Monday, July 31, 2006


I don't want to introduce controversy into the genteel world of academia. I am grateful to King for my honorary tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves. But I am running out of pop culture references. So let's revisit the debate started by another guest blogger.

Michael Boucher forwarded this post to King concerning the new Florida education standards. It prompted a lively debate, especially about the Declaration of Independence. I posted some comments, but here are a couple of my own thoughts on the subject.

1. It seems that the debate over the Declaration of Independence is a proxy for the larger cultural war over church and state. Some conservatives fight to emphasize the Declaration, thinking that its references to God will aid their goal of a larger role for religion in public life. Some liberals oppose the Declaration as part of a school curriculum because they see it as contrary to their goal of lessening the role of religion in public life. It is almost a circular argument: The Declaration is not an important founding document because it references religion, and we are a secular nation; we know that we are a secular nation because all of the important founding documents omit references to God. As I see it, the question should be whether the Declaration is worthwhile for schoolchildren to learn about.

2. Although I am a lawyer, I am not sure what is meant by the Declaration of Independence being a "legal document" or not. Opponents of teaching the Declaration in schools claim that it is not a legal document and, therefore, it should not be part of a public school curriculum. I think that they are trying to claim that it is not legally binding. Fair enough, but there are many outdated and overruled documents that are nonetheless part of a lesson plan. Is the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution still in effect and binding? Should schoolchildren learn about it even if it is no longer binding?

3. The Declaration of Independence can be a jumping off point for discussion of many other issues. Mr. Boucher talks about popular sovereignty versus national sovereignty, for example. This seems like a worthwhile concept to be taught in schools. Indeed, even Boucher suggests that any ninth grader knows that the Declaration extols the former rather than the latter. This assumes, of course, that his/her social studies teacher had the wisdom to include the Declaration in the lesson plan.

4. How does one study the Gettysburg Address or Reverend King's I Have a Dream speech without mentioning the Declaration of Independence? There are many points to be drawn from the Declaration, not just a narrow political or religious agenda.

5. The old Florida standards included the Declaration of Independence. See page 22 of this document to read the actual changes in a redline version. Is this really such a radical change?

My apologies to King for stirring the pot. I will turn in my tweed jacket upon request.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Questions On The Conduct Of War 

I have not written about the Israeli-Hezbollah war here because this is King's place, and I don't think I should be using it as a medium to express my thoughts on the subject. However, two things occurred in the last twenty-four hours that I think need to be discussed. So here goes.

First, Israel conducted an airstrike on Qana, a civilian populated area that they believe Hezbollah was using to fire rockets into Israel. The strike destroyed a building causing an estimated 60 civilian deaths, including an estimated 19 to 34 children. Any time civilians are killed in war it is a tragedy that demands our sympathy. The fact that the dead include up to 34 children makes the tragedy expediently greater, at least in my mind.

The second event, which is interrelated to the first, is a report in the Australian Herald Sun exposing Hezbollah's tactics. Specifically, the Herald Sun has obtained photos showing armed Hezbollah fighters dressed in civilian cloths, manning crew served weapons, and launching rockets from civilian populated areas. This evidence lays to rest any doubt that Hezbollah is using civilian populated areas to launch rockets into Israeli towns and cities.

Since this is not my Blog I will not offer my opinion on whether the Israeli strike was justified and who bears the blame for the death of these civilians, including children. If your are interested in my opinion I give it at the Lamplighter. The purpose of this post is to throw out a few questions to think about:

1. Who bears the responsibility for civilian deaths when a populated area is used to launch rocket, artillery, or other attacks - the force launching the attack or the force engaging in counter battery attacks?

2. Is force justified to strike military targets deployed in populated areas?

3. If strikes on military targets located in civilian areas are not justified, then is that granting de facto immunity from attack to the those who violate the laws governing war and deploy military forces in civilian areas??

4. Using civilians as human shields violates "international" law, but how do you enforce that law?

5. Is the Lebanese government and international community responsible for this war because they refused to enforce UN Resolution 1559 - which required Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah and the Lebanese government to take control of southern Lebanon?

Just some questions, but the answers I think are important.

Up date:
1. For more thoughts on Qana and the background can be found at:
Power Line
Harry's Place
Captain's Quarters
I have no doubt that others with insightful comments will be weighing in shortly.

2. Sorry, my opinions were not up at my place when I posted this. They are now, so if you are interested just hit the link to Lamplighter above.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Islam, Judiasm and Free Speech - A Double Standard? 

The new in-thing among the world press, or at least the European press, is to run anti-Semitic cartoons, including ones equating Israelis to Nazis. Seems many among the European press are adopting policies that until recently were confined to fringe hate groups and Islamic press. This offensive trend includes:

1. January 27, 2003. The U.K.'s independent publishes a cartoon of a naked Prime Minister Sharon eating a Palestinian child with attack helicopters in the back ground. The cartoon is a take off of Spanish artist de Goya's painting "Saturn Devouring His Children." The Political Cartoon Society awarded Dave Brown, the cartoonist, first prize in its annual "Cartoon of the Year" competition

3. May 17, 2006. The Italian communist newspaper publishes a cartoon equating Palestinian living conditions to Nazi death camps.

4. July 19. 2006. The U.K.'s Guardian publishes a cartoon of a fist in a leather glove with metal Stars of David cutting up a Palestinian child face. The cartoon is reminiscent of those used by the Nazis in WWII.

5. A cartoon in Norway's newspaper Dagbladet portraying Israel's Prime Minister as the Nazi Commander of Auschwitz. The cartoon was taken form the scene in Schindler's List in which the camp commander randomly shoots a Jewish prisoner from his balcony.

6. July 29, 2006, The U.K. Telegraph prints a cartoon comparing the Warsaw ghetto of 1943 with Tyre in 2006. The Israeli flag is displayed in each box.

Don't get me wrong, I believe strongly in free speech and that everyone of these papers should have the right to publish these cartoons - no matter how vile and offensive they maybe. What I question is the double standard the publishing of these cartoons has revealed - free speech is broader when attacking an "unprotected" group, then when attacking "protected" groups.

The response to publishing the "Muhammad Cartoons," was that many western governments condemned the newspapers that published them, many academics and politicians fell over themselves trying to justify limits on free speech, and universities in the U.S., Canada, and other western countries refused to allow professors and students to show the cartoons. Most newspapers in the US refused to print the cartoons and the University of Illinois went so far as to fire the student editor of the school's newspaper for publishing them. There was a strong outcry on behalf of free speech too, which was all to often followed by the infamous "but."

In contrast to the soul searching and contamination that the Muhammad cartoons caused, the west's reaction to the anti-Semitic cartoons has been limited to a few letters to the editors. There has been no governmental condemnation of newspapers for printing them, no attempts to justify limits on free speech, no banning of the cartoons on college campuses and no firing student editors...why?

In my opinion, no government should condemn a newspaper for publishing cartoons, regardless of who finds them offensive (and yes I find many cartoons offensive). My point is that there is a double standard here - you can print offensive speech about Jews but not about Muslims. That is a problem.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Phone Booth 

There is a scene in the 1978 Superman film where Clark Kent is looking to change into his alter ego. The mild-mannered reporter races down the street, goes past a new telephone stand (out in the open instead of in a booth) while giving it a double take, and eventually changes clothes in a revolving door at super speed. This was a cute reference to the comic book hero's habit of changing in an old-fashioned phone booth.

The news media has finally caught on to the decline in phone booths with this story. For those of you who read SCSU Scholars during breakfast, the following may be unappetizing:

In the late 1970s and early '80s, the phones became increasingly unpopular with community boards and local officials afraid of drug dealers. Eventually, Verizon changed all its phones to refuse incoming calls and removed phone booths, which had become grim repositories for trash and human waste.

"There was a time when all kinds of criminal elements would set up a sidewalk office using a pay phone," recalled Smith, the Verizon spokesman.

But the phone stands that replaced them are still magnets for trash and vandalism, and some still smell distinctly of urine.
More apple juice with your breakfast?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Not to make light of the situation, but there are new developments in the case of the baby allegedly abandoned at the Metro Transit bus stop in Minneapolis. It seems that police are starting to doubt the story of the woman who claimed that she found the infant.

As recently as late Tuesday, police believed that Rachel Thin Elk had rescued Trista Sedeno-Bird Horse from a bench in a bus shelter at the intersection of Chicago and Franklin Avenues S.

Thin Elk's story has since come under fire, said Minneapolis Lt. Greg Reinhardt. While Minneapolis police aren't investigating the case, they are assisting with the documentation of the calls for service, Reinhardt said.

"The entire story is falling apart," he said.

Thin Elk said today that she is sticking to her story and that it she didn�t appreciate police questioning it.

* * *

It will be up to Metro Transit to sort out definitively whether the story is true or not, he said.

Gibbons declined to characterize Thin Elk's statements, saying that too was part of the ongoing investigation.

"Now that we have the mother in custody, we can start talking to additional people with knowledge of the investigation," Gibbons said. "We're not making any assertions that she did or did not rescue the baby.

"We need to take a step back and get perspective," he said. "At least the baby is safe."

I am reminded of an episode of the Rockford Files, where Jim Rockford can't believe how a rival private investigator relies on blind luck to solve his cases. Rockford tells him:

You have to be cynical, you have to question things. You can't take someone named Belle LaBelle on face value. What's her angle, huh? Who's payroll is she on? You find out the answers to those things, and then you start movin' fast and crooked. You go through doorways sideways and low, at odd angles. You look for the big lie, question everything.

Good advice for the media and the police, especially on this story.

Not Your Dad's Electric Car 

Being a gear head from way back I never thought I would find an electric car that would catch my eye...but the Tesla roadster sure has. If it lives up to it's billing then it is a quantum advancement over electric cars as we know them. It's advertised as having 248 peek HP, going from 0-60 in about 4 seconds, a top speed of over 130 mph and a range of 200 to 250 miles. Charge time? 3.5 hours.

Makes me want to sell the 67 Camero and get a Tesla...alas I doubt my wife would look kindly on me buying one at between $80,000 and $100,000 - I find sleeping on the garage floor just to uncomfortable. Guess I'll have to leave saving the planet to others.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More on Moulitsas 

This is a follow up to the post below on Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos.

I do not suggest that anyone (including me) has completely pure motives for joining the military. After all, I am unaware of any soldier, sailor, airman, or marine who is so selfless as to refuse his/her paycheck (actually, direct deposit) at the end of the month.

Moulitsas wants us to believe that his military service was based on the "quaint" notion that every military hawk ought put his money where his mouth is and enlist. It is hypocritical, the theory goes, to support war when you are unwilling to risk your own life.

I am envisioning an introductory barracks discussion like the one they had in the movie Stripes:

"Smith, why did you join?"

"To get money for college."

"Moulitsas, why did you join?"

"Because hawks have an obligation to put themselves at risk if they are going to advocate sending other people to war. Furthermore...."

In some ways, Kos' stated reason is no more altruistic than the person who wants money for college. One person wants to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. The other person wants to avoid the charge for college tuition.

There is a part of me, however, that is skeptical of the hawks-have-a-duty-to-enlist rationale. It seems to be a very convenient rejoinder to his political opposition, many of whom have never served in the military. Read the following excerpt from a C-SPAN interview to see if there could be an alternate explanation for Kos' enlistment.
LAMB: Why did you go into the service? And what year was it again?

MOULITSAS: It was �89 to �92. And the reason I joined is, I was � this is kind of a quaint reason to join. And I wish more people did this.

But I was a military hawk when I was in high school. I was all for bombing Libya and invading Grenada. And I thought those things were great, right, because we need to assert ourselves as a country.

But I also thought, if I�m going to be walking around advocating the use of military force, I�d better be in a position to have � I�d better be � I had better spend a couple years in the Army, being in a position to be sent to these kind of conflicts.

You know, I need to put my life on the line. I need to � because to me it was a matter of integrity and a matter of, not even common sense, but I think integrity really says it. I mean, how can I advocate sending people to potential harm, when I myself have not put myself in that position?

And that was probably the main reason I joined the Army.

There were some extraneous reasons. I mean, it was a way for me to help pay for school. But my parents, you know, say, we�ll pay for school, just don�t join the Army, right.

And so it wasn�t something that I had to. And I still don�t know how my parents would have paid for school. They didn�t have a lot of money. But for them it was � I mean, they did their best to talk me out of it.

To me it was a matter of principle. If I�m going to be a hawk, I need to be there myself. And I�ve moderated my hawkishness, but I�m still fairly much a military hawk. I mean, I thought Afghanistan was a perfectly justifiable war.

What I have a problem with is lying to start wars that are unnecessary, and I think Iraq qualifies.
Anything there?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Computer (Blogger) Wore Combat Boots 

Here is yet another interview with Markos "I Wore Combat Boots" Moulitsas where he references his military service. And Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune highlights local veterans who are running for office.

Here is my question: What do we owe these veterans? Our gratitude? Yes. VA and other benefits? Yes. The ability to enter politics free from criticism? No.

I am reminded of an incident a couple of years ago in Hubert's, which is near the Metrodome in Minneapolis. A couple of friends and I were killing time in the crowded bar before a game. All of a sudden, this guy accuses my friend of bumping him. After a brief discussion of who was standing in that area of the bar first, my friend apologized. Then the guy barks that if he made a mistake like that, "200 people would die." It turns out that he was with an Army Ranger unit. My friend diffused the situation by thanking him for his service and offering to buy him a drink.

Military service says a lot about a person's character. But it is not a trump card for every discussion on every subject. And it certainly has nothing to do with an accidental bump in a crowded bar.

Truth is stranger than (science) fiction 

Just when you thought that medical science couldn't get much more sadistic, it turns out that the secret to curing cancer is radioactive scorpion venom.

I'm not sure what surprises me more: that it seems to work, or that it took them so long to investigate this avenue....

(Hat tip: MR.)

Hey, a post from what's-his-face! 

I know, I know. "Prof. Banaian selected three guest-bloggers, where's that last loser?"
Well (and feel free to hum an appropriate fanfare at his point), here I am, complete with no particularly useful information about the Israel/Hezbollah/Lebanon/Syria/Iran/Palestine/Whoever conflict. (Whomever? Stupid English grammar!)

It's been a while Prof. Banaian posted my first post, which you can reread here. As you can see from that post, I'm something of an economics nerd (so fair warning). But I should also point out that I'm also something of a regular nerd, which means I'm far more likely than Prof. Banaian to link to something like this.

Anyhow, it's good to be here, and there will be more to come shortly.

PS: If you're interested in what's happening in that fruit salad conflict mentioned above, I suggest you go here, and sign up for their free intelligence reports. I have found that they are full of useful information and analysis. (I have also found that if you open them in your email box before you leave to go to the bathroom, people who walk by will be impressed and think that you are an informed person who cares about the issues. Then they treat you with a modicum of respect, and you can use that to know who the jerks are who read people's computer screens while they are away! I hate those guys!)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Book Report 

This is a follow-up to my post on various book "banning" controversies in public schools. I recently read Peg Kehret's book, Abducted, to see what all of the fuss was about. I give it a thumbs-up rating.

It is predictable that the popularity of something increases when controversy arises. Kehret's book was hard to come by at the public library. I was on the waiting list for a brief period before I got the book.

When I was in junior high school, there was a controversy in another Minnesota school district about the violence in Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery. We discussed the controversy in my English class, but did not actually read the story. I promptly went to the school library and read it for myself; perhaps that was what our teacher had in mind. The Lottery was nominally about a town where the inhabitants drew straws to see which one of them would be stoned to death. I saw it as a morality tale, where the characters were perfectly happy to have someone stoned to death, as long as they didn't draw the short straw themselves. The obvious violence of the subject matter brought objections from parents in the other school district. But the idea of a modern town deciding to stone a citizen is so fanciful that the reader can jump right past the violence and into the message.

Abducted is quite realistic. Aside from a number of improbable coincidences that keep the story moving, it could easily happen in real life. A reader with knowledge of the Seattle area will be able to visualize the landmarks as the story progresses. It is a bit too simplistic for an adult reader, but that is not the target audience. I am undecided whether or not a ten year-old is mature enough to read this book. I am convinced, however, that the Apple Valley parent mentioned in the previous post has raised a valid concern.

Kidnapping is a very frightening concept, in fiction or in real life. When I was in kindergarten, during "sharing time," one of my classmates told us about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. The kidnappers cut off one of his ears and mailed it to the media, to show that they were serious. I can attest that my classmate's little factoid was the source of some nightmares among the five and six year-olds. That may have been the origin of the sarcastic phrase, "Thanks for sharing."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Aother Attack On Free Speech 

Over 60 Wisconsin state legislatures have sent a letter to the University of Wisconsin-Madison "urging" the university to fire Kevin Barrett, an adjunct professor hired to teach an introductory course on Islam. The reason they want him fired? He made public statements that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Barrett's remarks are offensive and calls into question his scholarship. However, the speech is protected under the First Amendment and as offensive as it may be, it is not grounds to fire him or take any other action against him.

The fact that UW-Madison hired Barrett to teach an introductory course on Islam, in which his conspiracy theories will be part, calls into question the judgment of the hiring committee. It also calls into question whether the course has any academic value. However, those are UW's problems and have no impact on Mr. Barrett's First Amendment rights.

I find the actions of the state legislatures even more offensive than any speech that Barrett has engaged in. They are not calling for Barrett's dismissal because he is incompetent to teach (a conclusion I am not sure the legislature is itself competent to make). Instead the sole reason they want him fired is because they find his speech offensive. As asinine and offensive as Mr. Barrett's speech may be, it is no excuse for these legislatures to disregard the Constition and attempt to restrict Barrett's First Amendment rights by threatening UW-Madison with dire consequnceis if he is not fired.

Now having said that, UW, like all universities, has an obligation to ensure that the courses taught are grounded, at least somewhat, in fact. State universities also must ensure that they do not restrict the First Amendment rights, or any other constitutional rights, of their students and falculty. If they fail to fulfill either of these obligations they run the risk that state legislatures will become more active in the day-to-day management of the universities, such as adopting Horowitz's Academic Bill Of Rights.

(Cross posted at Lamplighter)

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Importance Of Judicial Restraint 

I came across a CNN article about the attempts of people in Africa to impose order in the absence of an effective judicial system and in the presence of a corrupt police force. It reminded me of King's post Social cooperation when governments break down where he noted:
Entering into a divided four-lane road that is often backed up for blocks in rush hour, you could easily see people sit there for hours. But they don't. Today I watched (involuntarily, caught in traffic) as each car with the right of way yielded to one car without it. Order out of chaos, tacitly agreed.

I observe this in many places, and expect I will in Mongolia too -- people will create order for themselves without waiting for government to do it for them. I hope to send you such stories.

Like King's experience, the people of Cameroon are attempting to make order our of chaos with out the government's help, albeit in a different manner and with more violence:
It is 4:30 a.m. in Douala, Cameroon's business capital, and a severely beaten man with his hands lashed behind his back lies on the road in Bepanda district surrounded by an irate mob.

"Bring me petrol!" a man barks from the crowd. A boy runs to a nearby filling station and returns with a quart of fuel.

Just as the man lifts his hand to light the matches, a police van screeches to a halt and the savage ritual stops. The officers rush the victim to hospital, but it is too late: The 23-year-old man is dead.

This is just one example of a wave of mob rule, known locally as jungle justice, that is sweeping Cameroon where people complain that the police are corrupt and inefficient.

I think the difference between King's experience and the experience of those in Cameroon, is that here we still buy into the rule of law, whereas in Cameroon they don't.

When people try to impose order without the rule of law, the order imposed is often just another form of violent chaos (look at our history of vigilante justice). That is why, in my opinion, it is essential that our judicial system be comprised of competent judges who rule according to the law, and not according to the way they would like the law to be. Once people lose faith in the judicial system, the collapse of the "rule of law" and vigilante justice is not far behind.

One of the quickest ways to ensure people lose faith in the judicial system is to have overly activist judges engaging in linguistic gymnastics to support decisions they think should be the law, instead of merely applying the law. That is why I am opposed to the theory of a "living constitution" - which when stripped of its rhetoric, means nine people in robes are free to expand or contract our constitutional rights based on their evaluation of changes in society.

Since I would rather keep my tires on my car and not around my neck, I reluctantly buy into strict interpretation or even original intent (they are different, but the subject of another post), both of which are far from perfect. However, they are the only checks that can be placed on a judiciary with life appointments and no effective method of removing them.

Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee 

John Borger and Leita Walker have an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune concerning judicial impartiality. It begins:
Federal court decisions have erased long-standing state rules against partisan endorsements and candidate issue statements in judicial elections. Minnesota should respond by strengthening other traditional guarantees of fairness in court.

Critics of those court decisions fear that Minnesota's independent judiciary will suffer from demagoguery and the public's loss of faith in judicial integrity. Some call for revised limits on judicial speech. Others suggest a constitutional amendment to shift to "retention elections" or even to no judicial elections at all.

Whatever the merits or practicalities of other approaches might be, Minnesota can immediately reemphasize a fundamental principle that focuses on judges' neutrality on the bench rather than their speech in other settings: Judges should not decide cases when their extrajudicial statements cast doubt upon their impartiality in those cases.
The piece goes on to recommend that judges must recuse themselves in such situations. Sounds fair, right? Judges and those seeking to become judges are free to say what they want, but litigants are still entitled to have their cases judged impartially. But there are a couple of things in the piece that should raise red flags.

Borger and Walker recommend near-automatic removal of a judge in cases where "extrajudicial" speech casts doubt on the judge's impartiality. That means that a sitting judge is free to write whatever he or she wants in a court ruling, or even a dissent, and still hear a subsequent case involving the same or similar issues. But a challenger is not free to criticize that same ruling or dissent, without the risk of being removed from a future case. Once again, this is an attempt at incumbent protection. The incumbent has free speech, but the challenger is limited because his or her speech is always "extrajudicial."

The other problem is that previous proposals have indicated that the rule on recusal would be limited to speech while a person is a candidate for judge. So speech that comes before the filing period is deemed to have no potential to compromise impartiality. However, the exact same speech in the months between the filing period and the election is dangerous to a fair and impartial judiciary. Why the difference? Because it is an attempt to limit the ability of challengers to win elections.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hezbollah and WMD? 

Just heard a report From Shepard Smith of Fox speculating that Syria supplied Hezbollah with chemical weapons, and that Hezbollah will use those weapons if Israel crosses the border in strength. The internet is filled with speculation on this issue, but no definitive information.

I hope Fox's speculation is wrong. If the Party of Allah uses WMDs, then Israel would have to retaliate with overwhelming force against those who supplied the WMDs, or those they beleived supplied them - in this case Syria and/or Iran. It is not beyond the realm of possiblity that the overwhelming force Israel would use in response would include its own deployment of WMDs. This is one gene that must be kept in the bottle, the question is how?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Greetings from Ulaanbaatar 

Just a quick note from Mongolia with my lousy connection. I was out last night at a restaurant which is behind a temple. It was raining, but when it stopped we were treated to this site.

So far a nice but rainy place. I'm still in the capital, so I can get to the occassional wireless connection or internet cafe. That ends Friday (your time).

Yes, that's how the name of the city is spelled. It's much more laid back than other Asian cities I've visited, and unlike the others this one has a strong love of beer. Before this restaurant we went to a pub attached to a Mongolian costume museum (!) that featured Budvar, the original Budweiser. And most of the native folklore gear that is on display as the nation celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Great Mongolian state includes people wearing these hats. Some of the spires on top of the hat seem to be more than just pointing to heaven. If you know what I mean.

Quie Commission 

Yesterday I completed another leg of my Speaking Truth to Power tour. I spoke to the Quie Commission on Judicial Impartiality. The Commission was formed in response to the Republican Party of Minnesota v. White court case. The White case held, through various twists and turns, that if Minnesota chooses to elect its judges, it cannot prevent challengers from raising money, speaking about issues, or mentioning the fact that they were endorsed by a political party (the ballot does not mention party affiliation).

My comments made it into the Associated Press story.

Mostly, those who testified at the first of the commission's three public hearings shared the panel's concerns about where Minnesota's judicial elections could be heading. But several called for keeping some form of elections so the public can hold judges accountable.

Among the ideas that have been floated in the aftermath of the White decisions are either a system where judges are simply appointed and don't face the voters, or one like Missouri's where judges are first appointed, and then voters periodically choose whether to keep them or fire them.

Peter Swanson, a local attorney, argued for the Missouri system. He said it's not perfect, but a major weakness with the state's current system is that it requires a challenger to come forward and challenge a sitting judge.

"Who wants to end up risking their career?" he asked.

I talked about other things and threw in a few zingers, too. Hopefully I did not provide an answer to my own rhetorical question yesterday.

I used up my full five minutes and even got in a couple sentences extra. Most of the other speakers told a little bit about themselves: "I've been practicing law for X years." Many of them felt obligated, after mentioning their various affiliations, to explain that their comments did not reflect the opinions of this group or that. I was trying to get my speech down to five minutes, so I just said that I was a local attorney. And that's what the reporter printed. Next time I will describe myself as a super-cool dude.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Book Ban? 

There is a controversy in the Miami-Dade School District over a book that is allegedly pro-Castro and distorts the harsh reality of life in Communist Cuba. This appears to be an actual ban on the book appearing on school library shelves, not just a fight over whether it should be part of the required curriculum. During Banned Books Week in 2004, I had this to say about many so-called book bans:
A close examination of what qualifies as "banned" or "challenged" reveals that the [American Library Association] does not want any interference with its choices for acquisitions or curriculum. To them, any complaint about accuracy or age-appropriateness is the equivalent of a book burning.

The Library of Congress is the most comprehensive collection of books that are published in the United States. Every other American library's collection will be a smaller subset of this. Each library must choose which volumes to acquire and shelve. When a librarian makes that choice, it is deemed to be based on quality or pedagogical criteria. When a taxpayer or parent questions that choice, it is deemed to be narrow-minded censorship.

The arrogance is compounded when discussing school curriculum. In choosing a certain book for a certain class in a certain grade, it is necessary to whittle down the millions of books in the Library of Congress to a mere handful. Then students must attend classes, under penalty of truancy, and read the assigned books. Is it wrong for parents and taxpayers in a free society to involve themselves in the choice of books? Should we limit the discussion to those people with degrees in teaching or library science?

Government employees who seek to squelch citizen dissent should be careful when they throw around terms like "censorship."

Here is an excerpt from the Miami-Dade story:

JoNel Newman, a University of Miami professor and ACLU lawyer, said school districts are limited in what they can legally remove from library shelves.

"You can't discriminate on the basis of content, or make political decisions on what you take out of a library," she said.

"It was because of community sensitivity that the book was pulled, and the First Amendment doesn't allow that," she said.

Frank Bolanos, the school board member who led the fight to ban "A Visit to Cuba," said the case is not about free speech, vowing he would defend the right of author Alta Schreier to write the book, of the publisher to print it and of a citizen to buy it.

"But we cannot and must not use taxpayer dollars to buy communist propaganda," he said.
Here in Minnesota, one school district had a fight over Peg Kehret's book, Abducted. The book was criticized for its age-appropriateness, rather than its accuracy or political perspective. One school employee had this to say about the unsuccessful effort by one concerned parent:
"The committee did their job and realized we can't censor a book like that over one parent's concern," said Linda Carlson, the media specialist at Apple Valley's Westview Elementary who presented to the committee why the book had been chosen in the first place. "I'm very pleased."
This quote flies in the face of what the ACLU is arguing in the Miami-Dade case. The ACLU claims to be protecting minority viewpoints against the majority "community sensitivity." The media specialist from Apple Valley seems to be saying that the merits of removing Abducted from library shelves would be stronger of more parents had expressed outrage.

In blog-speak, this story is "developing...."

Monday, July 17, 2006


Samuel L. Jackson has been chosen as the voice of God in the audio version of the Bible. How will he read Ezekiel 25:17?

The Dutch & Academic Freedom...Or Not 

This is scary. The Brussels Journal is reporting that "university professors in the Netherlands are not allowed to voice 'unscientific' opinions that are too critical of Islam." A "large majority" of chancellors of Dutch universities agreed that academic freedom should be limited at the county's universities. Only two opposed the statement.

The crises was brought about when the Chancellor of Utrecth University censored Professor Pieter W. van der Horstofessor's valedictory lecture in which he wanted to argue that "the islamisation of European antisemitism is one of the most frightening developments of the past decades." The reason given for censoring the lecture:
the lecture was "unscientific" and "incited different population groups against each other."...and that "Islamic students might disrupt the lecture," in which case the university "would not be able to guarantee van der Horst's safety."

What is even more scary, is that at least some, if not much of Dutch society supports censoring academic freedom in order not to offend "certain" groups:
Though Chancellor Gispen was criticised for his interference by some conservative Dutch media, others backed him, declaring that in a multicultural society one should avoid antagonising certain groups. This is also the opinion of the majority of the Dutch university chancellors.

Though freedom of speech is not as broad in Europe as it is in the U.S., this is still a shocking position for any person to take, let alone academics in a liberal democracy. Further, the implication that only "certain" groups are protected from criticism is more then troubling. Make's one wonder which criteria is used for determining what constitutes a "certain" group. Perhaps the degree of protection from criticism increases in direct proportion to a group's disposition to engage in violent acts?

I invite everyone to read the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's web site before shaking their head in a knowing manner while thinking "only in Europe." If you do, I think you will find that unfortunately many in the U.S. agree with the Dutch.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Back in the USSR 

Let me begin by thanking King for his invitation to write for this blog. Hopefully I will be worthy of the opportunity. In keeping with King's frequent Eastern European themes, I have a post about the former Soviet Union.

Back in 1982, a ten year-old girl, Samantha Smith, wrote letters to President Reagan and to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov. The letter to Andropov asked why he wanted to conquer the world. Here is a portion of Andropov's reply:

It seems to me - and I take it from your letter - that you are a courageous and honest girl, resembling in some way Becky - Tom Sawyer's friend from the well-known book of your compatriot Mark Twain. All kids in our country - boys and girls alike - know and love this book.

Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union endeavor and do everything so that there be no war between our two countries, so that there be no war at all on Earth. This is the wish of everyone in the Soviet Union. That's what we were taught to do by Vladimir Lenin - the great founder of our state.

I understand that Mona Charen's book, Useful Idiots How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First, addresses the Samantha Smith episode, although I have not gotten to the library to check it out. I will have to save that for another post.

I have long wondered whether Andropov actually read Mark Twain or whether this was a calculated propaganda ploy. I will have to defer to actual scholars (SCSU or otherwise) on whether Mark Twain is widely translated and read in the former Soviet Union. But is Becky Thatcher sufficiently fleshed out as a character for Andropov to make the parallel with Samantha Smith? What do we know about Becky from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer other than the fact that she was Tom's first love and the daughter of a judge? If he had said that Smith reminded him of Laura Ingalls, we would immediately think of the mischievous middle daughter who is always stirring the pot with the adults in her life. But the reference to Becky Thatcher is puzzling. It seems to be designed to convince the American public that 1) the Soviets read Mark Twain, just like us, and 2) Yuri Andropov is a kindly old grandfather who is nice to little kids.

Whether or not the former KGB chief ever enjoyed a Mark Twain novel, this overture should have been seen by the American public as downright creepy. Remember the time Saddam Hussein tried to get five year-old British hostage Stuart Lockwood to sit on his lap? Same kind of thing. �Despot� and �good with children� do not belong in the same sentence.

The Samantha Smith letter and subsequent trip to the USSR was eerily similar to a late 1970s play, Peace Child. The play is set in a peaceful future utopia, with a flashback to the present day when two children from the opposing superpowers forge a bond that ends the Cold War.

Some local kids who went to the Soviet Union to perform Peace Child were invited to speak to the Social Studies classes in my high school. The performers sat on the stage and tried to convince us that the Soviets weren't really all that bad. One girl wore a beret (of course) and spoke in a lispy self-important manner, much like the Daffy Duck cartoon character. She made reference to how the �guards� were not all that scary and that the traveling performers �just blew 'em off.� Apparently she was referring to customs agents because she said that one of the �guards� questioned her why she was carrying a tape with the song �Back in the USSR� on it. She related how she told them it was a really good song and actually sang the first verse for them.

A quaint little story about a quaint little country where they check your cassette tape song list at the airport. Either that, or the failure of a peace activist to see oppression right in front of her beret.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

And with that, I'm out 

Buckling the suitcase, making sure I've got enough toothpaste. See you 8/7, everyone. Be sure to read Josh, Mike (who's already started) and Peter while I'm away. If I can pop up a post from the Far East or Mongolia, I will, but expect nothing.

Guest post -- Florida's social science standards 

As I mentioned during the guest-blogging contest, we had a possible extra entrant who decided to let the opportunity to post more pass, but he did want to post one thing that got both of our attention. Michael Boucher is a social studies teacher at Minneapolis South, a former (I think) president of the state social science teachers' organization, and was one of the folks who lobbied hard for the social science standards that eventually were put in place (much to my chagrin, still) and against the confirmation of Cheri Yecke as Minnesota's education commissioner (double ditto). I'm posting this without necessarily agreeing with its premises.

Thanks to King for this opportunity to circulate this to a wider audience.

"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clich�s of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
June 11, 1962 President John Kennedy addressed the graduating class of the Yale University.

Like many, I was surprised and annoyed by the Florida legislature that originally tried to outlaw, �Revisionist or Postmodern viewpoints� by teachers. The Orwellian implications of thought police from the Florida Department of Education swooping down on hapless teachers who presume to question the official dogma of the state eventually dawned on these statesmen and they relented. However the threat is still there.

This line remains ominously on page 22 under Required Instruction. �The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the principals stated in the Declaration of Independence.�

There is also the requirement to teach, �The history and content of the Declaration of Independence, including national sovereignty, natural law, self-evident truth, equality of all persons, limited government, popular sovereignty, and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, and how they form it forms the philosophical foundation of our government.�

The 9th grade reading of the declaration reveals that it is not a document extolling national sovereignty, but a document that expresses popular sovereignty. The state is subject to the people, not the other way around. Alan Quist continues to argue otherwise. With Yecke�s help, he was obviously successful in Florida. Thankfully, someone was able to keep popular sovereignty in there as well.

So there it is. The hand of Yecke finally prevails in a set of state standards. It shouldn�t really surprise me that the Maple River/Eagle Forum version of American myth is now the law in Florida, yet I really thought they could resist the dumbest parts of her nutball agenda. Instead, they just added it into the mix of the omnibus bill.

Yecke and Maple River want to downplay the Constitution, and rise up the Declaration to legal status. Why? Because the Declaration discusses G-d where the Constitution does not. If the declaration is �the philosophical foundation of our government� then we are a �Christian� country and down the chute we go to Christian Taliban America.

History is not rocket science, but it is more complicated than just memorizing a textbook written in 1900. This law criminalizes questioning in social studies class. No longer can teachers question the past or the present government with their students. Since they have no union, they can be fired for even bringing up a topic that Florida Republicans do not like. Yecke made it clear that some questions were off limits when she was here. Remember the dustup over Columbus and the �Hate America Agenda?�

Yecke and her ilk want students to sail through school in an unquestioning fog. They feel superior to the �experts� and were able to bypass Florida teachers by going directly through the legislature rather then the Department of Ed.

In the end, Orwell was right. �Those who control the past, control the future; Those who control the future, control the present; Those who control the present, control the past.�

I am off this week to meet with Social Studies teachers from across the country. Florida teachers are a much more compliant lot than we are. My guess is I will get a bunch of headshakes and shrugs. Most teachers treat these things like Tevye �May G-d keep the Tzar�far away� People like Yecke depend on that. That is why she was so floored by what we did here.

Escalation In The Middle East 

I would like to thank King for inviting me to guest blog at his place, it is much larger than mine. For my first post I was hoping to do something about civil liberties on campus. However, given my background and that I lived in Jerusalem for a year, I just have to comment on the escalation in the Middle East.

As always the situation in the Middle East gives new meaning to the saying "being fluid is to rigged." Since last night there have been several major developments, all of which point to a widening war:

1. The attack on the Israeli ship was by an Iranian anti-ship missile, believed to be a Chinese C-802, not a Hezbollah UAV packed with explosives as initially reported.

2. Israeli intelligence reports that there are approximately 100 Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

3. Israel reportedly gave Syria 72 hours to reign in Hezbollah and release the two Israeli soldiers.

Anyone of these development is significant in-and-of-itself, taken together they point towards a major escalation.

The C-802 Missile
Hezbollah reportedly used a C-802 missile to attack the Israeli ship. The C-802 is a turbojet powered, radar guided anti-ship missile that China exported to a number of countries, including Iran until 1996. Iran may now be producing a version of the missile too. It is unknown whether the C-802 used was Iranian made or one Iran obtained from China.

The C-802 is effective against ships, especially those without a point defense system such as Phalanx. It is radar guided, has a 363 lbs warhead, weighs over 1,600 pounds and has a range of up to 120km. The C-802 can be fired from stationary launchers or trucks (there is also an air and sea version). However, it is not something that is easy to hide. Therefore, it took more then a little planning and time to get these weapons into Lebanon without Israel's knowledge. So much for the Cedar Revolution ridding Lebanon of foreign control.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The C-802 that was launched against the Israeli ship was reportedly manned by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. This makes tactical sense, but shows a lack of common sense. It allows Iran to retain operational control of the missiles and does away with the requirement to train Hezbollah crews. However, an attack by an Iranian missile unit on an Israeli warship substantially increases the likelihood that Israel will return the favor and donate a substantial amount of munitions to Iran.

The presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon is disturbing but not surprising. The Revolutionary Guard was formed by, and are loyal to, the mad mullahs. Combine this with the fact that Iran is one of Hezbollah's two puppet masters and it should come as no surprise to find Revolutionary Guard units in Lebanon. Though not unexpected, it is a major escalation of the conflict and does away with any pretense that Iran is not involved in the continuing terror attacks on Israel.

Israeli Ultimatum
If the reports are correct and Israel gave Syria 72 hours to reign in Hezbollah, then things that did not make sense begin too. So far Israel has limited its Lebanon operations to air, naval and artillery attacks on Hezbollah positions and infrastructure that could be used by Hezbollah. This tactic makes sense if Israel was contemplating that military action against Syria might be necessary - it sends a very strong message to Syria that getting involved is a bad idea while allowing Israel time to deploy the necessary ground units.

Second, the ultimatum would explain the recent statements by Iran and Syria. Iran stated that it would come to Syria's aid and Syria that it would come to Hezbollah's aid. Taken in a vacuum, these statements seemed to be nothing more then rhetoric for the Arab street. Taken in the context of an ultimatum, they seem to be last ditch attempts to put off the day of reckoning.

Bottom line. Iran and Syria's support of Hezbollah has always been an issue that demanded resolution. The arming of Hezbollah with Silkworm missiles manned by Iranian crews moves that date closer. Now it is up to Syria and Iran to decide whether they want to continue to hold onto the tail and hope the tiger does not bite. I think the Assad needs to make sure he has new glasses so he can see clearly before making a decision.

Some back ground on the conflict at Lamplighter (full disclosure, it is my blog). For an extensive round up see Blogs of War.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Social cooperation when governments break down 

One more thought, as I'm testing my post-by-mail connection and some aliasing...

When I moved to St. Cloud in 1984 part of the newcomer lore -- those things longtimers tell the people who just moved to town -- was of a truck driver who was on the Tonight Show.  Carson asks him what the worst street in America was for truck drivers, and like a shot he says "Division Street, St. Cloud."  I have no idea if this is true, but driving that road used to be miserable, with an underpass that flooded often and a strange turn in the middle of it.  It was a road to be avoided, and it's not much better now.  They'll run the Bad Boyz Car Show there this weekend, so it's even more to be avoided.

This spring I was driving with a liberal prof who studies cities about St. Cloud's size and asked him whether there was hope for us not to become like Maple Grove, a MSP suburb that new urbanists think ends every argument over their absolute rightness that all must board trains and live and condos with lots and lots of open space.  "It's already too late," he sighed.  "They could have done something on 2nd Street S., and look there now." 

The worst spot of it has to be the entry into Sam's Club, which is almost inexplicably an unprotected entrance.  Entering into a divided four-lane road that is often backed up for blocks in rush hour, you could easily see people sit there for hours.  But they don't.  Today I watched (involuntarily, caught in traffic) as each car with the right of way yielded to one car without it.  Order out of chaos, tacitly agreed.  When I came to it I did just as the others did.  Perhaps I too was under the sway of the Theory of Moral Sentiments.

I observe this in many places, and expect I will in Mongolia too -- people will create order for themselves without waiting for government to do it for them.  I hope to send you such stories.

Where in the world tomorrow 

A last stop before I head out will be the Patriot Picnic. Like last year it will be quite hot. Like last year there will be great food.

Like last year there will be great guests, including 6th CD candidate Michele Bachmann and US Senate candidate Mark Kennedy (who will give us an encore of last year's boffo performance.)

And I expect there will be cigars. That guy happens to have helped sponsor this year's event.

Come on down to Boom Island between 11-3 tomorrow (Sat.). And this year, somebody stop these guys please and save me a plate of the food!

Ukraine update 

There really isn't anything more important for you to read right now than what's going on in Israel. Even the New York Times now thinks so. But since some people found this blog by looking for information on Ukraine, a short update is in order.

It is highly doubtful now that an Orange coalition will re-form for President Yushchenko. There was a short period of talks between Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, whose Party of Regions was the top vote-getter in April but with whom Yushchenko would find difficulty in working. Those talks have broken up. There is sufficient animus between the Communists and Yuschenko's Our Ukraine party that even if the two principles agreed, the Communists could threaten to leave the coalition and bring down that government too.

As a result, the hastily-written deal that ended the Presidential elections in 2004-05 is now causing an impasse. Yanukovych has sufficient votes in the Parliament to win election as prime minister without Our Ukraine. But the deal signed gives Yushchenko the power to appoint two key ministries -- defense and foreign affairst -- and so he could prevent a cabinet from forming. Whether this would be constitutional is up in the air, since the country's Constitutional Court lacks a quorum with which to make decisions. Too, the constitution allows a presidential veto of parliamentary action with a 2/3 vote required for override, so allowing the government to form and then wielding the veto pen is an option. I doubt this one would happen as it's not Yushchenko's style. Yanukovych is tempting this option by threatening to hold the vote for PM without waiting on Yushchenko.

That still makes early elections the most likely possibility. If there's no government formed by 25 July, Yushchenko can dissolve the parliament and call for new elections. As Scott Clark observes, there is "no institution in Ukrainian society has any credibility." It may be down to the people to decide this for themselves, if they can. If they were 50-50 last time, what's changed?

Where in the world 

So you may wonder why I am asking people to substitute blog for me. I have, after all, posted from Macedonia and Armenia in the past. Well, this time I am going to Mongolia, and it is quite likely there will be no internet (and no IHT to tell me how the Red Sox are doing) there.

Not that it won't be pretty. There are internet cafes in Ulaanbaatar, the capital to which I'll first fly. And I'll try at least to post something or two from there or from Seoul (I'm overnighting there on the way out). But for the better part of two weeks I will most likely spend as much time away from the internet as I have since the mid-1990s when my parents' place in Maine was little more than a cottage. The program in which I'll be teaching is at the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan. (I am going to be hearing John Kerry's voice in my head.)

I've told #1 son I am definitely riding a horse on this trip. The only other time I did this was in Egypt, around the pyramids in Giza at sunset. That's hard to top, but a view like this might be worthy.The real test will be if I try to ride a camel. There are things other than blogging one can do in life!

UPDATE: I know to take DEET. I guess Chad didn't get that memo.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Three to guest blog at Scholars 

I think it's safe to say three potential guest-bloggers stood out from the rest. Mike, Peter and Josh were the top finishers, and they will receive Blogger invites to post at Scholars tonight. They may post as soon as they receive the invites.

I had always intended more than one person to substitute. Part of my desire is to highlight other good blogs, and Mike's and Peter's are two. I also would love to see Josh or Nate blog regularly, and while Josh has had a personal blog he doesn't do economics or politics much. I think he should do more, and this will give him a chance to try it out on a low-commitment basis.

My thanks to Nate, Hube and Tony for their offers. The conversation about Tony dominated one comment thread, which I think was a problem. Tony's blog is something you won't hear elsewhere, and if you don't like it you needn't go back. Hube's blog is very good -- I find it interesting that the one educator in the pool of contestants did not garner more support. Does this mean that people don't come here for education news any more? I hope not. Michael Boucher, high school teacher from Minneapolis with whom I've sparred many times on education policy, was going to enter in this contest but decided instead to send me one or two posts, which I'll put up before I go (if I get them, friend). I'm looking forward to those as a challenge to the usual readers here. I think Tony's posts would have been challenging too, in a different way.

I like readers who disagree with me. And I'd hope my readers would welcome a chance to read opposing views. I don't want too much of it -- a blog needs a theme and a certain consistency -- but homogeneous only works well in milk and production functions.

With that, I take down the poll and prepare for travel.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sticky: Please vote for guestbloggers 

UPDATE (Weds., 7:30am): Voting closes in 24 hours.

We will run a poll of guest bloggers for my trip away. Winners will get posting privileges on Scholars -- for the most part unsupervised, as where I am going does not have internet access -- for approximately three weeks. (If traffic improves, I may keep one or more on after I return. I've long wanted a co-blogger -- Scholars is plural, after all.) On the right you will see a poll for the bloggers. Some of the entered posts are done on others' sites; some I have hosted here as of Monday morning. So please vote and decide who will keep the place warm while I'm gone. Here are links to the posts, alphabetical by author.
You see the poll to your left. Please vote -- and you can vote for as many of these writers as you like. The choice you make will be the blogger you read here, for the next three weeks. I hope you will visit Hube, Mike, Peter and Tony's blogs regardless of how you vote.

Be strong and of good courage 

With all that's going on there now, I got today a story of Prime Minister Olmert's Speech to Congress around Memorial Day several weeks ago. If we need any reminding of why Israel has been our best friend in the Middle East, and why we should pray for the strength of its leaders in these difficult times, you will find it in Olmert's own conclusion:
...what unites us, Israel and America, is a commitment to tap the greatest resource of all - the human mind and the human spirit.

We believe in the moral principles shared by our two nations and they guide our political decisions.

We believe that life is sacred and fanaticism is not.

We believe that every democracy has the right and the duty to defend its citizens and its values against all enemies.

We believe that terrorism not only leads to war but that terrorism is war. A war that must be won every day. A war in which all men and women of goodwill must be allies.

We believe that peace among nations remains not just the noblest ideal but a genuine reality.

We believe that peace, based on mutual respect, must be and is attainable in the near future.

We, as Jews and citizens of Israel, believe that our Palestinian neighbors want to live in peace. We believe that they have the desire, and hopefully the courage, to reject violence and hatred as means to attain national independence.

The Bible tells us that as Joshua stood on the verge of the Promised Land, he was given one exhortation: 'Chazak Ve'ematz' 'Be strong and of good courage".

Strength, without courage, will only lead to brutality. Courage, without strength, will only lead to futility. Only genuine courage and commitment to our values, backed by the will and the power to defend them, will lead us forward in the service of humanity.

To the Congress of the United States and to the great people of America, I wish to say 'Chazak Ve'ematz' be strong and of good courage, and we, and all peoples who cherish freedom, will be with you.

Who hired those guys? 

If you read even a fraction of the blogs I do, you have certainly heard about the now-ex-University of Arizona professor who posted strange messages attacking Jeff Goldstein, or the Kevin Barrett story, or Ward Churchill. I don't have any special insight into those today. But I would call attention to Margaret Soltan's observations about the connections one has to be a fool not to make about all these exposures of professorial misbehavior:
It�s heartbreaking to read the comments that students who�ve been betrayed by their universities write at Rate My Professors. These students almost always begin by mentioning their excitement about taking the course, their interest in the subject. They then flatly state that exposure to this professor has killed forever their interest and excitement. A series of questions usually follows. Why is this person teaching? Why does this person get paid to teach? Why is a university classroom like this one? I thought it would be different, going to a university�

It�s not about the professors themselves apologizing or quitting or whatever -- the sort of people we�re talking about are incapable of understanding what they have done. It�s about the universities that hired them making formal apologies to their students, and vowing to do everything they can to avoid appointing people like them again. Universities unable to distinguish between academic freedom and academic malfeasance need to do some thinking. The technology of exposure isn�t going anywhere.
You are entitled to wonder who minds the store. I found a letter in the campus paper a few weeks back about a faculty member teaching an online course. His or her student -- the article doesn't say -- did not like how the course was handled.
I think it is inappropriate for a professor to demand strict schedules when they can't provide the class info on time. The class was based off five online tests and no journal assignments, even though there were plenty of them posted. Also the five tests were made up of multiple choice questions that came from a question bank the publishers of the book produced. We were allowed to take each test twice.

The reason the professor gave for giving the opportunity for taking each test twice was that they didn't have time to deal with problems on an individual basis and this was their solution. In addition it was stated that the professor didn't hold office hours during summer.
Now, just thinking this could be a problem -- and realizing it's summer and many people aren't around -- I decided to forward the article to the appropriate dean. The dean acted quickly to find the student and the faculty member and get to the truth of the issue. I have no idea what the outcome was, and I don't know how much of the letter is true.

But now today we find another column about the same issue. What I would like to know is why the university did not respond to the original letter and say how this is handled. In short, if you decided to hire that faculty member who decided office hours are not necessary for online courses, you should explain why you think that's OK or what you did to correct the issue. We shouldn't have to learn how things are handled through student columnists.

Power corrupts, youth soccer edition 

Littlest Scholar took up soccer this year. I am not a big fan of the professional game, and am even less of a fan of youth soccer. The sight of thirty-somethings shouting "Go Jenny!!!!!!!" to their seven year old in a glob with eighteen other seven-year-olds suggests to me nothing short of the end of civilization-as-we-know-it. And for her first ten years on the planet Littlest agreed, and we referred to the kids on the field as "the herds" the fields near our house that from three blocks away can be heard during the height of summer with soccer parents shouting as "the herd prarire."

But this spring LS announced she would like to try the game after all, and so we went. While her interests have changed mine have not, and despite seeing my own child dart and weave around the field -- at least at this age the herd-like behavior sort of disappears -- I confess to being utterly bored with the games. What is nice that I can walk to and from with the requisite ten-dollar chair plucked from WalMart. And because it's the park where I walk in conversation with cigars from distant lands, I take one to help relieve the tedium.

Last night was the last regular season game, and per custom I had set up off to a side, downwind of the crowd. I do not wish to annoy others with cigar smoke; many of the parents of LS' team had seen me with my 52-ring friends and commented on how I enjoy life. And I do! But last night at about the twelve-minute mark, the referee waited for a break in the action and walked over to me. "There's no smoking anywhere in this park."

"Oh? I've smoked down here for years," I said, and took off to see the park rules sign, which was conveniently next to the field on which the game took place. There are limits on dogs and cats, golfing, glass, and almost anything else. (I was sure there was a rule about Republicans in the park too, but since Dave Kleis became mayor I think that one has been repealed, thank God.)

"Sorry, but when we use the park, no smoking."

Even in soccer leagues, we have the anti-smoking crowd. Even outside. Do they think I might be influencing the female players to take up cigars?

But if I signed something that said I would not smoke at the game, I would be happy to oblige. And other than this, this particular ref was very professional and pleasant. I thought he was a nice guy. So I put out a very nice cigar.

I then went and looked at the forms. No references to smoking appear.

Unfortunately I will not be here for the playoff games so I will not get a chance to challenge this fellow. But I hope LS plays soccer next season. Because I will be there. And I will light up.

Atomizer gets it 

I too don't really mourn the passing of Syd Barrett. You did enough speed to blow a gig as leader of Pink Floyd in 1968? That's like Hugh Grant stepping out on Elizabeth Hurley stupid. As big a prog-rock fan as I am, I cannot get into Barrett, and no, it doesn't harm the reunion tour.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Supply curves slope upward 

Reader Eva Young sends along a story about the use of water in making ethanol. The concern is, we might use too much water.
With so many plants on the horizon and water shortages possible, the state is ramping up warnings to companies to be extra careful about choosing where to build. Preventing future water depletion ensures plenty of water for everyone, including the public and small businesses.

"We want to make sure people address their water supply before they locate the plant," said Jim Japs, assistant director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' waters division. "If they don't have enough water, they are not going to be able to operate."
The story has been over the AP wire as well, and I say it's silly. People have been buying up stills to make ethanol for more than a year now. Why? Because the price of gas goes up, and in the long run this encourages people to create substitutes like ethanol. So of course they demand things to make the ethanol, of which water is one. What determines whether water is more valuable keeping my grass green or making ethanol? Price. If these plants come on line, a market for water would lead to increased price of that input; in economic terms, an increase demand for water increases price, and you move along the water supply curve. As the price rises, ethanol manufacturing profits decline and reduce demand for these plants.

But something else happens too. A rise in the price of water lowers how much water I put on the yard, or my desire to enjoy a nice summer night by washing the car in the driveway, or... Think of all the uses we have for water. Each of them has a substitute activity, including dirty cars and brown lawns. Each of those substitutes becomes desirable at some price. That's how markets work. Let's hope the MnDNR agrees to let markets do their thing.

I must have missed that memo too 

In an article in the Winona paper titled Klbuchar hopes to woo moderate Republicans, the Senate DFL candidate is said to have "framed her 20-minute speech around promoting universal health care."

I find it hard to believe that's a salable message.

She is also quoted "My mom said Medicare Part D got the grade it deserved in the beginning." I don't know how one goes from thinking Part D needs fixing -- which is debatable, but not an extreme position -- to universal health care.

Ms. Klobuchar, if you want to make this appeal to moderate Republicans -- and even me, not so moderate -- try giving people choices.

Gen Y too fussy about jobs? 

A quick thought before class: Joanne Jacobs links to a piece this morning that says Generation Y workers turnover jobs much more than the previous generations. From the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, though, we get this graph. Turnover fell right after the recession but picks up in a better labor market as people try to match up into better jobs. Hasn't it always been this way?

If at first you don't succeed, revote 

In Ukraine, the standoff between the now-defunct Orange coalition and the new possible coalition is getting stronger. President Yushchenko issued a statement in Ukrainian on Saturday establishing his guidelines (a new statement in English seems to support this -- a report on the Saturday address is here.) From the Ukrainian (thanks to Dominique Arel of the Ukraine List for the translation):
My position regarding the situation in the Verkhovna Rada is the following:

First. Emotions should not prevail. Deputies should determine the make up of the coalition. In accordance with the legislation they must present its program and agenda.

I need to see a viable coalition with which I will work.

Second. This majority will have the responsibility to make the work of parliament and government effective. I will react appropriately to its actions or lack thereof.

Third. There are three weeks left to form a government. The coalition is supposed to nominate the prime minister. However I will submit its candidacy to the parliament only after the activity of the Constitutional Court is resumed.

Fourth. Today my position remains unchanged. There will be no return of "Kuchmism." The country will be moving towards the European Union. The country's foreign and internal political course will remain unaltered.
Whether he can make these demands stick or not depends on his resolve -- increasingly questioned both inside and outside the country -- and the interpretations of the agreements that ended the Orange Revolution in early 2005 by the Constitutional Court. There was once the possibility that Yushchenko and Yanukovych would work together (one side at least is still talking), which former Orange PM Yulya Tymoshenko completely rejects:
I do not want to be one of them. That is why we are either in the opposition, and, importantly, an honest opposition that does not hedge, or we will fight honestly in new elections to make people understand that new elections will offer a new chance to purge based on the existing knowledge of politicians' true faces.
At this time it appears the Oranges are sticking together (sans Moroz) leading to a raucous Parliament assembly and calls that the Oranges are running a banana republic.

My bet is on early elections. There is no stable majority in the Rada.

UPDATE: The Parliament is in a standoff and recessed for the time being. The pro-Yanukovych forces appear better organized at this time, but it also appears that Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have decided to be allies regardless of past differences. The claim of the Orangists right now is that Moroz was supposed to give ten days notice before leaving the coalition so that the government could reconfigure and maintain a parliamentary majority. No such notice was given.

OK, this is pretty darn cool 

Want to know what was tops in pops when you were born? This day in Music lets you input your DOB and gets back the #1 song that day.

Speaking of which, congratulations to Hugh Hewitt for celebrating 24 years of marriage and six years on radio yesterday. Today is the 18th anniversary for Mrs. Scholar and me. Quiet day planned, as we often delay celebration to include the birthday of Littlest later this month.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The last contestant is... 

The last contestant is our friend Tony Garcia of Always Right, Usually Correct, and the co-host of Race to the Right. He's posted his entry, A Few Election Premises Destroyed, on his blog.

Ten weeks? Why, that's too long! 

Hube has run Colossus of Rhodey for some time, and he's a frequent commenter here. He's from Delaware and is a teacher, so he has summer for blogging! He commented on one of my posts here, and you are invited to read it as the fifth entry in this contest.

SCSU Scholars notes that some colleges (and professors) are miffed that the Bush administration has mandated a ten-week minimum stay for study abroad programs to Cuba.

As SCSU's King notes:

If one really wants to study a place, you would want to visit for more than three weeks. I spent five in Egypt but would never dare say I know Egypt. I spent seven weeks in Indonesia and barely understand some of the place. If you are going to study a country, you should stay a while, learn what it's really like to live there. But that's NOT what organizers of study abroad trips to socialist paradises want!

Indeed. My trip abroad to Costa Rica as a college junior lasted fourteen weeks. That was more than the college spring semester, and four weeks less than the mandate for Cuba. And, I still believe I didn't get a "full picture" of the country. Hence, I think King is right on the money that organizers of trips to Castro's island don't want students to stay too long to get a "fuller picture" of the society there. What the hell can one realistically do in, say, three weeks? Hit the beach, drink plenty of cheap rum, smoke fine cigars and stay in nice hotels forbidden to ordinary Cubans? Probably. If they have to stay ten weeks, especially living with a host family, well, the realities of the "socialist paradise" may just weep out to students!

Ironically, I've learned that the University of Delaware has discontinued the spring semester abroad to Costa Rica, opting instead for the Winter Session trip. Which, for reasons discussed above, is a terrible shame. Winter Session lasts barely one month. It took approximately that long for my [minor field of study] Spanish to really get into gear on the way to fluency. The good thing for me was, I had another ten weeks in which to make use of it! Not to mention that much more time to explore the country, meet more people and engage in more academic programs.

Too long 

This post is from Nate Bissonnette, who seems to know St. Cloud and is a frequent commenter on many MOB blogs. He sent three posts -- this was the shortest. I will post the other two later this week because I liked them too.

King, I looked at what I sent you last night - they're not blogs, they're columns. Way too long for your purposes. Don't know what I was thinking.

Actually, I do - I was busy prepping for the Millard Fillmore golf tourney to be played Friday, hosted by Learned Foot of the Kool Aid Report.

I'm a bad golfer so I wanted to brush up on bad golf tips before the game. There's a great video "Bad Golf Made Easy" starring Leslie Nielson of Naked Gun fame. I also looked over the Other Rules of Golf, which includes explanations of the rules, such as:

The law of gravity is a law of nature. The Rules of Golf do not take precedence over the laws of nature. If a ball that rolls over a hole should have dropped in, it did drop in, and must be counted as such.

There is no such thing as a lost ball. Sooner or later, it will be found and sold to someone else. That person now has your ball. It's not lost, it's been stolen. You, as the victim of the crime, should not be punished for it; therefore, record no penalty for lost balls.

I'm sure your readers know many others. I could use all the help I can get!

Home run 

This guestblogging entry is by Peter Swanson, a MOBster with SwanBlog. His posts have been linked on Scholars more than once in the past.

Torii Hunter of the Minnesota Twins has started a fund to encourage more black American kids to play baseball. There are a couple of encouraging signs in this Minneapolis Star Tribune article about the program.

First, this is one of the few times that �African American� has been used accurately, rather than as a politically correct substitute for �black.� In the story, the term distinguishes the black players who were born in the U.S. from the ones born in Latin America.

The other encouraging sign is the celebration of opportunity rather than diversity. If diversity is the paramount value, then the proliferation of Latin players on Major League Baseball rosters is an intrinsic good, with no questions asked. The players from various Spanish-speaking countries increase diversity, even as the number of American-born black players decrease. But Torii Hunter is focusing on the opportunity for inner-city kids to participate in the sport and to excel to the best of their abilities. Just this once, Hunter can be forgiven for using race as a proxy for socio-economic factors, since he is moving in the right direction.

A recent St. Paul Pioneer Press article about ice hockey in the city schools is less encouraging. Como Park coach Bill Niemczyk had this to say:

"Hockey's a very expensive sport, and it's almost exclusively a white sport," said Niemczyk, whose Como Park program had 40 players last season. "It's not like years ago, when you could just send your kid down to the rink and have him walk home at night. Now you have to drive him all over America and pay thousands of dollars for him to play. In the socioeconomics of the city, parents can't support it."

Well, I guess that's that. Too bad we don't have a hockey version of Torii Hunter.

Vatican Demands Reciprocity With Islam 

{This is guesthosting contestant #2, Mike of Lamplighter News, whose blog identifies him as a former Naval aviator now practicing law in the Phoenix area.}

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Vatican is abandoning its decades old policy of trying to protect Catholics living under Muslim rule by quiet diplomacy, and moving towards a policy of "reciprocity." The foundation of this emerging policy is to obtain "the same rights for Christians in Islamdom that Muslims enjoy in Christendom."

Patrick Sookhdeo of the Baranabs Fund points out that the estimated 40 million Christians living in Islamic nations are treated as second class citizens, have declining economic opportunities, face physical injury, and are discriminated against in jobs, education, and the courts. The plight of these Christians are in stark contrast to the estimated 20 million Muslims living in western nations.

The restrictions on religious freedom in the Islamic world are not only severe, but are a matter of law. The U.S. State Department reports that the UAE, one of the most liberal Arab countries, "prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing or distributing religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for engaging in behavior offensive to Islam." It is worse in Saudi Arabia, where according to the U.S. State Department:

Freedom of religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. Religious freedom is not recognized or protected under the laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam. Citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion, and many noncitizens, including Muslims, practice their beliefs under severe restrictions. The Government limits the practice of all but the officially sanctioned version of Islam and prohibits the public practice of other religions.

According to the country's "Hanbali" interpretation of Shari'a, once fault is determined by a court, a Muslim male receives 100 percent of the amount of compensation determined, a male Jew or Christian receives 50 percent, and all others (including Hindus and Sikhs) receive 1/16 of the amount a male Muslim may receive.

The Vatican's frustration with the disparities in the way Christians are treated in Islamic countries and Muslims treated in western countries was forcefully shown by Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, statement that:

Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves...The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century...and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights.

The Vatican's move to demanding reciprocity is welcome, and though it has neither the military nor economic power to effectuate change, it can use its position in the world as a bully pulpit to highlight the actions of Islamic nations. However, two points must be kept in mind. First, the Vatican's new policy will not result in immediate change, at best it will cause gradual change over decades. Second, regardless of how Christians are treated in Islamic nations, Muslims must continue to be afforded all of the freedoms enjoyed by those living in the west. Merely because the Islamic world fails to recognize basic freedoms is not a reason that the west should follow. In short, we must continue to live up to our beliefs and afford all civil liberties, including religious freedom, to all regardless of the policies of the Islamic nations.

Teaching how Lady Madonna manages to make ends meet 

This first introduction is from Joshua Walton, who is being mentored by the same great man who mentored me 25 years ago, and still does today. Without further adieu,

Hi everyone, and thanks very much Prof. Banaian, for the opportunity to contribute to SCSU Scholars. A little bit about myself, by way of introduction: I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, the co-eldest of five kids, all of us homeschooled through high school. I got my BA at a small liberal arts college in southern Michigan, and am now working on my PhD in politics and Economics in southern California.

I was surfing around a couple of days ago, and noticed a recent post at Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen which struck my interest. It was this one in which he mentions learning economics through song lyrics. The paper TC mentions is pretty good, but it loses a few points in my book by mentioning ABBA and Led Zeppelin in the title and no where else in the paper. Talk about false advertising...

While it gave pretty good (non-ABBA or Zeppelin!) examples, the paper's central premise--that one can use music to teach economics--struck me as being old news. When I was a fresh undergrad, I had a poli econ professor who would tell the story of when he had judged a grade-school speech competition, and a young student had, in her speech, quoted theese lins from John Lennon's "Imagine:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

His response (to us, not to the girl -- hopefully) was along the lines of "It's actually not hard to imagine no possessions; in fact, we don't need to, I have a picture of it right here," and then he'd whip out a National Geographic-style photo of a man in tattered clothes sitting on a folding chair in an otherwise completely empty mud hut somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. "Here's another," and this time it's a photo of a long line of destitute refugees carrying very little, heading ... somewhere. "I guess it's not no possessions technically--that guy there has a bicycle, and she's carrying a bag of something--but, you know, it's close. That's right about what no possessions looks like."

Then he would throw out a few lines from "Refugee" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to make a follow-on point about markets and gains from trade. The lines were from the chorus:

You see you don't have to live like a refugee
I said you don't have to live like a refugee

His point was that trade is not zero-sum, and that if you let people freely trade in the market, people can use the market to improve their lives, and thus no one has to live like a refugee. I think that was his point, anyway; it was a morning class. But that could have been his point, unless his point was just to take an opportunity to rip on John Lennon, either one works. But I have to say, it stuck with me, and "Refugee" is still one of my favorite songs.

The problem with getting one's economics from song lyrics is that once you start, you can't stop. Just this morning I heard a song at the supermarket which mentioned "sufferring for your sanity", and I thought "Aha! Sounds like Bryan Caplan's rational irrationality!" The feeling of despair you get after thinking such things is not to be wished on anyone....

Friday, July 07, 2006

Quote of the week 

The fundamental thing that�s wrong with our present setup of elementary and secondary schooling is that it�s a case in which the government is subsidizing a product. If you subsidize the producers, as we do in schooling, they have every incentive to have a status quo, and a non-progressive system, because they are a monopoly.
Milton Friedman, fifty-one years later. He really has come full circle to the thing that moved him from being a price and monetary theorist to a leading light of freedom. Do you think it's any accident that the first essay that led to Capitalism and Freedom was on education?

If you're going to study Cuba, study! 

One would have to wonder why there are many programs for Cuba studies on American campuses. After freeing up travel enough for barnstorming Tommies to visit and play baseball, the Bush administration St. tightened travel rules so that students who wanted to visit the country had to have in-country curricula that lasted ten weeks. Apparently this is too long for the little darlings.

Cuba as a study-abroad program for budding lefties and their faculty are popular at places like Purdue or Xavier or Colorado, as well as Augsburg or St. Thomas. The ten-week minimum was part of a broader effort to re-erect restrictions on American contacts with Cuba.

If one really wants to study a place, you would want to visit for more than three weeks. I spent five in Egypt but would never dare say I know Egypt. I spent seven weeks in Indonesia and barely understand some of the place. If you are going to study a country, you should stay a while, learn what it's really like to live there. But that's NOT what organizers of study abroad trips to socialist paradises want!

Somewhere Kuchma smiles 

The weirdness in Ukraine gets weirder. Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, which came in third in the parliamentary elections this spring, had been poised to create a coalition with his erstwhile prime minister Yulya Tymoshenko and keep out the Party of Regions, controlled by Yushchenko's opponent Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych, you may recall, was the loser in the bitter elections that gave us the Orange Revolution. But after yesterday's reversal in the parliament -- where the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition choice for speaker of the Parliament was kicked to the curb in favor of old Socialist and key coalition member Oleksandr Moroz -- it appears Yushchenko and Yanukovych are discussing a grand coalition to avoid going back to the electorate for another round of voting. Yushchenko, if he can prevent a government from forming before July 22, could call new elections himself, and that will be his trump card in negotiations over the new coalition.

So the question now is whether this grand coalition -- which probably would include Moroz' remaining Socialists, some of whom have left the party in a huff, despite some statements from Yushchenko's party that including Moroz is "impossible" after his volte face from the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition -- can form a stable government. The evening's activities where the new Orange coalition broke down is well-described in this article in Ukrainian Pravda and speculates that the possibility of Tymoshenko returning to the premiership are now quite remote. She's figured out her only hope is that the new coalition fails to take hold.

Behind all this, I think, is a smiling Leonid Kuchma, the former president who never had to deal with a parliament that could create such problems for the presidency. It was fairly obvious after the elections that Moroz would be a key player. What makes the current situation strange, though, is that if anyone is responsible for Kuchma being hung with Gongadze-gate around his neck, it's Moroz. So while Kuchma might be laughing, the last laugh might yet be Moroz'.

Swing and a miss 

That report two days ago of ADP's payroll projections was off by more than a little bit. Payrolls rose by 121,000, which would be at the lower end of most expectations, and below my lower end. I still like 3% for GDP growth for the second quarter, but it's going to be just that and not much more. The Fed funds futures had the odds of another rate increase in August up over 60% Weds., but down yesterday and I'd guess so again today.

Two things to note that I see on a quick read: Construction employment has just stopped growing over the last four months. The softness in the housing market is making itself felt. Also, retail trade is not growing either. Those of us in St. Cloud know those two sectors were major contributors to the economy over the last two years. This report does not bode well for the local (central MN) economy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Stand by for more Ukrainian weirdness 

It's hard for me to say what's going on right now in Ukraine. Apparently Yushchenko's pick for speaker of the parliament (meant to check the new powers that Tymoshenko is to receive as prime minister) was the very unpopular Petro Poroshenko. You'll recall the two fought last summer and this led to the splintering of the Orange coalition. Poroshenko, though, has withdrawn from the contest and LEvko is reporting that Oleksandr Moroz, the socialist member of the Orange team, has gotten himself back into a job he had when I was there ten years ago. (Neeka's correspondent confirms.) I doubt he is helpful for reform, but he might be the best of a bad lot.

One now has to wonder if the fragile coalition the Oranges have put together holds. Russian press is already making noises about Tymoshenko and the U.S. ambassador arguing for renegotiation of last winter's gas deal. This has already bought Ukraine three months of reprieve from an increase in prices. But how much longer? I don't know. We'll keep an eye on this over the weekend.

Not just UND 

A series of columns titled Through the Trifocals: Illinois & the NCAA covers another school that periodically runs afoul of intercollegiate athletics in its history. The author of the series lays the blame for the current mess at the feet of former NCAA commissioner Walter Byers, and in the most recent entry he reviews the case of Deon Thomas, a recruit for Illinois who enrolled at Illinois over Iowa. Iowa's assistant coach Bruce Pearl -- now head coach at Tennessee -- is fingered as the one who broke the story to the NCAA, and the NCAA subsequently investigated him severely. No improprieties were found, and Thomas had a fine college career (though he never played in the NBA, choosing to go to Europe instead.)

This story was referred to me by Patrick Miller who reports for WDAY works for UND in Grand Forks*, and who makes this connection:
The practice of making examples of particular institutions to keep members in line while overlooking the transgressions of cash-rich members also reveals the NCAA's tradition of hypocrisy. How else can anyone explain Brand's persecution of UND while giving the Florida State Seminoles a free pass? And can anyone explain how the NCAA can take money from a sponsor such as Pontiac, the auto manufacturer that uses an American Indian name and stylized arrowhead logo, at the same time it condemns UND's Indian name and logo?
UPDATE*: correcting Miller's occupation via his email.

Caribou -- a Somali hangout 

One interesting aspect of St. Cloud is the presence of a relatively large Somali community. One common scene here in town is a Caribou coffee shop on one of our busiest corners with three tables outside for use during the summer. On any summer night, all three tables are full of Somali men in animated conversation. So I look this afternoon on the web and I find a story on how difficult they have found it to get taxi licenses from two years ago. Take a careful look at the table the two Somali men are sitting around "at a popular Somali hangout in St. Cloud". Yup, Caribou.

You know, the words "popular Somali hangout in St. Cloud" would never have dawned on me to be a description of Caribou. Whenever I'm there I find high school (and junior high) co-eds giggling and ordering long-named cold drinks. Yet every evening if I drive by, there are those tables.

Come to think of it, if you'd told me 20 years ago that there would be a "popular Somali hangout in St. Cloud" I'd have laughed at you. When I moved here I thought I was a diverse element of this town. But if you look at the 2000 Census of the city versus where we are now -- with 109 Somali families reunited in St. Cloud in one month last year -- you have to conclude that this place is very different from where I moved.

I noticed this again today as I pulled into Panera that I almost never go to places that have American food. A Lao-Thai restaurant for curry; the Somali cafe (now on the east side, having left a place downtown that they sold off to a Pakistani family, though I can't tell who owns the place now); a pho shop (really! Pho!) and at least two places where you find a decent burrito (for someone who lived years in Los Angeles.) In yet another way, St. Cloud is ceasing to be a stopping point between the Cities and Fargo, and more becoming either part of the Cities or a unique place. Right now, I can't tell which.

You say it "tar-JAY" 

There is a very interesting couple of paragraphs in the Afternoon Report from the WSJ:

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said June sales at its stores open at least one year, the preferred performance metric among retail mandarins, were higher by just 1.2% compared with the same period a year ago. Though Wal-Mart, like other chains, faced a tough comparison with boffo sales last summer, gasoline prices were fingered as a factor behind the chain's tepid performance. Tom Schoewe, Wal-Mart's finance chief, said in a statement that customers were making fewer trips to the company's stores on account of high gasoline prices, and that those who did make it through the door were concentrating their purchases on food and other staples. "The priority in spending by our customers is on food and consumables," he said. That phenomenon wasn't limited to Wal-Mart. Dollar General, another discount chain that caters to a lower-income clientele, noted that consumers were buying more food and cleaning products and less clothing.

But not all low-price chains suffered last month, and those that lured higher-income shoppers who are better insulated from weekly ups and downs at the pump fared best. Target, which has aggressively marketed itself as a more stylish and shopper-friendly alternative to Wal-Mart, saw same-store sales increase 4.8%. In a note to clients, analysts at Morgan Stanley pointed out that Wal-Mart has placed many of its stores in lower-income and rural areas, while Target has focused on courting wealthier urban and suburban shoppers. Staying closer to population centers has allowed Target to maintain a high level of customer traffic in its stores, while the typical Wal-Mart shopper facing longer, costlier drives might think twice about leaving home. Further, in the face of tough comparisons with last year, when a warm June sent consumers on a clothing-buying bonanza, Target's success offered "a testament to their merchandising," analysts at Banc of America Securities wrote. Like Target, Costco Wholesale also made gains by wooing shoppers less sensitive to energy-price pressures. Costco's same-store sales rose 6%, as Wal-Mart's Sam's Club, Costco's biggest rival, saw such sales climb just 1.3%.

The overall trend, which is probably dominated by WMT and Costco, is down. I was quoted in this morning's local paper as saying $3 gas is here to stay rather than $2. Certainly I don't think we'll never get below $3 -- $2.50 might happen -- but dropping to $2 is not that likely and if so we still will keep $3 in the back of our minds now.

Economizing on trips to Sam's will occur, but if WalMart is selling mostly goods people want but want cheaper, it's hard to see how they are going to be hurt that much by the cost of driving. What it might say instead is that people who moved out to the countryside and drive into the city to work are being stretched more for their gas. Here's an update of a graph I used last year when we first discussed $2.60 gasoline, with an assumption that the price stays at this morning's $3.099, and uses the May 2006 wage rate of $16.59 per hour. Even in per-hour-of-labor terms, gas is now as expensive as in my lifetime. And if that's true, I see it as difficult to believe some stores are immune to this just because they "target" a different demographic.

I know I haven't panicked about oil prices yet, and I'm not yet -- but another 15% increase would have to get my attention, and yours.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A stronger-than-expected quarter? 

There is concern and consternation on Wall Street over a new report that projects the monthly employment number days before its release. ADP, which processes payrolls around the country, reported out today that 368,000 jobs were projected to have been added in June. The median estimate for June from private forecaster has been 175,000 new jobs; one forecaster has gone from a more negative 100k to a slightly positive 200k after the ADP report. That, on top of the factory orders number coming in about double the expectation should give pause to the speculation that the Fed will stop raising interest rates any time soon.

What does this mean? It means that if the ADP number is right, we will see a larger GDP figure for the second quarter just than currently expected (anything over 3% would come as a surprise right now). Indeed, if we have a jobs number Friday over 200k, I would bet a bottle of scotch that we are over 3% growth for the second quarter. And that report will come just about the time the Fed meets next.

But not as a college course 

I have no problem with this guy saying he thinks the planes could not have caused the collapse of the World Trade Center. And if he wants to say it in on a college campus, all the better -- where else should these ideas be expressed and examined. In a course? Well, if it's to have an objective search for truth, that's fine too.
He says 14 of the 16 weeks [of his Introduction to Islam course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison] will have nothing to do with politics, but in the remaining two weeks, he will cover what he calls the ''so-called war on terror''.

''And I will present different interpretations of the war on terror, In I think a pretty detached way and encourage students to debate those interpretations and to support whichever one they personally find most persuasive and let them make up their own minds.'' Barrett says.
But Ann Althouse is right to "have a huge resistance" to this when the man makes statements like this:
I certainly wouldn't expect them to [agree with his 9/11 theory.] At least not all of them. On the other hand I would expect some of them would once they look at the evidence because the evidence is overwhelming.
I wonder then whether he is pursuing this for educational or political purposes? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel shows that he's after the latter, by looking at the website of the organization the professor has started:

"The 9/11 lie was designed to sow hatred between the faiths," Barrett has written on the organization's Web site.

"Either we discuss the compelling evidence that 9/11 was an inside job, or there is precious little to talk about."

If you are going into a college classroom saying that "if you don't agree with me there's precious little to talk about", you are no longer teaching. Good for Provost Patrick Farrell for arguing that the university has "an obligation to ensure that his course content is academically appropriate, of high quality, and that his personal views are not imposed on his students." But sir, don't stop there!

How accurate do you think we have to be? 

Daniel Gross looks at the forecasting record of the Wall Street Journal and sees the glass as half-empty:
In January, the economists collectively said they thought 3-month Treasury bills would yield 4.63 percent on June 30; they were at 5.00 percent. In January, the economists preicted 10-year Treasury notes would be at 4.9 percent; they were at 5.15 percent; in January, they predicted that 1st quarter GDP would come in at 3.6 percent; it was 5.6 percent; in January, they projected that May's CPI would show a 3.1 percent gain from May 2005; it showed a 4.2 percent gain from May 2005. Again, this is no rap on the economists in the survey--a very smart bunch who have all sorts of interesting and insighftul things to say about the economy. Rather, it's a rap on the notion that we should give a great deal of weight to their short-term forecasts.
When I train students in forecasting, one thing they learn is that when they forecast they will be wrong -- so the best thing to have is a framework for understanding why and when to change the forecast. The GDP miss was wide but likely due to transitory effects of a lowered GDP number in the last quarter. I like Barry's idea of averaging two quarters, though the most recent release of GDP figures makes that average a much more satisfying 3.65%. That's better than expected, so if you were off on the strength of the US economy you'd also be a little low on inflation and interest rates. So all of this paragraph Gross has found comes, to my mind, from a single source: broad-based growth in aggregate demand in the last quarter.

I think the revisions to GDP -- which is what the forecasters are being graded on, not the initial estimates -- qualify as true surprises. I'm not sure how accurate Mr. Gross thinks forecasters should be, but I wouldn't be dismissive of the most recent effort. With the forecasters predicting 3% growth in third quarter GDP, a 3.1% inflation rate, and both short and long run rates around 5.25%, very few predictions are for a recession. If one does hit in early 2007, then you can start calling forecasters really wrong.

MOBster in training 

Stop by Perspective and Soda and wish Steve and Danica congratulations on their newborn son.

Well, yes and no 

The PioneerPress correctly and incorrectly summarizes the lack of discussion over the pension bailout here in Minnesota.
This much we understand: State taxpayers will be paying hundreds of millions to bail out the fund. And this huge state commitment elicited about one-zillionth of the public discussion that a much smaller Twins ballpark subsidy produced.

Perhaps that would change, at least a bit, if taxpayers studied a trust arrangement set up by the Minneapolis fund as it was being folded into a larger, statewide fund. State watchdogs, including Auditor Pat Anderson, objected that the $1.5 million trust was aimed at protecting the Minneapolis fund managers from lawsuits and to protect employees' severance payments.
Correct insofar as it didn't get nearly the attention it deserved, which I believe emboldened the fund managers to attempt the carve-out. Incorrect, however, in that the burden of the pension bailout is statewide, while the subsidy to the Twins is paid by one county. And that makes it worse -- the benefit levels promised by the teacher pensions is permanently ratcheted higher, so that while the stadium is a one-off purchase, the costs of the pension debacle will revisit us for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Offers for guest blogger entries went out those for whom I had valid emails. Last call -- if you want me to send you the email, get me a valid address and send it to comments {at} thisblogsnameasoneword [dot] com. If you posted a response in the first post I had on this but gave me no contact info, I haven't contacted you and will not until I get the email. We'll run a contest next week if I still have more hands on board than I really need. Several of these people are bloggers who are downstream from me in the ecosystem (if that's possible!) and if nothing else we can promote their sites.

You can see he loves it 

This is my QBR co-author Rich MacDonald doing what he loves more than the QBR. He looks a little hyper in that picture because, well, he's a little hyper. Our students gave him a joke coffee mug for his frenetic 8am classroom presentations this spring. Here's the site he's helped write; he does this stuff all the time. The punchline?
MacDonald told third- through fifth-grade teachers at the June workshop that if their students leave their classrooms understanding that credit is not money, they will have made great strides.

American families have an average of $8,000 in credit card debt, Erwin said.

�The earlier we can get students to think about smart money decisions, we are already helping them build their wealth,� she said.

Yes, that was my jaw you heard 

... hitting my desktop as I loaded the new (be patient -- it's loading slower than Bengie Molina) -- and I see the NARN podcast. Oh brave new world! but what is this??
King Banyon
Oh the inhumanity!

Makes me want to drink scotch and smoke cigars. Which reminds me ... you coming Friday??? Everyone knows I favor Isle of Jura, and most everyone knows that if I show up -- currently the plan, but plans change -- I must drink lightly so as to "keep four on the highway" heading back to the Cloud. Nonetheless, sampling will occur.

Speaking of podcasts, just picked up one of these on eBay. (I have this thing about Apple and its software philosophy.) I'm listening to it now. So, so sweet -- had some Black Adder loaded for the trip home from San Diego but a colleague sat next to me so it was office chitchat for three hours.

Off to the family and BBQ and fireworks (though Littlest and I need to see Nacho Libre, and this might be the best chance we have before traveling again.)

UPDATE: I see this also has meant Hugh's got new digs! May have to light an extra sparkler. Wonder what he pays the new webmaster?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thank God she's safe 

A Nepali student at SCSU has been missing from her summer job in Colorado for more than two weeks, but appears to have been found safe and physically OK.
Budhathoki was living near Prospect Mountain with only water to drink, and had not eaten any food, Kufeld said. She was wearing the same clothes she was last seen in on June 18, when she left for work at an ice cream shop June 18.

Police took her into custody on a mental health hold and are interviewing her, Kufeld said.

�She appears to be OK,� he said.
Apparently they knew she was in the area through sightings and physical clues. We went to a Nepal Night cultural program this spring and saw a student-made video about adjusting to living in the States from Nepal. I don't imagine it's easy for any of them. Glad they found you, Pratistha, and we'll pray for your safe return to your family.

Travel day 

I'm on my way back from the Western Economics Association meetings, where econbloggers Craig Depken, Stephen Karlsson and Phil Miller were three that I saw (I'm sure there are more.) This has been a good conference for me to meet people, some new possibilities for research. So my mind is full of that stuff and not really ready to blog today. On my way to the airport here in San Diego in two hours, so I'll be offline until late this evening.

I am planning a contest for the guestbloggers. If you've written me, expect email tomorrow.