Saturday, February 24, 2018


Look what is coming!

It has been an intense year-and-a-half of writing, but now it is done.

Friday, February 23, 2018


Haiku Friday: Overheard

Yeah, I'm an eavesdropper. So are you, I'll bet. How can anyone not be? People are just so... interesting!

Let's haiku about that this week: the remarkable (or mundane) things we hear other people say, whether to us or to someone else. Here, I will go first:

Two women run by
"I sold all of his clothes and..."
And what??? They are gone.

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

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Political Mayh... blah, forget it.

So tired of politics. I care, but sometimes too much.

Instead, here is some skiing. Nordic skiing!

When I moved to MN from Texas, I was surprised to read that the local high school had 55 guys on the football team, and 140 on the nordic ski team. And that wasn't including the people on the alpine ski team. I wasn't in Texas anymore!

One of the kids from Minnesota, Jessie Diggins, won the first Olympic medal in women's nordic skiing yesterday in a two-person relay thingee.  Which is kind of neat.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018



So-- today's my birthday.

I've been on this Earth for a little while now.

Consider some of the things that were true on the day I was born:

-- My alma mater, William & Mary had never admitted an African-American student.
-- Women were barred from the undergraduate division of Yale, where I went to law school.
-- John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X were all still alive.
-- The Beatles were largely unknown in the US. They had not released an album yet.
-- There were people around who were alive during the Civil War.

In so many ways, the world is a better place now than it was then. There is more freedom in more places. There is cleaner air and water. There is nationhood in many places that were colonized when I was born. Women have more autonomy and opportunity.

This world is what we make it. And there is much more to do-- for me, and for us all. I'm in.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Mr. Rogers and being decent

It was 50 years ago yesterday that Mr. Rogers Neighborhood started it's long run on PBS. For a lot of Americans, including me, Fred Rogers had a real influence on what we thought life could be like.

That is that it could be gentle.
That it could be decent.
That it could be about things bigger than ourselves.
That it would go forward in a world where we had a responsibility to one another.

We needed to hear that. We still do.

Monday, February 19, 2018



Sometimes I really regret the limitations of the form of haiku, because I really  want to know the rest of the story. For example, this nifty little piece from the Medievalist (oh, and George Greenia says "hi!"):

Here is a drink, sir,
This will calm your shattered nerves,
Whiskey warms the heart.

Also, confidential to Nate: No. No you're not.

Midterms approaching 
Yet, study group remains calm
Maybe we aren't dumb?

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Sunday Reflection: The nature of killing

What made him so mad?

What is inside a mind that thinks the right thing to do is to head down to a school with a passel of guns and shoot everyone you can?

Almost always, it seems to boil down to revenge and resentment. It comes in different packages, but that seems to be the common core of the motivation.

And that is such a failure of the spirit, not just of the shooters but of our society. We unfortunately rely on resentment to fuel victories in our three of our most important public forums: entertainment, sports and politics. So many movies and television shows have a hero with a gun and a hurt, intent on revenge.  In sports, it is a recipe that works: to convince athletes that they have been disrespected, and that they must go out and "fight" to avenge their loss of honor. And in politics, both parties stoke resentments openly to get people to come out and vote. It isn't subtle; it is all there is to many  political messages.

And yet it is such an un-Christian message. Christ taught selflessness, over and over. If there is one word that sums up his message other than "love," it would be "humility."

And yet, we teach the opposite in public, and lionize those who avenge. Should we be surprised that, when tossed into a mind that is already hurt and strained, it leads to such terrible outcomes?

Even as we seek to change laws, we need to revive our own spirits, and those of the community, in what we celebrate and honor.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Wow! Russians indicted for election meddling

I loved seeing this: Robert Mueller and his team have indicted 13 Russian individuals and 3 organizations on charges of fraud and aggravated identity theft. All of the charges relate to a coordinated effort to impact US elections.

While the media has obsessed over the Trump campaign's involvement with the Russian project, the story of what the Russians were doing--with or without complicity by Trump operatives-- is a very important story.

One thing that I am seeing out of the Mueller camp is a remarkable and workmanlike focus. Trump may be the shiny object for some, but this indictment shows that the Mueller team is properly focused on the efforts to influence elections by foreigners. That should concern us all-- whether or not Trump or his campaign conspired with the Russians. [Side note: "complicity" does not have much meaning in criminal law; it is rarely if ever an element of a crime. "Conspiracy" is the operative word people should be thinking about]

Friday, February 16, 2018


Haiku Friday: A Kindness (even one)

Man, what a week.

Does anyone else feel like this was kind of a turning point, a moment of national consciousness where we realize that if people keep shooting other people at random, maybe there is something wrong with our culture?

But there are good things, too, and it can be healing to turn to those now and then.

Small kindnesses are game-changers, especially in dark moments. Let's haiku about those this week. Here, I will go first:

Last week, Virginia
Old friends drove to see me talk
Such warmth in a smile.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Guns and Cowardice

There have been 18 gunfire incidents at schools this year, including the 17-death horror in Florida yesterday. For schools that started on January 3 and got MLK day off, there have been 30 schools days so far this year.

30 school days. 18 incidents of gunfire-- mass shootings, suicides, a kid shooting off the security guard's gun-- bullets and schools. More than one every two days. And yes, that is an accurate figure for incidents of gunfire at schools this year. It's appalling.

"Thoughts and prayers" apparently are not working.

One of the arguments against doing nearly anything about school shootings--other than training kids to be terrified of school shootings--is that any one "fix" won't prevent them all. It's a dumb argument. In criminal law, which is pretty much the science of trying to limit tragedy, nothing we do, nothing, ever "prevents" a category of crime. We settle for the little we can do to make things somewhat better. And that saves lives, if we do it right.

Here are four things we can do.

1. Ban assault rifles--semiautomatic rifles capable of accepting a large magazine-- like the one used in Newtown and again yesterday (and in the Las Vegas shooting, and the Pulse nightclub). They were banned before, from 1994 through 2004. These guns are designed to allow a soldier to enter a building and shoot a lot of people; there is a reason they are a favored weapon for urban combat-- and those are the same characteristics that make them ideal for school shooters. Yes, there are a lot of them out there already, but it makes sense to staunch the flow now.

2. Close the gun show loophole, and require background checks for all gun transactions. When I was a prosecutor in Detroit, I went to a gun show out at the Gibralter Trade Center in Macomb County. It was a building full of unregulated gun dealers, and one book stall with titles like "Kill 'Em All" and "So You Are Going to Prison." I was appalled. I still am.

3. Stop hobbling the ATF as they try to do their job. Congress, goaded on by the NRA, has stood in the way of modernizing gun tracing: the picture above depicts the file boxes they deal with instead of computers. There is no national database; instead there is just a guy named Charlie. Seriously, that is all we've got-- a guy named Charlie, a small staff, and a bunch of paper records in boxes.

4. End the effective ban on federal funding of research into gun violence prevention. Yup-- in 1997, a law was put into place that has been interpreted as barring public money from being spent to figure out where this public menace comes from. This is crazy, and the NRA's motivation is clear: to protect the status quo regarding guns in America, which includes kids getting gunned down every other day at school.

Do politicians care? Well, no. No, they don't.

And if they can't do these little things, it is worse than not caring. It is cowardice.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


What people buy with "food stamps"

First, I need to say this: I think that the government should spend much more money to feed the hungry, here and in other places. And, yes, there is food insecurity for a lot of people in the United States, many of them children and the elderly.

How we do that is a fair question. I don't quite understand the Trump administration's proposal to just give out boxes of food ("like Blue Apron"), and I'm not sure that they do either. It sounds like it would be an administrative nightmare, and one that would not meet the varying needs of the many people who are in need of food assistance.

An article at Yahoo News yesterday described the top ten items purchased through the program that used to be known as "food stamps" (and is now called SNAP):

1.   Soda
2.   Milk
3.   Ground beef
4.   Bagged snacks (ie, chips and pretzels)
5.   Cheese
6.   Bread (which, oddly, is described as "baked bread"-- what other kid is there?)
7.   Cereal
8.   Fresh chicken
9.   Frozen snacks (ie, Hot Pockets)
10. Lunch meat

Generally, this tracks what non-SNAP buyers choose; for example, soda and milk are the top two purchases for non-SNAP buyers, though the order is reversed. I suspect that a lot of Americans would support taking soda and chips off the list of available items, but Coke and Lays are a powerful countervailing political force (and others will argue that SNAP recipients should have the same choices as everyone else).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


The Triple Axel

I really, really love the Winter Olympics. Like, a lot. When you have sports spectacular that features sledding, why would anyone complain?

A few days ago, American skater Mirai Nagasu did something remarkable-- landed a triple axel, a jump that very few women have been able to do do. Tanya Harding was the first, in 1991. That seems all the more remarkable after watching this:

Monday, February 12, 2018


The promise of Spring

Great haiku last Friday! But... will someone tell the Medievalist that he lives in Texas?

Sunshine on shoulders,
Single digits below zero,

Waiting for April.

Jill Scoggins, meanwhile, knows where she is at!

This Native Texan
now knows why Indiana
mom hated this month.

My dad is not offering much hope:

February gives us
hope and then March comes along
And smashes it all

And Kitty is backing him up!

Snow days and chocolate
Make February fly by
March is just false hope.

Christine, though, has hope:

Spotted a Snowdrop
White blossoms peak, a sure sign
Spring is not long off.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Sunday Reflection: The slow river

Yesterday I flew out of Patrick Henry Airport, south of Williamsburg, headed home. The plane banked up and over the James River, and I was filled with memories.

Here in Minnesota, the rivers move right along (except when they are frozen). Minnehaha Creek runs close to my house, rushing through twists and turns and plunging over little waterfalls until it gets to a big one, where it drops 53 feet into a misty pool. Even the Mississippi speeds along, even tumbling into whitewater as it passes by downtown Minneapolis.

The James is not like that. It is old and slow and wide. Sometimes, even up by Williamsburg, it can stop or flow backwards. You can throw in a stick, and just sit there and watch it not do much for an hour. When I was in college, I sometimes went and sat on the shore to think; it was calm there.

Things move slowly some places. But they do.

I have great admiration for those who can navigate slow waters.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Charter Day

Yesterday was Charter Day at my alma mater, William and Mary, celebrating the 325th anniversary of the founding of the college. Among other things, they have a big formal ceremony in the basketball stadium. CraigA and his wife Lori came down from Richmond, so I got to see them (which is always worth a trip on its own).

Among the speakers (which included former Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, the Governor of Virginia and others) I had the best job: I got to introduce my mentor and teacher Prof. Joanne Braxton, who was given the school's top honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award. Her speech was amazing, and it got not only a standing ovation, but something more remarkable: that moment of stunned silence right before it.

Here is what I said in my introduction:

"The Thomas Jefferson Award is the College's most prestigious honor, bestowed upon a faculty member who has demonstrated a deep devotion and outstanding service to the college. This year we honor my teacher and mentor, Professor Joanne Braxton. Good teachers touch students’ lives. Great teachers transform them. Professor Braxton has been the latter, a beloved force of nature.

35 years ago I was a student in Professor Braxton’s class on African American literature, a Yankee from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Professor Braxton was described to me by a fellow student as “an actual poet.” I was skeptical.

When class began, I found out what that meant. Professor Braxton wasn’t a poet just because she had published poetry; she was a poet because her words were well-considered, strong, worthy of our time. A question would be asked, and she would pause, nodding a little. We waited anxiously, and then the answer would come out in a way I had never heard before. Her responses had an architecture to them; they weren’t said so much as constructed. We listened, really listened, motionless. I began to think differently about race and history, and also about the power of language. I resolved to have some poetry in me no matter what I did; I wanted a bit of that soaring architecture in what I said and wrote. I still do.

To you students: The heart of teaching is love. I learned that from this teacher.

This ancient place has been blessed to have her near, and so have I. 

Thank you, congratulations, and welcome, Professor Joanne Braxton."

And then she slayed them. 

Friday, February 09, 2018


Haiku Friday: Longing for Spring

You know you want it-- to say good-bye to winter. There is a way in which (at least in the north) February is the cruelest month. It's the shortest, but can feel like the longest. Let's haiku about all of that this week. Here, I will go first:

The snow froze over
And some more on top of that
Yet... the days lengthen.

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

Thursday, February 08, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: The exit of Rob Porter

The newest drama from the White House is that staff Secretary Rob Porter has resigned in the wake of allegations that he was physically abusive to two of his ex-wives.

Other than the fact that he was Hope Hicks' boyfriend, it is hard to understand how Porter had this job in the first place. Because of the allegations (the FBI had interviewed the ex-wives), he did not receive a security clearance-- yet as Secretary, one of his jobs was conveying classified information to the President. It's really bizarre how things happen at the White House-- the only test seems to be that of loyalty.

And maybe it is just me, but it seems like perhaps President Trump just does not view women as possessing human dignity in the first place.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


Parking [how not to]

Yesterday I walked out to my car at the end of the day and couldn't help but notice the little BMW in the spot next to me. The driver had parked it on a diagonal; not crossing the line but just kind of sideways in there (we have wide spaces). It looked like they had wheeled in with alacrity and then just ditched it; it kind of made me laugh to think about.

That wasn't really a bad parking job, relatively speaking, for the garage I use. It apparently is a magnet for bad parkers, and a special Minnesota variety of bad parker-- not the inconsiderate slob who takes up two spaces or uses the handicapped spot before jogging off to work. No, it's more like this:

-- The guy who backed his car in a little too far and got smushed into the wires back there
-- The person who parked in the corner where there is no wall and got her car completely covered in snow and then just left it there for weeks
-- The doofus who parked directly in front of the door to the stairs, so that people coming in and out have to basically climb over his car.

I know... not much to complain about, really. What do you see?

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


After the Super Bowl

A lot happened here in Minneapolis last week. In the run-up to the Super Bowl, they pretty much transformed the downtown into an NFL-focused city-state. My walk to the gym through the skyways took me past most of the action, so I got to see it over several days. In all, it was just kind of weird.

You know how there are really great amusement parks, the ones that get everything right pretty much? And then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those old goofy local places that get a lot of things wrong (like safety, perhaps) but are endearing and fun. But in the middle are these places that are neither glamorous or authentic, but just kind of.... manufactured.  That's what Super Bowl World felt like. The city looked great, but this city looked great already.

In the end, the city sunk a lot of money into it, and the NFL made a lot of money off the game. It's like the stadium itself; the taxpayers pony up and the owners of the team get the resulting cash flow. It's little-- a lot-- like getting used.

Monday, February 05, 2018


Halftime? Not in the top 10

Sorry, but Justin Timbertoes just did not do it for me. And, didn't it seem like most of the time there was singing, he wasn't singing?

Also, dude is starting to look like late-career Phil Collins.

 But... I wish I could have seen what the Medievalist was up to, since he was apparently planning a costume malfunction!

Half time stupid bowl,
Refresh the drinks, make pizza,

Costume malfunction.

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