is a vocal minority for whom the biggest issue is resistance to public health measure. Someday, a good sociological study of all this will done, but for now we just have to wonder....

Wednesday, February 02, 2022


Wordle takes over the World(le)


Yeah, it happened-- I got sucked into the Wordle-verse last week, and now I am hooked. It only sucks up five minutes of my day, so it is a lot less intrusive hobby than, say, golf!

If you haven't tried Wordle, you should. Just go to this website, and you can play for free. There are no ads. Beware of fakes-- lots of people are trying to make money off of it.

The game is pretty simple. The object is to guess a five-letter word. You begin with a five-letter word of your choosing (it has to be a real word). The game tells you if you got any letters right-- a green background if it is in the right spot, and a yellow background if it is in the answer, but not in the right place. Let's imagine the puzzle answer is "SPENT." I might use as my first word (not knowing the answer) "BLANK." 

The game would tell me-- with a green background-- that there is an N in the answer, and that it is in the right place. The rest of it would be gray, telling me that B, L, A, and K are not in the answer.

So, next, I might guess "GRANT." Now, the puzzle will tell me that the N and the T are in the right place, so I have _ _ _ NT.  Hmmm.... and I also know that G and R are not in the answer.

For my third guess, I might enter "SURNT," which will be rejected because it is not a word. Oops. So, now I try SPENT, and I am done!

It's worth five minutes...

Tuesday, February 01, 2022


Bitcoin Bust


I'm fascinated by a lot of things right now: The Supreme Court, the 2024 presidential race, Wordle, the 5th season of Better Call Saul... but I really couldn't care less about cryptocurrencies.
In short, cryptocurrencies are fiat currencies not tied to any nation and which utilize a tracking mechanism called blockchain, which operated on the internet. There are several varieties of cryptocurrencies, with the best-known one being Bitcoin.
In a way, they aren't that different than US dollars, which are also a fiat currency-- meaning that they are not backed by anything like gold or silver. Dollars have value because people act like they do. The same is true of Bitcoin: their value is determined by the demand for them and the supply available, not by any kind of inherent value.
In the long run, the problem for cryptocurrencies is that don't really provide anything we don't already have. You can pay for some things using crypto, but you can already use dollars for that, for relatively low transaction costs. Yes, some people made a lot of money when crypto was soaring in value-- and a lot of people lost money in the last several months, when crypto crashed. Investing in crypto is investing in pure speculation -- there is nothing really there, no land, no business, no room full of ingots. It's a numerical value placed on hope. Or delusion. 
Most stocks are bought by sophisticated investors, either individually or through large funds. Crypto, in contrast, is largely being snapped up by unsophisticated investors-- 55% lack a college degree.  As usual, the riskiest bets are being made by the people least able to evaluate that risk.
But... everyone knows someone who made a ton on Bitcoin, right? Sadly, that moment is probably gone.  

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