Sunday, July 31, 2005

Clowns, Drowning and Urban Legends

Another reality check. While watching PBS last week, I found out that Send in the Clowns was not really about a trapeze artist who had an accident. It's about lost love and all that. It is still a haunting tune, but somehow less tragic.

There was another urban legend about Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." The story goes that Collins saw someone drowning, but was too far away to help him. A person who could have helped let the guy drown. Phil Collins eventually found the Bad Samartian, gave him front row tickets to a concert, and sang the song to him. Alas, this was not a true story.

Maybe we can create another legend about a trapeze artist who falls into water and then drowns.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hooper, Bandit, and Bond

Just watched Burt Reynolds on the Tonight Show. He told the story of how he turned down the role of James Bond. For real! Burt is perhaps the best talk show guest in history. Sure, he's promoting a movie this time. But Burt was the guy you could always count on to just drop by and chat with Johnny Carson.

These days, the guests are all pre-interviewed. The host delivers the setup line and a stale story is delivered. Repeat three times, show the clip, and go to commercial. No spontaneity.

Other great guests included Sammy Davis, Jr., Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, and Teri Garr.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Atwater, Estrada, and Horton

Republican whiz kid Lee Atwater famously telephoned former Gov. Michael Dukakis after Atwater was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It is reported that he called to apologize for the political attacks based on Dukakis signing a prison furlough order for convicted murderer Willie Horton. Horton went on to rape a woman and torture her fiancee.

I believe that the Willie Horton furlough was a legitimate campaign issue. However, the late Lee Atwater would know better whether he owed an apology than I would. It is a good lesson that one should conduct politics in such a way to require no deathbed apologies.

I keep thinking that Senator Chuck Schumer might have to make one of those calls to Miguel Estrada one day.
Recruiters, Protesters, and Packets

The Minneapolis School Board is facing another crisis. Too few students and parents are opting out of sharing student information with military recruiters. The district has gone so far as to print the opt out form in different languages and to mail out the information at the beginning of the school year.

"It's a huge packet of stuff," Board Member Audrey Johnson said.
"It can get lost in the shuffle."

The result? Seventeen year-olds are contacted by recruiters. What's more, they face the horror of saying that they are not interested, or even hanging up! This "harassment" -- detailed in the Star Tribune article as being telephone calls to some who had already filled out the form -- must end. It does not matter that military recruiters often get information from sources other than school records. The "other sources" dodge didn't cut it in the Valerie Plame case and it shouldn't cut it here.

There is no reason to think that teenagers, including racial minorities, would freely choose to join the military. Or that students and their parents would keep an open mind and welcome recruiter calls as just another option to consider. Blacks like Colin Powell and immigrants like John Shalikashvili were fooled into thinking that the military offers opportunity. We will not let young Minneapolitans be similarly fooled.

The lack of completed opt out forms from students in the Minneapolis School District is more evidence of THE MAN keeping us down.

Oh, and I support the troops.

The previous post was satire.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Square Peg, Round Hole, and Wingnut

Congratulations to Nick Coleman and Laura Billings on becoming parents. Are they registered anywhere? Former VP Dan Quayle bought a stuffed elephant for Murphy Brown's fictional newborn. I was thinking of a stuffed monkey, because Nick is nobody's.... Or one of those tool playsets where you hammer in the pegs and screw in the, well, wingnut.

It would be great if the kid turned out conservative on them, kinda like Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties.
Federalists, Founders, and Opposing Views

Let me add my own perspective to the mini-tempest over Judge Roberts and the Federalist Society. It may be helpful for one to replace "Federalist Society member" with "conservative lawyer" when reading about the organization. The former has become shorthand for the latter when talking about the ideology of an attorney.

If memory serves, I paid dues to the Federalist Society during my first year of law school (1991-92) and one year when I lived in Kansas (around 1998). I have been a conservative lawyer since I passed the bar in 1994. Given the shorthand, I guess that could make me a member for more than a decade. I never understood what exactly one does to become a member, or what makes it a "society." Despite the silhouette of James Madison on its stationery and the old fashioned name, the organization is really just a speakers' bureau for conservative and libertarian lawyers and academics. If there is a secret handshake or an agenda beyond sponsoring speeches and debates, I am unaware of any of it.

The Federalist Society does not promote legislation or file lawsuits. I wish there were an organization that served as the general counsel for the conservative movement, but this is not it. The organization is nominally for conservative and (lower case 'L') libertarian lawyers. But the standard program is a debate or panel discussion with opposing views represented. Here is a list of Federalist Society speakers over the years.

Under the leadership of my friend, Kim Crockett, the Minnesota chapter is meticulous about presenting different sides of an issue. One local program, exploring whether the legal system is racially biased, was rescheduled to make sure there was a spokesperson for the liberal perspective -- that discrimination is systemic and distinct from that which is found in other aspects of society. While there are many lawyers and law professors willing to play the race card, very few are willing to defend their accusations in front of a critical, but respectful, audience.

The aforementioned program on racial bias was submitted for credit under the Minnesota Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirement. Lawyers must take two hours of "Elimination of Bias" CLE courses every three years in order to keep their bar licenses. Even though the program presented an opposing view by Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, several lawyers sought to revoke the CLE credit granted to the Federalist Society. The State Public Defender argued that only those portions of the panel discussion where Justice Anderson spoke were eligible for credit. Following the controversy, Justice Anderson declined to speak at a subsequent Federalist Society event. This is significant because the justice is well known for attending every possible banquet and reception within the legal community. The guy must like chicken and peas.

I have argued that the Elimination of Bias requirement is unconstitutional, because it conditions a professional license on listening to liberal propaganda. When the Federalist CLE is presented as the lone alternative, I counter that the audience still has to listen to liberal propaganda in smaller chunks, since the Federalist Society always invites the opposing viewpoint. Despite my minor disagreement with the group on this point, interviewers covering the CLE story have dubbed me a Federalist Society spokesman, since it is a shorthand way to describe a conservative lawyer.

It is true that the Federalist Society's willingness to present opposing views does not mean that the membership and leadership is not conservative. However, the existence of libertarian elements within the group sort of undercuts the notion that membership is predictive of a certain view on social issues. Moreover, conservatives come in different varieties. It is not as though Federalists are "Scalia Scouts" and there is another group for the "Kennedy Crew." Senate Democrats say that they are willing to confirm a conservative, just as long as it is not an extreme conservative. Good enough. The Federalist Society is the only game in town for conservative and libertarian lawyers. Membership or leadership in the organization is not indicative of a specific agenda or philosophy. The only thing it might indicate is an open mind and a willingness to listen to opposing views.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Rebels, Rights, and Revenge

I meant to write about the recent stoning and kicking of a car adorned with a Confederate flag. This happened in Rochester, Minnesota. Although the assailants threatened violence against the car occupants, only the car was damaged.

Michael Westerman did not fare so well. In 1995, Westerman was chased and shot to death while driving his red pickup truck with a Confederate flag flying in the back. It turns out that some of the accomplices of the shooter had played basketball with Westerman. The nearby Kentucky high school, from which Westerman had recently graduated, had a team nickname of the "Rebels."

I found out about the Westerman case while watching the MTV program, "Fight for Your Rights." MTV reported on the aftermath of the shooting, where the community had chosen to de-emphasize the Confederate flag on school grounds. All of this was a subtle way of blaming the victim. The fix for the problem, according to MTV, was to get rid of the flag. Exactly what "rights" were they fighting for? The right to kill someone?
Tanner, Tatum, and Timmy Lupus

As the new movie comes out, there is much praise heaped on the original Bad News Bears. I was eight years old when it came out in theaters, so I almost certainly saw it for the first time on broadcast television.

Part of the charm of the original is that it has kids talking like grownups. Following in the footsteps of movies like Paper Moon (also starring Tatum O'Neill) and television characters like Danny Partridge, the kids demonstrate that that they are wise beyond their years, often smarter than the adults in the film. Tanner Boyle had the biggest mouth of the team, even though he is the smallest player. His scrappy demeanor delighted audiences. I almost wonder if he was the model for cartoon character Scrappy Doo.

That's the edited-for-television version. And the 1979 television series with Corey Feldman, Meeno Peluce, and Jack Warden was similarly cute. However, the theatrical release was a much less pleasant film. In addition to the cursing, the original movie included racial slurs, mostly from the mouth of Tanner. For all of the politically correct moralizing about old films (anyone seen Song of the South lately?) with complaints ranging from stereotypes to smoking, here you have a film with a very realistic and very disturbing combination of violence and racism in a small child. Like the kid who acts out sexually in school, Tanner Boyle obviously learned his behavior somewhere. He does get his comeuppance when Ogilvie reminds him that all of the groups he just insulted were present and could easily beat him up, but it is difficult to see the cuteness of the Tanner character.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Patience, Patience, and Patience

Expect a major upgrade to this blog by this coming Labor Day! Until then, please visit Martin Andrade's blog and tell him I sent you.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Schumer, Founders, and Consent

Senator Charles Schumer has been arguing, most recently at a press conference covered by C-SPAN, that the founders did not intend an automatic right of Senate consent for a judicial nominee.

Who can tell me the irony of Senator Schumer's deference to the intent of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution? Anyone?
Hamburger, Fries, and Handcuffs

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts wrote the opinion in the case of a 12 year-old arrested for eating a french fry at a D.C. Metro station. The caper included a purported mandatory-arrest law for juveniles involved in subway (or in this case, McDonald's) misconduct. No, I haven't read the case. I was busy with something or other.

This might give feminists a reason to praise the Roberts nomination. By upholding the constitutionality of the law, although questioning its wisdom, other mandatory-arrest laws may be strengthened. Such laws are often passed to protect victims of domestic violence. Even if the couple has reconciled, feminists argue that the aggressor should be arrested to prevent a later flare-up or retaliation against the victim.

If the mandatory-arrest law was a significant part of the holding in the french fry case, it is an example of the importance of neutral principles being applied consistently, even if you disagrees with a specific outcome. Today, it is subway misconduct by juveniles. Tomorrow, it might be domestic violence.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Carnavin, Doohan, and Scotty

James "Scotty" Doohan passed away. Bagpipes are playing among the stars tonight. Here's what the CNN obit has to say:

Oddly, his only other TV series besides "Star Trek" was another space
adventure, "Space Command," in 1953.

That's wrong, actually. He played Commander Carnavin on the first season of Jason of Star Command in 1978-79. All those naysayers out there who scoff at a science fiction purist should bone up on the classics.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nixon, Westmoreland, and Rust

General William Westmoreland passed away on Monday. Most of what I know about him is from the media. At an Army Reserve course in 1990, I met a Vietnam vet named Jose who referred to Westmoreland as a hero. That was good enough for me. Jose showed us how to tuck our caps into our rolled up sleeves just like the heroic general. I was cured of that habit at a Reserve course the following year. A drill sergeant for the recruits in the nearby intelligence school called me "John Wayne." Ordinarily, that means you should button the chin strap on your helmet, but I got the message.

General Westmoreland's grandson was in my basic training battalion. We also had a guy named Nixon (no relation). The younger Westmoreland was a staff sergeant in the Special Forces as recently as 1998. The proud tradition continues.

The last of my memories (such as they are) involves his lawsuit against CBS. In response to a discovery document request (kind of like a subpoena) in the litigation, CBS buried the Westmoreland camp with every scrap of paper they could find. A company called Rust Consulting helped Westmoreland index the mountain of documents. Blogger Last of Nine spent part of his law school days working for this company -- long after the CBS suit had been settled.

I have always wondered how the CBS smear of Westmoreland would have fared in the era of talk radio and bloggers. The case was long before the discredited CNN Tailwind report and the 60 Minutes II forged document scandal. General Westmoreland was brave to take on journalists at that time. But then he demonstrated bravery throughout his life.

UPDATE: John J. Miller has more details on the case at National Review Online.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Speaker, President, and President

Once upon a time, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives announced the president's arrival at the State of the Union as follows:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, the President of the United States.

The vice president serves as president of the Senate, meaning he is referred to as "Mr. President."

Recently it has been changed to:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, the President of the United States.

What explains the change? I kind of like it the old way.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Niger, Agee, and Hard Gs

Last night, during the Brit Hume's Fox All-Star panel discussion, Mort Kondracke mentioned that the law against knowingly outing CIA agents was inspired by the case of Phil Agee (ah-ZHEE). Agee was an ex-CIA man who exposed several covert agents in the 1970s, apparently leading to the murder of at least one. Kondracke's comment was in the context of discussing the current controversy over Joseph Wilson, his CIA-agent wife, and Wilson's trip to Niger (nee-ZHAIR).

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota in the late 1980s, Phil Agee was somewhat of a hero among leftists. I remember that the either the Progressive Student Organization or MPIRG invited him to speak on campus with much fanfare. No mention of murders resulting from his actions, as I remember. Now the left wants to preserve the identities of secret agents.

All of this talk of Niger and Agee reminds me of Magnus, a Swedish exchange student in my high school economics class. We were divided into groups, with Magnus and two other guys on my team. We were supposed to write a report on the economics of Niger, Upper Volta, Chad, and Mali. Once he started doing research on Niger (instead of Nigeria, where he mistakenly began his research), he had the habit of pronouncing it with a hard "g." Only a Swedish exchange student could get away with that. Being guys, it was one more reason for us to make fun of him.

Before you think that we were cruel to the poor foreigner, you have to understand that he was a very funny guy. One of his antics was to pull down the slide projector screen and hide behind it. The problem was that it only covered the top half of his body. The teacher would calmly ask him to take his seat, perhaps thinking that the cultural and language barrier explained the behavior. After that stunt, he was definitely one of the guys.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Nerds, Fly-Girls, and Plot Devices

Right here and now, I am declaring a moratorium on film romances between nerdy white guys and streetwise black women. We are way over our quota. It may have started on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with one of Aunt Viv's sisters marrying a white guy. Just look at the list of recent movies that rely on this plot crutch:

  • Bringing Down the House
  • Road Trip
  • Bulworth
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • Taxi (I haven't seen it, so I can't say for sure)

What have I missed? Readers?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Point, Counterpoint, and Confusion

This week's installment of Almanac on the local PBS station deals with journalism and confidential sources.

Check Your Sources Out East there's a big legal fight over
reporters and confidential sources. It's landed a prominent journalist in jail.
We debate the issues from both sides. Attorney Paul Hannah will square off with
Doug Kelley.

Nice of them to provide both sides of the argument. However, it turns out that Paul Hannah was the attorney defending the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch in the Cohen v. Cowles case.

Now, as a former criminal defense attorney, I know that it is not fair to confuse the misdeeds of the client with the aims of his lawyer. There is no nexus between the attorney's own beliefs and the task of representing his client's interests, except where the attorney volunteers for a pro bono case or specializes in representing a certain type of client. With that caveat, it still is improper and an "irony" (Hannah used this word four times on the show) for him to pontificate on the sanctity of a reporter's promise of confidentiality.

On a side note, many have compared reporter shield laws to other legal privileges like attorney-client. It is important to note that in that latter cases, the privilege belongs to the client. So if reporters (does that include bloggers?) are to enjoy similar legal protection, the decision whether to violate confidentiality belongs to the source and not the reporter. This demonstrates just how outrageous the conduct of the newspapers was in Cohen v. Cowles. Even if the current journalists had their wish with regard to reporter shield laws, it would not have permitted them to break their promise to Cohen.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sources, Scruples, and the Star Tribune

Isn't it charming to see so many employees of the "Newspaper of the Twin Cities" rally to protect confidential sources?

Associated Press Writer
July 6, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Just before a judge sent a New York Times reporter to jail, journalists here rallied at the federal courthouse Wednesday to argue that reporters shouldn't be forced to reveal sources in court.

More than 100 First Amendment advocates and journalists, most from the Star Tribune, attended the noon rally the same day a federal judge ordered reporter Judith Miller jailed for not revealing her sources to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity. Another reporter, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, agreed to testify.

"If we can't keep our promises to protect people's identities, then that information is going to dry up,'' said Allie Shah, a Star Tribune reporter who helped organize the rally. The rally was sponsored by several groups, including the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists and the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union.

Similar rallies were held in several other cities across the country, and organizers also asked newsrooms to observe two minutes of silence to show their support for Miller and Cooper. At the Star Tribune, about 200 employees participated, Shah said.

* * *

I wonder if Dan Cohen was invited.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

House, Senate, and Governor

Let's be honest about Minnesota's partial government shutdown. In 2003, DFL Senator John Hottinger compromised with Governor Pawlenty and the Republican-led House to pass a budget. As a result, Senator Hottinger lost his position as majority leader. Even if Senator Dean Johnson, the new majority leader, were inclined to compromise with Republicans, political reality prevents him from doing so.

The "do nothing" approach has been successful for the Democrat Farmer Laborer party. Recall that in 2004, the Senate adjourned without taking action on a bonding bill and many other pieces of legislation. The voters could not express their displeasure with the Senate, as they were not up for election last year. Instead the State House, with its large Republican majority, felt voters' wrath.

There was one piece of business that the 2004 DFL Senate was able to finish before adjourning. Fifteen months after former Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke was nominated, the Senate voted to deny her confirmation. Although they had passed her agenda, they voted to kick her out of office on a straight party-line vote. Senator Dean Johnson had broken his promise not to bring up her nomination unless there were sufficient votes to confirm Yecke. Then he lied about making the promise in the first place. There is a belief that one of the reasons for the rejection was that Yecke is a rising star in national Republican circles.

What does all of this have to do with the current partial government shutdown? Simple. The DFL has an incentive to torpedo the legislative session and a history of doing so. DFL leaders compromise with Republicans at their peril. There is also a move to tarnish the reputation of rising stars within the Republican party, whether it is Governor Pawlenty, Miguel Estrada, or Cheri Pierson Yecke.

Will we let them get away with it?