Monday, April 30, 2007

Questions, Answers, and Revelations

It is rare when someone poses a rhetorical question and then answers it in a manner that gives the opposite impression than he/she intended. Such was the case with Ahmed Tharwat's op/ed piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He attempted to rebut the concerns raised in the same newspaper by Kathy Kersten concerning taxpayer funds for ritual foot washing facilities in Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

First he jokes about the controversy:
Kersten seems intent on stirring up negative public opinion on relatively minor topics in her apparent crusade to save American culture from the Muslims. If this is "just the beginning," as she warned of the foot-washing threat, what else might Muslims bring to campus? Lord forbid, Arabic books?

Then he complains about the facilities:
Besides lacking a low-level washing area with a drain for washing feet, there is also no bidet-like system for cleaning after using the toilet. Water is the essential element for a thorough cleaning -- toilet paper will not suffice.

I think he answered his own rhetorical question.


Diversity, Indoctrination, and I Told You So

There is so much to talk about on a Monday. First off, there is a study reported in Time that says that employee diversity training doesn't work. More here, here, and here. As with any failed program, there may be calls to do it more extensively or drop it entirely. I have my own opinion on which is the right course of action.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (4-27-07)

It's Open Thread Friday! Feel free to opine on the topic of your choice - or give me your thoughts on the linkage between the proposed restroom access act (my posts here) and the proposed ritual footwashing stations at MCTC. As always, use the comment section below.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Vegetable, Dairy, and Politics

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski is attempting to live on food stamps. He is spending exactly $21 on food for the week.

The funny thing is the former Agriculture Secretary John Block did the same thing in 1983. According to a generally supportive editorial in the Omaha World-Herald on August 7, 1983, some accused Secretary Block of "grandstanding" and "showing insensitivity to the plight of the poor." Interestingly, the editorial described the weekly budget for Block, his wife, and 19 year-old daughter as $58 for the week.

I understand that certain programs are targeted for cuts, and that food stamps do not provide a lavish lifestyle, but are we to understand that food stamp budgets have essentially stayed the same in actual dollars in 20+ years? Or is there some creative bookkeeping and grandstanding going on here on the part of Governor Kulongoski? The story says that $21 is what the average Oregonian food stamp recipient spends on groceries in a week. Could they spend more if they needed to? Where is the media criticism?


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bathrooms, Bathrooms, and Blogs

Someone smarter (or more awake) than me might be able to link these two things.

First, MN Observer finally responded to my comment about her charity challenge. My objection was that the money went to an organization that also happened to be lobbying for controversial legislation. It also seemed to be a setup, in that we were not really supposed to donate, just prove that conservatives are heartless. Here is a nugget from the comment:

If you had exercised the curiosity and reading comprehension of the junior high mentality you proudly display, you would have seen in Ms. Stassen-Berger's article that indeed the Executive Director of CCFA was urging the passage of the legislation.

Finally, given that the donation will go to help those who suffer from the disease, I think that the charge of "more interested in the issue than the solution" is best leveled at yourself.

I will let readers decide for themselves whether MN Observer was sincere in reaching out to the right for a charity fundraiser.

Second, in other restroom news, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has an editorial supporting religious footwashing stations at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. No word on whether they will take my suggestion and install a no-slip mat and a stool.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Church, State, and Plumbing Editorial

Here is an editorial in the Minnesota Daily (using a SwanBlog-like title) concerning the controversy at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. To review, MCTC is reviewing whether to install ritual foot washing fixtures to facilitate Muslim prayer.

The editorial correctly outlines one objection to the proposed foot washing facilities -- taxpayer funding. But there is also the issue of adding permanent fixtures to solve a problem that only recently appeared on our radar screens (It may always have been a problem, or it may be a recent strategy to further a larger agenda).

My solution? Place a mat under a sink or two in at least one male/female restroon in each building to avoid water getting all over the floor. Also, add a stool near the sink that could be used by anyone for any number of purposes. See how that works.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Buttons, Poker, and Kit Kats

Is it just me, or was last night's episode of The Sopranos kind of creepy in light of recent events?

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg thinks so, too.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (4-20-07)

Open thread Friday. We got a good debate going last week. Join in this week with a submission on the topic of your choice in the comment section below.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Paulose, Policy, and Petty

The new Minnesota Lawyer weblog provides updates on the controversy surrounding U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose. Specifically, Mark Cohen's editor's column states that, while the controversy over her swearing-in was overblown, disagreement and resignations over her managment style is a serious matter. My take on the swearing-in and other matters is here.

The reporter who "broke" the swearing-in story clearly sees the subsequent controversy as vindication of his original report. Local TV reporter Bob McNaney combines gloating and self-pity in his very first weblog posting. But is there any link between an inexpensive, if formal, investiture ceremony and being a difficult boss?

McNaney and others who cling to the investiture ceremony compromise their credibility, I think, on the subsequent story. The story morphed from being a waste of taxpayer dollars (except that it only cost $225), to a conflict of interest (since using the law school atrium for free might make prosecutors too chummy with...defense attorneys who...went to law school there? As opposed to prosecutors who themselves graduated from St. Thomas undergraduate or law school?), to a waste of office time (except that the arrangements would take just as much time if it were held in a middle school gymnasium).

The only obvious link between the two is that people are gossiping behind Paulose's back. That may be because she is a difficult manager. Or she may have been treated unfairly. But is it even worth exploring why people want to undermine the new USA? Is it possible that Paulose actually is the wronged party in this dispute?


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Let's just pause for a moment and reflect on the tragedy at Virginia Tech.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Imus, Iran, and SwanBlog

Please bear with me for a little Spring cleaning.

I have been asked to react to Gov. Huckabee's comment that the firing of Don Imus raises free speech issues. Mahan likens it to the Dixie Chicks complaining that radio stations refused to play their music, following disparaging comments made about the president to an overseas audience. My opinion is that, on the one hand, the result of the controversy is the purest form of free speech. The corporations made a judgment that they did not want Imus on the stations that they owned. The protesters also spoke out on issues they felt strongly about. Since the government is not the one punishing the speech of the shock jock, the First Amendment is not implicated.

Huckabee's comment could be defended on the ground that, although government was not involved, the firing still violates the principle of freedom of expression.

* * *

Another topic is the seeming willingness of the British sailors held hostage by Iran to make disloyal statements. The teaching point in all this is that, if you are forced to make such a statement, you had better have bruises and a look of terror in your eyes. Facts are coming out about their treatment and psychological pressures they endured. It is difficult for any of us to say whether or when we would have cracked under similar circumstances. But at least give yourself a black eye and a few scratches.

* * *

You may ask if there were any posts within my first 500 that didn't exactly work. Well, from the top of my head, I would say the Cityville series, the Boxing Day Truce, and the never-written Daily Show with Jon Stewart post.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (4-13-07)

It's Open Thread Friday! Give us your thoughts in the comment section.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Smoking, Slavery, and Senators

Here is the Cliff's Notes version of a story in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

In smoking ban debate, county commissioner makes sweeping generalization that he must always do what a majority of his constituents want. Fellow commissioner queries whether that would include voting for slavery if a majority were in favor. Commissioner says 'yes' to voting for slavery. Pandemonium ensues.

Today's fun (yet predictable) quote is as follows:

"He doesn't seem to understand, and for him to hold a public office and not understand that is offensive," [St. Mark's AME Pastor Danita] Williams said. She said Nelson must offer a public, unqualified apology, "and he also needs to take a diversity class."

Of course. I wonder how long before someone demands that Don Imus take a similar class. But St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson does not need a diversity class. He needs a civics class because of his failure to understand the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy. But I digress.

The other predictable thing from the story is that Nelson accuses his fellow commissioner of equating smoking with slavery. Not true. The other guy was taking Nelson's sweeping generalization to its logical extreme. Two former Indiana politicians (what is it with these Hoosiers?) unfairly got in hot water for doing exactly the same thing -- then-Senator Dan Quayle for asking whether his relatively few years in the Senate would have excluded John F. Kennedy from being President, and Senator Rick Santorum for asking whether the arguments in favor of gay marriage could also justify bestiality.

The point of taking someone's sweeping generalization to its logical extreme is not to say that the two things are the same or similar. It is to show how two totally different things are equated when one makes an unqualified and logically sloppy statement. Last summer, I wrote about this as a guest on SCSU Scholars.

This leads to a larger point about comparisons. By bringing up slavery, have I equated the Taliban and the Baathists with slaveowners? Or have I merely pointed out a flaw in the sweeping generalization presented by Boyd and Coleman?

Let's assume that someone asserts that the reason that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a hero is that he went to jail for his beliefs. If a second person points out that the Ayatollah Khomeini also went to jail for his beliefs, does that mean that the second person has likened MLK to a ruthless dictator? Actually, the second person would be saying quite the opposite. When your standard for heroism is so imprecise, then polar opposites like MLK and Khomeini are caught up in the same category. So you had better refine your definition of heroism.

Remember Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's famous "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" line? Again, that was billed as a "comparison" by then-Senator Quayle to the 35th president. Perhaps Quayle could have responded that Bentsen had proved his point. When you look only at age and years in Congress, then people who are as different as President Kennedy and Vice President Quayle look exactly the same. So we must evaluate candidates using other criteria.

Nelson would have been better off to trot out the flawed, but effective logic of Lloyd Bentsen from the beginning. He, too, could have been a media hero.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reminiscing, Protesting, and Blogging

Derek Jensen wants a post on the British hostages. I just now posted something on my local GOP site about the City of St. Louis Park's decision to show one side of the global warming debate. I also need to talk more about the last 500 posts.

Stay tuned, campers.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Woodward, Bernstein, and McNaney?

Remember the old morse code opening to the KSTP television news (examples here and here)? The St. Paul station still uses the "dit dit dit dah" sound effect for severe weather updates. We may have to dust that off for another of Bob "Scoop" McNaney's breaking news stories on Rachel Paulose. Powerline summarizes the objections to this manufactured controversy in a recent post.

But this breaking news thing is fun, so here goes:

Dit Dit Dit Dah, Dit Dit Dit Dah

We interrupt the celebration of SwanBlog's 500th post to present this shocking story. Rachel Paulose once left a Continuing Legal Education seminar EARLY.

SwanBlog readers may know that I have been involved in the controversy over the requirement for Minnesota lawyers to attend political indoctrination called "Elimination of Bias" Continuing Legal Education (CLE). The Federalist Society, which caters to conservative and libertarian lawyers but also tries to present both sides of the issue, held a panel discussion a couple of years ago as an "alternative" Elimination of Bias CLE. Rachel Paulose sat in the same row as me at the seminar (gasp). Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis paper tries to make a big deal over Paulose's "membership" in the Federalist Society. More on that later.

But more shocking than the then-future U.S. Attorney attending a seminar that tried to present both sides of the issue was that she left early! Well, technically she left on time. The seminar was supposed to run two hours, but the discussion period got lively. Unlike the one-sided fare typically offered by the bar association, the Federalist Society CLE sparked intelligent and spririted discussion, extending several minutes beyond the two hours mandated for attorneys to attend every three years. But Rachel got up and left as soon as the mandated time had expired.

This is consistent with the image of Paulose as a driven, no-nonsense person. Maybe the current manufactured controversy involves people who are turned off by such a personality. However, that would not have the same sizzle as breaking news.

The Paulose-left-early-from-Federalist-seminar scoop demonstrates one other thing. It is doubtful that she would be involved in a Federalist Society secret conspiracy because she wouldn't stick around long enough to be involved in the really sneaky stuff. I have addressed the misconceptions about Federalist Society membership here, here, and here. Also, here are some excerpts from a Minneapolis Star Tribune article from August 1, 2005. The issue then was whether it was credible for then-Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts not to know whether he had been a member of the Federalist Society.

Roberts' vagueness over the exact nature of his ties to the group is typical of all of them, members say. It's not a membership group in the way that a labor union has members; it's more like "being on the mailing list." Nor is it an advocacy group like the American Civil Liberties Union, members say. It's a debating society, with a website that lists events and speakers.

Any ties at all to the Federalist Society indicate that Roberts is conservative, they agree, but they wouldn't expect President Bush to appoint anyone who wasn't. It doesn't prove whether or not he's a mainstream choice. Even so, some members admit to a certain reserve about being members.

After declaring that it's "no secret society," with "no secret handshakes," [my colleague Kim] Crockett confessed that when she first applied for jobs as a lawyer, she prepared two resumes: one disclosing her Federalist ties (she had started a chapter at her Ivy League university) and one that did not. In the end she went with full disclosure, she said, but added:

"A lot of people don't put it on their resumes. That's why the `membership' issue is so touchy. All the professions, journalism, law, academia, are liberal politically, and you pay a price when you don't agree with members of your `club.'-"


Most people don't know it, but Minnesota has its own John Roberts: G. Barry Anderson, an appellate judge whom Pawlenty appointed to the state Supreme Court last year.

Anderson said he was happy to own up. "I'd have to check my Quicken [computer] program to see if I've paid dues," he said, "but I believe I'm a card-carrying member."

Anderson described the Roberts membership controversy, which wasn't an issue when he was appointed, as somewhat bemusing.

"Anyone who has so little going on in their life that they're interested in esoteric discussions about legal theory is welcome to come, and will find a full spectrum of opinion represented," he said.


Emphasizing that he was speaking not as state DFL Party chairman but as a lawyer, Melendez agreed with the group's contention that one can be a Federalist without being an extremist.

"A number of good friends of mine are members. I disagree with them on many things, but they are well within the realm of mainstream politics," he said.

Finally, the otherwise excellent Patterico post wrongly compares the Federalist Society to the ACLU, Alliance for Justice, and People for the American Way. Unlike those liberal organizations, the Federalist Society does not litigate cases. The organization may have an agenda, but it doesn't do anything except talk about ideas.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

498, 499, and 500

It's SwanBlog's 500th post! This blog is still too obscure to look back with nostalgia to my humble beginnings. The major spikes in readership have come when I received a link from Powerline or other prominent blog.

In writing a blog, one must decide the purpose. One legitimate purpose of a weblog is to function almost as a comment thread for another well-known blog. To illustrate, let's say that you have occasional good ideas or good links to share. You can e-mail other bloggers in hopes that they take your ideas and add them in their own posting. Or you can write a piece on your own blog and then send a link to the more prominent site. The advantage of the latter method is that the other blogger doesn't have to compose an entire post. If you make it easier for the person to disseminate your ideas, they are more likely to play ball. In this way, it is almost like an open comment thread on the other person's blog. You are not interested in promoting your site or your name per se, just getting someone and their readership to take notice of your idea(s).

For a long time, SwanBlog was just that. No regular readership to speak of, unless I got a link from Powerline, SCSU Scholars, or another top site. As a member of the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers, where there is a large "blogroll" of people linking to each other, I received random traffic from surfing (I know, I am delinquent in posting the blogroll - shhhhh). The next step was to post more regularly so that people would read the blog for its own sake.

Two years ago, I vowed to post every day in May. In his instructions for new bloggers, Marty Andrade says that one needs to post every weekday to gain readership. This is how I entered phase 2 of my blogging life. It is possible to become someone's morning read if there is a good likelihood that something new will be there each morning.

Phase 3 is when you have 100 readers per day. I am not there yet, by a long shot. Phase 3 is where you really can have an influence. Instead of e-mailing what you think is a particularly good post to the prominent blogs, you will generate buzz and links from other blogs merely through your own posting. That is when the Internet really becomes a meritocracy. The better you write, the more influence you will have. Let's hope for Phase 3 in the next 500 posts.

Also, stay tuned for a look back on some things that worked, and things that did not. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Thriller, Rumble, and Scrapple

I continue to post on the "Inconvenient Truth" controversy over at the Senate District 44 weblog. Stay tuned for a big celebration for post number 500 on SwanBlog.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Ready, Fire, and Aim (Rake, Not Progress)

Check out the Senate District 44 GOP weblog where I take on Brian Lambert (remember him?).