Saturday, November 28, 2015


My goal for December

Looking back a the year so far, it looks like I have saved only one project for the last month: I need to, for the first time in my life, try to eat some fruitcake.

This stuff has about the worst reputation of any food out there-- people really hate it. Yet, it continues to be a product that people buy and (apparently) eat.

Anyone have a tip or two for my year-capping project?

Friday, November 27, 2015


Haiku Friday: Leftover Turkey!

I looooove leftover turkey. And today is National Eat Leftover Turkey Day, so let's haiku about that! Here, I will go first:

We called Mom's dish
Old Turkey Tetrachloride;
Bad, ungrateful kids.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Giving Thanks

Earlier this week, I worked with Mike Romano, Thea Johnson, and Milena Nelson Blake at Stanford to place this piece by Kimberly Richardson at the Washington Post.  Kimberly was just released from prison through one of President Obama's clemency grants. Here is part of what she has to say:

Today, I am back with my family and living in my mother’s home. I got a job making sandwiches at a sub shop. On the wall above the dining room table is the framed letter that the president wrote to me to tell me that I was to be freed. In that letter, he said, “I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.” I am so deeply thankful to him for that opportunity.

In a way, isn't that true of all of us? It is up to us to make the most of our opportunities.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The Reason for Protest

As many of you know, my colleague and friend Nekima Levy-Pounds has led protests here after the shooting of Jamar Clark by police on November 15. Last night, several white men shot five of the protesters-- unarmed protesters-- after showing up with masks and bulletproof vests.

Then, today, the Chicago police released the dash cam video you can see above. In it (starting at about the five minute mark) you see the police encounter LaQuan McDonald, a child of 17. He was in the street holding a knife. As he walked away, he was shot 16 times by one officer, Jason Van Dyke.

I have friends and relatives who question the need to peacefully protest in the way that Black Lives Matter has, by raising their voices in several cities. These who question the protestor's motives are wrong. There is righteous anger being expressed, and these events make clear that their core assertion is correct: That black lives are threatened by racism in America, and unless they insist on it those in power will not act or care.

The media coverage of these two events enshroud a pair of wrongs that may go unnoticed.

First, in the Chicago murder it is outrageous that no charges were brought until a judge ordered that this video be made public. The Cook County Prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, sat on the case for over a year even when she had possession of this evidence and the ability to interview and examine all involved. That's abominable, immoral, and repulsive.

Second, in the Minneapolis shooting, it matters that the event happened literally beside the precinct house. These white agitators/counter-protesters had apparently shown up before and their rhetoric reflected a white supremacist outlook. Some people take issue with them being referred to as "white supremacists," but if that doesn't describe people who put on bulletproof vests to go confront peaceful black protesters with guns, who DOES it describe?  In volatile situations like that, it is the role of the police to prevent violence between counter-protesters and protesters. Yet, there appears to have been no one in uniform playing that role.

Protest is an American right, and sometimes an imperative. Shooting unarmed protesters or teenagers who are walking away down the street (even if they have a knife) is not. There are not "two sides" to this issue with some kind of moral equivalence.

I know people who devote great energy and passion to things like college football, moot court, and their pets, yet many of these same people question the energy and passion protesters devote to the sanctity of human life. I am not one of those who feels that such protesters are misguided-- I am more inclined to feel that those who have turned their passions to football might be on the wrong track.

Even with the controversy that goes with it, I admire and support the moral voices of those like Nekima who have led peaceful protests.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


A Parental Blessing for Thanksgiving

Over at his own blog, my dad posted a great reflection and this remarkable photo in honor of Thanksgiving. It is my favorite of the holidays, and my dad lays out part of the reason why:

The blessing of the harvest happens around the world signaling that the growing season is over and one should think about hunkering down for the winter. I always start the holiday season by thanking whoever it was that decided to have us celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday, guaranteeing us a four day holiday. One smart cookie. This gives us three days to recover, to visit with family and to renew old friendships.

Thanksgiving  is a straightforward name for a holiday.  It is a command and an opportunity. We are given this day to be with our family or friends and to express our appreciation for our good fortune. I am always comforted and I am truly thankful when I look around after dinner and see a well fed family warmed by good feelings for one another.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Kitty wins!

I've known Kitty Cornwell for a long time-- since freshman year in college (though I haven't seen her in a few decades or so). And all these years later, she is writing great haiku! Here was her contribution:

Thanksgiving dinner
then Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Nightmares for a week.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Liturgy

Through the course of my life, I have been a part of dozens of liturgical styles, ranging from the minimalism of Quaker meeting to the intricacies of high Episcopal services.

I suppose we all have a style that suits us best; for me, I am more at home in a service that focuses on reflection and insight, and less on recitation.  Still, that does not mean that one is wrong and another is right.  One of the pleasures of the faith is that we can enjoy them all as part of one faith.

Which style suits you best? Do you find that in your home church?

Saturday, November 21, 2015


The Game!

Today is the most significant meaningless football game of the year-- Harvard vs. Yale. The game will be played in the 101-year-old Yale Bowl, which at the time it was built was the largest stadium constructed in 2000 years (since the Roman Coliseum).  

Sadly, the game is not quite complete, because Harvard does not have a mascot.  Yale does, of course-- Handsome Dan the Bulldog, pictured above smoking a pipe. I'm not sure a dog should smoke a pipe, but there you go.  He is quite a dashing fellow overall.  

When I was in law school, I went out to the Bowl for a game and mentioned that Dan looked like a squirrel.  He was nearby and came over and hit me on the head.  I still bear the psychic bruise.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Haiku Friday: Babysitters!

When I was a kid, my parents hired a girl from down the street to take us to a movie. The plan was that mom would pick us up at the Woods Theater once it was done.

The movie was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," which is one of the most horrifying films ever, if you are a kid. That's because there is a character called the "Child Catcher," pictured above, who is apparently employed by the city to round up children and throw him into his van. Sounds pretty bad, huh?

Anyways, after the movie we went out to the street to wait for my mom to pick us up. After a while, the dog catcher pulled up the curb. The babysitter, as a joke, told us it was the kid catcher, there to get us. The joke was a lot less funny when the guy got out of his van and asked us "are you the Osler kids?"

It turned out that my mom's car had broken down (it's kind of a family tradition), and she had asked the police to go pick us up.  I'm still a little traumatized.

Anyways, let's haiku about memorable babysitters, or memorable babysitting experiences of our own. Or, if you want, just go ahead and write about "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."  Here, I will go first:

I still jump a bit
When I see a man with net
"It's the child catcher!"

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: What to do about ISIS/ISIL/Daesh?

After the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere in the last few weeks, there seems to be a consensus that "something" needs to be done about the entity known variously as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh.  But what is that "something?"

1) In the United States, the discussion seems to have quickly turned away from actually addressing Daesh, and towards the rejection of Syrian refugees. The fear is that terrorists will be among those who enter as refugees (as may have happened in France). I'm a little baffled by this, frankly-- we have a good process for screening refugees, and though we have been on high alert against terrorists from countries with high numbers of refugees (i.e., Yemen) since 2001, there has not been a problem.

2)  Military attacks on Al Qaeda never made much sense, since Al Qaeda never aspired to statehood, or to hold territory. There was nothing concrete to attack. Daesh, though, has defined itself as a state with borders and territory that it governs. That provides more opportunity for military action, but is that wise? Previous military actions have sometimes motivated more terrorism against the United States.

3)  The economic lifeblood of Daesh is oil sales. Can't we just dry that up?

What do you think the US should do?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The News

Right now, the news is confusing and sad. The events in Paris are just awful, and that is only one of several related to ISIS.  

Sometimes, when things are this grim, I like to check in on the unusual events often found in Waco. And the Waco Tribune Herald did not disappoint:

When Jack Harwell was sheriff of McLennan County, folks affectionately referred to the county jail as the “Harwell Hilton.”

Saturday morning, a drunken Oklahoma Sooners fan who thought he was at the Waco Hilton but instead was found sleeping in the McLennan County Courthouse got to spend the rest of the day at the “Harwell Hilton,” deputies said.

Deputies responding to a burglar alarm at the courthouse about 8:15 a.m. Saturday found Harold Anthony Schroeder, 35, of Oklahoma City, curled up between the counsel rail and the first-row seats in the 54th State District Courtroom.

Wearing a crimson Oklahoma Sooners shirt, a groggy Schroeder sat on a bench in the courthouse rotunda and tried to explain to deputies that he thought he was at the Hilton.

Deputies noted in reports that Schroeder smelled strongly of alcohol.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Et tu, winter?

Things are… oddly warm here in Minnesota. Here, we live Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way-- visiting grandma over the river and through the woods on a sleigh-- but it is hardly looking like that now. I suppose I have fully adjusted from Texas, since it feels wrong not to have seen a bit of snow yet (except some flakes when I was visiting Yale).  

It will come, won't it? I want to ski and skate...

Monday, November 16, 2015



Nice animal haiku, all…

Like the Medievalist and his gerbil:

Jeffrey the gerbil,
He ate lots of celery,
Big feet, great jumper.

Or Christine and her, uh, jumping animal of some kind:

Lily Belle can jump
just like on a trampoline
four paws off the floor.

And finally, Renee's tale of her beloved Romeo:

Misgiving mornings
I wake and hold him, Snuffling
Pufferbelly...My couage comes.

Born knowing how to
Love,dogs' time here is short. There
Is not much for them

To learn here. Kiss,wag
Kiss,a few treats,snooze,dinner,wag,
Chew toy,chase ball.Kiss.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Teaching compassion, or its opposite

Last week, I went over to St. Paul to see a Division III football game between my school, St. Thomas, and Carleton (a school located 45 minutes south of here, in Northfield). St. Thomas is (within Division III) a powerhouse, currently 9-0 and ranked #4 in the nation.  Carleton… not so much. They have won a single game this year and have suffered a number of blowouts, including a 59-0 loss at home to St. John's.

Going into the game, St. Thomas knew that they were much more powerful than Carleton. Last year, a less talented two-loss St. Thomas team won by a ridiculous score of 83-7. The difference between the teams was obvious just by looking at the sidelines-- St. Thomas had two or three times more players.  In Division III you can watch a game (often for free) standing right behind the bench, and for a while I did exactly that. The Carleton players definitely had the aura of people who had been beaten down.

Given this disparity, it troubled me that St. Thomas seemed intent on running up the score. Yes, they put in subs in the second half, and the toying-with-you play shown above occurred when Carleton (somehow) was up 3-0 before giving up 80 consecutive points to lose by 80-3.

But… St. Thomas elected to make an onside kick when they were up 30-3, which they successfully converted, scoring again quickly.  Long after that, they were calling long pass plays which were uniformly successful as well.  I began to feel ashamed for my school, even as the Carleton squad doggedly did their best.

When a coach teaches students (and they are students) to grind a defeated rival into a deeper state of humiliation, he is teaching a value. It's a value that very well will inform the actions of those young men the rest of their lives.

Does that matter?

I think that it does. Much of the injustice in my field comes from prosecutors (who are often former athletes like myself) who push for the highest sentence possible, regardless of whether it solves a problem or is accomplishing anything beyond humiliation of the defendant. Like the St. Thomas coaches, they not only want to win, they want to win big, because that is a mark of their own worth and pride.

The results are horrifying. I represent a man who is serving life on a non-violent drug charge, despite being a penniless beggar at the time-- someone who was helping a dealer so he could get some crack for himself. Life in prison, without parole.  He had the temerity to go to trial-- which is something like the temerity of Carleton in kicking a field goal-- and the reaction was the same: to grind him into the dust, to humiliate and destroy him.

Most coaches will tell you that the most important thing to them is the values they teach their players. It is something that St. Thomas needs to take seriously. To win the conference (which they did, in that game) but lose your soul is not a worthwhile pursuit, particularly at a university informed by the teachings of Christ.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


It's funny because it is pretty much true...

Thank you to P.S. Ruckman for this.

Friday, November 13, 2015


Haiku Friday: Pets and other animals

Recently, I was paying for a box of live crickets at PetsMart, and had this conversation with the cashier:

Cashier: Would you like to donate $1 to homeless pets?

Me: What would a homeless pet do with $1?

Cashier:  Probably buy food and things.

Me: If it's homeless, is it a pet? Isn't that a feral animal? Should we trust feral animals with money? Won't they buy drugs?

Cashier (handing me change and cutting me off): Ok, well, thanks for shopping at PetsMart!

I regret my smart alecky-ness; sometimes I should not think out loud, I guess. Thinking more clearly about it, I doubt that PetsMart gives the money directly to the "homeless pets."

At any rate, let's haiku about pets and other animals today… here, I will go first:

My cricket-eater
Is Ash the Lizard; Found out
They live to thirty.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!  (I am especially curious to learn more about the Medievalist's pet, which I think is a kangaroo or something).

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Pushing for Change, Being Changed

Earlier this week, I was in Washington working to push through a sentencing reform bill that recently passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 15-5 vote. It has several provisions-- dealing with mandatory minimums, retroactivity for prior reforms, and elimination of life without parole for juveniles-- that I have pressed for many years. Now there is some hope.

Traveling between the offices of Sen. McConnell and Fienstein and Congressmen McCarthy and Chaffetz, I was in remarkable company. In the picture above (taken by Jody Kent Lavy) I am in the super-cute Senate subway with three men. On the far right is Aqeela Shirrells. His son was murdered in Los Angeles, and since that tragedy he has done remarkable work in that city to reduce violence. Next to me is Glen Mitchell, who also lost his son to murder. In the middle is Ellis Curry, who was convicted of involvement in a murder, did his time, and since has become a welder and valuable member of his community in Jacksonville. Not coincidentally, the person Ellis Curry was convicted of killing was Glen Mitchell's son, Jeff.

There was something deeply humbling about working with people for whom these stories run so deep. I felt out of place making my usual policy arguments, but in a way they fit very well with the stories of the men beside me.  I hope that telling those stories to the people who can create change will matter. Either way, it certainly mattered to me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Just up at the Huffington Post...

… is To Honor Veterans, Stop Executing Them. It is co-authored by one of my wonderful former students, Joshua London, who now works with Ryan Else in defending veterans accused of crime.


Our letter to the AG

Yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch got a letter from me, Yale's Kate Stith, and Ohio State's Doug Berman. You can see the text of the letter here.

The letter, which was mostly the work of Kate Stith, urges the AG to press for a more uniform use of enhancements by prosecutors. That may sound mundane, but when I look at our clemency cases it becomes very real.  Over and over, it is the same situation: prosecutors used these enhancements to drive up sentences against low-level defendants who refused to cooperate against others or chose to go to trial.

Will writing a letter matter? Maybe. What we hope for is that it will become a part of the AG's agenda for discussion. That is the first step to getting things changed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Obama as Grumpy Cat

People told me that President Obama actually talked about "Grumpy Cat" during a speech, and even made the Grumpy Cat face. I did not believe them. I was wrong.

Monday, November 09, 2015



What a good week for haiku! I loved so much of it, and worried about Anonymous backing up a truck, but the most evocative was from the Duchess:

A face full of paint
Blindened by kleig,dependent
On memory. Act!

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