Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Professors, Hmong, and Lutonians

Check out this controversy involving a U-Wisconsin law professor. Long story short, he is in hot water for pointing out some difficulties minority groups may face. Specifically, he talked about stereotypes that Hmong immigrants face in Wisconsin. Then an e-mail was circulated repeating the professor's words, but omitting the context in which he said that people need to overcome those stereotypes.

Imagine if I were to say that people wrongly assume that Lutonians are stupid. Have I said something bigoted? No. If anything, I am exposing the bigotry.

Whatever unconventional methods the professor used to combat stereotypes, he should be condemned for his methods, and not his beliefs. If the mere mention of a stereotype (albeit in dramatic and shocking terms) in a disapproving way makes one a racist, then wouldn't the person who quoted the statements in an e-mail also be a racist?


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Logan, Cronkite, and Bias

Did you miss 60 Minutes this week? Big news! Lara Logan reports that:

1. Some servicemembers are opposed to the mission in Iraq.
2. Some of those who are opposed to the mission are complaining to members of Congress.
3. Despite their misgivings, the troops who complained are continuing with their mission.

Hardly earth-shattering stuff. The only twists that made the story remotely newsworthy were the fact that the troops in question have formed an online group, and reports from Military Times that a majority of those polled oppose the President's handling of Iraq. The irony is that the most newsworthy thing this group of soliders and marines has done is appear on the 60 Minutes broadcast.

If I were reporting on this online group of war opponents, I would be interested whether they received criticism from their comrades. Logan interviews unrelated servicemembers, but no actual "buddies" of the ones in the online group. I would also be interested to know the methodology of the Military Times poll. More on the poll in question here, and a piece on a previous poll here.

Lara Logan is apparently the criticize-the-war correspondent for the Sunday news magazine. SwanBlog covered her brand of journalism previously, as have others. I am starting to wonder if getting active military to oppose the war on camera (out of uniform) is part of a strategy to provide the equivalent of Walter Cronkite opposing the Vietnam War. In this instance it is not the "Most Trusted Man in America," but a supposed majority of our brave troops.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mencken, Kalb, and Me

OK. I admit that I am a little slow on the uptake. I was listening to the car radio over lunch the other day. One talk radio host asked another host how he dealt with the critics. The quote went something like "...or else you could do as H.L. Mencken did and simply write back, 'You may be right.'"

Bells went off. Didn't a well-known journalist say that to me once? I searched my e-mail to no avail. Then I searched SwanBlog and found this post:

Here is my correspondence with Kalb:

From: Peter A Swanson
To: marvinkalb@XXXXXXXXXXXX
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2005 11:51 PM
Subject: Journalism and Morals

Dear Mr. Kalb:

I have been following your letters about the 60 Minutes scandal on the Powerline weblog.

I am glad that you now acknowledge that the documents are clear. Your first e-mail to Charles Thomas was snarky and dismissive on this point.

I am more concerned about your response to John Hinderaker. You write, "[W]ell, you go your way, I'll go with the young men I covered who went to Vietnam for their country. We can disagree." This statement suggests that you can support President Bush or the men who served in Vietnam, but not both. Are those the only two options? What does that say to people who oppose the Iraq war, but "support the troops."

Your statement conveniently shifts from media criticism, the facts of which support Hinderaker, to political commentary. You have made a moral judgment about President Bush, but who cares? Some voters agreed with you last November. More did not. That you disagree with the voters should not figure into your assessment of the 60 Minutes story, which was the reason for your interview with Dan Rather and the subsequent e-mail exchange. In fact, your strong feelings about President Bush's military record may have affected your approach to the Rather interview.

George W. Bush had been elected to two terms as governor and had served as president for over three years when the 60 Minutes story aired. If it were just about the fact that he didn't serve in Vietnam when others did, that was old news. I remember the younger Bush being interviewed on the floor of the Republican convention in 1988 about the Dan Quayle National Guard controversy. Bush mentioned that he had also served in the National Guard. So your particular gripe about the President was not exactly breaking news in September 2004. It was, however, just in time to stop the post-convention bounce and to counter the Swift Boat ads.

Speaking of the Swift Boat Veterans, are you including them when you say [you] will go with those who "went to Vietnam for their country"?

In every election since 1992, the candidate with the less impressive military record won the presidency. The elections in 1972 and 1980 are notable in this regard, too. Senator Bob Dole is probably wondering where your support was during his campaigns.

Dan Rather failed. You also failed in your critique of his journalism. There are so many lessons an experienced journalist like yourself could take from this. Too bad your dislike of President Bush got in the way.


Peter A. Swanson

From: marvinkalb@XXXXXXXXX
To: lawdog@XXXXXXXXX
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 12:21 PM
Subject: Re: Journalism and Morals

Dear Mr. Swanson:
You may be right.
Marvin Kalb

There you have it. I changed his mind. He was not just brushing me off in an arrogant way that does not call for a response. He really is open minded. His next interview will be free from the errors that plagued his Rather interview. I look forward to the new and improved Marvin Kalb.

In my own defense, I did figure out right away that Kalb was jerking my chain. Before blogs, that would have been the end of it. This post from Leisure Guy talks about the change that the Internet has brought to situations like this.

Other than that, I may be culturally ignorant, but I also say, "Marvin, you're no H.L. Mencken."


Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (2-23-07)

It's Open Thread Friday. What do you want to talk about (use the comment section)?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Academy, My Fans, and My Manager

It is time again for the annual Academy Awards death montage. Which departed person will get the most applause in this year's telecast? Here are my predictions:

Behind the Camera
1. Robert Altman (M*A*S*H will be shown)
2. Cartoon Pioneer Joseph Barbera
3. Iwoa Takamoto - Animator for Scooby Doo

1. Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein will be shown)
2. Jack Palance (one-armed pushups will be shown)
3. Bruno Kirby (Godfather II scene with DeNiro will be shown)

Honorable mention, but probably not as much applause - Jack Warden, Red Buttons, June Allyson, Glenn Ford

I recommend taping the show and skipping everything except the death montage and Eddie Murphy's possible award.

That is all.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Originalism, Originals, and Fakes

In this post, I criticize a number of recent media attempts to describe judicial activism vs. judicial restraint. My main complaint is that they try to rebut claims of judicial activism without really defining the term. And there is no real effort to put forth the other side of the argument.

This LA Times article makes a couple of half-hearted swipes at providing Supreme Court Justice Scalia's point of view, but it distorts his positions more than anything. Anyone want to take a first crack at analyzing the LA Times article?

Hat tip: Becket Wynand

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cardinal, Archbishop, and Blogger

Did you hear the one about the Cardinal, the Archbishop, and the Blogger? Archbishop Harry Flynn of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiosese has had a busy couple of weeks. He attended a rally at the state capitol building against global warming, which led to an exchange of letters with a blogger from of Right Handed Heat.

Then Flynn was interviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune article, which touched on the global warming controversy:
Q: You have spoken out several times about global warming. How have people reacted to that?

A: I was happy to speak at the Legislature on this issue. My message was not a political one, but simply that God has given us this Earth and we'd better take care of it. God speaks very strongly in Genesis. It's a mandate, that we care for the Earth. It was amazing the distress that caused some people, the mean-spiritedness it brought out in some. I don't know if that's because of an inability to face the truth or fear of asking questions.

Go back to the exchange of letters here and decide for yourself who is mean-spirited.

Finally, Cardinal George Pell of the Sydney, Austrailia Archdiocese describes the "semi-religious" "mild hysteria" of the global warming crowd in Catholic Communications.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

U.S. Supreme, State Supreme, and Public Television

Over the weekend, I finished watching two documentaries on the court system. There was a nationally-produced one about the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a local one about the Minnesota Supreme Court.

My general reaction to both documentaries is that they spend a lot of time defending against charges of judicial activism, but very little time defining the term. There is no sense of why someone might adhere to the doctrine. Instead, in the PBS documentary, the viewer is shown how conservative justices, generally (and Justice Scalia, specifically), are supposedly hypocrites on this point. The unstated conclusion is that, because one or more adherents to judicial restraint (the opposite of "activism") are allegedly inconsistent, then the entire doctrine is flawed. This theme was continued in an episode of Tim Russert's CNBC show with Supreme Court authors Jan Crawford Greenburg and Jeffrey Rosen (link: scroll down).

Similarly, the PBS documentary and Russert's show treat the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore as an undisputed outrage. They are perfectly willing to see the conservative justices as twisting the law to generate a desired outcome in the 2000 Florida ballot recount, and therefore determine the presidency, but are unwilling (except in a short comment by Rosen on the Russert show) to acknowledge that the same thing might be true for liberal justices.

Finally, there were two interesting clips on the Bush v. Gore segment of the PBS documentary. Disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley and former UN Ambassador John Bolton each make brief appearances in news clips.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (2-16-07)

Open Thread Friday. Put your ideas in the comment section below.


Thursday, February 15, 2007


Ken Speake is retiring. The long-time reporter for Minneapolis television station KARE 11 is the only journalist I know who includes the word "yup" in his scripts. Click here to see a sample of his smooth storytelling. The only time I ever saw him deviate from his smooth on-camera delivery was when he ended a report at a wilderness camp with a shot of himself on a rope swing exclaiming, "Wheeeee."

Back in the 1980s, Speake took over "Minnesota's Child" duties from another reporter. The series of stories was designed to increase participation in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Each week, Ken would do a fun activity with a youngster, while lamenting, "Yeah, it's tough growing up without a dad. Mom tries to take his place, but sometimes you want to do guy stuff."

Ken will be missed.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fight, Fight, and Bad Judgment II

To continue my thoughts in yesterday's post, why is it OK for a person like Sacha Baron Cohen or Mel Brooks to use blatant racial stereotypes as a means of satire, but it is not OK for college students to have a party where they show up in blackface?

1. The movie audience is in on the joke, while the joke is on the bigot. Not so for the college party, where the butt of the joke is the minority.

2. It is possible to deftly use comedy and wit in the controlled environment of a book, play, or movie. When you simply invite people to show up at a party in offensive costumes, it is not satire. Each person will have his own motive for attending the party.

That said, the colleges involved should stay away from any discipline or new initiative to combat this trend. The students obviously know that it is offensive (that was the point), so sensitivity training would be wrong. Unfortunately, there is no standardized test or high school transcript that can measure good judgment.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Fight, Fight, and Bad Judgment

A couple of things for your Monday consideration. First, there is a war of comments going on for this recent post below. What is it about evolution that gets people all riled up?

Second, I have a number of thoughts about the recent string of offensive racial stereotypes happening on college campus parties, often in connection with MLK Day or Black History Month. There was one incident here locally at Macalester College. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Private colleges like Macalester are well within their rights to enforce a code of conduct on or off campus that would prohibit such behavior. If the rules are made clear at the time of enrollment (or at the beginning of each school year), and students act out in such a way, go ahead and punish them. At one point, I think Macalester banned fraternities and sororities. So it is nothing new to expand the dean's reach off campus (and the party in question seems to have been held on campus, which strengthens their ability to address the situation).

2. Public colleges should stay out of the business of censoring such parties, as long as the offensive communication is not in the presence of, and directed at, a specific individual (e.g., threats, stalking, harassment). I question whether public college officials should even address a specific situation. It is good to generally express disapproval for such behavior, but it is risky to go down the path of "exploring options" as to what the public college will do about it.

3. Sensitivity training is a bad idea, particularly in this context. If you have a "Politically Incorrect" party, you know that you are not supposed to be engaging in these stereotypes. Moreover, if you hold the party on MLK Day, you are actually thumbing your nose at such things.

4. It is one thing for a group of friends to joke around amongst themselves during a night of drinking. It is quite another to take the time (presumably while sober) to plan it ahead of time and spend time concocting an offensive costume. The act of doing it, taking pictures, and then posting them on the Internet is breathtakingly bad judgment.

5. Satire is alive and well with the work of Sacha Baron Cohen (and Mel Brooks before him), but this is not that.

6. That there may have been black people invited to the parties, or even in attendance, means nothing. If your black friend thinks the party is a good idea, your friend is an idiot.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (2-9-07)

What's on your mind? Put it in the comment section below.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Old Testament, New Testament, and Evolution

The Corner on National Review Online has an interesting post about a Catholic cardinal archbishop who is working to find "middle ground" on the whole evolution vs. creationism debate.

That's fine. The proposed middle ground may actually be the truth. But it is still one contender in the marketplace of ideas that has to compete with all the others. More about my thoughts here in my last post from Evolution Week.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rich, Poor, and Squeeze

This story tells us that "Africa's Internet gap" is getting wider. Apparently, things are getting better on the continent, in terms of Internet access, but not as fast as Europe and other places. It is interesting to talk about a "gap," because it is a way to make good news seem like bad news. The story could be written in terms of improvement in the Internet infrastructure of Africa, but instead it has a negative spin.

It reminds me of the Democrat line about the "rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class getting squeezed." That old saw has been used by everyone from Gov. Dukakis to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Of course, it is only half bad. The rich getting richer part is actually good. If the poor are actually getting poorer (and not just having more kids, thus becoming a larger share of the population), then we should focus on that, rather than the "gap." Also, what does it mean to be squeezed? Either you are getting richer, getting poorer, or staying the same. And if the gap is growing, wouldn't the middle class be "stretched" rather than "squeezed"?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cully, Corporations, and the Corner

More on the resignation of former Pentagon official Cully Stimson from National Review Online here, here, here, here, and here.

I wrote about the problems this presents for the Minnesota legal community here.

UPDATE: If National Review can give an opposing view on its pages (namely that large corporations should screen whether their outside law firms represent detainees in the War on Terror), I can certainly link to it. Note that the Minneapolis firm of Dorsey & Whitney is on the list of prominent firms that represent detainees.

I am still on the side of letting them do pro bono work for whoever they want. And I am sitting back and enjoying the prospect of certain activists being put in an uncomfortable position, given their earlier stance on law firms taking on unpopular clients.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Terrorists, CEOs, and Reputable Firms

Pentagon Official Charles "Cully" Stimson was on a roll. Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, had called out a number of law firms whose attorneys had done pro bono work for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
"I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms. And I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out," said Stimson in an interview with Federal News Radio Jan. 11.

Stimson later apologized, the Pentagon disavowed his remarks, and legal experts defended lawyers who take on representation of unpopular clients. Problem solved. Except that there was little said about the story here in Minnesota. Surely local attorneys, some of whom actually represent suspected terrorists, would rush to condemn Stimson's comments.

But wait, the Minnesota bar does not have the moral authority to defend those who represent unpopular clients. The bar has disgraced itself through sins of commission and omission in the Maslon Edelman and Delahunty matters.

UPDATE: I missed the story that Cully Stimson resigned on Friday.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (2-2-07)

Welcome to Open Thread Friday. It's your turn. Write about something in the comment section below. One possible topic is the Lakeville (MN) School District's use of Huck Finn in the classroom.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hut, Hike, and Hibbing

So the powerhouse Hibbing Community College football team is suspended due to academic and behavioral problems of the players? When I saw this story, I remember being surprised that college athletics would be so competitive at that level that you would have to bring in ringers. Then I saw this quote from the Minneapolis Star Tribune story:

Provost Ken Simberg said he has no idea when -- or if -- football will be reinstated. Instead, Hibbing plans to use the $50,000 to $60,000 now spent on football for recruiting other students to improve diversity on the northern Minnesota campus.

Or this quote from the Hibbing Daily Tribune:
During his address, Sertich noted that one of the concerns is an unintended consequence of suspending the football program.

“Hibbing Community College has enjoyed greater diversity, racial and ethnic diversity as a result of its athletic programming — again, clearly football is at the top of that list,” said Sertich. “So, it is also a concern to us today that we hear what the effects and plans might be so we don’t lose one important strong attribute of the college, while we are looking at all aspects of any given program.”

So it is an affirmative action program in addition to (or instead of) being an athletic program. Interesting.