Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mistakes, Controversial Moments, and Questionable Decisions

ESPN Classic has a new series entitled, "The Top Five Reasons You Can't Blame...." The idea is that some sports figures have gotten a raw deal over the years. Each show begins with the following:

Welcome to ESPN Classic’s Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame, a series that takes a fresh look at sports personalities who are remembered largely for their mistakes, controversial moments, or questionable decisions. Our mission is not to further vilify these individuals, but instead to challenge conventional wisdom and re-examine what has been accepted as fact. The rush of instant history makes it easier to scapegoat than to explain the complex dynamics of a complicated event.

Will they have the guts to do a show on Rush Limbaugh and his controversial comments about Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb? Stay tuned to SwanBlog for the latest.
Lions, Tigers, and Blogs -- Oh my!

Watch this space. Great stuff coming about ESPN and the Supreme Court. Only at SwanBlog!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Harvest, Starvation, and Cheap Shots

This really was a cheap shot in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a week ago Sunday:

The print version of the newspaper found it profound that the wire services sent pictures of a hamburger eating contest in Wisconsin and malnourishment in Niger only a minute apart. This is a cheap shot against Jesus Haro, the winner of the Green Bay contest. Every culture has some sort of harvest festival. In America, the celebration of the abundant harvest lasts from the county fairs all the way through Thanksgiving. Some might view this as a positive thing about our country. A better newspaper might have noted that a man named Jesus won a contest in Northern Wisconsin eating a delicacy that originated in Germany. Again, this might be viewed as a plus for America.

The Star Tribune is attempting a guilt trip that parents have long used to get their children to eat vegetables. The implication is that the children in Africa wouldn't starve if we Americans weren't so greedy. But the Sahel region of Africa, which includes Niger, actually had a grain surplus as a whole for 2005.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Families, Churches, and Echo Chambers

The debate in last Sunday's Star Tribune ("Bring back the draft?" print version) between Eric Ringham and Jim Boyd begins with this:

A return to the military draft is a topic that can divide families, friends -- even members of a newspaper's editorial staff. After disagreeing for months, Jim Boyd and Eric Ringham have it out in print.

Imagine that, even the handpicked liberals on the editorial staff can disagree on something. Normal groupthink will continue following this unpleasant episode. It's almost like the Civil War. Brother against brother, liberal against liberal....

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Al, Cindy, and Tawana

The Reverend Al Sharpton is joining Cindy Sheehan in her protest in Crawford, Texas. Comments?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hardy, Har, and Har

Here is more proof that schools are not quite sincere when they claim that the school day is just too jam-packed with substance to include alternative points of view. Schools are now teaching children how to laugh. Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of innovative teaching methods. Just don't claim that you are all business when you're not.
AM, FM, and Partisan

The posts below have dealt with the misuse of the word partisan. Often it is substituted for "ideological." Here is another example of a story about "partisan" radio stations. Do the reporters even read their own newspaper? Other stories have acknowledged the difference between ideology and party preference.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Arabs, Hoosiers, and Quayle

Check out this little item. Under pressure, an online thesaurus removed the word "beggar" as a synonym for "arab."

This reminds me of a minor controversy involving former Vice President Dan Quayle. When he was a senator from Indiana, he wrote to the president of Merriam-Webster, protesting the following alternative definitions for "hoosier."
1. Used as a noun, "an awkward, unhandy or unskilled person;
esp. an ignorant rustic."
2. Used as a verb, "to loaf on or botch a job."

Merriam-Webster wrote back:

It is true that this unabridged dictionary
shows two senses of the noun hoosier, one of
which uses those unflattering terms, but those
have to be seen as two different words, not as
two definitions for a resident of Indiana.

* * *

Dictionary makers do not truly define words.
Rather, they record the language as it is used.
What this means is that if you use the word hoosier
to mean quick, smart, skillful, etc., and others use
the word in the same sense in edited text, then in
time it will begin to appear in dictionaries in that
sense, and no one would be more delighted that we.

That would have been a good response to the "arab" controversy, too. This incident was used as another reason to mock Quayle. I wonder if the left will be consistent in its defense of dictionaries.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cops, Stops, and Coleman

Nick Coleman actually has a good, non-shrill column out. He talks about the crime problem in North Minneapolis. But he misses the mark on part of the cause and part of the solution.

In the early part of this decade, police were indirectly (and directly) accused of racism in various studies of "racial profiling." As Powerline's Scott Johnson reports in his Murderapolis series, the response of the police was simply to make fewer stops. This meant they were arresting fewer outstanding warrants and discovering fewer illegal weapons. Coleman misses this point, which has clues to both the cause and the solution.

As a liberal, Coleman had a Sister Souljah moment during his days as a St. Paul Pioneer Press Columnist. Even Coleman realizes that charges of racial profiling in traffic stops presume that the police know the race of the driver. Check out this portion of his August 12, 2001 account of a police ride-along:

Payne Avenue, corner of Jenks, 1:35 a.m. on a drizzly Saturday on St. Paul's East Side. Police officer John Linssen has stopped a blue 1987 Chevy that is traveling slowly -- too slowly -- with its bright lights on.I have been riding with Linssen, playing a ride-along game, trying to guess the driver's race and gender each time Linssen stops an errant motorist. I have been wrong almost every time, sometimes comically.

Nick, time to read your old clippings!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Abstinence

This is the long-awaited conclusion to Evolution Week.

I am not necessarily a proponent of Intelligent Design. Quite frankly, I don’t know enough about it to comment. But I do have some observations about the debate itself. Opponents of teaching Intelligent Design in schools have advanced a handful of arguments:

  1. The topic of religion does not belong in schools, period.
  2. Evolution is correct; Intelligent Design is wrong.
  3. Religion does not belong in a science class because:
    1. It is not falsifiable, thus not scientific, so it could be taught in a philosophy class rather than a science class.
    2. Evolution and religion are not mutually exclusive.
    3. There is not enough time to teach the curriculum we already have, let alone adding new topics.

Let us look at each one, in turn.

  1. Religion does not belong in schools, period.

This is a particularly weak argument. This absolutist position would prevent the drama club from staging Inherit the Wind, a social studies teacher from discussing Al Qaeda, and the music teacher from teaching about certain pieces by Bach, Mozart, and many others. It would bar the discussion of some writings of Darwin. Religion as a topic is definitely appropriate for a public school. However, a distinction should be made between teaching religion and teaching about religion.

  1. Evolution is correct; Intelligent Design is wrong.

The government should not be picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas. If ID is indeed wrong, the public should be able to figure it out.

  1. Religion does not belong in a science class because:
    1. It is not falsifiable, thus not scientific, so it could be taught in a philosophy class rather than a science class.

The Scientific Method does call on those with an hypothesis to test it by either falsifying or not falsifying. The argument against ID is that the inability to falsify the existence of God means that ID is not scientific. This is a narrow definition of science. An alternate definition is “knowledge, especially that gained through experience.” If science meant falsification, we would call the curriculum “falsification class.” It is easy to falsify things that are observable within recorded human history, like gypsy moths and agricultural hybrids. Things in the distant path are less falsifiable. There is some amount of faith in any theory involving the distant past. In addition, those who claim to value the ability to falsify an hypothesis seem to spend an awful lot of time protecting Evolution from competing ideas. Finally, how many public schools offer a philosophy class? This strikes me as a cop out, saying that students can discuss ID in a class that is not required or sometimes even offered to them.

    1. Evolution and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Again, the government should not pick winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas. As noted below in the Darwin Fish vs. Jesus Fish saga, some people believe that Evolution and ID are in conflict, with factions choosing one side or the other. That there are other factions who see the ideas as compatible does not eliminate the debate. To say that ID must be excluded from the science curriculum because certain people (perhaps even a majority of people) believe that the ideas are not mutually exclusive means that government is picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas.

    1. There is not enough time to teach the curriculum we already have, let alone adding new topics.

Oh yeah. Schools are all business, never wasting time on the frivolous. In other contexts, when a teacher strays from the curriculum, it is called a “teachable moment.” Adding interesting notes to an otherwise dry topic can keep the students interested. What happens when the science teacher is asked the meaning of the names of the planets or the constellations. Suddenly mythology and astrology are being discussed in a science class. As long as the teacher does not stray too far off track, such a discussion can actually enhance learning of science. If the same student asks a question about the Creation story and its relation to the curriculum, should the teacher nervously tell the kid to hush up? It is all a question of how much time you devote to each topic.

This reminds me of abstinence only sex ed classes. As I understand it, teachers are not allowed to talk about birth control unless it is in the context of failure rates. However, if a hypothetical method of birth control has a 5% failure rate, and even less if it is used properly, the math teacher can help the kids fill in the blanks that the effectiveness of the method is 95% or greater. In this way, even abstinence only classes will discuss birth control. It is just a matter of emphasis.

Without knowing the exact details of Intelligent Design, I can’t speak to its merit. But I can say that the arguments used against ID do not measure up.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Nick Coleman, Crime, and Evolution

Watch this space for the exciting conclusion of Evolution Week and much more over the next couple of days. You won't want to miss it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Truck Drivers, Librarians, and Equal Pay

Let's take a short break from Evolution Week.

One of the Minneapolis-St. Paul "alternative" newspapers has taken up blogging. They address the unsurprising revelation that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was against the concept of comparable worth when he worked in the Reagan Administration. The "alternative" blog quips that Roberts was "very concerned about women actually wanting equal pay for equal work."

But Judge Roberts and the White House should not backtrack one bit on this 20 year-old position of the nominee. Comparable worth abandons the equal work portion of the equation. By arguing that predominantly male occupations have higher wages than predominantly female occupations, comparable worth advocates seek to avoid wages based on market forces. Moreover, the concept reinforces stereotypes, rather than breaking them down. Instead of encouraging women to go into truck driving and men to become librarians, proponents of this controversial doctrine would leave untouched the gender disparities between professions and simply throw money at the situation.

I would be concerned if a nominee for the bench actually favored comparable worth. My first question in the hearings would be where he thought judges ranked on the comparable worth of occupations. Certain senators and certain journalists would rank very low, in my opinion.
Fish, Fights, and "Ritual Aggression"

Continuing the Evolution Week series.

In a couple of posts below, including the comments section, I have discussed the trend of modifying religious symbols in order to make a point about evolution. A researcher from the University of Georgia has studied the battle between the Jesus fish (symbol of Christianity) and the Darwin fish, typically found on car bumpers and trunks.

My point is to cover the coverage of the debate, rather than debate the actual merits of one side or the other. Is it respectful to edit religious symbols and iconography to make a point?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Michelangelo, Adam, and Cheetah II

It's Evolution Week!

In a previous post, I asked whether the changing of religious iconography was offensive. Now I am getting ready to throw a flag on Time Mag for being unoriginal.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Campaigns, Campuses, and Partisanship

The exciting conclusion of Partisanship Weekend.

As I wrote earlier, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that Minnesota's restrictions on judicial candidates speaking to partisan organizations are unconstitutional. The reasoning was, in part, that the restrictions were underinclusive, since candidates for the bench were free to speak to other ideological organizations, just not partisan ones. This is further demonstration of my contention that many people mistakenly believe that non-partisan equals non-ideological.

This confusion about partisanship also exists on college campuses in the form of mandatory student fees to ideological student groups. Both the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have changed their eligbility standards to allow partisan student groups to apply for funding. Not coincidentally, the changes at both schools happened after the student fee allocations were challenged in court, resulting in two Supreme Court rulings.

Locally, the University of Minnesota still clings to its prohibition against partisan groups receiving student fees. During my tenure as a student, and shortly thereafter, this prohibition against partisanship (albeit unwritten) was used as a pretext to deny funding to conservatives. Many ideological groups on the left get consistent funding throughout the years, however. Last school year, a republican student group was denied funding based on this unwritten rule. When the group pointed out that it was not affiliated with the state or national party, the University asked for a letter from Ken Mehlman confirming this fact. One wonders whether, if they had obtained such a letter from a party official, the University might have used this as proof of some nefarious connection.

The pattern is clear, from non-profit status, to judicial campaigns, to student fees, liberals use underinclusive and unwritten rules to stifle the speech of conservatives.
Partisan, Ideological, and Even-Handed

Partisan Weekend Continues.

What does it mean to be non-partisan? The dictionary definitions of “partisan” are all over the map, ranging from a guerilla fighter to someone who feels strongly about an issue.

The legal definition of non-partisan is not quite as broad as the dictionary definition, but still murky. Requirements of non-partisanship are usually found in tax or campaign finance law. A cursory review of the requirements in these areas reveals a range of definitions from affiliating with a named political party to lobbying on specific pieces of legislation.

Many people fail to recognize the difference between “partisan” and “ideological.” One can be a Republican with a liberal ideology, or a Democrat with a conservative ideology. It gets more confusing in countries with parliamentary governments, since the ideological labels of conservative and liberal are also the names of political parties. But the difference between being non-partisan and non-ideological is very important.

There is a misconception that being non-partisan means that a group must be even-handed or neutral on every issue. That would be news to most churches and other houses of worship, which are typically non-partisan, non-profit corporations organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Can you imagine if religious groups were forced to give equal time to opposing views on the question of whether God exists? A non-profit that is one-sided in about specific candidates in voter guides before an election may run afoul IRS rules. Similarly, one-sided informational programs on a specific piece of legislation may be problematic. Still, there are a lot of myths about what non-profits are allowed to do while remaining non-partisan.

Admittedly, I have not read every ruling on the non-profit statutes and regulations. It is not necessary to be obsessively immersed in the topic to realize that an organization can have a perspective on the issues, while remaining non-partisan.

One person who has obsessively immersed himself in the whole non-profit regime is Rob Levine, a former Minneapolis Star Tribune photographer who operates the Cursor and Media Transparency websites. Cursor is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Media Transparency is and outgrowth of a project that analyzed the “grant making of a dozen conservative philanthropies.”

One of Levine’s targets was the local Crossfire-style debate program, Face to Face, which ran from the mid-1990s until last year. Levine makes some technical points about the number of donors required to qualify for a 501(c)(3), but mainly it is a rant about alleged partisanship. Levine questions the liberal credentials of former co-host Vance Opperman (!) and complains that former co-host Jason Lewis was part of the “All-Republican” lineup on a local radio station. Levine also complains about the “far out libertarian positions” of Lewis, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Libertarian Party is different than the Republican Party. If he meant libertarian in the lower-case "l" sense (meaning ideological, rather than partisan), he demonstrates my point that ideological does not equal partisan. If he meant the actual Libertarian Party, then at worst, Face to Face was tri-partisan.

Another one of Levine’s targets is the conservative Center of the American Experiment (CAE). He wrote an article in 2000 for Minnesota Law and Politics (“Is the Center of the American Experiment for Republicans Only? What Some Call a Tax-Exempt Think Tank Others Call a Partisan Research Arm”) , and a similar City Pages article in 2002. An anti-CAE article in The Pulse, remarkably not written by Levine, notes that Center founder Mitch Pearlstein, in responding to one of the hit pieces, actually rebutted claims that Levine did not make. Can you blame him? The Captain Ahab-like pursuit of CAE is tiring and predictable. Levine has a canned article; the Center has a canned response.

Now the Star Tribune has joined the chorus. In a recent story, the Star Tribune makes the same error, confusing partisanship with ideology. The story uses the terms “conservative” and “Republican” interchangeably. The newspaper also intimates that an alleged failure by CAE to present opposing views equals partisanship. A side bar to the story lists the six degrees of separation that supposedly prove "Republican Ties." My favorite example is that Powerline bloggers John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson have served on the board. The implication is that exposing Dan Rather’s reliance on forged documents in the 2004 National Guard story proves that Hinderaker and Johnson are partisan operatives. Does that mean that Dan Rather is also partisan for airing the fraudulent story in the first place? Perhaps the 60 Minutes piece was an illegal campaign contribution from Viacom to the Kerry campaign.

Yesterday, the Strib printed criticisms of a report that labeled Minneapolis as a liberal city. The criticisms correctly explained that party affiliation is not the same as ideology. Too bad the Strib missed the very same point in their earlier article.

There are many other problems with the repeated attacks on CAE for imagined violations of non-partisanship. If Republican politicians adopt certain policies that conservative think tanks have talked about (say, welfare reform or school uniforms), is it any different than if a Democrat politician (say, President Clinton) adopts those same policies for pure political purposes? The logical conclusion of the argument of Levine and others is that a non-profit must hope that one politcal party or another won't look favorably on its ideas and proposals. Also, if CAE simply parrots the Republican platform, where are the position papers on abortion? Founder Mitch Pearlstein has specifically avoided that issue. In addition, the focus of the Center and the practical geography of being located in Minnesota means that it mostly stays out of the many military and foreign policy questions addressed by both major party platforms.

Finally, if Cursor is going to take the position that failure to present an opposing view jeopardizes your 501(c)(3) status, I look forward to equal time on their website. Maybe SwanBlog and Cursor can combine our readership and meet in a phone booth somewhere.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Muir, Mosedale, and Johnson

Partisanship Weekend Continues:

With Republicans garnering around 10% of the black vote in elections nationwide, the disconnect between partisanship and ideology is apparent. For example, black Americans may be more supportive of social issues on the Republican platform than whites are. Like the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s, many blacks may find that their party is out of step with their own values.

This leads to the question of who is allowed to speak to issues that involve minorities. Cartoonist Chris Muir ("Day by Day") is frequently asked about his race, given that the main character in his comic strip is black. After reading some articles about him and looking at his picture, the results are (as they say in the NFL) inconclusive. But does it really matter what color Chris Muir is? Would it make his commentary any more or less insightful?

My colleague Scott Johnson has frequently written about crime and race, often with his Powerline partner John Hinderaker. When a Minnesota Supreme Court task force mailed surveys about racial discrimination to 20% of attorneys in the state, the results were selectively reported. In 1995, Scott was the first person outside of the task force to view the raw data, including the narrative responses from lawyers. Needless to say, there were serious problems with the task force's conclusions in relation to the actual data. In 1999, Scott was asked by the Federalist Society to appear on a panel discussing alleged racial bias in the legal system. The panel included an opposing view from a supporter of the task force report. He participated in similar panel discussions in 2001 and 2004. Also in 2004, it was Scott's turn to present the opposing view, this time at a Council on Crime in Justice seminar at St. Thomas School of Law.

Scott is often asked to appear on television and radio programs on the topic of racial justice. Whenever some new task force comes out with allegations that there is systemic racism in the legal system, Scott Johnson is the choice to provide sober and thoughtful commentary on the purported findings. Through his media appearances, Scott has made contact with law enforcement officers ranging from beat cops to precinct commanders -- some of whom choose to remain anonymous.

In 2001, American Experiment Quarterly printed a scholarly piece on alleged racism in the justice system, penned by Johnson and Hinderaker. Powerline has covered the race riot in North Minneapolis, as well as the shootings of Tyesha Edwards and Brandon Hall. The stories of an 11 year-old caught in a gang crossfire while doing homework at her kitchen table (Edwards) and a Gopher football player who survived 18 years living in Detroit, only to be shot in Downtown Minneapolis (Hall), were particularly galling to Johnson. Where was the community outrage? So he got involved.

Ordinarily, there would be praise for a writer who publicizes cases that others have all but ignored. However, there are some who want to discredit Johnson simply on the basis of his race. In 2001, a Minnesota Public Radio reporter said that he thought it was "funny" that white males would question the existence of systemic racial bias in the legal system. The reporter was angry that Johnson had declined his invitation to participate in an MPR forum on the topic (one of the few times Johnson has declined such an opportunity).

Mike Mosedale, who writes for an "alternative" free newspaper in the Twin Cities, has started a blog (which would be doubly alternative). Mosdale dubs Scott's recent article about crime in Minneapolis as "blogging while white." The first accusation is that Scott suddenly discovered the topic of local crime. The second accusation is that Scott ignores the prevalence of guns as the cause of the rising crime rate. This is laughable because the officer who was formerly in charge of the CODEFOR initiative has said that traffic stops are one of the best ways to get illegal guns off the streets. As the police were accused of racial profiling, traffic stops declined, thus hurting efforts to curb gun violence.

Mosedale makes suggestions throughout his blog entry that Scott is a racist. The old joke about a racist being someone who is winning an argument with a liberal seems appropriate here.

Finally, Mosedale declines to rebut the substance of Scott's argument, defering to David Brauer, the editor of another free newspaper in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Mosedale quotes a large excerpt from Brauer's rebuttal, claiming that he couldn't find a source on the Internet where he could link to Brauer's comments. Obviously, Mosedale doesn't read Powerline, since Scott actually posted all of Brauer's comments and responded to them. Scott is a gentleman that way. Mosedale, on the other hand....

UPDATE (8/15): Mosedale claims that the addendum to his July 19 post actually came before Brauer's comments were posted on Powerline (6:15 a.m. July 21). We take him at his word. The link above is to the Powerline response (to Brauer's comments) that was posted on July 23. But that was actually the second time Brauer's comments were posted. We regret any confusion.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Partisanship, Evolution, and Airlines

Stay tuned over the next couple of days as we celebrate Partisanship Weekend at SwanBlog. I am going to address some problems with the definition of "partisan" that is being used in connection with some recent news stories. There will be a series of posts on this topic.

After that, we will have Evolution Week at SwanBlog.

In other news, after my flight was delayed three hours, I sat next to a guy on a DC-9 who had two days worth of body odor stored up. It was not to the point where one starts to smell like urine, but getting close. That little air nozzle in the ceiling was absolutely essential for me to actually breathe.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ronald, Hubert, and Peter

In watching the ABC News memorial to Peter Jennings, I am reminded of my own theory that we tend to overdo things when someone famous dies.

This was true last year with the Ronald Reagan memorial(s). Overdoing things when a former president dies is a nice testament to America and a good civics lesson. Still, services at the Presidential Library, Capitol Building, National Cathedral, and at the library again was certainly sufficient.

When I was in fifth grade, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey died. My friend Charlie remarked that if they kept carrying around his body, it would start to smell.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Going, Going, and Gone

Air America is making a mistake if it fired Nick Coleman for low ratings. Coleman is a charter member of the Formerly Funny Club (FFC). His columns over the last decade have been mostly bad. It is fair to say that he is not exactly a trained voice talent. Still, they are making a mistake (unless there was some sort of scandal).

The droll, biting commentary of Coleman is just the kind of thing liberals need to create an alternative to conservative talk radio. Al Franken of the FFC takes the issues too seriously, while fellow FFC-er Garrison Keillor takes himself to seriously. Then there's that whole dry NPR thing.

It is one thing for a newspaper columnist to be mean and to oversimplify complex issues. It is quite another for a radio host to do so, with plenty of opportunity for callers to respond. The latter may be just the niche that liberal talk radio can fill.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter, Dan, and Tom

I can think of little to add to the eulogies of Peter Jennings. One thought I had is not who will replace him as anchor, but who will replace him as elder statesman? Throughout the 1980s, and in some cases beyond, the networks invited a father figure to join the lead anchor during election coverage, NASA coverage, and the like.

Dan sought counsel from Walter Cronkite; John Chancellor guided Tom Brokaw; Peter Jennings had David Brinkley. Whatever one may have thought about their ideological bent, it was interesting to have someone with decades of experience.

Peter Jennings will be missed by his family, friends, and millions around the world. It would have been nice for him to retire to that elder statesman role.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Primer, Paint, and Police

Remember the story about Robert Schulze? Schulze was an 88 year-old South Saint Paul resident who was jailed for missing a court appearance about his messy yard.

Here's another one. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Edward Julius Anderson on November 17, 2003. The 92 year-old was accused of not painting his garage in South Minneapolis. After several inspections, written orders were issued, followed by the arrest warrant. You can tell that Anderson got a start on the project from this picture:

His neighbors across the alley may be in violation of some code or another, as well:

Why did Mr. Anderson fail to finish painting the garage? Well, he passed away in 2002 at the age of 90. His son says that the died before he could finish the job.

How do I know about this case? My friend Edward James Anderson of Hopkins was arrested in 2004 for the caper in South Minneapolis. Some clerk at the Minneapolis City Attorney's office attached Edward James' personal identification to the warrant by mistake. The warrant listed "Edward J. Anderson." To compound problems, Edward Julius had given up his drivers' license some time ago, so there were no records that would match the address on the driving record to that of the garage.

Eventually the younger Anderson was able to straighten things out.

City inspectors and neighbors should not have to make repeated attempts to ensure routine household chores are done. But they could also realize that non-compliance could suggest infirmity or other problems. A little compassion goes a long way.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Veni, Vidi, and Vindication

Dan Cohen has an opinions piece in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune. Cohen takes journalists to task for their hypocrisy in defending New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who is ostensibly in jail for protecting an anonymous source.

Cohen was once an anonymous source. In 1982, he provided publicly-available arrest records of a candidate for statewide office to the media, in exchange for a promise of confidentiality. The Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press each broke their promises of confidentiality to Cohen. He was immediately fired from his advertising job. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually decided Cohen v. Cowles Media, et al, in his favor.

This weblog has noted the hypocrisy of reporters celebrating anonymous sources in the Valerie Plame case, but demonizing Cohen. From the time of the Supreme Court case until very recently, the Star Tribune would not even print letters penned by the former anonymous source. I encouraged him to start a weblog of all the letters they rejected over the years. With this latest piece, it appears that the embargo has been lifted. No apology, but a little bit of vindication.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Federalists, Extremists, and Consistency

Ryan Winkler wrote an op/ed piece on the Federalist Society in the context of the Roberts Supreme Court nomination. I have written a couple of posts rebutting the notion that the organization is secret or that the conservative to libertarian "membership" has a single position on issues that come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Winkler piece implicitly supports the fact that Federalist Society membership does not make one an extremist. Winkler says, "Roberts is no ideologue, and reasonable Democrats are supporting his elevation to the Supreme Court. When liberals and conservatives keep their extremist fringe at bay, the public wins." He also praises his credentials and "truly conservative philosophy." Good enough. But why does he spend the rest of the piece attacking the Federalist Society? If Roberts can be a member (defined loosely) of the Federalist Society while remaining a non-ideologue, then membership lists are not some kind of smoking gun for the confirmation hearings.

The vitals at the bottom of the page tell us that Winkler is a corporate general counsel who lives in Golden Valley. *Ahem* So far, so good. It also claims that he is "president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Constitution Society, a national organization of moderate and progressive lawyers."

The American Constitution Society (ACS) was formed as a liberal counterpoint to the Federalist Society. An Associated Press article from 2003 notes that both the Federalists and ACS focus on" recruiting young members on law school campuses. Neither group lobbies or takes positions on legislation. Both have full-time offices in Washington." True, ACS prefers "progressive" to "liberal." Both groups lay claim to legal "moderates," but there is no doubt about what end of the ideological perspective each group occupies. The biggest difference appears to be the Federalist Society fixation on providing an opposing viewpoint at its seminars.

I don't blame ACS for not presenting opposing views at its events. To paraphrase a talk radio host, there is no need to provide equal time when your very existence is a rebuttal to something else. As a new group, it appears that most of the Minneapolis ACS events are happy hours. I know from personal experience how hard it is to form a new bar group. Even if the group does not undertake litigation or lobbying, it is difficult to get lawyers to spend their free time on legal stuff, after working a full day on other legal stuff. But unlike the Federalists, ACS has competition. State bar associations, along with the American Bar Association, have frequently taken positions on political issues. Predictably, these positions lean to the left. Thus, ACS is not the only game in town for liberal attorneys.

To the extent ACS dreams of becoming the liberal version of the Federalist Society, I wish them well. Hopefully they will not be demonized as the Federalist have been.

Here are a couple of gems from the op/ed piece, along with my responses:

Liberals did not invent judicial activism, and conservative judges have not been models of judicial restraint.

Conservatives blame liberals for decisions on reproductive choice, school prayer and free speech protection. They argue that liberals disregard the text of the Constitution and "legislate from the bench."

But these types of disputes have been ongoing since our founding, and will likely continue -- a century ago, activist conservative justices struck down state child labor protection laws because they violated the constitutional right to "freedom of contract." Try finding that clause in the Constitution.

Me: Was that the most recent example you could find?

But the tide may be receding. This year, for the first time, conservatives appear to be afraid of admitting membership in the Federalist Society, the conservative organization at the heart of these legal battles.

Me: Just this year? Tell that to Viet Dinh, who was grilled about the Federalist Society in 2001, when he was a nominee for assistant attorney general. Also, Winkler called Kim Crockett's defense of the Federalist Society, "as misleading as it is familiar." Sounds like this is a discussion that has been going on for longer than just this year. Finally, progressives aren't afraid just of admitting membership in an organization, they are afraid of admitting that they are liberals. A rose by any other name....

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Awards, Attaboys, and Attorneys Part II

Congratulations to John Hinderaker of Powerline for being named "Super Lawyer Super Blogger" by Minnesota Law & Politics.

Just remember that you heard it here first. So what if I was off by several months and suggested a different publication?
Politics, Partisanship, and Hysteria

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, has struck down restrictions on judicial campaign speech in Minnesota. Specifically, the rule that candidates seeking election to the bench could not speak to partisan groups, as distinguished from other interest groups, was deemed unconstitutional. Other restrictions, like barring the candidate from signing his own fundraising letter instead of having a surrogate do it, were also struck down.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Minnesota Supreme Court rule against candidates "announcing" their views on disputed legal issues. Because the Supremes have already spoken to this issue, this is probably the end of the line for judicial elections where the only information is whether or not a candidate is the incumbent.

There were several major problems with the rules. First, they did not prohibit speaking to non-partisan interest groups like the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, business groups, or labor unions. Second, as I noted in a post just before the 2004 election, one could determine a judicial candidate's party affiliation from lists of supporters, or even lawn signs. Third, incumbents were perfectly free to express their views in their legal opinions, and even to criticize the party affiliation of their opponents.

The Star Tribune is shocked, shocked that there are politics involved in elections for judgeships. The headline, "Court lets politics into judge races," seems to indicate that they did not read the Eighth Circuit opinion.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Michelangelo, Adam, and Cheetah

Should I be offended by this History Channel graphic?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Speaker, President, and President Part II

In an earlier post, I complained about the sergeant-at-arms changing protocol for the State of the Union address. First it was, "Mr. Speaker, Mr. President (of the Senate), the President of the United States." Now the President of the Senate is referred to as "Mr. Vice President." It's true that the President of the Senate is also the Veep, but why change something that is not broken?

SwanBlog readers can make a change. Send the following letter (or your own composition) to your senator or representative.

Dear Senator/Representative ______.

I am writing to you on a matter that is important for our country.

Originally the State of the Union address began with the sergeant-at-arms announcing, "Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, the President of the United States." Now the announcement begins, "Mr. Speaker, Mr Vice President, the President of the United States." If this slide away from tradition is allowed to continue, eventually the State of the Union will begin with, "Hey gang, POTUS is here."

Please assist me in bringing back the traditional announcement.

Sincerely, _________.

Once you have done so, let us know in the comment section of this post. Also, post any response that you get. Together, we can bring back tradition.
Handshakes, Humor, and Revisionist History

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an article about the Minnesota Chapter of the Federalist Society. SwanBlog broke the story that there is nothing sinister about the organization, and that membership criteria are kind of fuzzy.

The story has somewhat of a jocular tone. Peg Corneille of the Board of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) laughs it up with the reporter, downplaying suggestions that the Board of CLE takes more time to approve a course from a conservative perspective than all the other liberal ones. She says that the rule requiring lawyers to take two hours of "Elimination of Bias" classes require "addressing" the topic of bias, and that "they don't tell you what you have to say about it." This is rewriting history somewhat.

On September 13, 2001, when most Americans had their minds on other things, the CLE Board had a meeting on whether to revoke the earlier-granted credits of the 2001 Federalist Society "Elimination of Bias" course. There were several complaints from bar groups, the State Public Defender, a retired State Supreme Court justice, and individual attorneys. One attorney said he was considering filing ethics charges against the sponsors and participants in the course. The Board agreed to request an opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General whether it was legal to retroactively de-certify a course. In the meantime, the Board voted not to accredit similar presentations in the future. The 9/13 motion reads as follows:

That the staff be directed not to approve for Elimination of Bias credit future
courses whose goal, either stated or based on materials received and reviewed,
does not appear to be the elimination of bias. (emphasis in original)

Got that? If you question the existence of systemic bias in the legal system, no credit. The Federalist Society submitted a second course to the Board in March 2003 that was scheduled to take place the following June. CLE providers get the highest attendance in June because it is right before the reporting deadline. Because the staff could not approve it without authorization from the quarterly Board meeting, the course had to be scheduled for June 2004. This was brought up in the Elliot Rothenberg case, resulting in a somewhat cryptic warning from the Minnesota Supreme Court to "exercise continued vigilance as it reviews and approves courses for the elimination of bias credit." That could either mean that the Board should accredit more conservative courses, or none at all. The vagueness of the rule means that a provider who presents a conservative perspective never knows if its course will have difficulty getting approved.

To read more about the "Elimination of Bias" requirement, check out Biasbattle.com, 599 to 1 CLE (599 liberal, one conservative, zero apolitical), and Overlawyered.com.