Monday, July 09, 2007

Change, Adjustment, and New Beginnings

Please see our posts over at SwanBlog version 2.0. I promise it won't be like New Coke.

The address is Please update your links!

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (7-6-07)

Open Thread Friday. You choose the topic.

One possible topic is your favorite song with a Bo Diddley Beat. Scott Johnson of Powerline chose "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe" by the Byrds. I listened to it yesterday and it is quite good.

Scott reports:

My all-time favorite is "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe" as performed by the Byrds, written by Jackie DeShannon. It's on the Byrds' first album, "Mr. Tambourine Man." Just a great song. I think the Byrds were paying her back for her support of the group while they were getting off the ground, so to speak, but it's one of the highlights of an album that is really full of highlights. Lemme know what you think. Adding the Bo Diddley beat to the song was inspired.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Brownstone, Cross, and Cleavage

Today we will have a couple of quick takes for this post-holiday Thursday.

First, I discovered another song with the Bo Diddley beat, "Mr. Brownstone" by Guns 'n Roses.

Secondly, both Daniel Pipes and Powerline complain about top female presidential aides wearing makeshift hijabs to the Islamic Center of Washington.

Does it make a difference if, in addition to the hijab, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Frances Townsend is possibly wearing a cross and showing cleavage?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bars, Blind, and GPS

New invention uses GPS to help blind people navigate.

For the record, I already invented this in a bar in Excelsior, Minnesota (should have been "Eureka, MN") six months ago. And I have witnesses.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-29-07)

Open Thread Friday!


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Valentines, Winter Games, and Protests

In response to this post, I was asked whether the Winter Games were ever reinstated. Well, the problem was that the principal conflated two things. For years, the choir nerds (including yours truly for a couple years) would go around on Valentine's Day and deliver singing telegrams. The Winter Games, or Snow Daze, just happened to fall during February 14 that year. Choir nerds were not the ones throwing tennis balls and tins. In fact, we were in a concert during the incident that inspired the cancellation.

The Valentine's Day telegrams actually were scheduled for two days. But because of the one-day cancellation, half of the people didn't get what they paid for.

Did the principal relent? No. First it was a couple of choir nerds (not me) meeting politely with him. Then it was time for Plan B. I brought out the headband and urged the Student Senate to support the sit-in. Here is a picture of the whole thing, including a blurry one of my Jim McMahon headband.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Banners, Bongs, and Books

The Supreme Court has now ruled in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. I have no legal insights, just a couple memories from my youth.

There was one guy in my high school (now a lawyer) who wore a shirt that proclaimed, "Fighting for Peace is Like F----g for Virginity" (expletive deleted). I am not sure if any teacher/administrator noticed, let alone disciplined him for it.

My other memory is of a sit-in we held on my senior year. Hopkins High School was designed like a shopping mall (originally nicknamed "Ridgedale II") without escalators. We staged the sit-in in the common "mall" area - an odd choice given that we weren't disrupting anything. My silent protest was to wear a headband with the principal's name on it (in 1986, an obvious homage to quarterback Jim McMahon). What were we protesting? The principal cancelled our Valentines/Winter Games festivities because of a tennis ball and chewing tobacco tin fight in the mall area on the previous day. What can I say? We had a weird school.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Water, Stem Cells, and San Francisco

In the debate over federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, individuals sometimes wrongly refer to a "ban" on such research. Actually, it is a ban on federal funding of stem cell lines created after a certain date in 2001.

To be fair, we should apply the same scrutiny to a claimed "ban" on bottled water in San Francisco. Read this story (excerpted below) and decide for yourself.

Newsom's executive order bars city departments, agencies and contractors from using city funds to serve water in plastic bottles and in larger dispensers when tap water is available.

"In San Francisco, for the price of one 1 gallon (3.8 litres) of bottled water, local residents can purchase 1,000 gallons (38,000 litres) of tap water," according to the mayor's order.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Adult, Embryonic, and Stealth

Take a look at this editorial excerpt from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about funding for cord blood initiatives:

Now the issue is how to expand inventories of frozen cord blood so that enough units will be available for all who need treatment. Congress can do much to help, by following through on funding goals it set in establishing just such an effort earlier this decade.

That follow-through is important because umbilical-cord blood has several advantages over bone-marrow transplants. The match doesn't have to be as precise -- and the recent research found fewer cases of "graft-vs.-host disease" complications in the children in the umbilical-cord group. It also should be easier to persuade people to be donors, since the process involves simply having new mothers donate their newborn's umbilical cord to a cord-blood bank.

The study involved several hundred children 16 years old or younger for whom other treatments hadn't worked. Some received cells from cord blood, while others received bone-marrow transplants. Since the results were equally effective and bone-marrow waiting lists for good matches can be long, the prospects for patients look brighter indeed.

* * *

Now read the whole thing and tell me which words are missing. It talks about funding and health benefits, but not...stem cells. I wonder why.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-22-07)

Open Thread Friday!


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Separate, Equal, and Reserved

A case referenced in the Minnesota Lawyer weblog could have a profound impact on Indian reservations.

A woman objects to receiving social services from her tribe, rather than from the county in which she lives. The dissent by Judge Randall calls into question not just the distribution of social services, but implicitly the reservations themselves. Read it here.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Immersion, Increase, and Decrease

I have two points to make about this story concerning "Hmong flight" away from Minneapolis North High School.

Let's begin with a quote:

Safety isn't the only problem. Wa Chora Yang also worried that his children weren't making sufficient progress speaking English at the Minneapolis schools. "They just put all the Hmong there in one class," he says. "They just speak Hmong all the time. They don't speak English."

Hooray for Mr. Yang! Immersion is the best way to learn a language. School systems seem to have figured that out with every language except English.

And then there's this quote:

Despite the sanguine views expressed by the incoming Hmong students, evidence is mixed as to the effectiveness of the Choice Is Yours program. A 2006 analysis by the Minnesota Department of Education found that kids enrolled in the program did better on standardized tests than their peers in the Minneapolis schools. But a follow-up study, released in January of this year, showed markedly different findings. It determined that, on average, students enrolled in the program fared 15 percent worse in reading comprehension gains and 17 percent worse in math skills increases than their counterparts enrolled in grades three through seven.

Did you catch that? The "gains" in reading comprehension and "increases" in math skills were less than the students who stayed put. Did you see any mention of what the actual scores were? By way of illustration, if Person X goes from a C-minus to a B-minus and Person Y goes from an A-minus to an A, who is doing better in school? This is the danger of measuring only "gains" and "increases."

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Promises, Promises, and Stewart

I have been meaning to say something about the on-air love-fest between Bill Moyers and Jon Stewart here, here, and here. For that matter, I promised a long time ago that I would write a review after watching a week of The Daily Show.

I am still waiting for the right insight to hit me on this Stewartmania. Any thoughts from readers?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Race, Poverty, and Statistics

Regarding the recent editorial on the racial "gap" in Minnesota graduation rates, I am of two minds. I agree with the call for educational reform. However, it is difficult to get past the sloppy and/or sneaky way they interpret the data from Education Week.

First off, the report breaks out racial groups and also gives data on poverty. But it does not combine the two (in the version I found), leaving one to wonder whether differences in poverty rates could account for the racial differences.

Secondly, it may be less important to look at Asian/Pacific students as a group than to look at immigrants and first generation Americans versus those who can trace their roots back several generations. If we are truly looking for solutions, it is probably more helpful to look at which students grew up speaking English at home than to paint with a broad racial brush.

Finally, as I have said before, we should focus on raising everyone's achievement, not just on shrinking the "gap." In criticizing Minnesota, the editorial actually cites the numbers for individual minority groups, which is an improvement over those who focus only on the difference between whites and minorities. If one focuses only on the gap, an easy way of narrowing it is to lower white achievement.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-15-07)

Open Thread Friday. Random thoughts are welcome.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

First Amendment, Logical Fallacies, and More Stuff

Good stuff over at Marty Andrade's blog, including the ever-popular logical fallacy.

Also, Derek Jensen writes to point out that the NCAA revoking press credentials from its baseball championship for live-blogging is probably not a First Amendment violation. It is also probably not going to lower the value of the national television rights for college baseball, which remains at $1.50.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beach Balls, Bubbles, and Diplomas

I must admit being conflicted about this Steve Chapman piece on rowdy graduations. In my three graduations (high school, college, and law school), I put a message on my mortarboard every time. I also wore shorts to every ceremony. To my delight at the time, my mother proclaimed my high school graduation to be the most ill-behaved that she had seen, and she had seen at least five of them, not including her own.

No matter what hardships a student or family endured to reach the commencement ceremony, it is difficult for me to grant it the seriousness of a wedding or even a confirmation service. An exchange student from Finland who lived in my college dorm said that they do not have such formal graduation ceremonies in Europe. We guessed that it was because there is so little formality and tradition in America that we go all out for diploma distribution.

My recent experience viewing graduation ceremonies involves the affluent Minneapolis suburbs of Wayzata and Maple Grove. To my horror, the powers-that-be are now prohibiting short pants. There may have been other rules; I couldn't get past that one. The soap bubbles and beach balls of my youth are but a memory. Still, if other commencement ceremonies are getting out of hand, I support the school administrators in making reasonable restrictions. This leads me to the disturbing, yet predictible fallout, as outlined in the Chapman piece:

In the enforcement phase, the students perceived racial bias, noting that four of them are black and the other is Hispanic. At other schools, there have been complaints that imposing commencement decorum amounts to forcing nonwhites to abide by stuffy white conventions.

There is no infallible way to define and detect "disruptive behavior," but the school did its best by stationing four observers around the auditorium, and all four wrote down the same five names during the ceremony. Are the educators racist? When I called one of the kids who were punished, Nadia Trent, she said that during her student days, she had never encountered racial bias from school officials.

In any event, bad behavior is not a product of skin color. Well-to-do white schools have their share of people who feel entitled to do whatever they want regardless of how it affects others. Back in 1999, an outdoor venue in suburban Chicago banned a local high school from holding commencement exercises there after students and parents threw marshmallows, trampled flowers, ignored no-smoking signs and insulted employees. This is a high school that is less than 1 percent black.

I have nothing to add.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and So On

Speaking of gangster movies, check out the Minnesota Lawyer blog posting on The Untouchables baseball scene, including comments by yours truly.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony, Paulie, and Meadow


Is there any series finale that measures up to the series itself? I would argue that last night's final episode of The Sopranos did just that.

Just as The Godfather novel/movies were as much about the World War II post-immigrant generation as they were about the Mafia, the HBO series dealt with everyday experiences of baby boomers in the context of a crime family. The lead characters in The Sopranos were probably meant to be a little older than the actors who portrayed them (what couple named their daughter "Meadow" in 1982?), as the show explored what lives were like for fortysomethings in the 1990s -- from getting your kid into college to putting a parent into a home.

Using the Mafia to talk about real-life problems did not set The Sopranos apart. What made the series unique was how skillfully it was done. Last night's finale was a fitting example of such skill. Too busy to cook, the family meets for dinner at a family-favorite 50s diner. As with almost every show, it proceeded both on the level of a family show and an organized crime drama. As they rave about the onion rings, the audience is eyeballing every restaurant patron as a possible assassin or FBI agent. For a moment, the audience experiences what life must be like for a wiseguy. We were looking over our shoulders for the cops and rivals.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (5-31-07)

Open Thread Friday. Enter comments below.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Grow, Growth, and Cohen

News Flash: Dan Cohen protests the buyout of Doug Grow from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Recall that Grow was directly responsible for getting Cohen fired from a job where he had just landed on his feet. Cohen apologized to the former lieutenant governor whose shoplifting arrest he exposed. Maybe it's time for Grow to grow up and apologize.

To the braintrust at the Strib:

Previously, I've dwelled at length on the erosion of conservative readership for the Strib. Now, let's take a look at what is going to happen to your liberal base. As more of your experienced news staffers take the buyout, you are going to lose a lot more than you could possibly gain from, for example, a laptop full of advertsing data.

A Dane Smith is irreplaceable. He is lterally a walking encylopedia of Minnesota political history. But not only is he gone from the Daily Blab, he is reemerging in another format -- I believe it is Joel Kramer's organization -- and thus will be lending his expertise to a competitor for the very audience you have so assiduously cultivated lo these many years as the great, in depth source of all things Minnesota . But that stuff -- the essence, the minutia, the judgment -- ain't in your clip files. It's in Dane Smith's head.

Doug Grow. Jeremy Iggers. Jim Boyd. I may not agree with them-- or even like them very much-- but they have proven appeal to your customer base, and invariably they will draw some of that base away from you as they connect with competing organizations. What do I mean by competing organizations? The Citizens' League. The League of Women Floaters. MPR, Greenpeace. There are a zillion of those damn liberal beats, and that's where these people are going to wind up, converting a lifetime accumulation of local political, business, personal knowledge, sources and contacts into newsletters, blogs, websites, media formats and the like that will bring their Strib readers along with them.

Who needs you?

The people that will produce your new Bloomington friendly version are nowhere near possessing the same knowledge, experience or talent as the people you are losing. And frankly, as you are about to find out, the people in Bloomington, don't really give a damn what you have to say about them. It is a truism of the newspaper business that your most valuable assets go down the elevator every night when the paper is put to bed. Now they are going to be going down someone else's elevator, and they aren't going to forget who kicked them out the door.

Goodbye, consevative readers.

Goodbye, liberal readers.


Dan Cohen

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Cabs, Cartels, and Catchy Phrases

The Minnesota Lawyer blog makes reference to a George Will column and suggests that Mr. Will needed to be prompted to use a "catchy phrase" in reference to the artificial limitation on taxicab licenses in Minneapolis. So, is the word "cartel" so obscure that an esteemed conservative columnist would need a lawyer to clue him in to it?

Decide for yourself. Here is the definition of cartel from Black's Law Dictionary:

A combination of producers of any product joined together to control its production, sale, and price, so as to obtain a monopoly and restrict competition in any particular industry or commodity. Such exist primarily in Europe, being restricted in United States by antitrust laws. Also, an association by agreement of companies or sections of companies having common interests, designed to prevent extreme or unfair competition and allocate markets, and to promote the interchange of knowledge resulting from scientific and technical research, exchange of patent rights, and standardization of products.

Two things. One, the taxi situation in Minneapolis is not a monopoly, because more than one company is involved. Two, as the definition above shows, "cartel" is not necessarily a pejorative. It may have a connotation of big money oil on a national or international scale, such as OPEC or the competitors to Ewing Oil in Dallas, but that is a topic for another post.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Odds, Ends, and SwanBlog

Welcome to Powerline readers! Here is a link to the tribute to Memorial Day referenced in the Powerline post.

In other news, I owe a belated link to Captain Capitalism. Be sure to go there for all your charting needs.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (5-25-07)

Open Thread Friday. What's on your mind?


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Plaintiff, Defendant, and Insurance Company

Take a look at my comment on a Minnesota Lawyer weblog post concerning a beef from the trial lawyers.

Peter said... Um, did you interview anyone who was _opposed_ to the legislation?
May 22, 2007 6:55 PM

Anonymous said... The ads against this bill were outrageous anti-lawyer ads. Regardless of whatever merits the law change may or may not have had, the ads themselves were objectively deceptive. The premise was to demonize P.I. lawyers rather than to deal with the actual substance of what was really in the proposal. I doubt you'd find a single lawyer who would speak in favor of these ads.
May 22, 2007 9:49 PM

Peter said... Wow.
I will assume that "anonymous" (comment above) is not a journalist. Hopefully he/she is not a lawyer, either.
Are there any lawyers among the legislators who voted against it? Are there any lawyers/lobbyists for the insurance industry?

There is certainly no shortage of people who would speak against the proposed bill. I also suspect that there are people who would defend the ad.

I recall an ad by a PI firm where the viewer is put in the perspective of a mangled car wreck and a mean insurance company employee is asking the viewer to sign a document, offering to pry his/her hand free from the wreckage ("Which one do you write with?").

And then there are the lovely teacher's union "mediocrity" ads from this last election season.

Two (three) wrongs don't make a right, but let's not play the victim card too much, here.
May 23, 2007 7:48

One more thing. It's not like trial lawyers ever engage in hyperbole, right?

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Lawyers, Journalists, and Slaves

There is something seriously wrong when a story about slavery, prostitution, and human trafficking arises, and you have certain journalists who choose to focus on their favorite topics of the U.S. Attorney controversy and immigration. See here and here.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gold, Silver, and Webb

Submitted for your approval. A man steals silver from his employer, bit by bit. When he was caught, the story takes a familiar twist.

When police asked Sessing where all the money had come from, he told them he had done work for his brother, that his father-in-law got him a side job doing construction and that his wife "was making all kinds of money with the company she worked for," Jensen said.

Police later took a more hardball approach, telling Sessing they would be questioning his relatives and executing search warrants.

"He says, 'OK, this is too much. They're not involved at all,' " Jensen said. " 'It's all me.' I think part of the embarrassment of getting his entire family involved in his problem was probably the key."

So what, you ask? Well it just seems that law enforcement putting family pressure on suspects was deemed to be unfair during the Whitewater investigation, especially that of Webb Hubbell. Is it a fair/common tactic or not? Remember this quote?

Hubbell accused the Starr's office of trying to pressure him. [Me: Imagine that.]

"Obviously, it's apparent to me that they think by indicting my wife and my friends that I will lie about the president and the first lady," an emotional Hubell said. "I will not do so. And my wife would not want me to do so.

"I want you to know that the Office of Independent Counsel can indict my dog, they can indict my cat, but I'm not going to lie about the president," Hubbell said. "I'm not going to lie about the first lady or anyone else. My wife and I are innocent of the charges that have been brought today."

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Bedrest, Aspirin, and Politics

How dare he! Then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales visited a seriously ill John Ashcroft (then the attorney general) to try to get Ashcroft to overrule the acting AG, James Comey on a point of legal disagreement.

First of all, I think we should calm down a bit on things that did not happen. Whether it is early drafts of firing lists or legal and political wrangling within the administration, the end result should garner more attention than the process. In some ways, this and other controversies could be seen as evidence that the system works.

But the most silly thing about this controversy is the supposed outrage that they visited Ashcroft in the hospital. Does anyone remember then-Senator Pete Wilson being wheeled into the Capitol Building in 1985 after appendix surgery so that he could vote on military funding? Or the alleged deathbed conversation between William Casey and Bob Woodward? The hospital is far from sacrosanct. I once called a client from my hospital bed to get him to follow up on a matter (The morphine had long-since worn off, but not necessarily the Percoset).

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (5-18-07)

You know the deal. It's Open Thread Friday!


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lurking, Legislating and Safety II

To continue yesterday's discussion of anti-lurking laws, I should point out one area of disagreement that I have with the Minnesota Lawyer blog post on this subject (I say this as a fan of the post's author, Barbara Jones, and of the publication in general). For starters, let's look at the title of the post:

Lurking: Let’s eliminate the thought police

The "thought police" reference comes from the fact that the actual offense is "lurking with intent," although you have to read the Minneapolis Star Tribune article (or presumably the Council on Crime and Justice study, if you can wade through the Council's website to find it) to learn this fact. Jones' post doesn't provide a link to the lurking study itself or to the news reports about it. Blogging pointers aside (I am sure I would need pointers writing for a weekly newspaper), I disagree with the notion that reference to "intent" in criminal law is something unusual or Orwellian. From law school, I can recall general intent crimes and specific intent crimes. Aren't there laws proscribing drug possession with intent to distribute?

There is something to this, though. In addition to criminal culpability and greater penalties based on intent, there is a new (going on 20 years) trend of punishing motive for crimes. To clarify, intent determines what you meant to do. Motive determines why you did it. These new "hate crimes" laws do more than distinguish between an accident and purposeful behavior (which is mainly why the criminal justice system looks at intent), they seek too add punishment for having the wrong attitude about a certain group while committing the crime.

It would be difficult to make the case that merely having intent as an element of a crime raises the spectre of "thought police." However, there is a real debate "lurking" over these new so-called hate crimes. That is where we should focus our energies.

Finally, on the subject of the thought police, Ralph Remington of the Minneapolis City Council favors keeping the lurking ordinance, but advocates a different solution.

.... Police officers should be mandated to have yearly psychological exams along with their already required yearly physicals. Police officers should also be mandated to have muscular, robust, cultural sensitivity training. If we direct our energy toward creating policies and best practices with teeth, we can truly start to whittle away at some of the racial disparities in our criminal justice system. On the other hand, it is completely wrongheaded to take away tools that good police officers need in order to execute their jobs.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lurking, Legislating, and Safety

Here is the sequence of events:

1. May 7 - Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on opposition to the ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that prohibit "lurking."

2. May 8 - The Minnesota Lawyer weblog strongly opposes the lurking ordinances in the Twin Cities.

3. May 10 - A Roseville man is arrested for lurking near a day care. After police are called, it is discovered that he has a knife. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, as does the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Police find man with 16-inch knife lurking at Roseville daycare center
Pioneer Press Press
Article Last Updated:05/15/2007 01:49:40 PM CDT

A Roseville man found lurking at a church daycare center with a 16-inch knife tucked in his trench coat pocket now faces criminal charges.

Prosecutors charged Richard Christopher Petterson, 34, with one felony count of possessing a dangerous weapon on school property.

Petterson showed up at Lake Ridge Child Care at the Prince of Peace Church in Roseville around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, according to a Ramsey County criminal complaint. Petterson approached day care occupants while children were present. Petterson, dressed in a long trench coat and mumbling, appeared intoxicated, the complaint states.

Staff, fearing for the children's safety, called police. A Roseville officer found Petterson walking near the daycare. The officer ordered Petterson to stop but the suspect kept walking. The officer pulled his gun and ordered Petterson to the ground.

* * *

To be fair, it is not clear that he was arrested specifically for lurking or whether Roseville even has such a law. But this story does add something to the discussion of lurking ordinances.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Christians, Disabilities, and Power

News Flash. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Doug Grow, it is OK to ridicule Christians, because Christians "represent power."

Well, sometimes BNW has a pretty good idea what will offend. For example, it's had productions with such titles as "Ripped Off the Cross! The Last Crusade of Bill B'Jesus."

Not surprisingly, some Christians weren't amused. But Christians, and other groups pilloried by BNW, represent power. Mental disability equals powerlessness.

Caleb McEwen, BNW's artistic director, said he can't be too concerned about offending.

"We have the right to be wrong'

"People have the right to be offended and we have the right to be wrong," McEwen said. "If we can't use the word 'retard,' does that mean we should not use idiot, moron, or crazy, either? Eventually, we can't say anything."

McEwen pointed out that the word "celebretard" is never used in the script.

But that, according to Sherry Gray, is part of the problem.

Gray, a St. Paul woman who is guardian for her sister, who has intellectual disabilities, is the person who put a national spotlight on the title. She saw an ad for the production and posted her thoughts -- "This is wrong" -- on an international website for people who have family members with disabilities. Not surprisingly, most of the website users share her despair.

"It's the use in the title, with no context, that bothers me," Gray said. "I'd like to see them change the title. But if they can't do that, I hope this can at least be a teachable moment."

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