Wednesday, March 04, 2015


A Good Idea on the XL Pipeline

I always like it when people who are real experts opine on controversial topics-- so much of what we hear and read is politicized criticism from generalists. 

For example, I love Ralph Cooper's recent column in the Waco Trib on the Keystone  XL pipeline. Here is part of it:

For a good part of my adult life, I taught and consulted with industry on how to reduce the risks associated with hazardous materials and hazardous waste. One of my observations was that our petroleum and chemical industries tend to store and transport stuff when it is at its most hazardous. An example is methyl isocyanate, the deadly Bhopal, India chemical.

The Keystone XL pipeline proposes to transport material at its most hazardous, over longer distances, and with many secondary consequences such as waste residues to be disposed in our already overburdened Gulf Coast. The bitumen mined in Alberta must be thinned with hazardous solvents in order to move it by pipeline, increasing the risks associated with a spill as the material crosses aquifers, rivers and communities.

And once it gets to refineries in the Gulf Coast, the process will result in wastes that must be disposed near the refineries due to cost considerations. Then the products will be put into other pipelines and rail cars and transported, some of it back north, to the markets where it will be used.
It would make a great deal more sense to build the refinery at the mine site, then convert the material into product that can be moved more safely by pipeline or rail and with a shorter distance to market. Waste could be disposed of in the mined-out areas in Alberta.

This would be less risky and likely much less expensive. It might require additional pipeline capacity to transport the cleaned-up product to markets across Canada and the northern tier of the United States. That is the pipeline that should be built, if needed, instead of a pipeline for a toxic and hazardous mixture of solvents and bitumen.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


Still pushing...

On Sunday, I flew back to Minneapolis from Virginia, where I had given a sermon. On the way out, I picked up a copy of the Washington Post, the newspaper that got me through college.  Opening it up to page three, I saw the article pictured above (and linked here).

Sometimes, when I get quoted in a news story, I feel kind of stupid about what I said-- not because I was misquoted (because I rarely am), but because what I said was kind of, uh, stupid.  But not this time.  The reporter, Sari Horwitz, pulled this out of the things I told her:

Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and an advocate for inmates petitioning for clemency, said there are “thousands” of inmates just as worthy of clemency as the eight who were granted it by the president at the end of last year.

“The injustice will be if this administration ends with them in prison,” he said. “This is one of the major justice issues of our time.”

I like that.  And I hope that the President read it. As Rachel Barkow and I argued in the Post just a few months ago (and the NY Times agrees), there is a better way to do things without all of the bureaucracy within the current federal clemency process.

Monday, March 02, 2015


Spring for Gavin

Yeah, I loved this haiku, and its celebration of heroes like Don Mossi:

Sunshine melts the snow
But baseball wakes the spirit
Spring training is here!

Sunday, March 01, 2015


Sunday Reflection: The calm and quiet

In Williamsburg this weekend, I saw something I had never seen before in my years here:  a blanket of snow that hushed everything.  In a place that is already quiet, it was transformative. Noiseless, without traffic, with the sharp corners rounded off by snow, everything is different.  

Perfect for still, small voices...

Saturday, February 28, 2015


The weight of a Lenten Cross

I have this piece up on the Huffington Post right now...

Friday, February 27, 2015


Haiku Friday: Hopes of Spring

I know that spring is coming.  I like winter, of course; if I didn't, why would I live in Minnesota?  Still, it is the change of seasons that is thrilling.  I love the first snow, I love the first flower, I love that first hot day, and I love the magic of early September, when you need a sweater for the first time in months.

Traditionally, haiku is about nature themes. I don't go there often, but lets do it this week.  Write about the hopes for spring, or a glimpse of it...

I will go first:

The barbecue grill
Huddles beneath the deep snows,
It yearns to breath fire.

Now it is your turn!  Use the 5 syllable/7 syllable/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The continuing political effects of American Evangelicals

Frank Bruni has an intriguing piece in the New York Times, arguing that Evangelical Christians have a political influence on the Republican party that is out of proportion to their numbers:

Another presidential campaign is taking shape, and potential Republican candidates are beginning to speak with extra care — and sometimes with censorious hellfire — about certain social issues. As ever, they’re bowing to a bloc of voters described as Christian conservatives.

But these voters are a minority of Christians. They’re not such representative conservatives.

They have a disproportionate sway over the Republican Party. And because of that, they have an outsize influence on the national debate.

Bruni cites an upcoming data set compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute, which shows that if you take Evangelicals out of the mix, Republicans are split about evenly on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bruni doesn't do much to suggest a reason for this, but IPLawGuy once gave me an explanation that made a lot of sense.  A veteran of many Republican campaigns himself, he told me that the Evangelicals were the foot soldiers of a campaign in that party-- the people who knock on doors and lick envelopes, and man the phones.  They are dedicated, organized, and willing to work. I think that makes sense.  To those who would complain about this outsized influence, IPLG would say:  "If you want to make change, get involved in party politics."  I think he was right about that, too.  He was wrong about "White Castle is the best place in St. Louis for breakfast," and "a car lasts longer if you leave the windows open on the highway," but it all evens out in the end.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


John Oliver on elected judges

I love that he took on this topic.  I think it is more complex than he recognizes, though... and there are some decent arguments for electing judges.  For example, in a state like Texas it is one way that local political difference find effect-- because the culture and politics of Austin is different than what you find in Amarillo.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Bad Suggestions

So, I'm not sure I totally understand what all is going on at,  but it looks like a compilation of what someone got to complete their search from a partial or full phrase entered into Google.  For example, in the above search a query for "halloween costume" turned up "Zombie Dennis Farina" and "sexy zombie Helen Thomas."

And anything that can combine "zombie," "sexy," and "Helen Thomas" has something good going on...

Monday, February 23, 2015


Ciao, Chow!

There were some great haikus about Italian food last Friday!  It isn't often that an anonymous post strikes me as great, but this one was:

Gnocchi has my heart
Firm on the outside, pillow
Of delight inside.

If nothing else, the phrase "gnocchi has my heart" is a winner.  I love that.  Meanwhile, in the long-form category, it is hard to beat this masterpiece by Jill Scoggins:
Stepmom’s spaghetti:
Flavors perfectly balanced.
Baseball-sized meatballs.

“Don’t use lean ground beef,”
she says. “More fat is better.”
Her mom’s recipe.

Handed down from mom
to daughter through the years. Or
to daughters-in-law.

(Men don’t cook in this
family) Time-tested. No
need to improvise.

Piles of al dente
pasta mix with sauce so light,
so good, so perfect.

Served as a side dish
on Sundays after church with
fried chicken or roast.

I’ll never enjoy
any other near as much.

Meanwhile, in the not-vegetarian-today category, we had this from Desiree:

Italian sausage,
Peppers, onions on a bun

Italian soul food.

And what made me most hungry?  Antonia Promessa:

My love for him? His
Carbonara,bacon and
Cheese married egg so

Exquisitely that
When you tasted it you closed
Your eyes.Pleasure flowed

Like the blood of a
Satisfied cat from tongue to
Talon. Sated, stretched...bed.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Sunday Reflection: 52

Yesterday was my sixth birthday ending in a "2": 2, 12, 22, 32, 42, and (now) 52.  I have spent them in six different places, too-- the first in Detroit, the second in Grosse Pointe Shores, the third in Williamsburg, the fourth in Grosse Pointe City, the fifth in Waco, and the sixth here in Edina.  

Of them all, this is my favorite age to be.  Here is why:

-- most importantly, at this age you kind of know how things turn out.  There isn't anxiety about what you will do when you grow up.

-- yet, you aren't done yet.  There is more to accomplish and learn and see.  

-- a classmate wrote something today that struck me, about our upcoming law school reunion: " the competitive aspects have long dropped out and people will have reverted back to the fun people you knew in school ..."  I think that is true.

-- for most of us, our bodies are still in pretty good shape, but we have learned their limits.  I know when the last ski run should be.

--at this point in life, you know your strengths and weaknesses.  That lets you know when to lead and when to follow, and there is a time for both.

-- over time, faith life matures; joy and tragedy convince you of how much you don't know, and that is a gift.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


So, it's my birthday!

Last night I went to see the town's annual Pops concert by the Edina high school band.  The theme this year was "The Wizard of Oz," a movie that I have found (even as an adult) to be extremely creepy.  Angry flying monkeys?  Witch sisters, one of whom is completely green?  Kansas being presented as a rural utopia?  A talking scarecrow?  "Munchkins" celebrating someone being crushed to death by a flying house?  I mean, c'mon… isn't this some kind of horror film?

Anyways, the highlight for me was the sculpture above, which was ten feet high and placed next to the stage.  It is a mask of the Wizard (though there are some shades of Roswell-style alien there, too).  I think it oddly compelling.  Do you think they would sell it to me after the show?

Friday, February 20, 2015


Haiku Friday: Italian Food

I know this one is a little... specialized, but Italian food is something close to my heart, despite the fact that I'm not at all Italian. 

Here, I will go first:

Susan Stabile stops
"What, you've never had this, Mark?"
I shake head, eager.

Now it is your turn.  Just make it 5 syllables, then 7, then 5...

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Realities of ISIS

The world changes fast.  Not long ago, we were just trying to figure out what to call ISIS.  Now we are coming to recognize a difficult truth: That ISIS has eclipsed al-Queda to become the most important jihadist group in the world.

An excellent article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants,  lays out some fascinating truths, starting with an answer to the riddle contained in the article's title:

In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

Wood also establishes something important and fascinating: That unlike most jihadi groups, ISIS needs territory, since part of the destiny it envisions is to be a caliphate.

That opens up possibilities-- if we can stop ISIS from expanding its footprint, we can defeat its ambition.

Is doing that worth the cost?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Not OK, Oklahoma!

Apparently, there is a movement in the Oklahoma legislature to ban AP history because it does not adequately teach "American Exceptionalism":

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4....

For other lawmakers, however, Fisher is thinking too small. Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern (R) claims that all “AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core.” She has asked the Oklahoma Attorney General to issue a ruling. Kern argues that “AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.”

Oklahoma, I've found, is a very strange place.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


What was the deal with Eddie Murphy?

I got to watch the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary show with my sister and brother, which was a blast. Much of it was great, but the low point was the bizarre appearance by Eddie Murphy, which lasted 73 seconds and seemed to end with the feed being pulled.  Making it more weird was the excellent 3 1/2 minute introduction by Chris Rock. What happened there????

Meanwhile, Bill Murray provided my favorite part of the show-- The (heretofore unknown) Love Theme from Jaws.

Monday, February 16, 2015



From last Friday:

Thump thump thump thump thump
heart song with the first view of
Mont Ventoux, Provence.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Sunday Reflection: A coalition for mercy

This past Thursday, I was in Washington I was part of an event put on by Generation Opportunity, the group that put together (along with Freethink Media) this great video about my client, Weldon Angelos:

It was a fascinating evening.  Two congressmen spoke: Democrat Bobby Scott, and Republican Thomas Massie, and they agreed.  I served on one panel (with Weldon's sister, Lisa, and FAMM's founder and president, Julie Stewart), and the other featured representatives from the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation.  It was exactly what people say is missing in Washington-- agreement across the political spectrum on an important issue, clemency.

I once wrote an article (available here) arguing that mercy is an expression of natural law within legal systems.  However much we try to dispel the effects of mercy (usually in the interest of uniformity in sentencing), it comes back.  Judges who are liberal and judges who are conservative both force mercy back into the system.  It is like water, that will flow inexorably to the place it needs to be, eroding away over time whatever walls we might erect.  

And that is good.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Get Back, Loretta!

There are things from the 60's that don't hold up so well, but this does:

Friday, February 13, 2015


Haiku Friday: Mountains

As someone who has spent his adult life in Detroit, Waco, and Minneapolis, I am no expert on mountains.  That makes them all the more fascinating to me, of course.  Let's haiku about them today… I will go first.

Peaks of Mount Clemens
Tower high over Detroit
Or so I dreamed.

Now it is your turn-- use five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third, and have some fun!

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