Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Coming Up!

It is going to be a busy weekend coming up…

First, on Saturday night at 6:30, I am speaking on a program with Randall Balmer, a wonderful writer and Dartmouth Professor, at an event sponsored by Colonial Church and hosted by United Theological Seminary in New Brighton. You can see more details here.

Then, on Sunday morning at 9:30 I will be preaching at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, and the gospel choir will be singing (probably the bigger draw).  More info here.

Oh, and the picture above… that is CraigA's daughter appearing as Mortimer the Gopher at Goucher College! If possible, Mortimer will appear at one of these events...

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Words and Pictures

Over the past few years, my dad has been cataloguing the goings-on in the Detroit jazz scene in words and pictures. The pictures, we all could have expected-- he has long excelled at creating beautiful and  evocative images.

Now, though, maybe for the first time in his life, he has discovered the discipline of writing regularly for an audience.  It's kinda great.

Last week, he wrote about jazz and laughter and Yogi Berra.  I'm not sure where he got it, but he included a great listing of Yogi's greatest sayings:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
“It’s deja vu all over again.”
“I usually take a two-hour nap from 1 to 4.”
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
“It gets late early out here.”
“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
“Pair up in threes.”
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”
“I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”
“I think Little League is wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house.”
“Take it with a grin of salt.”
“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”
“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Monday, October 05, 2015


The Walleye Tree

There were many great haiku last friday-- check them all out

Two things really blew me away, though. One was the revelation that CraigA's daughter was Mortimer the Gopher at Goucher College. The other was this wonderful haiku by Sleepy Walleye:

I think I shall not 
Ever see mascots better
Than the Stanford Tree.

I learned something new, too, from Megan Willome:

In Sherman, Texas,
Austin College kangaroos.
Slogan was "Get Roo'd!"

You gotta love the pun, and the bare fact that their mascot is a kangaroo...

Sunday, October 04, 2015


Sunday Reflection: New Vines

There is a stone wall on the corner in front of my house. A few years ago a truck hit it-- ran right over it, really, cutting the corner too sharply-- and the stones were scattered all over the street.  At first I was angry at the truck driver, who hadn't stopped (or maybe didn't notice) once he had destroyed my little wall. After taking some pictures, I slowly began picking up the broad, flat stones. It was like a puzzle; I had to figure out how each fit with the others. I had help with the task, and we started to enjoy it. By the time I had the stones stacked up just right and in their place, I had a sense of accomplishment. 

Last year on the morning after halloween, I saw that someone had smashed a pumpkin on the top of the rebuilt wall-- it appeared to be a fresh uncarved one, judging by the amount of guts and seeds spread around. There is always something about smashed pumpkins that makes me sad; maybe that it feels like the vandal is destroying someone's childhood. I picked up the husk and carted it away. 

Ten months and a few weeks passed.

Then, a few weeks ago, snaky vines emerged from that wall.  It rained a lot, and they grew quickly, and instead of cutting them back I arranged them along and over the top of the wall.  Soon a few little pumpkins appeared, then more flowers.

Now I see people stopping there all the time-- it is a favorite for the neighborhood walkers, who examine the vines and admire the new fruit.

Sometimes, you just get a gift, unbidden; fresh vines from something smashed to pieces.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


Bastards of the Reagan Era

Several years ago, when we were doing the Trial of Jesus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I first met the poet Reginald Dwayne Betts.  He was working on a big project-- a book of poems about crack and prison-- while on fellowship at Harvard.  I saw him again last year in New Haven, where he is now a student at Yale Law.  Don't let the Harvard/Yale thing define him for you, though; there is a lot more than that in his life story.

Bastards of the Reagan Era is the book he was working on. If you care about some of the things I do (and even if you don't), I would really recommend it. It says some things I have been trying to say in a better and more whole way than I ever have.

Oh, and this… Mr. Betts appears (along with many Razorites) in the book I just finished (on doing the Trial of Jesus), which will come out in August, 2016.

Friday, October 02, 2015


Haiku Friday: College Mascots

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of college mascots. I very much prize the photo above, showing my one chance to meet one of my major heroes.

Let's haiku about them this week!  Here, I will go first:

Goldy the Gopher
You make a bad game better!
(There are lots of those).

Now it is your turn! As a helpful aid, I have provided a list of mascots below.

Alameda College-- Cool E. Cougar ("The E. is for Education!")
American University-- Clawed Z. Eagle
Amherst College-- Lord Jeff
Baylor-- Some Bears (I think they are named Judge Judy and Judge Morton)
Colorado School of Mines-- Marvin the Miner
Columbia-- Roar-ee the Lion
Dartmouth-- Keggy the Keg

Georgia-- Hairy Dawg
Goucher-- Mortimer the Gopher
Harvard-- Chilly Willy the Penguin
Idaho-- Joe Vandal
Iowa-- Herky Hawk
Maine-- Bananas T. Bear
Michigan State-- Sparty the Spartan
US Naval Academy-- Bill the Goat
Northwestern-- Wildcat Willy

Ohio State-- Brutus the Buckeye
Oklahoma-- Norman Oklahoma
Purdue-- Boilermaker Big-Head Guy
Rhode Island School of Design-- Scrotie
RPI-- Puckman
Santa Cruz-- Sammy the Slug
Scottsdale Comm. College-- Artie the Fighting Artichoke
Stanford-- The Tree
Syracuse-- Otto the Orange
Texas-- Bevo the Languid Cow
Tufts-- Jumbo the Elephant
Vanderbilt-- Mr. C
Virginia Tech-- Hokie Bird
Whittier College-- Johnny Poet
William and Mary-- Col. Ebirt
Williams College-- Purple Cow
Wisconsin-- Bucky the Badger
Xavier-- The Blue Blob
Yale-- Handsome Dan

Now it is your turn! Just make it fun, and use a syllable count of 5/7/5...

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday II: The NYT and Clemency

Today the New York Times ran a wonderful editorial, titled President Obama and the Power of Mercy.  Among other things, it links to my Univ. of Chicago Law Review article with Rachel Barkow, and notes that Margaret Colgate Love has changed her mind and now joins us in advocating for the clemency process to be taken out of the DOJ.

It's worth a read-- and I think a lot will be happening on this issue in the next several months.


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Pope and Politics

Last week's visit from the Pope carried, unavoidably, a lot of political baggage. He visited, after all, the UN, the White House, and Congress-- not exactly the itinerary of someone seeking to avoid entanglement with politics. And, of course, during his visit he talked directly about many of our most controversial political issues, and took definitive stands on many of them:

-- against the death penalty
-- for action to stem the effects of global warming
-- against abortion
-- for a deeper concern for the poor
-- for a better spirit of cooperation by political       leaders

In the end, does it matter?

I think it does, at least to some people.  The Pope's visit seems to have played a role in the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, for example.  In light of reflection, it may lead to some people moderating their views.  This influence will be hard to identify, though-- I think it will be a quiet but powerful stream that wears away some rough edges.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Up now on HuffPo...

Over the past several years, I have gotten to visit dozens of churches. Many of them seem to be struggling with the same two conflicts. One is over liturgy-- whether to stick with tradition or use a "contemporary" worship style.  The second is often subtler, between a clergy with a progressive heart for social justice, and the older people who usually fund the church.

You can see my thoughts on this here at the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The Secret Lives of Parents

In the wake of the 1967 riots in Detroit, my dad and some of his friends made a series of ads in an effort to discourage people from arming themselves.  Jennifer Plansker (pictured in this ad as the little girl), dug up one that features my dad, along with her mom and brother, Jeff.  

In this post-Heller world in which arming ourselves to combat perceived threats is considered by some to be a civic duty, this effort may seem odd.  At the time they made this ad, though, many Americans still thought that more guns did not equal safety. (That was then and is now true, of course, but it is not a very popular truth these days). 

There is something thrilling to know that my dad and his friends used their talents (they were in advertising, after all, back in the Mad Men days) to address a serious social issue.  I love the image of them working up the ideas, and then making it happen.

It didn't work, of course. Gun violence in Detroit increased and today it is horrific. The presence of guns in so many homes has only accelerated, not solved, that problem.  

Still, they tried. And that is more than most people did, or do.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Republicans can haiku!

It must be true, given what we saw them do last week.

First we had this, from IPLawGuy:

Moe, Larry, Curly
better collaborators
Than current Congress
And then the Waco Farmer gave us this:
Bringing Up Baby
Mom & Dad / Kate & Cary
screwball comedies

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Decades and leaves

I am 52 years old, and some days that still surprises me. How did that happen? My body feels the same, pretty much, and there is a part of me that is just as immature as ever. 

Yet, there is something about the accumulation of years that affects the way I see the world. There is now a pile of memories for every image, song, scent, and emotion. When I see a bridge like this one (in Nebraska City, Nebraska), my mind glances over and lands lightly on a handful of other moments: the middle of the night on the bridge over Crim Dell at William and Mary in 1984, a bridge by the cider mill in Michigan in 1993, a tiny bridge in Cameron Park in Waco in 2007. I pause with a welter of feelings, brought along from other parts of my life when I was in many ways a different person.

But, still, there are new things-- some of them shocking and wonderful and strikingly beautiful.  This week was full of that, woven in with the other things. I sat down with a reporter and talked about things I care about, I taught a class and laughed when I messed up, I went to a new place (Nebraska City, Nebraska, in fact, where I was talking to federal defense attorneys), and I had a great debate in a packed room with an old friend (Judge Richard Sullivan). There is a richness to it all-- one that I can see clearly now that I have those years and layers of memories. That gift of perspective lets me know when things are good and beautiful and rare.

Which makes giving thanks deeper and better...

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Boehner leaves...

Yesterday, unexpectedly, John Boehner announced that he was stepping down from his post as Speaker of the House, and his seat in Congress, effective next month.  Washington seemed to be rocked by the news. However, it appears (according to the Washington Post) that he made the move in part to help avert a government shutdown:

A group of anti-Boehner insurgents had threatened that if the speaker capitulated to Democrats on the Planned Parenthood funding, they would move to topple him by forcing a vote to vacate the speaker’s chair in the House. Boehner will move a funding package that includes the Planned Parenthood funding, which is expected to be approved next week. But his announced resignation denies the rebels their best leverage for retribution.

If this read on things is correct, I really respect his decision.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Haiku Friday: Collaborations!

I'm big on collaboration, and my best work going all the way back to high school was done in partnership with people who were smarter, sharper, and/or better connected than me.

Of course, none of that compares with Prince + The Muppets!

Let's haiku about our favorite collaborations today-- your own, or the work of others.

Here, I'll go first:

Gloer, O'Brien, Osler
We spoke in turn, weekly
I sat in wonder.

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Fournier on Clinton

Thirty-five years ago this week, Ron Fournier and I were running neck-and-neck as friends and competitors on the Grosse Pointe North cross-country team. Now he is doing a remarkable thing: shaping the conversation over our national values and leadership choices.

Meanwhile, I am in rural Nebraska (at least for today).

Ron has relentlessly (and importantly) pursued the story on Hillary Clinton's emails, a tale that keeps developing new twists. Most recently, it has come out that the emails she thought she deleted will be available to the FBI, providing kindling for several more news cycles into the future.

Yesterday, Ron wrote a great piece at the National Journal titled Hillary Clinton: Come Clean or Get Out.  Here is part of what he has to say:

For Demo­crats, this is an op­por­tun­ity wasted. A crowed GOP field has been taken host­age by a celebrity bil­lion­aire with a his­tory of bank­ruptcies, sex­ist be­ha­vi­or, and ra­cially of­fens­ive state­ments. Lack­ing a firm grip on policy or the truth, Don­ald Trump is the GOP front-run­ner. His closest com­pet­i­tion, Dr. Ben Car­son, said Sunday he didn’t think a Muslin should be pres­id­ent, and his ef­forts to clean up the con­tro­versy have been as ham-handed as they are dis­hon­est.

Which brings me back to Clin­ton. Loy­al­ists ar­gue that her policy agenda speaks to Amer­ica’s new demo­graphy and ad­dresses 21st cen­tury chal­lenges. Even if they’re right, the Clin­ton team has un­der­es­tim­ated the value that voters place on a can­did­ate’s char­ac­ter. One top Clin­ton ad­viser told me in the spring, “Trust doesn’t mat­ter.”

Oft-burned Amer­ic­ans un­der­stand that a policy agenda is a col­lec­tion of prom­ises. If they can’t count on Clin­ton to be hon­est, they can’t count on her to keep her word about in­come in­equal­ity, jobs, health care, and the en­vir­on­ment.

What do you think? Will the Clinton campaign survive these issues, and should it?

Also, if you were wondering what we looked like back in the day… that is me on the left and Ron on the right (on either side of Jerry Stitzel):

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Well, now you done stepped in it, Gary Patterson!

When I lived in Waco (and enjoyed faculty tickets to the football games), Baylor lacked a true rival. Sometimes people acted like Texas was a rival, but that was kind of a Yale/Princeton thing-- only one side thought it was a rivalry.  Texas knew their real rival was A & M. A few times, the Bears played Oklahoma State in the last game, but their real rival was Oklahoma (duh).  We were just kind of adrift at the bottom of the league.

How things have changed! Along with Baylor's ascendancy in football has come a real rivalry, with TCU (which has also produced a great program, currently ranked in the top 5, as is Baylor).

That rivalry just keeps getting more intense and weirder, too-- just the way people like it.  Last year, both schools were shut out of the championship playoff group of four (Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama, and Florida State), and both pretty much blamed the other. They ended with one loss each-- Baylor to West Virginia, and TCU to Baylor.

Ratcheting things up a notch this week, TCU coach Gary Patterson (or "Gary Fatterson" to some Baylor wags) poked the bear. Two of his student-athletes were arrested for a beer robbery, and in response Patterson said that the incident was "not even close to what happened south of here." It was clearly a reference to the case of Sam Ukuachku, a Baylor player recently convicted of the rape of Baylor freshman.

Think that will stir the pot?

I like the rivalry… but I really do not like the fact that both schools are plagued with convicted or accused student-athlete-violent felons.  As I have argued before, Baylor must take firm steps to investigate problems thoroughly. They also must change the culture that too often allows this kind of violence, whether or not it involves an athlete.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


And… Walker is out

Scott Walker has dropped out of the Presidential race, and on his way out the door he urged the other candidates to unite against Donald Trump.

Um, yeah, that should work.  If anyone was listening to Scott Walker, he wouldn't be dropping out.

So… how did this happen? Not too long ago, Walker was the leading candidate in Iowa, but most recently he has been polling at less than one-half of 1% of Republican voters nationally.  If I had been betting on it at the start of the summer, I would not have bet on Walker and Perry as the first two to drop their campaigns.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Parades I would like to see...

Lots of good haiku last week, but I especially want to see the pictures painted by two of our poets.

First we have this from the always-intriguing and talented Renee (one of my all-time favorites):

There was a dark boy
Ojibwe in his blood who
Rode a spotted horse

In the parade on 
The Fourth. Wore buckskin bare chest.
Appaloosa proud.

And then this vision from Jill Scoggins (it kind of explained the drummer mentality):

I was a drummer
at NHS. Loved seeing
kids cover their ears

as our band marched by.
Drum cadences should be LOUD.
We made sure they were.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Wholesale and Retail

I am a very lucky advocate, in that I often get to speak to the exact groups of people who can put into action the ideas that I have. This past Friday, I got to address over a thousand people at the US Sentencing Commission's conference-- an audience that included over 100 judges, and hundreds of probation officers, defense attorneys, and (of course) the sentencing commissioners. On Thursday of this week, I get to talk to the federal defense bar of Nebraska at their annual gathering.  Then, on Friday, I will be debated Judge Richard Sullivan (SDNY) about narcotics policy back at St. Thomas. I will also get to teach this week, about all of this and more.

These are opportunities at wholesale advocacy: To affect, in some way, those who have the power to then make discrete decisions that matter.

Wholesale advocacy, though, never feels complete to me.  There is no human narrative there, no single life in being, no soul who cries out for justice.  I need some retail, too.  I'll get that this afternoon, when I go up to Sandstone Prison here in Minnesota to meet with someone who has been incarcerated for too long.

The two things, wholesale and retail, need one another.  Retail work compels us to change an unjust system, and that usually happens through wholesale work. But it is the retail that is real.  They feed off one another, reify and ennoble each other.

Jesus did both, and that is an example to us. He gave truth to huge crowds, performed public miracles for them, but then turned to one person: The woman at the well, the Centurian, the leper.  I fail to meet that example, or to come close. None of us do.  But there is a deep integrity in doing both. When Jesus talked to a crowd about the poor, he knew who they were, because he fed them and healed them.  He alternated between the teaching (to the crowds, or the learned) and the healing, and both seemed important.  Shouldn't they be for us-- even us professors?

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Meanwhile, in Waco...

How much do I love the Waco Tribune-Herald's story about a guy who tried to steal a Lear Jet by rushing the hangar with a big stick? A lot.

And you will, too.

Obviously, there is more to this story, and I would love to see the surveillance video of exactly how this all went down.  But… it just seems like the kind of goofy story that seems to happen more often in Waco than anywhere else.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Haiku Friday: Parades!

Yesterday in New Orleans, I saw what seemed to be an improvised parade going down a side street in the middle of the afternoon, celebrating… I'm not sure what.  New Orleans is like that.

It is also the season for homecoming parades, which I dearly love.  Let's haiku about parades today-- the good, the bad, the utter disasters. I will go first:

Our float burned up
"It seemed like a good idea"
IPLawGuy said.
[Based on actual events. Yes, plural-- more than one event]

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

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