Sunday, March 20, 2005

Jurisdictions of convenience

What's better on a Sunday evening than some drama from Washington, D.C.? I don't know why the situation with Terri Schiavo, her husband, her parents, their lawyers, the Congress and all sorts of media-folk is so compelling, but I have been drawn to it. It's fascinating. I watched a bunch of the debate earlier, and if there is ever any wonder why government doesn't get much done, just take a look at the distraction that occurred the last few days.

Some highlights and ironies:

The media has not exactly been the group whipping this to a frenzy. Part of that is there is no trial to watch, no car chase to follow with a news 'copter, no bombs to see explode on a pixely-green video. The real culprits are the Republicans in the 109th Congress -- people who are exploiting this family's situation just to score some political points.

In the debate, a few members of Congress spoke eloquently about facing similar situations. No one disputes whether this woman is suffering, whether this is a difficult situation, whether there is a right to die. The bill was to move the case into a federal court -- overturning the decision of several state judges in Florida. Especially eloquent was Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, whos spoke about court jurisdiction and how the Congress changes the jurisdiction to suit the political needs.

One irony in this is that George W. Bush, in 1999 as governor of Texas, signed a bill into law that established specific procedures to end life support when medical experts and hospital ethics boards determined that a person was in a permanent vegetative state and would eventually die as a result. In fact, a six-month-old boy was removed from life support over parental objection as a result of the Texas law, which Bush signed after returning to the state from a campaign event specifically to do so.

An additional contradiction is that religious conservatives talk about states' rights, about the sanctity of life (the new term is Culture of Life) and about so-called activist judges.

When conservatives want to dodge an issue, they say it is a matter for states' rights (remember the Confederate flag, death penalty, same-sex marriages). But when the state decision does not suit the national political needs -- better yet, it could provide additional political gain -- the conservatives try to exert federal authority. An example is the Texas legislative Democrats who hid out in New Mexico and later Oklahoma to avoid the Congressional redistricting.

Conservatives speak and write of the sanctity of life, yet apparently that respect for life applies only to pre-life and end of life. If a woman demands the right to control her life and choose what is best for her life, the right-to-life movement says "no way." Conservatives overwhelmingly support the death penalty, too. Where is the sanctity of life argument when the government wants to kill people? The respect for life also apparently applies only to Americans, because this government has killed thousands of Iraqi citizens in a reckless war. Do we value their lives? Even during life, Republican politicians seemingly do everything to make life miserable to thousands of Americans -- the poor, the elderly and the fragile in society. How precious is life?

And the most laughable irony of all is the idea that so-called activist judges are contributing to the rapid decline of American values and our way of life. Yet, who do the Republicans turn to when they can't get their way through legislation or social policy? The courts. Let us not forget that five activist justices placed George W. Bush in the White House in December 2000. Now, the Republicans, led by Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, turn again to their courts in hopes of fanning flames of a family's tragedy for political gain. The final accomplice in this: the president, having returned from his own vacation, being awakened at the White House to sign the bill into law.

Do not be fooled into believing this is about due process. It's not. Instead, it is about politics and religion. Even if the federal judge, federal appeals judge and U.S. Supreme Court all support the original Florida court decision, the Republicans will undoubtedly use this situation to gain favor with religious conservatives and to continue their fallacious arguments on talk shows and even on the House floor. A memo allegdly circulated from Republicans stating how the case could be used to put Democrats in difficult situations and to win over religious conservatives, though DeLay denies having anything to do with it.

It's a strange day, for sure, when Congress reconvenes over its Easter recess for a bill that would aid just one person, would erode privacy and states' rights and would mock our separation of governmental powers. But, heck, that's Congress. Why did we elect these people anyway?

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

The election is over -- remove the bumper stickers

I've done a bit of highway driving the last few weeks, but my most recent trip to Seattle made me notice far more 2004 election bumper stickers than I had before. My message to the still-stuck: We voted in November. Move on.

I don't know which is more pathetic: the Nethercutt for Senate stickers or the Rossi for Governor stickers. I mean, the first was a complete rout and the second is like hanging on by a thread. I would point out that the folks with a Kerry-Edwards sticker on their Volvo wagon or hybrid car are just as bad. Wallowing in defeat, even when you know your guy should have won, does not excuse you from getting out there with some solvent and a soft rag to get that strip of plastic off your car's rear end.

The people with the "W04" stickers can probably get a short-term pass from me. I mean, to the voctors go the spoils, and that includes bragging rights, too, I guess. But those stickers should be removed by November 2005.

Christine Gregoire had the right idea: Make plastic "static cling" signs that people can place on a variety of window areas and not risk damaging car parts. Perhaps since she actually won her election and is the governor, she should have made her stickers more permanent. Of course, we may need to re-apply our "clings" if the R's finally get their way. Unlikely, though. Will they keep until '08?

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Two good reads from Vestal Vespa

Click on over to my bloggin' colleague Vestal Vespa, whose recent posts about the increasingly dismal situation in Iraq and about a new conservative movement, the so-called "Culture of Death."

Good stuff, for sure.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Just when you thought it was safe to not have sex

At a time when President Bush has requested $206 million in the federal budget for abstainance education, a new study reports that adolescents who take so-called "virginity pledges" are almost as likely to have a STD and are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior. The main reasons? Many of these adolescents consider anything short of intercourse as remaining within their pledge and they often don't have knowledge about methods to prevent STDs.

Read the news story.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Christine Gregoire -- still the governor; other Evergreen State poilitical news

It's been a few weeks since a judge here ruled that the Republicans could proceed with their attempt to overturn the gubernatorial election by proving that there were all sorts of improper and illegal votes. As each day passes, the support for the trial seems to wane. A poll this week showed that roughly two-thirds of voters do not support a re-vote.

Meanwhile, the list of voters who allegedly should not have voted seems to have some problems. From The Seattle Times:

The list of alleged felon voters compiled in Dino Rossi's legal challenge to the governor's election mistakenly includes people tried as juveniles who never lost their right to vote.

A spokeswoman for Rossi acknowledged last night that perhaps hundreds of the 1,135 people on the list are there improperly because of juvenile cases.

Even the state Republican chair seems to be suggesting that candidate Dino Rossi should move on. Chris Vance suggested Rossi would be a strong candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell in her re-election bid next year.

Cantwell has staked out some strong positions on issues that resonate with voters in all parts of the state. These include base closures and the manipulation of electricity prices in 2001 by companies such as Enron that caused havoc for small local power utilities. If there is one message that's clear from the counties that use hydropower, it's "Don't mess with our electricity." Equally strong from Eastern Washington: Hands off our water.

Cantwell seems to be taking lessons from Sen. Patty Murray, a liberal Democrat, who has earned her credentials as a strong defender of veterans rights -- especially in places such as Walla Walla, not exactly "blue" country.

It's hard to unseat a sitting Senator, but Cantwell is not exactly safe. If Rossi can parlay his "victim" status into a Senate nomination, he could just ride that to the Capitol. We'll see.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Springtime in Wenatchee

Wenatchee really is a great place. Taking advantage of no school today, I just returned from a hike up Saddlerock, and I enjoyed being outdoors in the fresh air. Despite the calendar -- spring doesn't begin officially until Monday -- it's spring here in north central Washington. With the winter gone around here, might as well enjoy it while I can.

Thank goodness for the extensive trail system around the area -- from the Apple Capital Loop Trail to the foothills trails. It's an underappreciated gem that deserves better advocacy and stewardship. Cultivating an improved trails system will bring visitors here to recreate and possibly linger or move here. It improves the quality of life.

Count me in as a strong supporter.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tribute to me on March 17

My friend, the CIB, paid tribute to my affection for Shamrock McShakes on her blog. I love these treats each March. Yum!

It's here.
-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Yearbook done; focus on courses

The bound-book portion of the 2005 yearbook is done. It was on time. It looks good. This group of students is fantastic -- such hard workers and so creative.

The infrequency of my posts is directly proportional to the amount of other work I have to do in other areas. With the extra time spent at school the last couple weeks working with students has forced me to really work hard at home -- when I am there -- on my online courses. I spend about four hours a week reading (skimming in some parts) and then another hour or so for each of two classes writing responses and various assignments. Sometimes it is more. Then another two or three hours reading and responding to discussion board posts from my classmates in the two classes. These are the main way we communicate and discuss what we have read and produced. Our comments count toward a grade, so each post must be read and several responded to.

I just signed up for summer courses and fall courses. I'll have seven credits in the fall instead of the six in each previous semester, so that will be an extra challenge. In a year, I'll be almost finished, which is weird to think about.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

March in like a lamb

March began with little fanfare and a lot of nice weather. It's as if someone just said, "Cue spring," and then it was nice out. A few digest items:

"Singin' in the Rain": This was a nice show at the 5th Avenue. It's amazing that a rainstorm can be created on stage and not have much problem. As usual, a solid production despite a few technical problems. Next season looks good if only for the fact that I have seen none of the shows. I have seen "The King and I" movie version, but I look forward to a few good shows, including "Pippin" and some good music in "Buddy."

Demeanor: Last week was not my finest time. Thursday brought a display of frustration that I hope I won't repeat soon if at all. One student labeled me the Bobby Knight of high school journalism. Puh-leeze. I didn't throttle anyone; I just knocked over a trash can. Then I kicked it. I didn't even swear. That will teach the newspaper students to spell names wrong in the corrections list of all places.

Yardwork: Finally had the chance March 12 to get out and get the yard in shape for spring. This was accelerated by me hiring a former student to help me. Things go a lot faster without having to stop constantly to change tasks. I cut the dead foliage that I left last fall, while he bagged it all. His height came in handy for pruning some of the higher limbs on the darned crabapple tree. My motto for pruning that tree: Every trimmed limb is fewer apples to pick up this summer. Together, we got the whole yard in shape in about three hours. I am still feeling the workout Sunday night. I ordered my supplies and a few replacement plants online from High Country Gardens and I should be able to get things green within a few weeks. I need to replace some Powys Castle sage and have some echinacea planned for the flower bed in the back yard. We need a good rain soon, though.

"Our Town": This was as good a school production as I have seen. What a powerful message, too. The small audience was disappointing, though, and there has to be a way to make the drama more available. Tickets were priced reasonably, so I don't know why more seats were not filled.

Spring Break: I am hanging in for another week before spring break from online classes. Break from work/school comes in another two weeks. Full speed ahead to the journalism convention in Seattle April 7-10, too. I just have a few small details left to coordinate. Maybe then I'll be able to enjoy the convention.

Yearbook: We're scheduled to finish the yearbook March 14. It will take a lot of effort to get there. Eleven pages still have substantial work to complete. However, things always seem to come together, and I am optimistic that this staff of all I have had should be able to pull together and produce quality. It would be a disappointment to have it otherwise.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why should I try to be better?

Man, the lunch discussion got pretty heated today when we started talking about a proposal to expand and revise the teacher evaluation system with three graduated levels of "satisfactory" ratings: basic, proficient and distinguished.

Arguments against: It's the first step to merit pay (paying teachers based on performance). It would be too difficult to be distinguished. Becoming distinguished (or even proficient) would mean spending more hours outside class and more of the teacher's own money.

Arguments for: It's an incentive to get better instead of everyone being rated simply "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" (very rare). It recognizes areas where teachers already are excelling. It is a model for performance-based compensation (merit pay) if that becomes a reality, which is possible at some point.

In a sign that I sometimes go against the grain, I am in favor of this new model. Basically, I think educators can do better, and I want to do better. Right now, there is no incentive. I get the same "satisfactory" evaluation as someone who does not work as hard or want to be better. Others who are better than me don't get that acknowledgment either.

I don't think we should all be ranked, but, honestly, I think it is time that those of us who work hard and exceed the minimum standard are recognized and valued for it. I'm not asking for a rasie based on my willingness or ability to be better. I just want to be known for doing so and labeled as such by my employer. We should strive to be as good as we can be, not just good enough.

I was pretty disappointed with the cynical and pessimistic responses I heard from the extended group of Joint Chiefs. I am as much of a Unionista as the next person -- moreso than some -- but I don't see how we're giving up any of our union rights by accepting the work of a committee that has toiled for two years and that was composed of teachers, administrators and union representatives.

My view on "merit pay" is that it should be avoided. Simply put, it's too hard to determine the measurements by which the pay will be allocated. That's a whole other post here, so I will save it.

Those who post discussion: Please avoid making this about merit pay. It's not there -- yet. Find at least another reasonable argument to make. Let the online arguing begin.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

What's wrong with education Part III: People think it is a privilege when it is a right

That's it. I'm fed up.

I am sick of people thinking, talking and acting as if education is no longer a basic right guaranteed by state constitution and laws. Let me say it with no uncertainty: Education is a right.

Society has an interest in having an educated population. With education, society can advance and prosper. Even though individuals may not realize a direct benefit (be users of the system), everyone realizes a long-term benefit through increased knowledge, skill and ability to prosper. That's why the state's paramount duty is to educate everyone.

Note that when I say everyone, I actually mean it. "Everyone" does not mean that we exclude people because of gender, ethnic heritage, religious beliefs, abilities or desire to learn. The days when we could cast aside a few students because, gosh, someone needs to pump the gasoline, are gone. Now, everyone should be able to get a quality, family-wage job. And if they end up pumping gas it's because they want to not because they aren't educated for more.

This week, a group of teachers I was in discussed a proposal for a night program where students could earn credits because they were not able to attend classes due to various reasons, mostly discipline. The statement in the proposal indicated that students should demonstrate that they had a desire to learn in order to re-enter the regular daytime program. No one else has to meet this burden of proof, so why should these students? Desire to learn is not a criteria of being able to access a free public education. A colleague scoffed that we weren't re-creating "separate but equal." I thought, "Don't think it couldn't happen or that some people don't want it."

I recognize that one student does not have a right to hinder another student's right to learn, and state laws allow educators to remove problematic students. However, it is when we lose sight of the fact that we owe each youngster an education that we start to drift and become something with which I don't want to be associated. We can't say students get their one chance and then they're on their own. We can't say that students must conform to one set of ideals or get out. We can't say that everyone must not only be here but want to be here. It is our job to keep trying until students get it. And, yes, for goodness' sake, it is frustrating as heck when the student seems unlikely to ever "get it" or want to be successful.

I think if educators, especially those in leadership positions, took the attitude that we should be doing what is necessary to help students learn instead of punishing students for not conforming to a preconceived or outdated notion of acceptable priorities, then we might just have a better school environment and more kids might actually want to learn.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Tha Shizzolator

Dude, this is the most hilarious thing to hit the Web in a while. The steps:

1. Go to Tha Shizzolator.
2. Enter a Web site. May I suggest entering this blog?
3. Read the Web site content with a distinctly Snoop Dogg flava.
4. Enjoy a hearty laugh.

I may or may not have told some of my students about this. They have looked up many sites and given them the Snoop working over. Hilarious.

Warning: Some content is not classroom appropriate.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Jacko trial is so not important

OK, I'll say it out loud: I don't give a rip about Michael Jackson and his trial for sexual molestation.

Well, I guess I care slightly, but I really don't need an update on the Today Show every day and I sure as heck won't be watching the re-enactment of key moments on the "E!" Channel at all.

The media needs to drive the satellite trucks back to the station and shut up about Jackson's trial. Oh, he's a freak, to be sure. He's a guy who deserves a fair trial, and he'll probably be convicted. I just don't want to hear about this instead of real news.

I mean, sheesh, we have corruption in our government, a war around the globe, huge domestic financial problems and all sorts of social issues that could be portrayed on broadcast news. I say this even as I am waiting for a TV program at 8:30 p.m. and NBC is running an hour on the Scott Peterson trail -- after he has already been convicted!

Note to media: Move on and get some real news!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

The Oscars: A brief review

Here's my short review of the 2005 Academy Awards:

Chris Rock: Funny stuff, dude. Funny stuff. He gets on a roll and -- look out! I say bring him back and give him an even longer leash. You know people were laughing about the Jude Law jokes ("If you can't get a real star -- wait.")

Oscars from the audience or other areas that were not the main stage: Nice job. This saved time by not having to watch the winner for best makeup walk from her seat in the back of the auditorium. Saves more time for jokes (and for long acceptance speeches by egocentric "stars").

I picked 'em: Things turned out pretty much how most people predicted. Not the way I would have voted, mind you, but how I expected. Clint Eastwood is a class act, for sure. Looking forward to his golden years.

Sean Penn: Dude, lighten up! Jude Law got a free promotion and he is not that great of an actor. I mean, I like him as much as the next person, but he is no Clint Eastwood. He's not even a Sean Penn.

Yo-Yo Ma and the dead Hollywoodites: Nice touch. Because I was working in another room, I did not realize that was the tribute to dead movie people, so I did not see how long the Ronald Reagan clip was. I do think it's kind of insulting for people to be quiet for the lesser-knowns and cheer for their faves. Either be polite for all the dead people or be quiet throughout.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.