Friday, March 31, 2023


Haiku Friday: Grief


I am feeling grief right now, and most of you have at some time, too. We might as well haiku about it, right?
Here, I will go first:
It comes on cat feet
And stares at me, expectant
It can be so still.
[Carl Sandburg described fog as coming "on little cat feet." That, I think, was a poem about grief, so I started there]
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and your heart. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023


PMT: Protecting our children


There are two mindsets among us that completely baffle me:
1) People who, somehow, think it is a good idea to shoot children or people at a concert or parishioners at a church Bible study. I mean... how does that thought process, however affected by mental illness, even work? In what possible world, however twisted, is the answer to any conceivable problem "shoot random people?" 
2) Those who believe that the real threat to American kids is trans people and library books. How, in any frame of mind, could one read about what happened in Nashville-- or Uvalde, or Sandy Hook, or etc etc etc etc etc-- and come to that conclusion?  
Probably, for both of these attitudes, people are conditioned to think irrational things by stuff they find on the internet or television. At some point, though, the rest of us have to hold them accountable for this fantastically bad conclusions, and call them on it. The Nashville shooter was living with parents, but those parents didn't seem to know what was going on-- or didn't care to know. 
Terrible ideas don't kill people, but people with terrible ideas do kill people. It's gotta become more important to confront and reject terrible ideas.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023




One of the things I am really grateful for right now is that this blog-- and all of you-- allowed me to be in a place right now where I'm not wishing I had told my dad how I felt before he died last Saturday. I did tell him, here. Going back for Sunday's post, I was struck by how often I wrote what almost felt like a eulogy. I've posted below what I wrote here in 2012 (adapted from a 2010 post) that might be the best example. In the comments, Jill Scoggins wrote about losing her own parents, and urged me to make the best of the time I had with my own-- and I have. Sometimes, you all are my best advisors. 
I know he read it, too, because he responded in the comments section with more eloquence than I had offered. Below is the post and then, in bold, his response. As he usually did, he deflected the praise to talk about someone else.
So.... this is from 2012:
I woke up this morning thinking about my dad. As I get older, I realize new ways in which I am like him, for better or for worse-- mostly to the better. Many of his best qualities I only aspire to, and am far from achieving. Here are a few of the things I received from my father, some of which are gifts I have yet to fully accept:

1) My father has the amazing ability to see beauty in all things, in all places. An empty lot is not an eyesore to be filled up; rather it a place to gather wildflowers, to marvel at a pheasant, through which to see a vista. To him, people and things are inherently imbued with meaning, and the challenge of life is to draw that meaning out, to hold it in one's hand and marvel at it.

2) He has a love for and acceptance of complex people. He knows their flaws, and loves them anyways. A life presented to him as perfect is suspect and false, but one with dents and bruises is real and gorgeous. He is drawn to those who struggle, and recognizes that this is a group that includes us all. When he wants to help people, as he often does, it is rarely to change them in a fundamental way, but to help them be the way they see themselves, so long as that is an honest view. That's how he loves things that are broken and flawed, like the City of Detroit, or me.

3) He says and does the unexpected. He does not have the filter of "what will people think?" I don't always know the source of his internal moral compass, but it is always there and often points in a different direction than the norm. In what I have found to be a guidepost for the best kind of impulse towards justice, his primary concern is for people who are not like him. He's not one of those dads who grumbles about the taxes he must pay as the nation's greatest injustice, but rather is passionate about the unfairnesses inflicted on those who do not have his advantages.

D) He had the strength to seek out and marry a woman, my mother, who was (and is) beautiful and intelligent and probably a little intimidating to many people. She was a professional, a scientist, and apparently a pretty good skier, and he had the good sense to woo her with his own beat poetry (including the infamous classic that began with the lines "Oh, building of glass and spinach/Dogs fornicate in front of the children...")

5) He accepts wisdom from all sources. Literally, a homeless man in the Cass Corridor can be as wise to him as Plato. He rarely drops the name of anyone famous, but often quotes the words and stories of the humbled. Of course, that means that he does what so many of us don't do-- he listens to the stories of the humbled.

6) He gives freely. Even when he himself has been in need, he sometimes seems blind to this while still giving to others.

7) He has never, not once, in any way, revealed a prejudice of any kind. Though he would not articulate it this way, I have never met another person who so clearly lived out the Quaker ideal of seeing the light of God in every person.

8) He creates constantly. It did not stop at a certain time-- creation, with him, is life, all of it.

9) He is ceaselessly optimistic about us all. When he sees a storm, it is always the "trailing edge"-- which is perhaps the best personal philosophy of all.

If you know John Shipman Osler, Jr., you know these things to be true. As my faith develops, I find that the lessons of Christ are often not so different than the lessons of my father, and that makes me love them both all the more.
And here was my dad's response in the comments section:
Mark; I would like to be the person you describe. Thank you.

This morning the first image of my father that came to my mind was of his face when he found something in life that delighted him. He was a strong man physically and had a firmness that seldom wavered, but it was his vulnerability that I remembered. This makes me aware that as we try to demonstrate to our children our strength, constancy, and authority, we, hopefully, will be remembered for our gentleness, kindness, openness, curiosity,and our ability to listen.

My father's face, at those moments of joy is the face I see when I think of my children and grandchildren. Thanks again. Dad

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


The Loft


My dad did much of his work in a loft over a store in the Eastern Market, which to some people is the heart of Detroit. It's a gathering place where people from all over come to buy fruit and vegetables and all sorts of other things, depending on the day. It was kind of the perfect place for my dad to do what he does-- he just had to look out the window to see all sorts of interesting people. 
It was dusty. Much of the space was taken up by the store for storage. On Saturdays, sometimes people just wandered in from the market. Musicians practiced next door, and that could be good or bad, depending on the musicians. But there really was a magic to it, and I'll miss it. 

Monday, March 27, 2023


Haiku and omission

 Every Monday here, I recap the haiku from the week before. In doing that, I always looked first to my dad's entries, which were at times profound and other times confusing, and either way I loved them and will miss them.

This week (on the topic of "Oops!") we had this from Gavin:
 Mask in the airport?
You’re overreacting, dude.
March, 2020
And from Desiree:
Came home from Berlin.
They asked, “Will that wall ever
 fall?” “No way!” said I. 

The Medievalist was here:
I thought she would last
Forever, but I was wrong,
Wasn’t the first time.

As was Christine:

First time making bread
Kneaded, waited, dough still flat
Yeast had expired.

Sunday, March 26, 2023


John Osler, Jr.: August 3, 1935-March 25, 2023


A while ago, someone summed up a real truth about my upbringing: It was so rare because it combined adventure with stability.  Those two things don't usually go together. But that was the amazing thing about the father I had; he was able to give his children both.
Yesterday morning, he passed away from the aftershocks of a heart attack two weeks ago. It was a hard day.
He was many things, and I have described a lot of them here over the years. Here are a few memories:
The Trailing Edge
The John Lewis Portrait
Cornell v. Michigan
Guest Blogger 
 The Good Blues Part 1
Good Blues Part 2  
James Moody
Wayne Shorter
Beauty and Light 
Hipster Dad

Detroit Jazz Festival
 There are many more, of course. This blog is a reflection of my life, and he is woven into every inch of it. Over the next few weeks, I'll have more memories, and you may have some of your own.

Saturday, March 25, 2023


Mean, and sometimes not funny


Friday, March 24, 2023


Haiku Friday: Oops! Got that one wrong


I've been really wrong about some stuff lately.
My bracket had Purdue winning the tournament.
And when I was visiting my dad in the hospital, the cardiologist mentioned a heart catheter. "Right, that's when they have a tube with a camera at the end go into the heart valves? Or a tiny submarine?"
The doctor seemed bemused. "No, it's just a little tube. No tiny camera or submarine."
I realized later that my mistake was based on a grievous misunderstanding of a Magic School Bus episode. Oops!
So let's haiku about that this week-- those moments where we were just kinda wrong. Here, I will go first:
Yeah, I chose Purdue
And Kansas. Baylor. Marquette.
Not looking so good.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5//7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!

Thursday, March 23, 2023


PMT: Post-Trump... consensus?

 I was really intrigued by this Thomas Lane piece in the Washington Post. His main point is that while there is a lot of rhetorical divide, there is broad bipartisan consensus on some very important matters of policy, specifically:

-- The view that China is an adversary.
-- Distrust of international trade agreements and a desire to rebuild domestic manufacturing
-- A desire to leave Medicare and Social Security alone
-- An aversion to tax increases except on the very rich
-- A hostility to some corporations, particularly in social media and pharma

To that list, I would add a few more (that do not come from the Trump agenda):

-- There is a broad consensus to support the Ukrainians in their defense against Russia
-- A consensus that crime is going up and must be addressed through law enforcement

On the last of these, of course, I have opinions. There is a false thesis, after all-- crime in many places (included where I live) is going down, not up.

It doesn't feel like we  are living in an age of consensus-- but in some ways, we are.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


No train for you!


Here we see Eleanor Roosevelt traversing LaGuardia Airport in New York, exhibiting the same attitude as nearly everyone else who has done the same.
Yes, LaGuardia is not a complete hole any more-- a recent refurbishing makes it seem more like a place for humans. But getting too and from LaGuardia is, sadly, going to stay about the same. New York State has shot down a plan to extend the subway to LaGuardia or build a special Air Train for it. Instead, the state says, you can take a bus!
I've taken a bus from LaGuardia, the Q70. It was slow and bad and kind of dumped us off in the middle of an intersection. We are often told that we should like busses better than trains, but that is just because they are cheaper. It's not hard to figure out why people like trains more than busses:
-- Trains don't get stuck in traffic.
-- You know where a train is going (that "Midnight train going anyyyy where" is not a real thing, because trains have to stay on a track)
--  Trains don't seem to just show up at random times the way busses do (especially in New York).
-- We all know that the plural of "train" is "trains." But no one is really sure how many s's should go in the plural of "bus."

Monday, March 20, 2023


Tuesday Reflection: Mr. Brown


Among the things strewn around the breakfast room when my dad had his heart attack was a description of this painting he did. A version of it is in the study of Randall O'Brien, and probably a few others are out there, as well.
Apparently, my dad was driving in the Mississippi Delta on a Sunday morning, near the city of Jonestown. There was a little country church with cars in front of it, so my dad went in (he's like that). When he got inside, the first thing he found was a children's Sunday School class being taught by Mr. Brown, pictured here. They were learning the parable of the talents. My dad noted that he was "greeted warmly" by the children of the class, and apparently he stuck around for the whole thing!


Ear Worm

There was just one haiku this week, but it was a good one! Thanks, Desiree:
Too scared of getting
hit by a rogue snowboarder,
she skis to ear worms. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023


Sunday Reflection: At the Hospital

It wasn't quite the Spring Break I expected.
As I wrote about last week, my dad suffered a heart attack a week ago Friday. I went to Detroit and was there until Monday, then went back to Minneapolis for a night, then to Colorado to meet IPLawGuy for a shortened ski trip of two days, and then back to Detroit.  
My dad is slowly getting better. It's a time when small moments become very important. And I'm trying to figure out what to make of those small moments. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023


Our future

 I'm worried that the 2024 presidential election will look like this:


Friday, March 17, 2023


Haiku Friday: The Best Ski Songs

 When I ski, I listen to music. It is a rhythmic sport, and listening to music makes me a better skier. It's surprising what songs work-- my playlist is a mix of country, rock, soul, and lot of other genres. One of my favorite ski songs is the one above.

So what would your ski song be? Let's haiku about that this week, Here, I will go first:

I traverse a rise
As the singer clears his throat
Then it's time to fly.

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

Thursday, March 16, 2023




As I mentioned here a few days ago, my dad suffered a major heart attack on Friday of last week, and nearly died (well, technically, he was dead for a while before being revived). 
He remains in the ICU, and his condition has been up and down. The peak was on Sunday, when he was communicative and funny and seemed to be coming back. Since then, there have been some setbacks, but there is still hope for a recovery and the doctors, nurses, and other people at St. John's have been working hard. 
It's a difficult time for my family, of course, but we are pulling together and doing our best to support my mom.  Yesterday, his friend Luis Resto came in and played the accordion for him.
There is a certain helplessness to all this that is difficult for us all, but most of all for my dad. He wants to get out of bed and drive home, and that is not in the near future.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023


The Tournament Begins


Last night, March Madness began with the first play-in games between 16 and 11 seeds. Here are some of my thoughts on how to enjoy the tournament:
1)  Definitely try to watch the all-day basketball-palooza on Thursday and Friday of this week, when there will be games all day and into the night as the first round is completed in just two days. There will be some upsets-- the trick is guess who will be upset.
2)  Get you brackets in today! Most contests require you to turn in it by today.
3)  Snacks! Lots of snacks. I suggest popcorners, the popcorn in the shape of a chip.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023


Danger! Falling banks!


If you missed it, we seem to be in the middle of a banking crisis-- the second-largest run on banks in the modern era. 
It started, really, with a loosening under the Trump administration of regulations imposed after the 2008-9 financial crisis. That allowed banks to take more risks-- and for some, that included venturing into the quicksand we call cryptocurrency.
The first to fall was the Silicon Valley Bank, which was heavily connected to tech companies. A great majority of its deposits were over the $250,000, the upper limit for federal insurance. The question then came: will the federal government cover deposits over that limit?
To do so would seem to encourage this kind of risky behavior-- the government will always bail you out in the end. To not do so would risk a larger run on banks.
We ended up getting both-- they bailed out the bank, creating the "moral hazard" that comes with it, and more banks saw a run on their money.
This will be a crisis to watch. But, no doubt, we won't remember any lessons from it. We're not like that.

Monday, March 13, 2023


COVID Recalls

 First, thank you for your support regarding my dad. He is doing much better-- yesterday he started talking with us again, and seemed to want to drive home already, which is a good sign!

And the haiku about the pandemic was excellent!

We had this sad one from Craig (which tracks with some of my own experiences from that Spring:
Planned to retire in
June. Sent home from campus in
March … left without byes.
And Jill had a mixed bag:

No March Madness that
year. And we learned how to get
everything online.

Christine saw the good in it:
Went out to dinner
Ate outside, thinking safer...
Children everywhere.

And so did IPLawGuy:
Like many more
Did not drive my car so much
And air got cleaner.


Lemons? Lemonade!
Rode my bike all around town,
Kid Quality time.

Sunday, March 12, 2023


Sunday Reflection: The calm


This has been a hard weekend.
On Friday morning I was at my desk with a full day ahead of me. At 10 I was meeting with a local supporter of one of our clemency clients, at 11 I was to talk to a writer working on a piece for New York magazine, and then at 12 I had a zoom with some state legislators about a slate of criminal law bills I have been working on with a group of others who care deeply about that kind of thing.
Partway through the first meeting, though, I got terrible news. My dad had suffered a heart attack at home in Michigan. It sounded very bad: he collapsed at the breakfast table, and his heart was stopped until the paramedics shocked him back when they arrived. My mom's voicemail suffered from a bad connection, and the information came through scattered intelligible words: "the ambulance... your dad... heart attack.... don't know...."
I called back and didn't get an answer. I talked to a few other people who confirmed what had happened, with not much additional detail. At 11:35 I bought a ticket for a 12:45 flight and raced to the airport.
When I got to Detroit, I was terrified to check in with my mom and brother. When I did, I found out that my dad was still alive. I went straight to the hospital and wandered around for a while, not knowing how to get into the locked cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. For a long time I stood in front of a door that said "Automatic Door," assuming wrongly that the thing it did automatically was to open. Eventually I did get beyond the barriers, and found my mother and brother at the side of the bed.  And my dad was there, his big heart still beating.
He hasn't really regained consciousness yet, and the days ahead are unclear. Today we will hope for some sign of cognition. On Monday he will get a heart catheter to (hopefully) determine what went wrong. And then in the days after that will be, at best, a lot of waiting and hoping. 
My mom told me that when it happened-- when she heard his body thud on the floor amid the fistful of photos he had been holding-- a sudden calm came over her, allowing her to assess the situation and call for help right away; the help that saved him. 
She described this as we walked into the hospital yesterday morning. I waited for a car to pass and waited for her to join me in the crosswalk. I looked over at her and said " That calm-- we know that was."
She nodded: "We do."

Saturday, March 11, 2023


They Call Him "Butterbean"


Friday, March 10, 2023


Haiku Friday: Covid Memories


It was almost exactly three years ago that things really went kablooie, as schools shut down, businesses shuttered, and streets were deserted. It somehow seems very long ago. 
But not long enough. And, of course, COVID is still with us, even though it no longer structures our actions. 
Let's haiku about memories-- of those frantic days at the start of the pandemic, of having COVID, of changes to your life, of loss or things gained. Here, I will go first:
With IPLawGuy
Skiing in a sunny place
Came home to mayhem.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!

Thursday, March 09, 2023


PMT: Truth in Louisville


Pictured here is Vanita Gupta, who serves as the Associate Attorney General under Merrick Garland (we used to work on clemency issues together). Yesterday, she announced the DOJ's report on the Louisville police and their very serious issues. There were seven primary findings, but here are the ones that jumped out at me:
-- The Louisville police used unnecessary force as a matter of course, especially when they felt disrespected. That, of course, is a recipe for tragedy.
-- They also escalated routine encounters unnecessarily, meeting words with punches and punches with near-lethal force (or lethal force).
--  The Louisville police also concentrate their use of force on black residents, who disproportionately face this kind of unnecessary use of force.
-- Not surprisingly, the culture of the force encouraged these issues through lax supervision and even encouragement of these behaviors.
The DOJ is still working on a report addressing issues in the Minneapolis police department. That one should be a doozy!

Wednesday, March 08, 2023


The French on Strike


Just after college, I found myself in Paris on a summer day. It was hard not to notice, though, the turmoil in the city-- there was some kind of big strike going on that turned into a riot, complete with some level of violence and injury.
I finally asked someone (who spoke English) what was going on. He explained, as if it was a normal thing, that the travel agents were rioting because of a new tax on trips outside the country.
Now, they are striking over a plan to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62.  French workers enjoy 35-hour workweeks and at least five weeks of vacation a year, which is not unusual for Europe (which, notably, is full of very productive economies and some of the world's happiest populations). 
There is a 0% chance I will retire by 64 (or would want to), so it all seems pretty theoretical. I kind of get it, though. When workers win something, it requires a lot of work to protect it. In the United States, workers gave up a lot by voting against unions (both at work and at the polls), and those advantages aren't coming back. 
It would be a lot easier to chide the French if it weren't for the fact that their economy is very successful, their culture influences the world, and their capitol is the most-visited city in the world. They are doing something right-- and policing the rules that establish the boundaries protecting balance lives doesn't seem so crazy in that context.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023


It's Almost Time!


It's time (almost) for the best sports events in the United States-- the NCAA basketball tournaments! 
For the men's tournament, some of the automatic qualifiers are being determined now in conference playoffs. Here are some of the things people are interested in:
-- Conference representation is going to be very uneven. The Big 12 and the Big 10 will probably qualify a lot of teams. The Pac-12? Not so much.
-- Some familiar faces, including last year's runner up, UNC, may not make the tournament.

-- Mid-majors will be well represented. Three teams outside the power conferences are in the Top 10 right now (Houston is #1, Marquette is #6, and Gonzaga is #9).

It's going to be fun!

Monday, March 06, 2023


Poems o' The Perfect Meal

 You all made me hungry! Maybe not hungry enough to finish the Medievalist's favorite:
Grilled surf and turf
Beautiful glass Cabernet
And fresh strawberries. 

Christine's sounds great:
Rosemary Garlic
grilled lamb chops, asparagus
and mashed potatoes.

Anonymous nailed the assignment:
Roasted broccoli
With Ina Garten chicken
Happy family!

While Desiree... I'm not sure about Wookie food:
Grandpa and grandson
cooked Chewie’s chili from the
Star Wars cookbook. Yum!

While IPLawGuy took it to a higher level:

Like proverbial "size"
Food does not matter as much
as the company.

Sunday, March 05, 2023


Sunday Reflection: Arguing with Jesus


As someone who is interested in advocacy, it has always been interesting to me to reflect on the way Jesus addressed tough questions-- often posed by "teachers of the law." (ahem)
Basically, he has a few ways of responding:
1) Parables, which are clearly identified as fictional stories meant to make a moral point.
2) Simple questions, such as "who here is without sin?" or "whose face is on that coin?"
3) References to and quotations of scripture, often Isaiah, given without much explanation. 
What Jesus doesn't do is argue with people in the traditional sense-- he doesn't offer discrete facts at length to make or refute a point throughout a dialogue or monologue. Isn't that intriguing?
I'm sure there is something to that. Here's my guess on what that is:
The methods Jesus uses don't treat the questioner as an opponent, someone whose will must be overborne through force of logic. Instead, he uses these tools that will lead the questioner down their own path, to their own internal dialogue, centered on their own reason, experiences, and principles. 
Probably, that is a pretty good thing for a teacher of the law to take in. 

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