Saturday, April 30, 2022


Interesting, but...

 I'm not sure the K-Pop guys have the whole Western theme down. For one thing, a car shouldn't appear. Also, no guns is good, but weird. There's more....

Friday, April 29, 2022


Haiku Friday: Rivers


Rivers literally shape our lives-- they carve out mountains, bring water to crops, created pathways to go from here to there, and mark our boundaries. Let's honor them this week. Here, I will go first:

Minnehaha Creek
Like a string drop't on the ground
Brings us the good life.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2022


Political Mayhem Thursday: Pandemic and politics

 Is it just me, or have all the political actors in the US, across the political spectrum, pretty much just have given up on taking measures to mitigate the spread of covid?

The line seems to be that the numbers have improved to the point where we no longer need such measures. But... that doesn't match the data, which shows numbers of infections going up right now. Perhaps the hope is that the number of hospitalizations and deaths won't increase this time (and there is some evidence to support that). Thus, we can lighten up a little (or a lot) because the consequences aren't that bad. It will be like a recurring and particularly bad flu.

Hospitalizations and (especially) deaths are usually trailing indicators, following a spike in cases by at least a few weeks. So perhaps we haven't gotten there yet, but in places like DC and NYC where the numbers went up a while ago for infections, that has not been the case.

The fear, I suppose, is that the virus will mutate and become more deadly, and we will have lost the will to take public health measures to fight it.

But I sure hope not...

Wednesday, April 27, 2022


What Now, Twitter?


Now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter, a lot of people are freaking out.

He paid $44 billion for it-- with a "b"-- which is enough money to do any number of more worthwhile things. That's more than the annual GDP for the nation of Uganda, after all.  But, that's what he wanted to do.

Now that he has taken it private, he has signaled that he wants it to be a place for "free speech." He doesn't seem to be totally clear on what that is (usually, it refers to limits on government, not private actors), but it will probably mean that people like Donald Trump will be welcome back to Twitter.

Which, of course, will totally screw over Donald Trump. He started his own Twitter clone, labeled "Truth" (instead of Tweets, you send Truths), and that will probably dissolve if he and his friends drift back to Twitter. In the end, few think he will be able to resist.

But if he does, we can all choose whether to pay attention or not. No one will make you read his tweets, after all. 

The danger of disinformation is real, though-- there is no doubt that Russia, among others, used Twitter to spread state-sponsored disinformation about important American issues. And that, in the end, could cause real problems.

I'm not quitting Twitter. I'll be interested to see how many people do so for good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022


Criminal Law in the news

 Rumor has it that some clemency grants will be issued by President Biden today. I'm encouraged by that, even if they are easy ones, because at least it indicates a willingness to use the mechanism. 

One thing about criminal law is that it is nearly always going to be in the news one way or another-- there is no danger of it being irrelevant. It serves, I suppose, as a way to gauge the tragedy around us in a discernible way, something we can see and hear.

Other times, of course, it can be straight-up confusing:

Monday, April 25, 2022



So many good poems! Christine went first:

Garden catalogs
Arrive thru winter, tempting,
A feast for my eyes.

She also went last:

Freeze warnings have past...
Warming soil, fresh herbs planted
Maybe aome okra.

As I hoped, Desiree visited:

And Michimom!:

Preparing soil for
the French breakfast radishes
I find nettles, ouch!

The Medievalist always brings quality:

My new tomatoes
Seem happy enough so
Fruit is hoped for.

As does IPLawGuy (also-- I always though Bok Choy came from a lab):

radishes, cabbage, thyme
bok choy, lettuce, edamame
peppers and much more.

But my dad gets the last word:

The gardener who
planted all the wildflowers
never takes credit.

Sunday, April 24, 2022


After Easter


Lent and Advent are such distinctive parts of the liturgical year. Often I have reveled in the depth of meaning that comes with those rhythms.  
But... COVID seems to have thrown everything off, including that. I wouldn't say that my faith is diminished in any way, but it's undeniable that my attachment to some of the things that have been a part of my faith seem faded. Easter didn't seem to inspire emotion in me the way that it usually does.
Recently, I had a bad bout of COVID myself-- even after three shots and mostly being careful. But it got me anyways, and when it did, it got me good. 
Some people describe a loss of taste and smell when they got COVID, but that wasn't exactly what I experienced. Instead, it just seemed like things tasted different (once I got back to eating after a few days of abstaining). I would look down at my bowl of Grape-Nuts, this breakfast I have eaten since I was a kid, and in just tasted.... strange. The milk wasn't sour. I don't think it is possible for Grape-Nuts to get stale (they kind of start out that way). And yet, they tasted like something completely unfamiliar. Not bad, necessarily, but it was unsettling, like finding out that your car had changed color on its own somehow.
 The pandemic seems to have done something like that with these markers of my faith. 
How does one recover from that? 

Saturday, April 23, 2022


Larry Bird

 I was never a Larry Bird fan, but this is an interesting take-- forward it to the 2 minute mark to get past some commercials:


Friday, April 22, 2022


Haiku Friday: Watcha Planting?


It's not quite planting season here, but it is most places in the US-- and of course, even in Minnesota we can daydream. So let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:

Planted a new fence
Now, must re-plant the hosta 
And pray for warmth!

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

Thursday, April 21, 2022


PMT: The Hidden Cost of the Pandemic


Almost exactly two years ago, on April 16, 2020, I wrote here about my fear that the pandemic-- then just gearing up-- would devastate educational attainment, particularly for the poor and minorities. Here is part of what I wrote then:

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...

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.

It appears that my fear is coming true, unfortunately. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that about 22% of American students are on track to be considered "chronically absent" by the end of the year, about twice the normal level. Sadly, the worst of it is falling on poor and minority communities, meaning that this will deepen and widen the troubling disparities in our society, including income and wealth gaps that are already shockingly wide. 

Part of the problem is that once people drift away from going to school, it is really hard to get them back. I see this even among kids ripe for college-- if they take a "gap year" without a firm plan for the end of that year, it tends to turn into a gap lifetime. 

It's a common reaction to blame the kids, or the families of those kids, who don't go to school. That's too easy, though, and it solves no problem. If we continue to exacerbate the disparities in our society, it will be bad for us all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022


The Pivot to Writing


One thing I love about my job is the rhythm of it-- this season shift from teaching, to grading, to writing, and back again. The tasks are profoundly different: Teaching is entirely social, and all about interacting with others. In a way, it is putting on a show. Writing (and, to a lesser extent, grading) is a solitary endeavor, one where you have to be comfortable with quiet and one's own thoughts. 

I'm an introvert, so the writing part is more natural to me than the teaching-- I have to kind of force myself up there to perform. (I've gotten better at it, though-- the graduating students chose me as the "Professor of the Year" this year).  That means that the end of the school year is kind of an exhale moment for me.

I try not to be the kind of writer that Calvin describes above. I want to make complicated things simple, not complicate simple things (which is what too much academic writing does).  My own style has evolved, but I think it's in a good place now. Here are a couple of recent things I have written that have gotten engaged responses (just click on the link, then click on "download"):

What We Got Wrong in the War on Drugs

The First Step Act and the Brutal Timidity of Criminal Law Reform

Clemency as the Soul of the Constitution

You can link to a bunch of other pieces (some co-authored with people smarter than me) here.

I've got three major writing projects this summer. For William and Mary, I'm doing a piece on the Trump administration's use of clemency. I'm going to be working with Rachel Barkow on a new commissioned article on clemency in the modern era. And finally, I'm going to get work done on a big-picture think piece with the central thesis that complexity in criminal law leads to injustice. 

And that's going to be plenty to do!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022


My Covid Story


This Spring has been... not-so-great. Most recently, I had covid. I'm better now, but it was kind of rough there for a while.
I developed a few symptoms and took an at-home test, which immediately offered up a thick red line showing that I had it. It was a Wednesday morning, April 6. It hit me hard and fast. I had fever, chills, headache, and my bones hurt. 
Prior to this, I had feared quarantine because it seemed like it would be so boring. But that wasn't really the issue. All I wanted to do was lie still and be quiet and not move. If I left my bed I started shivering and felt woozy. I stopped eating-- which, for me, is a really bad sign. I just had no desire to have anything to eat. I mostly laid motionless for 48 hours. After that, I slowly started to improve, but it was a slog. I stayed in my room alone for about 8 days straight.
It was odd to emerge into a world convinced that the pandemic was over, this surreal contrast between public perception and my own reality. I realize that an anecdote-- my own experience-- is not data. But still, it was jarring.
Before getting COVID, I had both shots (of Moderna) and a booster. I'll get the 4th shot. But that is the sickest that I have been in a very long time-- probably ever. 
Does anyone else think that maybe the end of covid isn't nigh?
At any rate, it is good to be back.

Monday, April 18, 2022


Bee poems!

 I knew Desiree couldn't resist this topic! I just knew it. And I was right:

Son says,” I want bees”
Mom says, “You must join 4H”
Now we’re bee keepers!

We also heard from Christine (by the way, your old house looks ok):

The Carpenter Bees
After pollinating blooms
Drill holes in our eaves.

And, fortunately, from the Medievalist:

Natural workers,
Buzzing in the holly buds,
April in Waco.

And from my Dad:

"Buzzin of the bees
in the honeysuckle trees"
those were simpler times.

Sunday, April 17, 2022


Sunday Reflection: Re-Creation at Easter


It's Easter, and I am back with my parents and other family, back in the house where I grew up. It's so good to be able to go back to these familiars.
It's an unusual place-- the home of a working artist. In the back yard, where he paints, there are usually a few pieces laying around, in the middle of being completed. There are some that seem done, but aren't really. That's because my dad can never really stop. In my own dining room is an abstract that he painted over 60 years ago, probably. Yet sometimes, when he is visiting, he will change something on it-- it's never quite done. I will walk by and see a glisten on a streak of blue, and know that while I was out he made an amendment that in a way makes it something new.
So, Jesus....
If you accept that God created this world, Jesus is the evidence that he was not done with it, that it is a work in progress. Like that wet daub of blue, Jesus was an addition to what had been created, but one that made it something new.
And Easter is when the brushstroke was done. We live in the moments after, wondering how this new color changes the whole, and working that out with love and determination and wonder.

Saturday, April 16, 2022




Wordle seems to have some legs-- people are still playing! I know I am. My parents do it together every morning as a team. 
I'm not one of those people with a remarkable winning streak-- I know the pain of defeat.
Are you Wordling?

Friday, April 15, 2022


Haiku Friday: Bees!


Where I live, there are different kinds of bees. Tiny ones, frantic, zipping from here to there. Normal ones, traveling in groups, descending on one shrub before moving on to another. And then, my favorites: the giant fuzzy bees that come in late summer, feasting in the backyard.
We depend on bees. Let's haiku about them this week. Here, I will go first:
Fuzzy buzzy friends
I look for your flight patterns
Many mysteries....
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, April 14, 2022


PMT: Death in a red state


If your only source of news is a right-wing outlet, you might be convinced that the most dangerous places in the United States are cities like San Francisco or New York, but that is just not true-- and it's not even close. Violent crime rates in cities like Memphis, Indianapolis, and St. Louis are far higher. 
Consistent with recent history, the most dangerous states to be in are in the deep south-- Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama, at least in terms of homicide per capita (which is the measure that really matters if you care about personal safety. The map above reflects CDC data from 2020 for homicides.  
What really correlates with homicide-- whether we are looking at cities, states, or within a political entity right down to neighborhoods-- is poverty. Regardless of race, it is poor people who most often end up the victims of (and perpetrators of) violent crime.  
Fix poverty, and you go a long way to fixing violent crime. Nearly all of us who work in the field know this.
But you don't hear much talk about that when we talk about violent crime.
Of course, the other thing that would help, anyplace, would be solving more homicides. Over time, even with the advantage of DNA and increased budgets, police have gotten worse at that:


Wednesday, April 13, 2022


The Subway Shooting


Yesterday during the morning rush hour, a man on the NYC subway set off smoke bombs and then started to shoot the other people in his subway car. Ten people were shot and several more hurt in the resulting tumult. The police are seeking a man named Frank James, who apparently boarded the train five miles from the Sunset Park station where he began shooting. Mr. James has had addresses in Wisconsin and Philadelphia.
Why would someone do that? We don't know much about Mr. James, and should be cautious in certainty that it was him in the first place-- we have a way of being wrong about those things, after all. The press has linked James to a YouTube channel in the name of ProphetofDoom88. It's a weird moniker, since "88" is often used by white supremacists to refer to Hitler (H is the 8th letter, so Heil Hitler is 88).  This video largely recounts a mass shooting in Milwaukee. 
But imagine being locked into a subway car filling with smoke and realizing that someone is shooting. There is no where to go. You can't see anything.
That's terror.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022


What now, Smokey?


Like many people, I have a special fondness for Smokey the Bear, the National Forest Service's beloved mascot. Part of that, of course, is based on the toy Smokey a friend had, where the recording wore out a little bit so that he said "Start forest fires!" and "Play with matches!" I guess that is one risk of putting the negative at the start of the sentence. But it totally cracked me up to hear Smokey advocating for... you know, burning down the forest.

But, mostly, he's a bear, and we deal with bears a lot on this blog:

Patient Bear
Super Sugar Bear
The Brown Univ. Bear
Angry Teddy Bear
Spirit Walker
The Baylor Bear (x5)
(and non-bear predecessors)
Grar the Panda
Argbf the Panda
Super Sugar Bear again

Most of the bears have jobs of one kind or another-- promoting a cereal, guarding a law school, being President, etc.-- but Smokey is the only one with such a singular mission, armed only with a shovel.

Some people think Smokey has made things worse by limiting the positive role that fire can play in forests, and leading to a build-up of fuel for fires in vulnerable places. And, of course, Smokey's message doesn't relate to a lot of the other problems forests have, or issues related to climate change. This article sums it up well and included this deeply troubling depiction of Smokey in the modern day:

Monday, April 11, 2022



 There were only a few haiku this week (maybe the hockey-related theme isn't as broadly attractive as I thought), but they were good ones!

We had this from Christine:
A new recipe
Ingredients in the house
The stars aligned.

And this from our favorite Medievalist:

The taxes are done,
Always a dry victory,
Another year gone.

Sunday, April 10, 2022


Sunday Reflection: On Freedom


I have an op-ed in today's Minneapolis paper about bail-- you can read it here.  It's a pretty simple piece really, rooted in the obvious connection between bail and the American principle that people accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
There is another bit in there that expresses something that is simple, but has always been deeply meaningful to me:
There is always a trade-off between liberty and safety; that's the underlying dynamic of criminal law. If we deprive more people of freedom, we achieve some measure of safety. After all, if we imprison half the population, we would incarcerate a number of people who otherwise would commit crimes.
Liberty is explicit in the Constitution; safety from crime is not. We are a freedom-loving people, but not so much a safety-loving people. And that's ok; there is inevitably a trade-off. Every crime that is added to the books takes away the freedom to do something, after all.

Even though I'm not one of those people waving around a flag that says "liberty!" I am pretty much all about it. I think individual citizens should be as little restricted by the government as possible. It's unpopular take when it comes to things like bail, but... I've got the freedom to have unpopular opinions!


Saturday, April 09, 2022


Frozen Four Finale


Michigan saw itself winning the Frozen Four pretty easily, it seems. And they were justified-- the team is loaded with seven first-round NHL draft picks and several members of the US Olympic Team. But they lost in overtime to Denver-- you can see the winning goal above, where a Denver player wanders into the slot without anyone noticing, and then picking up the rebound unmolested. The Michigan defenseman put much more effort into breaking his stick after the goal than he did in the moment before, defending the slot.
[Side note: I am a Michigan fan for everything but hockey. If their team were to lose all their games next year and then get demoted to D-II, I'd be fine with that. Although I don't think that's how it works]
 Tonight's final will feature Denver vs. Minnesota State-Mankato. The Denver team is mostly Canadians (roster here), while Mankato is full of Minnesota kids.
Meanwhile... what happened to all those teams from the East? Hmmm.....

Friday, April 08, 2022


Haiku Friday: Winning


As you all know (well, as a few of you know), this weekend is the Frozen Four-- the college hockey championships. Last night, Denver beat Michigan in overtime, and Minnesota State-Mankato beat the University of Minnesota. A good night for underdogs... but I was kind of hoping for an all-Big-10 final!
Those Michigan guys look pretty down; we all know that feeling. But let's haiku about the other side: how it feels to have something go right.
Here, I will go first:
A quiet morning
I pick up my office phone
And call a prison.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!

Thursday, April 07, 2022


PMT: Wild Kingdoms

 A note from management: Yesterday I came down with COVID, and it's kinda bad. Among other things, I have a fever. And.... probably I should not blog with a fever, because my mind gets a little weird. But I have blogged every day since September of 2006, so here goes:

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was Wild Kingdom, a nature show. There were two hosts, Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. Their division of responsibilities was pretty stark-- usually Marlin Parkins stayed behind in the Jeep while Jim was tasked with taking down the hippo. It was so lopsided, that it even became a running bit on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

The thing is, most people I know would want to be Jim, not Marlin Perkins. We want to be in the middle of the action, to make things happen. It's innate in a lot of people (including me).

That can be a very productive instinct when situations arise, since someone is willing to go tackle them. There no doubt is an evolutionary aspect to it.

But it can be problematic when there is not a crisis or challenge-- when things are rolling along ok. In those slack times, the Jim Fowler's of the world sometimes create a situation, and that is often bad.

I wonder if that is part of what we are seeing with Russia invading Ukraine.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022




Did I have Kansas winning the Final Four? No. (In fact, I did not correctly pick even ONE team in the Final Four). Have I rooted for Kansas in the past? Also, no. Have I actively rooted against Kansas in every game they have ever played. Yes. But still, I found myself wanting them to win the Championship somehow, and they did.
Maybe it was the memory of Josh Zive, one of my favorite Baylor students, arriving for mock trial practice in full Jayhawk regalia (it was something amazing).  Maybe it was the comeback they managed. Maybe it's just that I like UNC even less.
At any rate, the Big 12 has now won two championships in a row, which is rare (at least since UCLA's dominance). That brings the league's total (not including two Big 8 wins) up to 4, which matches the all-time total of the Missouri Valley Conference and far behind the ACC and PAC-12, which have 15 each. 
It was quite a year for sports-- and it's a long way until fall, when things start back up again in earnest (unless, like IPLawGuy, you are person who goes to a lot of baseball games and fills out a scorecard). 

Tuesday, April 05, 2022


What to do about war crimes?


As Russia pulls back from the Kiev area, evidence of horrible war crimes is emerging: mass graves, civilians shot with their hands tied, etc. It's deeply disturbing. There really is no "both-sides-ing" this war. The Russians invaded Ukraine without provocation and have violated even the few rules that supposedly apply to war. 
But what to do about it?
The United States has already imposed most of the sanctions we can, with mixed results. Europe could make a difference by rejecting Russian oil and gas, but that would possibly degrade their own economies (revealing the long-term mistake of relying too heavily on Russia in the first place). 
What about prosecuting those responsible? There is a court for that-- the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But... the United States has never ratified the treaty which created the Court, meaning we are not a part of it. Six other countries voted against it along with us: China, Yemen, Libya, Qatar, Iraq, and Israel. 
If we care about war crimes it is time the US joins the nations involved in the Court that holds people accountable for war crimes. 

Monday, April 04, 2022


A wealth of weather poems

 Ah, weather-- it is always with us, and always important. People did nice things with the topic this week! And a theme emerged, on the particular problem of April.

There was this gem from Desiree:
Cute little toddler
wearing a green Easter dress
under a parka.

Which was echoed by the Medievalist:

Huge flakes of snow fall,
On green grass and daffodils,
April is so cruel.

And Your Tim(e) Has Come:

The hope of April
That winter snow is no more
Doth make us all fools
And even Jill Scoggins:

85 degrees
at midnight, 45 at
6. Spring is confused.
Meanwhile, "Mr. Rock" (?) was working a little dark:

Black snow, green grass, and
A nest of cigarette butts
Cleveland, a still life.

Sunday, April 03, 2022


Sunday Reflection: Summer Beckons


This has been a strange year so far: I feel like I have been super-busy yet have not gotten much done. Of course, as a teacher, you don't always know what you are getting done, the impact you are having-- you only find out much later, if ever.
I find myself yearning for a break, for a road trip. I kind of need some time where I am not responsible for five meetings and a class or two and then some other stuff. 
And that's part of being human. We are constructed that way. And as with other things, our faith takes that into account: we have a designated day of rest, holidays, and the example of Christ basically going on a road trip now and then. 
Several years ago on a Saturday I was walking on a Brooklyn street. The day had become warm. A man, an Orthodox Jew, hailed me over to his doorway and asked me to turn on the fan. It seemed like an odd request, but I was happy to help, and when I went into the apartment I saw a whole scene. Some kids were playing a game. A woman was taking a nap. I turned on the fan and figured it all out later.
Sometimes, I still think about them.

Saturday, April 02, 2022


She's Baaaaack....


Yesterday, Sarah Palin announced that she is running for Alaska's lone seat in the House of Representatives. The seat became open when longtime Alasaka Rep Don Young (he had served in Congress since 1973) died last month. Palin says she wants to run because she has "watched the far left destroy the country." 
Wait... America has been destroyed? When did that happen and how did I miss it? I do think that kind of rhetoric, by either side, is either rational or patriotic. None of the recent administrations have "wrecked America." Sheesh.
Anyways, if she wins, she'll only be the fifth or sixth goofiest member of the House. At least it would be good for Tina Fey:


Friday, April 01, 2022


Haiku Friday: Weather


It's kind of a weird time of year. The long days give me hope-- but there is snow on the ground here and there. Driving to work, cars are in the ditch, victims of ice. But next week, who knows? It might be biking weather again.
Let's haiku about all that this week. Here, I will go first:
If I saw flowers
I would not trust their frail blooms
The cruelest season.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

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