Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rhode Island, Pluto, and Betsy Ross II

You were begging for more Pluto after this post. I am happy to oblige.

There is this op/ed piece from physics professor Jeffrey Mallow and law professor (?) Steven Lubet:

* * *

It seems that kids love Pluto (both the planet and the Disney dog), and that schoolteachers have capitalized on that affection, using it to spur lessons in both civics and composition. After all, if scientists can vote on nature, why shouldn't ordinary people lobby for the decision they want (or to reverse a decision if they don't like it)? But science is not democratic, and it turns out that children are taught exactly the wrong lesson when they are encouraged to defend Pluto's planetary status.

By its nature, science continually submits long-held ideas to critical investigation and eventual revision, usually by consensus and sometimes by formal vote. But the process is nothing like political voting. Confronted with a mass of data, scientists try to make sense of it by establishing theoretical categories. Almost inevitably, nature eventually strikes back by revealing new data that call these categories into question.

* * *

The category "planet," which worked fine for the first eight, never quite fit Pluto: Its orbit was not in the approximate plane of the others; its size kept shrinking, based on better and better measurements, until it was recognized as smaller than some asteroids and a host of other objects in the distant Kuiper belt; and -- the final nail -- its orbit crossed over that of another planet, Neptune. So the scientific vote on Pluto was simply necessary to correct old errors on the basis of new facts.

And that brings us back to the children's crusade. Although they are no doubt motivated by the best intentions, teachers do their students a disservice when they rally them behind Pluto's cause. In fact, they are undermining serious educational goals by suggesting that popular sentiment can, or should, sway science. That is the sort of thinking that leads left-wing deconstructionists to claim that science is merely a "white male Eurocentric social construction," in effect a conspiracy to "privilege" science above other "ways of knowing." It also leads the "intelligent design" advocates on the radical right to believe that the biology curriculum should be determined by school board elections, rather than by, well, biology.

Rather than complain about Pluto's demotion, teachers should take this opportunity to educate their children about the scientific method, and how it forces scientists to keep an open mind. In a world of increasingly polarized opinions and dogmatic "truths," it is truly wonderful to see scientists engage in a process of open reevaluation. Now, if we could only get politicians to do the same thing.

My responses:

1. I have a post on Intelligent Design and the scientific method here.

2. It seems that this was not an hypothesis that was tested, revealing new information. The facts about Pluto that led to this vote of the International Astronomical Union go back at least to when I was in high school 20 years ago. The discovery of additional similar-sized heavenly bodies farther away from the Sun may be new, but that would suggest adding to the list, rather than subtracting from it. That debate -- whether to have 12 planets vs. eight -- seems worthy of attention by schoolchildren. And their participation does not hinder scientific discovery one bit.

3. This debate is all about conventions and semantics. We are deciding how many ping pong balls will be hanging on the mobile in the science classroom and what that cool poster in National Geographic will look like. Does an asteroid or dwarf planet become more or less interesting to study, based on how we categorize it? Is the ability of a space vehicle to use the gravity of Pluto to change course somehow changed by its demotion from the list? Of course not.

4. If the International Astronomical Union is voting on the issue, maybe this is not as cut and dried as the authors claim. Or maybe they think that only certain elites deserve to join this debate over semantics. Physicists and law professors (!) are among those who qualify to have an opinion.

5. Letter writing, petitioning for redress of grievances, research, debate, current events, astronomy, history...keep that stuff out of the schools!

6. It doesn't matter. It is about as weighty a subject as whether black is a color or the thumb is a finger. But it is a nice break from other issues that do matter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rhode Island, Pluto, and Betsy Ross

Pluto has been demoted (I know it's old news, but I have been busy). Should Rhode Island worry about its statehood?

It is unsettling to find that something you were taught in school turns out to be wrong. This was probably a more common occurrence for earlier generations. But this Pluto thing is more about semantics than discovery.

At one point, the U.S. decided to stop adding stripes to the flag and bring the number back down to 13, where it remains today. Why not do the same with planets? Nine is a good number. Quit messing with stuff.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Black, White, and Red-Handed

Twin Cities Diversity in Practice (TCDIP) seeks to recruit and retain minority attorneys in local law firms. So far, so good. But an article in Minnesota Lawyer tells us that there is trouble in paradise. The Maslon Edelman firm wants to join this consortium of 19 law firms and nine businesses. But the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (MABL) objects. The reason? Maslon attorneys represented the plaintiffs in the (partially successful) challenge to the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy.

The Minnesota Lawyer article continues:

In a letter last April to Hennepin County District Court Judge Tony Leung, the chair of TCDIP’s board, then MABL President Jerry W. Blackwell said that MABL believes “the Maslon admission carries an unacceptable ‘taint’ that is likely to undermine and frustrate the goal of attracting attorneys of color.”

TCDIP has indefinitely tabled Maslon’s application to join. It is unclear at present whether the question of the firm’s admission will be taken up in the future.

Minneapolis attorney Terri Krivosha, the chair of Maslon’s governance committee, told Minnesota Lawyer that she was “flabbergasted” by the opposition to Maslon’s admission.

“Like many law firms, diversity is a very important issue to us,” she said. “It was very sad to me that in a legal community this small we couldn’t find a way to work together.”

Krivosha also said that she was dismayed that the group would hold off Maslon’s application over the firm’s decision to provide representation to a particular client — “the very underpinning of what we as lawyers do.”

The article describes a meeting between Krivosha and four members of the TCDIP Board.

As far as Krivosha is aware, no other law firm has been asked to go through such a process. The firm has had no contact with the group since the application was tabled in April, she said.

In an interview with Minnesota Lawyer last week, Leung said that the question of membership criteria had never been raised until Maslon applied for membership. The firm’s application sparked a great deal of debate and led to the development of a committee to study the issue, which has not made a final report, said Leung. One of the issues the committee will address will be whether a firm’s clients should be a factor in admitting the firm to the group.

Leung emphasized that TCDIP has done a lot of hard work to recruit minority lawyers and law students to Minnesota — a fact that he hopes does not get lost in the controversy over Maslon’s application.

The article discusses a proposed set of criteria for membership in TCDIP, including not taking cases contrary to the group's mission. MABL also is quoted in the article listing challenges to recruitment of minority attorneys, which the membership of Maslon supposedly exacerbate.

David Herr, one of the Maslon lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in the affirmative-action cases, took issue with the suggestion that TCDIP influence the cases its members accept.

“It strikes me as wholly inappropriate that an organization of lawyers would expect lawyers or law firms not to provide legal services to clients in need, regardless of the popularity or unpopularity of their cause,” Herr said. “That’s not the way our profession is supposed to work.”

Blackwell said that MABL’s concern in the matter is with protecting TCDIP’s mission. Because of Maslon’s close association with the Grutter and Gratz cases, attorneys of color across the country have become aware of the firm, viewing it as unfriendly to them because of its work, he maintained.

“There is a perception that a law firm that takes these kinds of pro bono cases is not in favor of diversity,” Blackwell stated. Since TCDIP is a fledgling organization, it is particularly important that it guard its reputation, he added.

I have many thoughts on this issue:

1. To learn more about MABL, take a look at this invitation to its recent "Shrimp Boil." Of note is the statement as to who is and is not welcome at the event.

2. I have friends at Maslon, so I will pull some of my punches. It is fair to say that Maslon Edelman resisted publicizing the affirmative action case until 2003, when it was on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys for the firm were handling a very prominent case, but the pre-2003 coverage was mostly limited to media in Detroit and Ann Arbor. At the time, the firm website mentioned the case, but was vague about which side Maslon attorneys were representing. Even David Herr's current biography is unclear which side he was on. Note that the "Cases and Transactions" section ordinarily lists whether he was counsel for the plaintiff, appellant, etc. But the Michigan case is described merely as "two companion civil rights actions."

3. This is not the first time that Maslon Edelman attorneys have been walking a tightrope. David Herr was counsel for the Minnesota State Bar Association when it petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to require all lawyers to attend sensitivity training classes. More on that issue here and here. I had dinner with Kirk Kolbo, David Herr, and Larry Purdy around 2001, when the three of them were handling the case through the appellate stages. I never asked Herr how he reconciled his handling of the sensitivity training petition with his representation of affirmative action opponents.

4. In another context, I stated that "attorneys who take on constitutional cases at great risk to their careers should be honored, rather than demonized." I stand by that sentiment.

5. A press release from the Center for Individual Rights (which sponsored the litigation) notes that not all Maslon attorneys agree with the affirmative action litigation:

Kolbo persuaded his firm's chair, the prominent appellate lawyer David Herr, to join him in the University of Michigan case.

"If you polled the lawyers in our firm, you'd find some are not in favor of our position," Kolbo says. "But the policy here is that we can pursue pro bono cases as long as there are no conflicts of interest."
A Star Tribune article (1/11/03) stated it this way:

For decades, the Minneapolis law firm of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand has been home to liberal attorneys who largely are free to do volunteer legal work for pet causes.

It was on donated time in the 1970s that the firm's Chad Quaintance spearheaded the suit that won the desegregation of Minneapolis' public schools.

Now Maslon Edelman's relaxed pro bono policy has put the firm's covey of more conservative lawyers in the middle of the biggest case before the U.S. Supreme Court this term.

6. One of the justifications for upholding the Michigan Law School's affirmative action program was the assertion that not all minorities think alike. According to the Michigan defendants, if the law school has enough minorities (the so-called "critical mass"), then the differing opinions of the minorities will help demonstrate the wide range of opinion within a given race. If we are to believe this rationalization, then wouldn't TCDIP want to have Maslon Edelman join its group in order to attract those minorities who actually agreed with the plaintiffs in the Michigan cases? It seems that they are not really interested in recruiting and retaining all minority lawyers -- just the ones with the proper attitudes.

7. Will the organized bar be up in arms about this? Or will political correctness prevail?

Update: Check out the comments below for further info. Welcome Powerline readers! Read the rest of SwanBlog by clicking here.
Pro, Con, and Progress

I recorded the Emmy Awards to see the In Memoriam tribute. Nice pieces on Dick Clark (who is still alive, but recovering from a stroke) and Aaron Spelling. I would say that the biggest applause was for Don Knotts.

Missing in action was a tribute to Nipsey Russell.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

You have the floor. Add your thoughts to the comment section.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Democrat, Republican, and Ostrow

Here is a notice in the local Sun Sailor newspaper for a Senior Federation forum on the 5th District race for Congress in Minnesota:

Scheduled to attend are DFL candidates Keith Ellison, Mike Erlandson, Ember Reichgott Junge and Paul Ostrow; Green Party candidate Jay Pond; Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee and Republican candidate Paul Ostrow. (italics added)

For the record, the Republican candidate is Alan Fine.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Verdict, Trial, and Tribune

Dan Cohen does it again (these are his words, not mine):

To the editor,

"Israeli Commandos Violate Cease-fire"

Ah, it's Alice In Wonderland land at the Strib again. Remember how the Queen conducted court? Verdict first, trial later.

Perhaps your headline reflected a bit of that, particularly since the Israelis claim that it was Hezballah that violated the cease-fire by bringing in arms from Syria.

By why bother to wait for the facts to catch up, when it so much more pleasing and convenient to blame the Jews for the whole thing?

Dan Cohen
Minneapolis, MN
Occupation: Jew

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ultra-Liberal Whites, Militant Blacks, and Common Sense

Remember this post? Well Don Samuels has written one of the best things ever to be printed in the Star Tribune:

I read Nick Coleman's Aug. 16 column. I am beginning to get firsthand experience of how the North Side and communities like ours are suffocating under a tightly woven canopy of complicity between ultra-liberal whites and militant blacks -- with threads of unresolved race and class misunderstanding running all through it.

It is that liberal dysfunction or naiveté which Coleman is exhibiting in this case. By that I mean the tolerance for inappropriate behavior from members of my community on the premise that that is how we do business. I mean the propping up of "community leaders" who have consistently demanded the stage to speak for the community over the last few decades, while delivering little. I also mean the endorsement of leaders who have convinced themselves of their cultural relevance. They simply "speak for us" from their delusional wellsprings of intuitive connectedness.

Read the whole thing here. Once again, someone writes the column that I wish I had written myself.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (8/18/06)

It's open thread Friday again. You may write your own blog entry in the comments section below.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Whalen, Will, and Workers

There are two views on President Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers, 25 years ago. Here is a recent op/ed piece by Charles J. Whalen:

This month marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most devastating strikes in modern U.S. labor history. On Aug. 3, 1981, more than 12,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization walked off their jobs.

It was not the first illegal strike by public-sector workers, but conventional means of resolving such cases failed to impress President Ronald Reagan: He discharged and permanently replaced those who would not promptly return to work.

The U.S. labor movement has never recovered, and working families across the nation continue to pay the price.

In the immediate aftermath of the PATCO strike, many observers reported that Reagan's action marked a turning point in U.S. labor relations.

* * *

In the wake of Reagan's action against PATCO, a number of unionized firms demanded major concessions and threatened permanent replacement as the alternative. Many unorganized workers quickly got the message, and employers have often driven home the point during organizing drives. The result has been downward pressure on workers' wages.

There are also more visible costs. The use of permanent replacements during a 1987-88 strike against International Paper by its union in Jay, Maine, "tore the community apart," according to research by Julius Getman of the University of Texas law school. After the strike was broken, some union members returned to work alongside their replacements, and even years later, area residents on all sides of the dispute felt surrounded by hatred and bitterness at work and in the community. Getman reports that eventually even the company's chief executive concluded that replacing strikers "was a major mistake that cost the company more than a billion dollars."

The labor movement has, of course, taken the biggest hit. In 2005, 12.5 percent of U.S. workers were union members, according to the Labor Department. In 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the membership rate was 20.1 percent.

* * *

Labor watchers knew the PATCO episode was a watershed, but it's unlikely that even the most pessimistic witnesses expected it would cast such a long, dark shadow.

Charles J. Whalen is a labor-market economist and editor of Perspectives on Work, a journal published by the Labor and Employment Relations Association. He wrote this article for the Washington Post.

And here is an oldie-but-goodie from George Will:

Ronald Reagan, unlike all but 10 or so Presidents, was a world figure whose career will interest historians for centuries, and centuries hence his greatness will be, and should be, measured primarily by what happened in Europe, as a glorious echo of his presidency, in the three years after he left the White House. [* * *]

[* * *] Arguably, it began with a seemingly unrelated event in the first year of his first term.

In 1981, when the nation's air-traffic controllers threatened to do what the law forbade them to d0--strike--Reagan warned that if they did they would be fired. When they struck in August, Reagan announced that the strikers would be terminated in two days. By firing the controllers, Reagan, the only union man--he had been head of the Screen Actors Guild--ever to be president, destroyed a union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). This has often, and not incorrectly, been called a defining episode of the Reagan presidency because it notified foreign leaders, not least those of the Soviet Union, that he said what he meant and meant what he said.

But now, more than two astonishing decades on, it also is reasonable to conclude that Reagan's fracas with the controllers had huge economic consequences, domestic and foreign. It altered basic attitudes about relations between business and labor in ways that quickly redounded to the benefit of the nation, and not least the benefit of American workers. It produced a cultural shift, a new sense of what can be appropriate in business management: layoffs can be justifiable even when a company is profitable, if the layoffs will improve productivity and profitability. Within a few years, both AT&T and Procter Gamble, although quite profitable at the time, implemented large layoffs, without arousing significant protests.

Reagan's action against the air-traffic controllers came on the eve of the explosive growth of information technologies, and some astute people, including Alan Greenspan, believe that Reagan's action facilitated that growth.

Since 1981, labor in America has prospered because it is less protected. In theory, it might seem that since the showdown with PATCO, business's informal protocol about layoffs must have resulted in rising unemployment. The reverse has happened. In the post-PATCO climate of business operations, employers have been more inclined to hire because they know that if the hiring proves to be improvident, those hired can be discharged. The propensity to hire has risen much more than the propensity to fire. In all of America's post-Civil War era of industrialization, unemployment has never been as low for as long as it has generally been in the years since the extraordinary expansion that began during Reagan's first term.

* * *

Reagan always believed that the world was watching America. Indeed, he thought the point of America was to be watched—to be exemplary. Hence the complete sincerity of his reiterated references to the City on the Hill. And when the democratic revolution against communism came, Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Wenceslas Square in Prague and points in between rang with the rhetoric of America's third and 16th presidents. The 40th president was not surprised.

I should add a third perspective. Being in junior high at the time, I recall seeing a Mad Magazine cartoon showing a Jeykll and Hyde-like Reagan, supporting the Solidarity union in Poland, but firing the PATCO strikers. If memory serves, however, Solidarity was not asking merely for higher wages and better working conditions.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sharks, Jets, and Shamrocks Part II

In this post, I commented on the bizarre news conference at which, among other things, it was suggested that police should make sure that street gang arrests were evenly distributed among racial groups.

I should follow up and say that the Minneapolis Star Tribune had a decent editorial on the subject. Of course, Nick Coleman had to chime in with some of his drivel.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Win, Place, and Show

Dan Cohen wrote a letter to the Star Tribune in response to this editorial.

Time magazine reports as follows: "Exclusive: U.S. picked up the suspects' chatter and shared it with British authorities..."

While readers of this page are well aware of your eagerness to avoid giving any credit whatsoever to the Bush administration for anything that goes right in the war against terror, sometimes it pays to wait a day or two before sticking it to the Bushies. Hence, your piece on the latest terrorist plot , which failed to mention the role that we played in foiling it, (oh, pardon me, you do state that it involved good police work in Britain and "elsewhere") paints a false picture of how the incident was uncovered, and calls into question the credibility of your editorial opinions.

Dan Cohen
Minneapolis, MN
Country: Elsewhere
Occupation: none

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sharks, Jets, and Shamrocks

The rash of shootings in Minneapolis is increasingly disturbing, not just for the death and violence, but for the fact that we seem incapable of doing anything about it.

A bizarre news conference last week announced an initiative where police will target members of the three street gangs that have been determined to be responsible for much of the violence on the North Side of Minneapolis. Here are excerpts of the Star Tribune coverage:

First to challenge the city leaders was Al Flowers, a member of a group designed to improve police and community relations. Like several other members of the crowd, he said he was concerned that the department's gang initiative will allow officers to racially profile young black men in North Side neighborhoods. He had to be restrained by officers and fellow community members.

* * *

Reginald Sparkman, 39, said he lived in Chicago before moving to north Minneapolis. Kids are joining gangs because there are no jobs and other resources to succeed in poorer neighborhoods, he said.

"I know police can't ignore the gang problem, but they need to go after all the gangs," Sparkman said. "Not just the black gangs."

This is very disturbing. One of the targeted gangs was found to be involved in a robbery of a gun shop and an incident where a 15 year-old boy was dragged off a city bus and then beaten and robbed. Now we are worried about equal opportunity in law enforcement targeting gangs.

This talk of "going after all the gangs" reminds me of actor David Caruso's early career on Hill Street Blues. The red-headed actor would participate in "gang summits" on the show wearing -- no kidding -- a large shamrock. Maybe we could go after the shamrock gang in Minneapolis, too.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (8-11)

Your turn. Open thread Friday. Comment section is open. What's on your mind?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Caps, Chapels, and Courts

This is a homecoming in two ways. First, I am returning to SwanBlog after a guest stint on SCSU Scholars (please comment on this post that I should get a permanent gig). Second, I returned from my trip to Alaska. Unlike King Banaian of SCSU Scholars, I do not use travel as an excuse to stop blogging.

Here is a picture of a chapel in the Russian Bishop's House in Sitka, Alaska.

The National Park Service maintains this and other attractions in Sitka. They ask that you be respectful and remove your hat in the chapel.

How long before the ACLU sues?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mike, Josh, and Peter

I am back at SwanBlog following my guest stint at SCSU Scholars. Thanks to King for the opportunity. If you would like to see me get a permanent gig, please say so in a comment to this post by King. Then we will get into another voting war.

Thanks for your support.