Monday, April 18, 2005

Why isn't LASIK cheating?

I stumbled across this main-page article from Slate magazine and National Public Radio. It questions why performance-enhancing drugs are scorned in professional athletics but eye-altering surgery that takes vision to 20/15 is celebrated.

Read it.

I switched my home page to Slate a few days ago, and I am already finding far more interesting items than when I had MSN as my home page.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Happy McBirthday!

OK, so Friday, April 15, was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first McDonald's restaurant in Illinois. Man, do I have some McMemories -- I worked for the Golden Arches for seven years.

I have a love-hate relationship with the fast food restaurant. Put simply, I love french fries. I love cheeseburgers, I love an icy cold Coke, and I love a Shamrock Shake (only available in March). Better yet, I used to love customizing the sandwiches and truly making them "my way." My favorite was the McChicken (back when it was not a cheapo version) with barbecue sauce. I also still order the Filet-O-Fish with lettuce and tomato. The bun used to be steamed, so it was super soft but not moist; I doubt that it still is. I would make an omelette with the salad ingredients (bell peppers, ham, shreddd cheese) or use a folded egg on a muffin sandwich. Plenty of choices to avoid monotony.

I recall learning to make a Big Mac (cheese on the bottom, pickles on the club -- you can remember because the club has a ring on the bun from the toaster, and a pickle is round like the ring. And of course, plenty of lettuce: "We want our customers to taste lettuce in every bite." Truly, half of it falls of by the time the customer bites in to the sandwich, so you have to compensate.

McDonald's taught me a lot about work ethic, about serving customers, about treating people right and about being humble. Sure, there were times when I slacked off just like everyone else, but I realized that I was assigned the farthest register from the food because I moved the fastest. I hated working in the lobby cleaning up, but I loved stocking things (I am such a neat freak sometimes). I did this as a 15-year-old high school sophomore who spent most of the $3.31 per hour he earned on comic books.

I loved the drive-thru most of all. Mainly it was a power thing. In the McHierarchy, drive-thru is tops, and the runner is the one in charge of the drive thru. It was a thrill -- really -- to see if we could beat the average wait times from the day before or from the dinner shift (I worked morning through lunch). Better yet, I wanted to have a "dangler" -- that is, the bag hanging out the window before the car drove up. That was before the days when the cooks wore a headset to start making the food while it was being ordered.

I admit, I was pretty good, and I kind of liked it. I could take an order, fill drinks and take money all at the same time. I could run the kitchen and keep food stocked in the warming bin (again before the current style of cook-to-order) as needed. I was friendly with the regular customers, and I learned to stay relatively stress-free.

As I stayed with the company, I earned special jobs such as assembling the shake and sundae machines and counting the daily deposit. My last couple years I did accounts payable, too. When I left in 1996, I earned $7.25 per hour; minimum wage was just $5.15.

I could have accepted real promotions to crew chief if I had been willing to work full time. I never wanted to work that much in high school and didn't have time in college. McDonald's was good to me with scheduling, and my special jobs allwed even more flexibility. Starting my junior year of high school, I came in before school to assemble one of the machines and later to do the deposit from 5 to 7 a.m. I can't imagine any of my students doing that today, and I don't think I would want them to.

I have a lot of sour memories from working there -- irate customers, mopping an overflowed toilet, employee dramas -- but generally it was fun and kept me with money. I even earned a $500 scholarship, the Ray A. Kroc Achievement Award. It's also a medallion I received at graduation that looks kind of like Speaicl Olympics.

So, on the occasion of the Golden Arches' Golden Anniversary, let me raise a cup of orange drink in celebration. I tip my paper hat to you.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Let Pope Watch 265 begin

The Papal Conclave begins Monday in the Vatican to select the 265th pontiff, and I am poised to watch as much discussion as possible. Like a moth to a candle flame, I am drawn to this fascinating tradition. I could hardly raise an interest among the Joint Chiefs on Friday as to how long the cardinals would take to elect the new pope. A couple Chiefs said six votes (third day), but I think it will be just four votes. My main hunch is that these guys have had several years to think about this since JP2 had been ill, and they have also had a number of days since JP2 died to hang out and talk shop. All that's left is to cast the votes.

The Los Angeles Times reports Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became the focus of speculation that he was a leading candidate and that he has lined up 40 votes -- still far shy of the two-thirds majority necessary, but enough to generate a buzz. This matches with what one Chief said Friday that it would be "the German guy." Ratzinger was born in Germany but works in the Vatican now. His age, 78, is also a factor but in a good way, say those in the know. No one would expect a 26-year papacy from this guy, and his would be "a shorter, 'transitional' papacy that would give the church time to absorb John Paul's legacy before charting its future," reports The Los Angeles Times.

Myself, I think it will be a European, probably an Italian. The idea that it will be or should be a man from Latin America or Africa is a completely American ideal about throwing a political cookie crumb to a sub-group of Catholics. One Chief argued that the majority of Catholics are in Latin America and that the church is not growing as rapidly there under sway from protestant missionaries, so the pope should come from Latin America. Europe is losing Catholics even faster, so one could argue that a European can help get people back in the pews. No North American has been mentioned as even having a chance, but I read that nearly every conclave has resulted in at least one suprise candidate, even if that man did not become pope.

So, hang on kids. In just a few days, we'll see the smoke and hear the bells and meet the new pope. And, let speculation begin on what that pope will call himself. Newly minted popes choose names to honor previous popes and saints. Will we see JP3? My money is no.

Post your predictions, place your bets.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The new offering from Sarah Vowell

I am a Sarah Vowell fan. Oh sure, some latecomers may be fond of her perfornamce as Violet Parr in "The Incredibles" last year. But I know her from "The Partly Cloudy Patriot" and "Take the Cannoli" -- and of course public radio's "This American Life."

But now she has a new book, and though I am not finished with it, I am laughing with each reading sitting. Assassination Vacation a story of Vowell's travels in search of facts, clues, insights and creepy bits of history that compose the web of assassinations of three American presidents: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley. With her usual style, Vowell blends a love for history, explanation of obscure trivia, left-leaning politics and a geeky love for the quirky. And she is funny.

Check it out.

Bonus: I am going to see her for a reading at Elliott Bay Book Company April 29. Can't wait, since I missed her on "Late Show" a couple weeks ago.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

A journalistic weekend in Seattle

I took nine students to the national high school journalism convention in Seattle April 7-10. This trip was easier in some ways because the travel was significantly less difficult to plan than trips to Phoenix, San Francisco or San Diego have been. On the other hand, I was on the convention planning committee, so there was plenty to keep me busy. Highlights, in digest form, appear below.

Thursday was our sightseeing day, but we changed plans due to the rain. At registration, I distributed four cases of apples, courtesy of Stemilt Growers, to weary travelers and other guests at the convention. The apples -- Pink Lady, Cameo and Fuji varieties -- were very well reveived. Even the Michigan people liked them, and those folks grow their own apples. Convention-goers have ribbons on the nametag indicating various titles or roles. I was ribbed by my adviser friends for having five ribbons. Yes, five: Master Journalism Educator, Judge, Speaker, Local Committee and Pacemaker Finalist (for the yearbook). One friend even started calling me "Admiral."

The Thursday night reception had some fantastic jazz -- a combo of students from Mountlake Terrace and Roosevelt high schools, known for their outstanding jazz programs. I requested "Seven Steps to Heaven," and the combo knew the tune. The local committee was recognized, and we each received a sharp purple windbreaker with the convention logo embroidered on the chest. I was also named Washington Journalism Adviser of the Year. Thanks to my students for nominating me.

Friday was a great day. I started with meeting (again) writer Hank Stuever, who came all the way from Washington, D.C., for the convention. He is great, and I love his book, "Off Ramp," which is available in paperback this summer. Then I met Margaret Larson, who is a former Dateline NBC correspondant who now works as a consultant for the international aid agencies Mercy Corps and World Vision. She spoke to a room packed with about 150 students about why media should cover more substantive topics: poverty in Africa instead of Michael Jackson. She repeated much of her talk an hour later where she was the speaker at the advisers' luncheon. She is funny, articulate, a smooth speaker with a message. Most of all, she is real and honest. I chatted her up during the entire lunch. She was also very gracious to donate her time to speak to us. After lunch I listened to and met David Horsey, who, after a technical problem with the digital projector, was very entertaining and funny. I chatted with him after, and he was nice enough to donate a signed book for our auction. He had also donated some original cartoon artwork. I bought it for a very nice price -- but it all benefitted the Student Press Law Center. I am sorry I could not see all the featured speakers I had arranged, and I am not trying to be a name-dropper. I just was pleased with the quality of folks we had available.

Saturday was a blur, so I don't remember much. My friend Kelly Allen organized a thorough presentation about teacher rights for advisers. I am sure people who attended learned a lot. After I presented myself on week-by-week coverage in yearbooks, I hosted a presentation from Tom Peyer, which I thought some of the less-mainstream kids enjoyed. Saturday afternoon, we did not earn a Yearbook pacemaker, but it really was an honor just to be nominated. We did not place in newspaper or yearbook Best of Show, either. The evening at the Experience Music Project was fantastic, and people loved it. I am so pleased that our Seattle committee was ambitious and was also able to pull off most of what we planned. A real reward was seeing students chat with professional journalists I had arrranged as speakers, a chance to really interact and get advice. I think there was something for everyone.

Sunday two students earned honorable mentions: one in poetry writing and one in editorial writing. That was cool. Then we came home, and I was exhausted. Even a few days later I am still not caught up with my housework, sleep or chores around the yard. The weekend can't come fast enough.

Next convention is in Chicago in November. Since I have never been to the City with Broad Shoulders, I'm already planning.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

How to teach 45 words of freedom?

I had to write a persuasive essay for my writing class, so I wrote about something important to me: the First Amendment. Here's the essay. Post thoughts about what schools should do to encourage appreciation of the five freedoms -- religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.


Over the public address system, a voice tells students to stand for the flag salute. In the halls, a couple girls, innocently holding hands hear their behavior is not allowed. In December the choral concert contains only Christian-themed music and ornaments and angels deck the halls. At finals week, students wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Finals Suck” learn a teacher believes the shirts are disruptive and must be replaced. In these real situations, children accustomed to acknowledging authority comply with the requests and don’t challenge an administrative decree. Some may raise an eyebrow, sigh in frustration or even curse under a breath. Each of those gestures is the sign of a defeated spirit, a child hoping to put into practice what he or she learned in class.

The lack of appreciation of the First Amendment doesn’t come all at once. It comes from slow erosion by people with little respect for the rights of others slowly chipping away at dissent and perpetuating docile youngsters unaware of their Constitutional rights.

A survey, conducted by the University of Connecticut on behalf of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and released in January, showed that American teenagers have little regard for and understanding of the First Amendment. Among the key findings: Basics about the First Amendment are not being taught, 75 percent of the students surveyed think flag burning is illegal, nearly 50 percent believe the government can censor the Internet, and many students do not think newspapers should publish freely. At the same time, administrators say they support more education on the First Amendment.

Simply put, Wenatchee High School is not doing enough to instill in students a value for our most basic of civil rights, and, in fact, the school system is doing much to discourage practice of those same rights. Schools may teach a bit about freedom in civics class, but they don't allow students to fully practice those same freedoms while at school.

Increasing knowledge and appreciation of First Amendment freedoms could come in several ways. A simple and initial step would be to audit the current curriculum and assure that basic education about the First Amendment is taught consistently and universally to each student during high school. Whether instruction comes in a civics course or through debates in language arts classes, instructing students on First Amendment basics starts in the classroom.

In addition to the basic classroom instruction, specialized courses should offer enhanced instruction and practice in First Amendment ideals. The Knight-funded survey shows that education about the First Amendment makes a difference: Students who participate in media-related activities at school are more likely to believe that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions. Thankfully, WHS is not among the one in five schools surveyed offering no media activities. Administrators support expansion of student media but lack the financial means to do so, and finding space in a curriculum crowded with preparations for standardized tests may be difficult. However, the policies that promote free expression and understanding cost nothing, and enacting or affirming such policies would do much to support our media program. Encouraging students to enroll in journalism or debate courses already on the books also would cost little more as these classes often have smaller enrollments. Additionally, Web sites are less expensive to establish and maintain than publications, and investing in a course to teach Internet publishing while also instructing on the responsibilities of free expression would serve students well.

Of even greater ambition would be to plan and implement a week of First Amendment-related activities with each day focused on one of the five freedoms in the amendment. Johnsburg High School in Illinois has had success with such a week. Activities included a no-dress-code fashion show; Get On Your Soapbox Day, a chance to write a message and wear it on a sticker over the heart; a concert of rich American music — all of it banned at one time. Johnsburg journalism teacher Randy Swikle writes that the emphasis is on the “Three R’s” of the First Amendment — rights, responsibilities and respect — and that learning occurs through engagement. The components already exist at WHS, where there is acceptance of a Bible club that meets before school, where a school newspaper editorial can criticize an administrative policy, where students can bring a petition to student government. A week of educating about and celebrating the First Amendment is not a far-off thought.

Administrators, teachers, students, parents and members of the community all have a stake in the educating of children to be critical thinkers, respectful listeners and articulate advocates. How can we expect students to survive in the dynamic world that awaits them outside the school system if we have failed to prepare them by forbidding them to practice what they learn in class? Gene Policinski, director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said the Knight report “should wake up educators to the idea that the entire education process is impacted positively when students can say and print and express themselves freely.” The Knight report is not just a wake-up call; it is a call to action.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I met Phil Donahue

Saturday I attended a lecture sponsored by the Foolproof performing arts organization as part of its American Voices series. The panel, "All the News That's Fit to Own: Who Controls the Media and Why We Should Care," featured Robert McChesney, Phil Donahue, Amy Goodman and Frank Blethen. The talk, facilitated by Nancy Maynard, lasted about 90 minutes and focused on how the consolidation of media ownership is bad for our democracy. I wish it had lasted longer.

Frank Blethen, the publisher of The Seattle Times, was a bit hard to listen to. At the same time he was cursing the chain ownership that is causing family newspapers like his to be gobbled up by large companies such as Gannett and Hearst, you can't ignore that he's looking out for his own butt first. I mean, The Times' competition, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is owned by Hearst. And The Times is working really hard at putting the P-I out of business. Add to that the fact that the Blethens themselves are owners of a chain -- the family owns papers in Maine as well as the daily papers in Yakima and Walla Walla, Washington. Of course he's against the inheritance tax -- the so-called "death tax" -- which would make it difficult to pass on his jewel to his own heirs. Admittedly, that is a contributing factor to allowing large companies to swoop in and grab up a paper that heirs can't afford anymore, but Blethen should be taken with a grain of salt.

Doahue and Goodman, in particular, were great. I have to check out Goodman's Democracy Now! program. And it;s good to know Donahue is still alive and kicking -- why is he not given a new platform after MSNBC unceremoniously canned him?

After the show, my friend the CIB wanted to meet one of her heroes, Donahue. So we staked out a spot by the aisle we suspected he would use to come out to the lobby atthe Paramount Theatre. Soone enough here he came, she walked up and said what an influence he had been, a slightly bewildered Donahue shook both our hands and that was that. For CIB, it was much more significant than for me, but it was cool nonetheless. The lecture organizer looked a bit peeved that we had injected ourselves in a kind of ambush, but isn't that how a good journalist does it? Donahue himself should have been proud.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Pope John Paul II: Ye Hath Left Us

We all knew this day would come. The Vatican officially announced Saturday that Pope John Paul II had died, quelling reports from Fox News that he had died several hours earlier, and dashing my theory that he had been dead for several years and just propped up like in that movie "Weekend at Bernie's". Seeing the papal body all decked out and displayed for the masses made me actually think he has not looked that good in years.

Seriously, I am eerily drawn to the nonstop, wall-to-wall coverage of all Pope all the time. The tradition of the conclave and all the voting is fascinating. The fact that there are "talking heads" actually analyzing the situation and speculating as to the "horserace" is ludicrous. They all smelled a bit of a story today when the Poles were disappointed that JP2 would be entombed in the Vatican instead of returning to his native Poland. It's like the newsfolk hoped there would be a riot or something. And listening to American Catholics or others say that there should be a Latino or African selected as the sucessor to JP2 is ridiculous. The cardinals will pick who they want and I am pretty confident in saying that race or demographics in the church will have little effect on the vote.

I also spent some time Saturday hanging out with my friends the CIB and Superfrankenstein and enjoyed pope puns aplenty. At one point I remarked that I felt guilty and I'm not even Catholic. I'd post a few of the less tasteless remarks here, but I can't remember most. Laughter and such will do that to you. However, I encourage people to post their tributes and trashings if they want.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, April 04, 2005

'Millions' worth paying full price

In December, when on a movie binge in Arizona, I saw a trailer for a promising movie. It showed a young British boy who found a duffle bag of money that hurtled from a train and landed on his cardboard fort. A peculiar lad, he sees saints and thinks the money is from God and tries to give it away to help the poor. In the meantime, of course, he's confronted with all sorts of complications both physical and moral.

Well, I saw the full feature, "Millions," at the Egyptian theater Sunday. It was charming and adorable. I especially enjoyed the clever plot and fantastic score. Additionally, the scene transitions are original and help move the story along. Finally, the film's message about hope and a larger meaning to the world is inspirational and thought-provoking.

Recommendation: Pay full price.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.