Thursday, April 24, 2014

 

Political Mayhem Thursday: The Big Step on Clemency

Yesterday was a day I have hoped for.

President Obama fired the do-nothing Pardon Attorney, and appointed as his replacement a sharp, capable, and motivated public servant, Deborah Leff.  The DOJ also set out the parameters for the new clemency program, which is becoming a reality.

An excellent New York Times editorial sums things up pretty well:

President Obama understands the deep damage of the war on drugs. With Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., he pushed for greater reductions to crack cocaine sentences. Yet he has had a blind spot when it comes to clemency, granting fewer petitions than any modern president.

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton defended the president’s pardon power as an essential counterweight to the “necessary severity” of criminal law. That power is in Mr. Obama’s hands; now he must use it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 

Hair issues


I guess I'm lucky-- I still have all my hair, and it is pretty much the same as it was when I was a kid.  The problem is that when I was a kid, it was a mess.

Maybe it's time for a new look-- short hair?  Really short?  Dare I risk it?

The last time I took a real risk with my hair was in 2004.  It was the night before I was to go to Washington to testify in front of the Sentencing Commission, and I was over at the neighbor's for dinner.  As sometimes happens on a warm spring night in Texas, that dinner bled into a long evening of margaritas and intellectual badinage.  About 11 pm, a consensus arose that i needed a haircut.  Two people (Carol Pomilio and Jeff Manske) both started cutting my hair at the same time.  In the dark.  After… well some of those margaritas.  

I went to DC and met up with IPLawGuy.  Without knowing the story he said, "Hey!  Your hair looks better than usual!"


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

 

Clemency: It's on!



According to Liz Goodwin over at Yahoo News (Really?  An actual non-Lindsey Lohan-related article at Yahoo News?), President Obama is finally going to replace his Pardon Attorney.  This is a crucial step in attaining the fundamental movement in clemency the administration is seeking.

Significantly, Attorney General Eric Holder also made a statement yesterday, which confirmed that the administration is serious about this project:

The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety.  The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.

This is going to be an interesting summer!

Monday, April 21, 2014

 

A new word for me...

I had never heard the word "clutch" used this way, until Jill Scoggins did so for Haiku Friday:

My Clutch. Eight women
Who are always there for me.
So good, we named it.


Isn't that a great word?  Now I have it, and will use it...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

 

Easter Sunday Reflection


There is, and should be, a certain quiet joy to Easter.  Somehow, "He is risen!" resounds more strongly as that joy that swells in your heart than as something shouted from a rooftop.  The message of that life after life is about renewal from within, about hope, about love.  Those are all low-burning fires, coals that endure.

On Friday, I found myself in Dwight Chapel at Yale.  To go to a Christian service at a chapel at Yale is a remarkable experience, but perhaps not in the way you might think.  It is a thoroughly secular place.  The Chapel itself has been stripped of crosses and other Christian markings.  It is small, too-- and perhaps forty of us were there, in two rows facing one another, a choir of four, and three ministers.  It was dark inside, and our songs reverberated in the space.

It was, I suppose, a little like the early Christians in their caves.  The spirit was intense, too… as part of the service, a priest brought in a large, rough cross to hold at the front of the room.  It was not arty or smooth, but it was real and foreboding, an instrument of death.  Its presence was unsettling, like someone had set a gun down on the chapel rail.  I couldn't bear to look at it.  

But now that cross is transcended, defeated.  We must have the will to do the same, to stride forward and transcend death and injustice and walk humbly with our God.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

 

Kent McKeever in the New York Times


On Tuesday, I found myself in a conversation with New York Times editorial board member Jesse Wegman.  Jesse asked me what I had been working on recently, and I told him about our trial in Texas last Sunday.

Part of that story, of course, involves Kent McKeever, who played the role of Jesus.  And it was that part-- the Waco Minister who chose to wear a prison jumpsuit for Lent-- that fascinated Jesse.  As well it should!

I love what Jesse wrote; you can read it here.



Friday, April 18, 2014

 

Haiku Friday: Friends

It's Friday again!  And that means that it is time for some high-quality haiku.

I took this picture in New York earlier this week-- there was something really sweet about this clump of girls shopping together.  They might have been tourists or NYU students; I did not stop to ask (which would have been creepy anyways).

Let's haiku about friends today, friends of any sort.  Some of our friends are old, some are new, some are like us and others unlike.

Here is mine:

So, IPLawGuy;
I know all of his foibles
And make some up, too.

Now, you take a shot at it.  We are taking a broad view of friendship here, so you can think creatively.  Use 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third, and have some fun with it!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

 

Political Mayhem Thursday: What state would you not want to live in?


This is a remarkably diverse country.  I have spent my adult life in three very different states:  Michigan, Texas, and Minnesota.  I know that some people think Minnesota and Michigan are similar because they both start with "M" and are in the midwest, but the thousands of people who moved from Michigan to Minnesota would disagree.

Is there a state you would not want to live in?  Why not?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

 

Yesterday in New York...

What a day it was yesterday!  NYU Law School put on a wonderful conference on Mercy in the Criminal Justice System.  Rachel Barkow and Nancy Hoppock of NYU put together a stellar lineup of speakers, which included many people that a clemency geek gets excited about.  White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler (who plays a key role in clemency decisions) was the keynote speaker.

In her talk, Ruemmler set out a few more details about the new clemency initiative which is about to be rolled out by the White House.  It appears that the Pardon Attorney's office will be beefed up to handle the expected flood of petitions, and the word will be spread to inmates via the Bureau of Prisons "soon."

In what was either timed to Ruemmler's speech or a remarkable coincidence, President Obama granted a clemency petition minutes before Ruemmler made her speech.

People (including me) have worried about some aspects of this project, but at the very least we do know that the President is at least paying attention to clemency right now-- and it is well before the last year of his presidency.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 

The Jesus Mysteries!

Some of you may remember that last year I was interviewed about the history of crack for the National Geographic special "The 80's."  Well, it's happening again... I don't remember what all I said, but I was interviewed this past summer for the National Geographic special "The Jesus Mysteries," which will air on Easter and the following Monday.

It was a fascinating experience-- I went to London for the interview, and found the production very intriguing.  I have no idea what they are doing with that footage, so I guess we will all find out together!

At the very least, I'm confident that I am the only academic in America who apparently specializes in crack and Jesus, at least to the viewers of the National Geographic channel.  


Monday, April 14, 2014

 

Yes, Spring!

There were some phenomenal haiku last week!  The topic was Spring, and some people really nailed it.  For example, this came from Bob, who is about 22% 16-year-old anyways:

First honeysuckle
Of the spring! Suddenly, I'm
Sixteen once again.


And this from Renee:

Scatsings bird from whence?
His jazz chases the wind, turns,
Somersaults in red.


From Lily of the Valley (who should love Spring):

In spring everything
Weighs nought. It is all grass blade,
Windborne petal. Raindrop.


From Christine, who enjoys Spring earlier than I do:

Chartreuse, inviting
Traipse barefoot across soft grass
Cool beneath my feet.


And from the Medievalist, who knows about Minnesota:

Ice is off the lake,
The heavy scent of blooming
lilacs fills the air.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

 

The Pain of Lent

Today is Palm Sunday.  Today I will prosecute Jesus in Texas.  It will be an interesting cast.  In addition to the regular players, James Nortey will be our judge, and Kent McKeever will play Jesus.  

Over at his own blog, Kent recently wrote about the "heaviness" of his project, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit for the duration of Lent:

 Lately, I have been feeling the heaviness of the burdens I am writing about.  These issues are not easy to hear and discuss and feel.  And it gets kind of overwhelming after a while.  Trying to figure out ways to respond, how to change our ways, efforts in advocacy that will truly make a difference.  Really, more than anything, just deep down I feel the wearisome sting of the lack of mercy and compassion in our world.  But sometimes I feel unmerciful myself. 

His feelings echo some of what I feel when I serve as the prosecutor of Jesus.  It sets the prosecutor in me against the Christian in me, and the dissonance is tiring.  Much of what I say, I truly believe-- that Jesus is dangerous to authority, that he wants to turn the world upside down-- and it is hard to present in such a challenging way.  In fact, at some level I am preaching the gospel more truthfully when I prosecute Jesus than when I give a sermon, because I have license to speak all those truths that make us deeply uncomfortable. 

But, it does feel unmerciful, too.  And that is the part that is hardest.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

 

The Fascinating Frozen Four

Tonight in Philadelphia we will witness the final of the Frozen Four-- college hockey's championship tournament.  It probably is not something any of you (well, maybe Craig A.) follow, but there is a wonderful story behind tonight's game.

Playing for the championship tonight will be stalwart Division I powerhouse University of Minnesota and Union College, a division three school from upstate New York that offers no athletic scholarships.  They beat an excellent Boston College team to make it to the final.

Here are some comparisons:

Student Body:

Minnesota:  51,526
Union:  2,246

Athletic budget:

Minnesota:  about $85,000,000
Union:  about $13,000,000

School motto:

Minnesota:  "Commune vinculum omnibus artibus" ("A common bond for all the arts")
Union:  "We All Become Brothers Under the Laws of Minerva."


Friday, April 11, 2014

 

Haiku Friday: Rites of Spring


It's Spring in Minnesota!  Which means some of the snow has melted.  (This picture really is from the past week).  

Let's haiku about Spring-- baseball season starting, the end of the school year, breaking out new clothes-- consider it broadly!

Here is mine:

There is this one scent:
In wisps of smoke, drifting by
Barbecuing meat!

Now it is your turn!  Use 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third...


Thursday, April 10, 2014

 

Political Mayhem Thursday: The Problem with...

... oh, screw it.  I have no interest in politics today.  I'm still all about these totally cool "Happy" videos from all over the world.  Like this one from Dakar, Senegal:



Or this one from a ski resort in Slovakia:



Or Abu Dhabi:



And Beijing:




Wednesday, April 09, 2014

 

This summer's song



Every summer, it seems like there is one pop song that captures the mood of the time.  It's the song that the lifeguards listen to, the one that gets everyone on their feet at a beach party, the one that inspires a special, intricate dance among 16-year-olds.

Even though it isn't brand new (it was written for the movie Despicable Me 2, which came out a while ago), Pharrell William's "Happy" seems like a pretty good bet.  The official video, above, is nice, but I really like this version from elementary school students at Detroit's Academy of Arts and Sciences:



Though, it's hard not to love the one from Paris, too:



And Jamaica:



There are even happy Romanians!



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

 

Smart Journalism, Real Data, and the Sluggish Academy


Journalism is changing.  Print media is becoming secondary to online media, and that weight shift has thrown much of the journalism world into disarray.  U.S. News no longer exists as a magazine, and Time and Newsweek are mere pamphlets.  Many large-city newspapers no longer print a paper every day.  Bloggers and blogger-agglomerations like the Huffington Post have become increasingly important "news" sources.

A lot of this is bad news.  Trained, relatively objective journalists are being usurped by corporate-paid hacks and people with a big bag of opinion and a pocketful of facts.  Investigative journalism, which broke the Watergate story and so many others, is nearly extinct.

Still, there are some good things happening.  Real journalists are starting to craft stories for the online world rather than print, and the results can be very impressive.  One benefit of this development is that those projects can be rich with data in a way that was never possible in print.  I'm not necessarily talking about "big data," which can have some issues-- just enough data to ground things in reality rather than anecdote, thus pulling news away from the Nancy Grace model of sensationalizing a few oddball cases.   I'd like to point to three example in my own little field of law.

First, consider Dafna Linzer (pictured) and Cora Currier's wonderful series about clemency for ProPublica.  (You can see it here).   The written stories reflected a wealth of data about clemency, but the authors also made available the numbers themselves via an ebook.  For those of us who care about such things, it was a feast.

Second, take a look at Ron Fournier's National Journal piece on the same subject.  Besides Ron's sharp analysis, the online article offers two take-aways that would be hard to put in a print edition-- a complex graph and a link to an actual commutation petition.

Finally, I was very impressed by what Alia Malek and the others at Al Jazeera America did with clemency: a multi-media masterpiece, loaded with more goodies than the Sunday Brunch at the Yale Club.

I love the fact that this approach-- which reflects the full complexity of real news-- cuts against the dumbing-down of media.  It assumes that some in the audience want more than a nibble, and are smart enough to understand the depth of meaning embedded in these things of great importance.  They are created by smart people like Linzer, Fournier, and Malek,  and allow for a level of discourse that print never did, and never could.

And there is this… this new "smart journalism" moves popular media toward the academy.  These journalist are engaging stories and the data behind those stories in a way that we professors can appreciate.  The combination of raw data and analysis is right in our wheelhouse.  The sad thing is that while journalism moves towards the academy, I don't see us responding yet.  We haven't stepped towards the media to begin the dance towards greater truths, broadly shared.  We need to do that, by inviting these journalists to our conferences, by collaborating with them, and by occasionally stepping into their world to write for broader audiences.

The media is changing.  So should we.

Monday, April 07, 2014

 

From Waco and elsewhere...

Yesterday, the Waco Tribune-Herald featured a piece I wrote about the odd disjunction between the way Christians often treat gay men and lesbians and the way they treat re-married people-- you can read it here.  A version of the same piece ran last week in the Huffington Post.

 

The many ways we hurt...

There was a fascinating array of pain laid out for haiku Friday last week, but the one with the most complete story was Christine:

One drunken evening
As I climbed through a window
I fell backwards, ouch....

More recently, boom...
again, through another window,
ankle bruise, not sprained

Perhaps I should stop
trying to climb through windows
and try the door - hum.....

Sunday, April 06, 2014

 

Sunday Reflection: Sacred Space



I believe the admonition that Jesus gave us, that we are to gather in his name.  I think corporate worship is important.  We need one another.

There is no command, though, that the gathering be in a church.

I've come to believe that places become sacred because of what happens there, not by its designation.  I have been in churches that seem devoid of the Spirit, and in cars which were full of it.

Maybe the conceit is that we can make a place sacred, for example by building a church.  In truth, though, it is the Holy Spirit that does so, and a thing so great cannot be captured by walls.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

 

Admitted Student Day!

Yesterday was "Admitted Student Day" at St. Thomas Law, where we welcome those who have been admitted with a nice lunch and events at the school.  People came from all parts of the country for it.

So, naturally, it snowed six inches.  Yeah, on April 4.  Sheesh.

Still, the visitors seems to like what they saw, and they should.  I continue to be amazed at what happens at this school-- the talents of my colleagues, the sense of community, and the continuing value given to social justice.  All of that has piled up quite high; enough to obscure a bit of snow.

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