Sunday, December 31, 2023


Sunday Reflection: The Spritual Value of a New Year


Yes, I realize that celebrating the New Year is kind of like celebrating your odometer flipping-- in a way, it is attaching significance to a relatively insignificant thing. But somehow, the New Year has always had a spiritual component to me. 
Part of it is that sense of renewal, that a new year presents new opportunities. Beyond the date you put on checks, that's really only true if you create those opportunities. But, yeah, I want to do that! 
2023 was pretty challenging, in good and bad ways. Professionally, I've taken on a challenge that surprised a lot of people, but I think it is going pretty well.  Personally, the loss of my dad has been hard; I'm still figuring out how to do that. But both of those things present opportunities for growth and change, and (like everyone else) I need that. I'm still growing up, and that's ok.
The spiritual part is a gratitude for those opportunities-- that the new year is there for the taking, in this beautiful world full of meaning and hope. What could be better than that?

Saturday, December 30, 2023


I didn't know they did Hamilton!


Friday, December 29, 2023


Haiku Friday: In the kitchen


We all spend time there, one way or another. Food is central to our culture, our families, and our existence, after all!  The kitchen is at the center of our lives, so let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:
One common feature:
Drawer full of plastic bags.
Where else to put them?
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!

Thursday, December 28, 2023


PMT: The Refugees


The New York Times is reporting that there really is a crisis at the Southern border of the United States, as record numbers of people cross over to claim asylum from very real calamities in their home countries.
It's not political to recognize that this crisis is occurring. What politics is failing to do is come up with a coherent response.
We're a nation with a labor shortage. A case can be made that we can take these people in and all be the better for it. That position, of course, seems politically unpalatable for many. There is a sense that these immigrants will "take away American jobs" or "live off welfare"-- positions that, if you think about it, are directly contradictory. In truth, the more accurate answer is that they would work at jobs Americans are loath to do, and do it for little pay. That's problematic in its own way of course, because it invites exploitation of labor.
One easy answer is that we need more infrastructure to process all of their asylum petitions. Congress too often limits increases in "border security" funds to the Border Patrol and other enforcement mechanisms, but it is the slow processing of petitions that leads to many people staying in the country.
But, I doubt we will get even that...

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


The Problem of Fentanyl

Only four or five years ago, a pill of fentanyl cost $25 on the street in Minneapolis.

A few weeks ago, I asked for a survey of street prices now. The majority of responses were right around $2 in the Twin Cities.

What does that mean? Lots of bad things. 

The first problem with cheap fentanyl is the same problem presented by crack (which made cocaine cheap) 40 years ago: it's accessible to almost anyone with a few bucks. That means that far more people are trying it-- and it is becoming cheaper than alternatives that present less risk. Reportedly, one person caught with fentanyl in Minneapolis said that she had it because it was cheaper than marijuana. The most dangerous drug has become the cheapest. 

The second problem is that powder fentanyl has become a cheap thing to cut into other drugs-- and people are overdosing on fentanyl without even knowing that is a part of what they are buying on the streets. 

If we can do things that raise the price of fentanyl on the street, that will do two things, in turn: fewer people will use it (we know from cigarettes that even highly addictive substances are price sensitive) and it will less often be cut into other drugs.

So the project is clear: raise the price on the streets without increasing incarceration. 

That's what I am working on now.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023


Where are you, winter?


Yesterday's high in Minneapolis was 54, beating a 100-year-old record by three degrees. Christmas day in the 50's in Minnesota? Things are getting a little crazy.
Minnesotans do not like it (for the most part). People there expect a change of seasons, and this feels like Third October or something. The rinks aren't set up. The ski trails are bare. The snowplows sit idle. There is a sense that things just aren't right, even as there is a general thankfulness not to be driving in the snow.
Last winter was pretty long and brutal, so maybe this is a make-up... but I think people would be better off with something in between.

Monday, December 25, 2023


Merry Christmas!

 Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it's a religious holiday, but it somehow means something different every year. 

The reason I believe in Christ's teachings is because they make sense. It doesn't really matter that much to me the miracles and proofs that some people obsess over, to prove or disprove. But I do love the story of Jesus's birth: the deep humility of it, the humanity of it. He wasn't born among riches-- far from it-- but he was born among deep meaning, and that makes this day special to me, every year.

Sunday, December 24, 2023


Christmas Eve

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because they were required to return to Joseph's hometown for the census. Like a lot of other people, I return to the town of my birth for Christmas every year.
This year will be different; it is the first Christmas without my dad. The grief is really strong, but so is the gratitude. He had his own strong instincts and traditions with the holiday, which in retrospect were deeply Christian. For example, he almost always would load up the car with kids or grandkids on Christmas Eve and drive around neighborhoods in Detroit and visit people he knew, ending at the Capuchin Monastery, where he would run inside and huddle with some guys for a bit and then run back out. It was never quite clear what his agenda was, and he didn't really explain it. I didn't figure it out for years.
Today will be a day of reflection, of some sadness, but yeah, a lot of gratitude. 


Saturday, December 23, 2023


Making Sense


Friday, December 22, 2023


Haiku Friday: Christmas wishes


When even that shirtless scold "Smokey the Bear" is celebrating, you know it is almost Christmas. So let's haiku about Christmas wishes-- for yourself, for others, for the world. Here, I will go first:
I hope for moments
To be lost in memory
And then look around.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!

Thursday, December 21, 2023


PMT: Our (un)changing cars


When I saw the car pictured above (near 6 Mile Rd. in Detroit), I remember thinking "Wow-- they don't make big cars like that anymore!"
But then I realized how dumb that was. The vehicle right next to it was just as big-- it was just an SUV rather than a station wagon. And parked nearby were several other SUVs and trucks that were even bigger.
The truth is that we aren't moving very quickly towards driving different vehicles with climate change in mind. In my own neighborhood, it's pretty normal to see a single person driving a behemoth Expedition or Land Rover, probably getting about 16 miles a gallon. 
My own car is a diesel-- a super-efficient sedan that gets between 40-52 miles to the gallon. I always think about the next car, which I think will be a plug-in hybrid. What I'm finding, though, is that companies don't make many of them. Instead, they keep them rare while pumping out many more of the gas versions of the same vehicle. 
Besides Tesla, US car companies do a great job of promoting their "green" cars-- but a pretty lousy job of getting them onto the market.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023


Another Twist in the Presidential Race


Things are getting even stranger in the presidential race!
Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court barred Donald Trump from the ballot there under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prevents insurrectionists from holding office. They overturned a decision below, which had held that the 14th Amendment somehow doesn't apply to a President. 
Now it will go-- almost certainly-- to the US Supreme Court. My own hunch is that there the Colorado decision will be overturned there on the theory that some showing has to be made that a person engaged in insurrection before the bar applies (despite the historical record to the contrary-- but this Supreme Court views history-following as a sometime thing).  
This is going to be a very weird political season, and I suspect there are twists and turns ahead that no one is even imagining right now.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


A really worrying warning for Joe Biden...


Joe Biden has never been the boldest or most creative leader-- his answer to problems is usually study committees or spending money. When a guy is 80, yeah, you are going to assume he is old-school, and Biden really is.
The polls are continuing to show his struggling with young Americans-- a demographic that he should be dominating, given that Donald Trump is, in his own way, even MORE old-school that Biden.  
The problem is that many people feel deep disappointment with Biden-- I am one of them, because of his inaction on criminal justice and clemency-- and that may turn into apathy in November of 2024.  This seems to be especially true among young people, a demographic that Democrats too often take for granted or just ignore. 
And it looks bad among the young people right now... if you don't think there is any way Trump can win, you might want to dig into the trends we are seeing right now.

Monday, December 18, 2023


Feasting and... enough about Glenn Youngkin!

 Perhaps people are tired of food-related topics... turnout was a little low this week. 

But I do love hearing from the Medievalist:
Smoked Salmon with
Fried green peppers and mushrooms,
Apple pie and cream.

And from Christine:
What type of cookies?
Gingerbread maybe shortbread,
I need more butter.

But, really... who is this with the Youngkin fixation?:

Behold Glenn Youngkin
The new King of Virginia
A feast for the eyes!

Sunday, December 17, 2023


Sunday Reflection: The Santa Complication


Often, Santa Claus is described as a kind of opponent of Jesus-- that he has some role in the commercialization and secularization of Christmas.

I suppose that at some level it is true, but it's also kind of complicated.
Think about it this way... Santa is really just part of a huge team, however you think of it. All those elves and, er, helpers all over the world. He does not apparently get paid for any of it, and doesn't seem especially spry. So, what we have here is a huge community of caring with a common purpose, giving things away to children. Sounds pretty Christian to me!

Saturday, December 16, 2023


Oh, there it is...

Now you can read it-- my piece in The Atlantic about clemency in Minnesota.


Did you burp in my face again?

Friday, December 15, 2023


Haiku Friday: Feast time!


Yeah, I know, we are barely past Thanksgiving, but this is feast season, and people are thinking about food (including, for example, my sister Kathy, pictured above).  What foods are you making, or eating, or thinking about? Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:
Oh, hot crescent rolls
You belong in my tummy
A glorious trip.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!

Thursday, December 14, 2023


PMT: The Slow President



Sometime today, I think, my third piece for the Atlantic should come out. Like the first two, it's about clemency.
President Biden has accomplished a lot: I admire his focus on infrastructure, his approach to the war in Ukraine, and the way he never talks about wanting to be a dictator, even a little.  But I'm sorely disappointed in him regarding the thing that I really care about, clemency.
Basically, he has done a few things for show that had little impact (granting commutations to people already out of prison on the CARES Act, giving pardons to low-level marijuana offenders who mostly don't know they received it) while failing to address the 17,000-ish backlog of cases in the real pipeline. The average age of cases my clinic has handled is probably about four years, and some people have waited six with no decision. It's a disappointing show of timidity that is especially stark given the role Biden played in creating laws that drove over-incarceration and racial disparities. The Mercy Truck (pictured above) has broken down.
I do realize that there are a lot of reasons to support Joe Biden... but I sure don't feel any enthusiasm for the task right now. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


From my niece, Alexa

 I'm not sure why...

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


What happened yesterday


As described in this New York Times piece, yesterday my office agreed to the release from prison a man named Marvin Haynes, who had been sentenced to life in prison when he was 16 for a murder.
Some people will disagree with our decision, while others will be heartened by it. Criminal law sometimes seems-- from the outside-- as an exercise in precision, fueled by those forensic scientists you see on TV. In truth, it is often messy and muddled, and produces troubling outcomes. When that happens, the best we can do is to keep looking at it, and never be so sure that we become blind to the messiness.  

Monday, December 11, 2023


Poems about toys that come to life

 I'll admit it-- this week's topic was a little weird, especially for Advent. But people still really nailed it! This was my favorite:

Can I come over?
Your clothes, hair, shoes and camper!!!!
Playtime with Barbie!

Though Jill Scoggins had my heart, too (I heart Snoopy):

Snoopy, I would love
to join your adventures. Can
you come pick me up?

Desiree and I must have had different toys, because I have no idea here:

Galloping away
on a beautiful Breyer
mare, bows in her mane. 

While the Medievalist is totally talking about my history!:

Spirit animal,
Opus plays tuba, Deathtongue,
Dandelions galore.

Sunday, December 10, 2023


Sunday Reflection: Getting it Wrong


The caption above-- with this photo-- appeared on the website for one of my favorite papers today. If you are wondering, the article above the picture was about a local college replacing its food vendor.  But who can forget the poignant image of Princess Di clutching her blanket and pleading with Prince Charles? [Actually, the dude on the left does look kind of like Prince Charles]
My hunch is that there was a Peanuts ad before the video of Charles and Di, but still...
We all get it wrong sometimes. And Christmas seems to be a time we are more willing than usual to see that. 
It's such a rare thing, to be chastened by mistakes. I've seen it a few times in people who had great power and it surprised me-- and times that I've seen people defend their mistakes with great umbrage.  
Looking back on it, one thing I have used this blog for over the years is to admit mistakes, and I'm glad for that. And there will be more to come!

Saturday, December 09, 2023




Friday, December 08, 2023


Haiku Friday: What toy would you want to come to life?


Pictured above is Banette, an evil Pokemon who lives in garbage and wants to harm children. In a nutshell, his backstory is that he was thrown out by some kid, and while in the trash this creature decided to (1) continue to live in the trash, and (2) wreak vengeance on children. 
I'm pretty sure I do not want this toy to come to life.
However, there are plenty of them that might be interesting. Let's haiku about that this week! Here, I will go first:
Ggrrrffsss the teddy bear
I wonder what he has seen
Deep under the bed.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!

Thursday, December 07, 2023


PMT: The Republican Debate


I know people will think I am making all of this up, but the following things all really happened at last night's debate, which was hosted by Megyn Kelly on some obscure streaming service called "NewsBob" or something:
-- Chris Christie said (accurately, according to fact-checkers) that Vivek Ramaswamy is "the most obnoxious blowhard in America." Earlier, he had told Ramaswamy to "shut up." (full disclosure: I was yelling the same thing at Ramaswamy at that moment).
-- Ramaswamy, in turn, said that Christie "should get the hell off the stage."
-- Ramaswamy also said that Nikki Haley is a "fascist."
-- Ramaswamy then said that Haley is "corrupt" while holding up a sign (really) that said "Nikki is Corrupt."
-- Ramaswamy helpfully provided a list of bonkers conspiracy theories he believes in, including that the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol was "an inside job."
-- DeSantis made the odd claim that Haley would let corporate America run her immigration policy. Republicans have traditionally done what corporate America pays them to do, so this was an interesting twist.
So, yeah, fun! 

Wednesday, December 06, 2023


A crisis in policing


The graphic above is from an intriguing New York Times piece titled "An Early Warning That Police May Be in Decline," The article correctly describes two unmistakable and probably related trends: That there are fewer police at work in urban areas, and a sharp drop in the clearance rate for crimes. 
What isn't played up in the story, though, is a third trend that has developed in the last year or two (depending on the place): a sharp drop in crime. While there are exceptions (like DC), in most of the country crime has gone down.  
To sum up, three things are going on at once:
-- There are fewer police at work
-- Fewer crimes are being solved, and
-- Crime is going down.
The underlying story, I think, is that bigger forces than the number of police or clearance rates are at work-- specifically, the fading of the pandemic and its destabilizing effects on our society.  
I don't doubt that if we solved more crimes-- particularly those very harmful ones that relatively few people commit, like shootings-- the crime rates would go down even more. I advocate for that as part of my job.
Still, we probably overstate at times the impact of policing relative to these larger social forces when we discuss crime trends.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023


The Playoffs! And.... drama!


It's that bittersweet time of year, when the college football season is almost over....
But what we have left are bowl games galore! I am personally planning to attend a bowl game in person for the first time this year-- the super-prestigious Quicklane Bowl in Detroit, which will feature Minnesota v. Bowling Green the day after Christmas. I imagine that there are plenty of tickets available.
The big games, of course, are in the playoffs-- those four team who get to play for the national championship. The first semifinal on January 1 will feature Washington (the Pac-12 Champions) against the Texas Longhorns (the Big 12 Champs), followed by the Michigan Wolverines (Big 10 Champions) taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide (the SEC Champions).
It all seems uncontroversial, doesn't it? Four champions of four premier leagues fighting it out?
The problem is that the "Power 5" conferences, well, there's five of them. And the one left out is the ACC and its champion, Florida State.  The kicker is that Florida State went undefeated against a pretty good schedule, while two of the teams in the playoff, Alabama and Texas, each lost a game. (complicating things, the game Alabama lost was to Texas).
As one might imagine, Florida State fans are unhappy. But not me! I'm going to the Quicklane Bowl!

Monday, December 04, 2023


Images of the season


Good work to start out the holidays! No one gets into the spirit quite like IPLawGuy:
When new, 10 Feet Tall,
Inflatable Grinch now slumps
Aging Motor, sigh...

Desiree has it, too, despite family disagreements:
They don’t agree on
light color. He likes white but
she wins with colors.
And the Medievalist, in Texas, is having thoughts:
Skaters spin on ice,
Frosty breath, icy eyebrows,
Winter in the north.
Meanwhile... our Glenn Youngkin fan is still hard at work responding to IPLG: 
Aging motor? No!
Glenn Youngkin is going strong
Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 03, 2023


Sunday Reflection: Advent


Today is the first day of Advent.
It's been a really hard year, and I worry about quiet reflection-- the things to reflect upon are tragic and sad. I'm still full of grief on the loss of my dad, and while I love my work it is awash in tragedy, every day, all day. I don't have a respite, really. And this time of year is dark and cold where I live; the places where I happily rode my bike are now frozen over.
But I know that in the end, Advent will get to me anyways. It always does. I'll be walking out of a building, and there will be this beautiful quiet and I will stay in that for a while. Or something small and beautiful will present itself to me, and I'll be taken aback a little. Or a familiar song will float in the distance and I'll feel that calm. 
This world is constructed of so many forces, that push us this way and that. Advent is a time to see what is right in front of us, I guess-- and what is right in front of us might be good and beautiful. And that might be as good as it gets.

Saturday, December 02, 2023


Michigan v. Iowa


Tonight at 7 Central (8 Eastern, for the 12 people in New York who care about college football) Michigan will take on Iowa for the Big 10 Championship.
Michigan is undefeated at 12-0, and are coming off a big win over powerhouse Ohio State. Iowa is, uh, pretty good. They are 10-2, with one of their losses coming to Miserable Minnesota. They have a fantastic defense and a... well, they have a fantastic defense. 
It might be a very low-scoring game. Or maybe not.

Friday, December 01, 2023


Haiku Friday: Scenes of the Season


Nothing to me says "Holidays!" quite like the diorama above. It appears that Santa has run over some poor guy (at left), drawing the attention of law enforcement, whom he is fending off while brandishing a gun in each hand. Oh, the imagination of children!
But, your favorite image of the season might be something quite different. Let's haiku about that this year! Here, I will go first:
Minnesota snow
Green pines set on white tableau
Such utter silence.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!


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