Tuesday, August 30, 2005

WTF? British school allows f-bomb

A British school says it will allow students to say the f-word in class, MSNBC reports:
As children throughout the country head back to school, many of them are probably muttering a few choice words about the prospect of returning to the classroom and the expected onslaught of homework. But can they utter those choice words and swear at their teachers? If they’re heading back to school in one town in England, then yes, they can.

According to a report in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, one school in the town of Wellingborough is allowing pupils to swear at teachers, providing they only do so no more than five times in a class. A tally of how many times the f-word is used will be kept and if the class exceeds the limit, they will be “spoken” to, the newspaper reported.

Wonder if it applies to teachers, too. I will probably have to stick to just thinking it.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, August 29, 2005

'Princesses' delights -- I told you so

One of the privileges of being a subsriber to the season at The Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle is the opportunity to see locally produced and touring company musicals. It has also brought new shows to Seattle, shows originating here in the hinterlands while working out bugs before heading to Broadway. Three years ago, "Hairspray" did just that and went on to win a shelf full of Tony Awards. This year, The Fifth helped stage "Princesses," a new musical originally planned for late spring and a possible trip to Broadway. When it confirmed an appearance on the Great White Way, the theater had to reschedule the show for August with the payoff being that the show would include its Broadway cast and would be fine-tuned for a New York debut.

But the reviewers all said "Princesses" is no "Hairspray." The reviewers poo-pooed the high-school plot and characters as thin and stereotypical. The reviewers influenced some people (like my companions). But I remained faithful, confident that the music would be good at least, considering it was to be hip and teen-oriented. I was not disappointed, and my friends were surprised.

The show tells the story of a girl sent to a boarding school, where she gets involved in a school production of "The Little Princess." The play-within-a-play offers some nice parallels, and the show overall has a great set of songs and a nice message. Sure, there are some thin spots, but perhaps those can be addressed in New York. But the music does rock and the characters arfe shockingly real -- based on stereotypes because the stereotype is based in reality. Kids really do those things, and I've seen most of it in the halls at my own school.

I summary, "Princesses" was a nice way to spend an afternoon -- some great music, some funny lyrics, some fun choreography and singing. Watch for it on Broadway.

Meanwhile, next season -- in February -- The Fifth has also scheduled a debut musical that will move from Seattle to New York. Mark your calendars for "The Wedding Singer," a musical adaptation of the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie from a few years ago.

Next year's Tony Awards should offer some familiar nominations.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Two very different movies, both enjoyable

Last weekend in Seattle I took in two movies -- two films that will never come to my little town. While they were each entertaining, they were significantly different.

"The Aristocrats" -- This film about how comedians tell an old joke was rip-roaring funny, It's not that I actually thought that what the comedians were saying was truly funny, it was that the material was so astonishingly outside what people generally accept. It was vile, inappropriate, disgusting, offensive. Funny. A friend of mine from way back in my student leadership program days developed a pyramid for humor. He consulted a bunch of actual comedians in his quest to determine what was funny, why and how to avoid offense. At the bottom of the pyramid is the self-depricating humor that rarely offends. At the peak is the racial and sexual humor that almost always offends someone. It is this type of humor that can be shared by people in similar groups. I sometimes get to this level with my friends -- making fun of things simply for the effect of the joke, not because we actually believe or value the sentiment. Friends at this level understand that the humor can be just an exercise. So it is with this film -- the humor is just an opportunity to get outrageous. The downside to this film is a slow middle section and the production quality, which is low-quality digital video. If you can appreciate outrageous humor, see "The Aristocrats." If you're easily offended, skip it, which is what the two people who walked out after 20 minutes should have done.

"Junebug" -- I would have probably overlooked this film if not for a recommendation from friends who had seen a trailer. A Chicago art gallery owner travels to her husband's native South to woo an undiscovered Appalachian painter and see his family along the way. It would be easy to show the urbane sophisticates from Chicago returning to the husband's roots and showing how much better off they are to be out of the dead-end lifestyle of the country. Instead, it simply shows life and relationships -- much of it through close-up angles and slight changes in facial expressions that communicate more than a page of dialog. It's a delightful look at people from different walks of life whose paths cross and who try to understand each other. The film portrays the Southerners not as flat stereotypical bumpkins but instead as complex and developed people. As the plot continued, I found myself increasingly drawn to the characters, especially Johnny, the loner with a stunted career and his wistful pregnant wife, Ashley. Ashley steals nearly every scene with her eagerness to be something, anything, that she is not; it's an attempt to alter the reality of her situation in any way possible and every way she can. My verdict: Absolutely worth the price of admission.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Our students improve test scores

It's back-to-school time, and that means the annual school reports of test scores. The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction this week released data about whether schools in the state had made national improvement goals under the so-called "No Child Left Behind" Act, called Adequate Yearly Progress. From the report:
Schools are expected to make AYP in up to 37 different categories, and districts can have as many as 111 categories. Regardless of Title I status, schools and districts are identified for “needs improvement” status if they miss making AYP for two consecutive years in the same subject areas (e.g., math in 2004 and 2005). And until they make AYP in all their categories for two years in a row, schools and districts continue to be identified for improvement. Making it one year and then missing the next means a school or district maintains its improvement status and must restart the two-year cycle of making AYP.
Six Washington schools made AYP for the second consecutive year and moved off the improvement list. One is Columbia Elementary in Wenatchee, a school with high instances of student mobility and language barriers in a lower-income section of the city. School staff has worked hard to find creative solutions to help students learn more and to make up the necessary defecit of test scores.

Wenatchee High School, meanwhile, remains on Step 2 of School Improvement along with 80 other Washington schools. From the report:

Step 2, School Improvement (81 schools)
Title I schools that have reached Step 2 must continue to offer school choice and add the option for low-income students to receive tutoring services from an OSPI-approved supplemental service provider. Again, these options are only required to be offered by schools that receive Title I funds. The schools in Step 2 are there this year because they 1) made AYP in 2005 and must make it again in 2006 to exit; or 2) were in Step 1 in 2004 and again missed AYP in the same subject in 2005; or 3) missed AYP in a different subject than in 2004 and do not move to the next step.
While WHS remained on Step 2, there is reason for being pleased with some results. A year ago, the school missed AYP in four cells: Hispanic reading, Hispanic math, limited-English proficient reading and limited-English proficient math. This year, the school met AYP goals in three of those cells, missing in just one cell: Hispanic math.

Meanwhile, WestSide High School, the district's former alternative high school, now a fully accredited school with an alternative design, moved to Step 3 School Improvement, explained here from the report:
Step 3, School Improvement (10 schools)
At this point in school improvement, federal law expects districts to take a more direct role in addressing the academic struggles in a particular Title I building. School districts must take “corrective action”, and they can choose from a number of options focused most often on curriculum and instruction changes that will improve student learning at their Step 3 schools that receive Title I funds. These schools must continue to provide school choice options and supplemental services. Step 3 schools are there this year because they 1) made AYP in 2005 and must make it again in 2006 to exit; or 2) were in Step 2 in 2004 and again missed AYP in the same subject in 2005; or 3) missed AYP in a different subject than in 2004 and do not move to the next step.
The full report is available from the OSPI Web site.

Finally, The Seattle Times had a Sunday report about the notion of "value-added" test scores reporting. In some Seattle schools, the low test scores do not fully indicate the level of learning that took place among students at certain schools. These students, while still falling short of AYP goals, made up more than a year's learning in a year's time, a notable achievement that deserves recognition. The article also faults higher-achieving schools for allowing higher-achieving students to slide back because the school had focused on helping students with lower proficiency. These situations are important to the discussion in education reform and should not be ignired.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The media and vigilantes

A family in California is now a target after a television news personality announced that the family's home was housing Islamic terrorists. It wasn't. The news man had announced the address, resulting in vandalism and threats at the home. An Associated Press report from the Seattle Times:
Family fearful after Fox News airs mistake
By The Associated Press

LA HABRA, Calif. — A couple whose home was wrongly identified on national television as belonging to an Islamic radical has faced harassment, and police are providing protection.

Since the report aired on Fox News on Aug. 7, people have shouted profanities at Randy and Ronnell Vorick and spray-painted "terrorist" (spelling it "terrist") on their property.

"I'm scared to go to work and leave my kids home," Randy Vorick said. "I call them every 30 minutes to make sure they're OK."

John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor who appears on Fox News' "Inside Scoop with John Loftus," gave out the address during the broadcast. He said the home belonged to Iyad Hilal, whose group, Loftus said, has ties to those responsible for the July 7 bombings in London. But Hilal moved out of the house about three years ago.

The couple sought a public apology and correction.

"John Loftus has been reprimanded for his careless error, and we sincerely apologize to the family," Fox spokeswoman Irena Brigantes said.

Loftus told the Los Angeles Times last week that "mistakes happen. ... That was the best information we had at the time."

Fox News has also been known to whip up support for other vigilante-type issues, including the self-appointed protectors at the border known as the Minutemen. CNN's Lou Dobbs is just as bad.

Fox says in the story above that "mistakes happen." But why is a news agency reporting the spcific address of suspected criminals, even if the information was accurate? The news media also have a responsibility to know the effects of their actions, and it is a pretty easy assumption that reporting where terorists live will lead to at least a few crackpot idiots stopping by to "take matters into their own hands" in an Old West-style of vigilante justice. Heck, their model for such actions is the current executive administration -- it's the favored language of President Bush ("Bring it on," "Dead or alive," "With us or with the terrorists") and a policy of intervention is now United States foreign policy.

So when a home is targeted, should be be surprised that locals decided to handle it? No. But our news media should also not be reporting such items, at least until law enforecement officials have what they need or unless there is an imminent danger to the public. In the latteer case, perhaps a meth lab in the neighborhood or something, the announcement might be justified.

To the Fox News on-air personalities and all their brethren: Dial it down a bit, would you? It's not working.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


What would Jesus say? Well, if he were the keynote speaker at a Republican fundraiser, he might say something like this. My friend Tom Peyer had this piece published in Slate today. I laughed from the first line. It's a good satire, and worth a look.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Local cartoonist making it big

It has occurred to me that I need to help a friend of mine promote his cartooning ability. I have known Andrew Wahl for over five years, in my capacity as a media adviser and his as a copy editor/paginator then the features editor at The Wenatchee World newspaper, the daily paper here in town. Since last fall, Andy has also been producing a cartoon a week for The World. His agreement with The World apparently stipulates that at least one cartoon per month must be about a Washington state issue. This week's dealt with I-901, which would ban smoking in all public places.

I had known Andy's previous cartoon stints in college and in his prior work at the Longview, Wash., newspaper. But his work for The World has been top notch. His cartoons are not available at the newspaper's Web site. However, he has all the recent cartoons archived along with many from years past on his Web site: Off the Wahl Productions. Trust me, I know my cartoons. This is good stuff; we're lucky.

Andy comes at a time when readers are increasingly polarized. They see media coverage as slanted -- that is if they don't like the story or how it covers their issues. So, mix a liberal cartoonist into a moderate to conservative editorial page, and you suddenly have a few sparks. Andy tells me that the editorial page editor has fielded many calls the morning after one of Andy's cartoons lampoons W. Yet, the cartoons about the overbearing eye of Big Brother watching every move a person makes play as well with liberals screaming of civil rights eroding as with conservatives who want government off their backs.

The new cartoons come out Mondays or Tuesdays. There is a link at the site above to subscribe to the weekly e-mail list with the cartoon and a few notes from its creator. Sometimes that comes even before the toon is published. Or, just send e-mail to: toon@offthewahl.com

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Jury duty dodged again

Well, I am happy to serve, but I am also glad I don't have to.

For the third time in about two years, I was summoned to the jury pool, and for the third time I did not have to report. One of those times was for federal district court in Spokane. The most recent time was last week and the first part of this week, and again I don't have to report.

I love the idea of jury service. I want to be part of that at some point. And, at the end of August 2005, I had no excuse to get out of it. Still, it is the end of August, and I want to enjoy the last few unscheduled days of summer before it's back to the daily and challenging routine of school.

Like I said: I'm happy to serve but glad I don't have to.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Go Connecticut!

The State of Connecticut has become the first state to file a lawsuit against the United States government over the so-called "No Child Left Behind" Act, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2002. The main claim is that the federal law requires significant investment in school programs by local and state entities while the federal government provides inadequate funding.

The basic argument: Provide funding or stop the mandates.

The U.S. department responded to the threat of the lawsuit in April.

The best part is that this is a wealthy state, one that pays its teachers well. It is a state that has credibility on the issue of education. It's not a left-wing state on the West Coast or some liberal big city. And, the state of Utah as well as a number of local districts have made similar complaints. I expect a number of states to join the lawsuit in asking a federal judge to declare that local and state funds cannot be required to be used to meet federal mandates.

I have said that the years of 2003-2008 will be a sort of Purgatory for education reform. We have cast a die, and we don't yet know how the mold will turn out. As the ultimate deadline approaches in 2008 (for Washington state seniors to pass the state assessment to graduate) and another decade for national requirements to be met, we will begin to see people fed up with mandates say they aren't going to take it anymore.

Stay tuned.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Maybe it's just because it's August

It's well known that August in a nonelection year is a slow time for political news. So when someone actually makes some news, it gets amplified a lot. Two items are getting a lot of discussion on the shout shows from the inflated talking heads.

First, Pat Robertson, a man who ran for president in 1988 after founding a Christian broadcasting network, basically declared a bounty on the head of a foreign leader today. Robertson said the United States should assassinate Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, rather than spending $20 million on another war. Chavez leads a country that sits on huge oil supplies and which is also heavily involved in the South American drug industry. It's a lot of instability controlled by someone who really does not care much for the Yankees.

Robertson, meanwhile, is a huge supporter of President Bush, and also a major American Christian leader with a lot of influence over fundamentalist Christians. The call for assassination was met with a rather tepid official response -- basically that he has First Amendment rights and that of course we aren't planning to kill President Chavez. If Howard Dean or Jesse Jackson had said that, the Bushies likely would be spinning it out of all sense of proportion.

Second, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a "Democrat" working for the Bush Administration, announced a great plan to help Americans save fuel. As gas prices climb to record highs -- an average of $2.61 per gallon nationwide -- it is good to know that the administration is on top of it. Their proposal? Higher fuel efficiency standards that will increase gas mileage among light trucks such as SUVs by about two miles per gallon by 2011. Now that is taking a stand. That's bold. Once again, the Bushies say they want to reduce the dependence on foreign oil, yet they don't push very hard for it. The best way to reduce the dependence on foreign oil is to reduce the need for oil at all. That means using less of it. Not just a little less by 2011, a lot less and soon.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Aug. 22 is National Punctuation Day

I learned of this special day late on Aug. 22, but I think that one could celebrate punctuation all year, and within a few days of the official observation is acceptable.

Visit the Web site for National Punctuation Day, a campaign to kick off the school year with a special emphasis on the importance of proper punctuation. We judge so much by a misplaced comma or apostrophe, and we take action, perhaps avoiding a business that doesn't know its it's.

So, without question mark your calendar, dash off a quick note and enter a period of rejoicing.

I can't wait for No More Comic Sans Day. Think that is on anyone's calendar besides mine?

-- Wenatchee, Wash

Immigration: A solution to the problem?

A reader posted a comment to my earllier post about immigration from Mexico. At his Weblog, Mark in Mexico, he gives a lengthy history of Mexico, explaining why the country has developed the way it has. His explanation of Mexico's corruption is interesting and informatiove.

Further down, he peoposes a solution to the illegal immigration. Some of the arguments are startlingly compelling, others are horrifying. I am not sure whether Mark, living in Mexico and teaching English, is a "compassionate conservative," a Libertarian or a Socialist. Maybe all three, maybe something else entirely. Nonetheless, the plan is worth a look if for no other reason than as a starting point in a lengthy debate.

People are beginning to say immigration is the issue for 2006 and 2008 elections. I join the chorus; they are right. It is.

See for yourself.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Is Iraq really another Vietnam?

Democrats and liberal interest groups critical of the war in Iraq have made Vietnam comparisons almost since the first bombs fell on Baghdad in 2003. But now, even skeptics in the president's own party -- people with far more credibility than any Neocon on the administration's war team -- are beginning to question the strategy of "stay the course." Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said Sunday that the situation in Iraq was beginning to look similar to Vietnam. "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have," he said.

Another guest on the same Sunday morning talk show, ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," said after the show that the Iraq situation is actually comparable to the Normandy invasion near the end of World War II. Sen. George Allen of Virginia, himself eyeing the Republican nomination, made the remarks while speaking to media outside the studio. Meanwhile, other Senators on other programs, and the White House spokespeople, tried to shore up support for the president and his policy in Iraq.

Sen. Allen takes the cake for worst analogy, though. To say that somehow this war is as necessary as the Normandy invasion, a battle where thousands died and led to the ultimate fall of the Nazis along the western front, is horribly off. The Neocons will try to compare their war to whatever is necessary, rubbing the lustre of a just war onto this war of convenience. It smacks of Lee Atwater.

The Republicans have another few months or so to figure out what the strategy is in Iraq before the mid-term Congressional elections and the start of the 2008 presidential campaign. There has to be a clear position to either support or contradict, and if they don't want to see their fellow Republicans break their 11th Commandment -- Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican -- they had better get it straightened out. Otherwise, it will be like what happened to the Democrats in 1968 -- complete and utter chaos and infighting that led to Richard Nixon in the White House. But even he would be better today than who we have now. The American people never trusted him, so the betrayal hurt a bit less.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Constitution Day is Sept. 16

The John S. and James L. KNight Foundation is making a full-court press for educators to teach about the First Amendment on Constitution Day, scheduled this year for Sept. 16.

The Web site, Teach the First Amendment, contains an interactive quiz, lessons and resources for teaching and promoting the First Amendment in schools. The splash page lists three reasons why this is important:
  • Three-fourths of high school students don't know how they feel about the First Amendment, or take it for granted.
  • Nearly half believe the government can censor the Internet
  • One-third think the First Amendment goes to ofar in the rights it guarantees.

We all must do what we can to promote the understanding and appreciation of our Constitution, especially its First Amendment. I am planning activities and lessons for my own classroom. Ideas?

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sen. Cantwell impresses; Dems show strong

Friday evening, I traveled to Leavenworth for a reception with U.S. Sen. maria cantwell and a fundraiser on behalf of the Chelan County Democrats. The weather could not have been more wonderful with the sun poring over the tree-covered mountainsides. The host farm decked out in American flags and Cantwell campaign signs and a crowd of about 75 made the package complete.

Sen. Cantwell spoke for about 20 minutes about some of the issues important to her and some ideas she had and some bills she is sponsoring. In just a few minutes of listening, I knew she was the real deal. I've been a strong supporter for a while now, but this convinced me that she is not only a good choice because we need to keep Democrats in the Senate but also because she is honest and a person of convistion. I also was impressed with how smart she is. She had some applause lines that clearly worked with the usual Democrat groups -- in union halls, at Jefferson-Jackson dinners, at EMILY's List fundraisers. But more than those, she had thoughtful articulate responses to questions. I learned a lot, and I saw that she had deep knowledge and understanding about agricultural, economic, energy and world issues.

Sen. Cantwell's visit comes at a time when the Democrat party in Chelan County is coming alive. I spoke with someone I know, and we remarked about the energy and organization that has occurred in the last year. Sen. Cantwell related an anecdote about a conversation she had at a stop on the coast where she saw the state party chair. He said that when she got to Chelan County, she would see something special was happening. It is.

Chelan County has no elected Democrats in any office. It usually votes strongly for Republicans in state and federal races. It was the site of the contest for the gubernatorial election because Republicans thought they could gain favor here. They didn't. And, voter data shows that Democrats are making ground in Chelan County, and that in a couple recent races the results were actually close. There is a growing group of people who are eager to buck the trend in this area, who want to help people in rural areas by electing Democrats who actually care about the social issues and needs of people in those communities.

We'll see how things go in the next year with mid-term elections, with our Congressman on the ropes for his "leadership" of the House Ethics Committee, with growing discontent about the war in Iraq and on terror, with the scandals about accountability and oversight. We'll see if voters can see the right choice is to return Sen. Cantwell to the Senate and to kick some of the Republican bums out.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Immigration, immigration, immigration

Two rising-star Democrats have declared states of emergency in their states regarding border security and illegal immigration. Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico have sounded the alarm for these concerns. Even California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, supports the declaration even though he stopped short of a similar declaration in his own state.

Democrats seem to be "triangulating" this issue -- focusing discontent among Democrats, moderates and even those upset in the president's own base. Richardson is a potential presidential candidate himself.

The Arizona Republic analyzes the situation in a report this week. Of course, this story got good play on CNN, particularly the Lou Dobbs Tonight show, where border issues and various outsourcing crises get regular treatment.

Personally, I think the Democrats are right to raise this issue. Republicans use this as a wedge issue -- scaring Americans into voting for so-called "get tough" conservatives who, once in office, do little to solve any of the problem abroad or domestically. The move by Napolitano and Richardson is a very Clintonian strategy. Napolitano is a good example of the new Southwest voter -- a conservative Democrat who can win by cobbling a coalition of Hispanics and traditional liberals.

In 2008, the Southwest will be increasingly important, and with an incrase in Democrats in office in the West and Southwest, I don't think the Republicans can lay claim to the entire Sun Belt any longer.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Time to dump the textbooks?

A school in Arizona has eliminated the use of textbooks in favor of issuing each student a laptop computer. Empire High School, a new school in Vail, Ariz., near Tuscson, has provided each of its 340 students an Apple iBook computer instead of bulky books.

School officials said that they expect the computers will help students engage more in learning. However, they found that certain skills they expected -- organizational skills anad basic software proficiency -- were lacking. Still, the switch means the school won't use money on texts, which are often heavy, generic or quickly obsolete.

Read more

So is it time to dump textbooks in favor of other learning materials? Textbook publishers have increasingly provided supplemental resources, such as CD-ROMs or Web site access, for audio and video as well as online activities for students. But maybe we should at least consider eliminating some textbooks.

They are too big and unable to be customized, so teachers don't use them. My school adopted a new literature anthology two years ago for a class I teach. It was bigger than before (almost 1,000 pages) yet some of the major pieces, namely Homer's Odyssey, had been hacked even more than before. So now we don't even use the anthology for the Odyssey; we use a separate unabridged book. That does not make much sense. If publishers allowed total customization -- sort of like Build-a-Bear -- the problem would be solved, but the books would be exceptionally expensive or would not be durable.

Some courses benefit from constantly updated materials. In the sciences and social studies, information changes more rapidly than can be included in texts. Here is where Internet resources and current information would be more useful. Our school uses Newsweek magazine and UpFront, a current events magazine for teens from The New York Times, as classroom texts in its contemporary world problems course.

We should teach students how to navigate information in the digital world. Of course we should not eliminate books. But if we can access better information and do so faster while teaching students skills that will be useful in their educational and work lives, I think that is a good move.

I look forward to seeing how schools manage these problems and if there is an increase in learning. In the meantime, I will continue to try to supplement the textx in my own classroom.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Remember customer service?

Here's the situation: I just finished a 30-minute phone call with my credit card company, Chase. I had found a card from another company that I had signed up for a few months ago as part of a promotion but that I had never activated. I called the other company to cancel because I wanted to improve my credit score by reducing my available credit. This other company, Citibank, fell head over heels to keep me, but I was determined to cut up my card.

Then I called Chase, a company I have been with for several years. Longevity helps your score, too. I thought I would be able to reduce my rate just a bit -- from about 11 percent. So it took about 10 minutes to get an "adviser" to speak with. I told her that it was ironic that the phone message kept repeating that my call was valuable yet I had been waiting for 10 minutes. I explained I would like a lower rate. She said that, in fact, a letter had just gone out indicating my rate was to increase to over 14 percent. That set me off into my most calm cranky mode. I asked for a supervisor and was told it would be about a seven-minute wait.

So I waited. I got the supervisor, who told me she was not authorized to change my rate but that she could transfer me to a rate specialist. I agreed, but not until I had let her know that I was upset at the poor customer service today. Seven minutes (and the previous 10) had given me plenty of time to enumerate my displeasure. I wondered if Chase even wanted me as a customer. She explained that the delay in calls today was because Chase had just merged with another company and the computer systems were complicating things. She said it should be worked out in a month or so, and I replied I may not be around that long.

The rate specialist answered after just two minutes and quickly offered a rate of just under 11 percent, less than what I am paying now, and significantly less than what I would have been paying when the increase kicked in.

So I may still call Citibank back and ask for the same rate the offered, even just for a balance transfer -- like one percent interest on those. But when I am receiving an average of one pre-approval or other credit card solicitation every day, I would think that a company to which I have been pretty dang loyal would want to keep me as a customer.

Add to all of this that I tried to connect my cellphone to my computer to download pictures, and the software is only for Windows-based computers, not my Mac. So now I have to subscribe to a $5-per-month servoce or at least pay 25 cents per picture sent. That is a pain in the neck. Seems like if I bought the phone and I have the equipment, I should be able to get the pictures without paying the phone company to send them.

It makes one notice when we get good service. There are a few places where the service is exceptional. Les Schwab Tire Centers, for example, always have great service, even when the guys are super busy and stressed. They always run out to the car to greet you and they always want to help.

We need more of that.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Best Judge

A Seattle newspaper has named as its best judge of the year the Chelan County Superior Court judge who oversaw the gubernatorial election dispute trial. The Seattle Weekly named John Bridges as "Best Judge":

Best Judge
Chelan County Superior Court Judge John E. Bridges did a fantastic job with Dino Rossi's legal challenge of the 2004 election victory of Gov. Christine Gregoire. Bridges, of course, rendered the correct decision June 6 in Wenatchee when he skewered Rossi's case by affirming the election. In so doing, Bridges slammed the door on more such legal challenges that are based on partisan rancor rather than sound evidence. He also used his bully pulpit to call for a cultural change at the troubled King County Elections Division. The most important thing that Bridges did, however, was use his courtroom to educate the public on the troubled gubernatorial election. He permitted TV cameras to cover the entire proceedings, so they were broadcast on cable TV statewide and on the Internet worldwide. He admitted all the evidence offered by both sides, building a complete public record of the election's problems. Finally, Bridges managed to maintain a sense of humor and grace under very trying circumstances.
-- George Howland Jr.
I think The Weekly is right on. Nice job.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Nonpartisan? I don't think so

The Boston Globe allowed an op-ed column to be printed without fully checking the background of the organization providing the opinion. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation published a reply to a new campaign where the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher's union, has encouraged parents to avoid shopping for back-to-school items at Wal-Mart because of the retailer's employment policies, which pay employees so poorly that they must access public health programs for which we all pay higher prices.

The Washington Education Association has also been advocating to its members that they avoid shopping at Wal-Mart for its employment practices.

But the issue here is that the Globe called EFF a "nonpartisan, public policy research organization based in Olympia". That is about the funniest line I've read in a while. The EFF is a grouyp whose activities have been to splinter the WEA's membership, to engage the union in litigation to force the union to spend its resources in defense, to criticize the overworked and underpaid public school teachers, and to advocate loudly for school reforms -- namely charter schools -- that Washington voters voted down three times. The last item was also heavily funded with out-of-state money from a certain family based in Bentonville, Ark., the Waltons, owners of Wal-Mart.

So now, EFF comes to defend its patron. They call it ironic that NEA is for choice here but not in educational reform. EFF, check yourself in a mirror. The NEA and WEA are contributing to a robust public policy debate, a debate that could lead to better situations for its members and therefore all our kids.

The Globe has issued a correction, which it should have. A reader of the Romanesko column from the Poynter Institute posted a great letter asking some of the questions that the Globe should have asked before printing this piece. Let us all pass the word that EFF is anything but "nonpartisan" and its "research" is questionable.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The time has come for online classes

The Internet is the center of a boom in education. Students around the nation, and about 10,000 here in Washington took one or more classes online last year. Now, it's time for my own school to enter this new era and offer online classes to its students.

The Seattle Times reports in its Aug. 14 edition that Internet schools are rapidly entering education's mainstream. That comes as no surprise to me, as I have taken online courses for my master's degree for over a year now.

Most Internet schools were begun as a way to offer highly motivated students a chance to take courses they might otherwise not have acces to, especially in smaller communities. That's a philosophy shared by a real-time counterpart: Running Start. They're also helpful for homeschool students and those students who are also competitive athletes. Today, though, the Internet classes are also a chance to take courses to get ahead and open up some room in a schedule or to take courses a student failed or missed.

The online academies are a model of success, and a replica should be formed in Wenatchee. We face a schedule crunch where students are forced from certain electives, we face a shortage of staff in some areas, we face students who need alternatives to traditional classroom education. The Internet is a solution. By creating our own online school, we control the curriculum and can closely match the online classes to our traditional classes.

Not all learning can be done online, and a student should not be able to earn a high school diploma solely with online classes. The socialization necessary for a developing youngster happens through live interaction with peers, and that cannot be replicated online.

There is a pilot program slated for this fall at Wenatchee High School. A teacher has been assigned two sections of U.S. History to be taught using an online classroom software. Whether it works depends on student interest. The half-hearted effort by the guidance office and school administration would seem to indicate that enrollment would be limited. I think we should start small, but we need to fill a class, too.

So the time has come for us to move in this direction. It's good for our students, our staff and our community. I am ready to sign up to teach at least one class, too. We'll see who's ready to learn.

-- Seattle

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sen. Cantwell to come to Leavenworth Aug. 19

From the Chelan County Democrats:

Reception for Sen. Maria Cantwell Aug. 19

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell is coming to Leavenworth on Friday, Aug. 19, to meet with Democrats and all interested residents from Chelan and Douglas counties. YOU are invited! Her visit will be a nice opportunity for local Democrats to get together, and to raise money to support the Democrats of Chelan County’s increasing outreach in this historically Republican area.

Senator Cantwell will arrive around 5 p.m. at Two Rivers Farm (directions below). She will speak informally for a while with local Democratic leaders and citizens, as everyone mingles and enjoys refreshments. The senator then will deliver a short presentation about her accomplishments and goals in the U.S. Senate. She also will answer questions. After partaking of refreshments, Sen. Cantwell and her staff will leave at about 6:30 p.m. to return to Western Washington.

The reception is sponsored by Make Every Vote Count and the Chelan County Democrats. In addition to the opportunity to meet and listen to our Democratic senator (who is seeking re-election in 2006), the Aug. 19 event will offer entertainment, hearty hors d’oeuvres and beverages. The “Vote Rockers” will provide background music that’s a unique blend of rock, bluegrass, country and folk music – and it’s almost guaranteed that an eagle or two will fly overhead during the festivities.

Two Rivers Farm is situated on the Wenatchee River, just across from the Leavenworth Golf Course. From Icicle Road turn left on Wilson Street and go to the end of the road (less than a quarter mile). The 26-acre organic farm is owned by Nick Stemm and Nancy Denson, who provide organic produce to the restaurant trade and contribute to the local community supported agriculture (CSI) movement.

Tickets to the Sen. Maria Cantwell reception are $25. Proceeds will go to communication and maintaining the Democratic headquarters in Wenatchee. You may purchase tickets in advance by mailing a check to Democrats of Chelan County, P.O. Box 1061, Wenatchee WA 98807; by stopping by the Democratic headquarters at First and Mission streets in Wenatchee; or by paying at the door. For more information about the event, contact chairwoman Pat Notter at 663-7659.

We'll see you at this reception, an important kickoff to the re-election of an important Senator fighting for the rights and interests of all Washingtonians.

-- Seattle

Friday, August 12, 2005

Do people really want their news in bits?

I follow the media. Not just the news itself, but I follow the news about the media that report the news. As a media adviser and journalism teacher, I sort of feel like I should be up on the many issues that are currently hot in the media now. These include readership, credibility and ownership.

Readership is a big issue in newspapers because, well, there are fewer readers than there used to be, which means newspapers are working just as hard to put out a product that fewer people are buying. In fact, many people just expect it to be available for free on the Web. Readership studies also involve what kind of news should be in the paper and in what form the news should be presented. These are the things brought to focus groups. Then designers do their thing and editors wring their hands and publishers decide and, hopefully, more people buy and read the paper. I know because I follow such things and because I led a focus group a couple years ago.

But do readers really give a rip? I mean, I say in my classes that if a story is good people will read it. Of course, you have to get them into the story in the first place. There has been a trend to include more "soft" news in papers -- stories about family, religion, food, gardening and such. Features that tell the background and human interest will grab the readers' attention, they say. Little pieces of news are easier for people on the go.

So it was finally a sane voice I read the other day. Hank Stuever, a writer for the Style section of The Washington Post, wrote a pretty potent critique of The Post in an internal critique of the paper that rotates among staff members daily. In his memo, he criticizes all the efforts to change the paper into something that is so personalized that major news gets overlooked and readers are so patronized. Frankly, his voice calling "BS" on the redesigns that smash news into bits is so refreshing that it should serve as a clarion call to others who are myopically looking just at change based on a focus group.

For generations we have relied on the gut instincts and smart judgment of editors and reporters to help us as readers understand this world. If the editors at The Post say something is important, it must be important. So it is troubling when even The Post considers making smaller "neighborhood news" into a big deal when it is not.

Watching a special on ABC Wednesday night honoring Peter Jennings, I realized he did a lot to keep the knucklehead news off the air at World News Tonight, and that he had especially hated the O.J. Simpson trial. There is a place for such news for those who want it, and now that we have the Internet and many cable channels, niche news can find a home. We should leave the big news where it has always been.

At the same time, CNN has completely redesigned its late afternoon/evening schedule (airs from noon to 3 p.m. here) with the Situation Room. They say it is raw and unedited. I just think it is lazy. I want the news channel to filter the garbage from an interview or press conference and give me the real news. I don;t want someone to instantly analyze it or to tell me why this is a major news event. Just tell me what I need to know. I'll assume if they bring it to me it must be important.

And a side note to the news channels: Drop the "crawl." Only the rare news story dominates the news so that other news items should be relegated to the ticker at the screen bottom. I can wait for a few minutes to know the latest update from sports and entertainment.

OK, riff over. Let's see what happens now in the news. We have to demand more from our media outlets. When we do, we get it.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Political digest 2

Some political bits and pieces of interest:

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich called it a wake-up call. Last week, a Democrat candidate for a special election for a Congressional seat nearly upset the Republican incumbent in what everyone considered a safe seat for the R's. The Democrat, Paul Hackett, a war critic and Iraq war veteran, had gained a lot of support from liberal bloggers and the national Demos took notice. Gingrich says this could be a wake-up for Republicans that all is not safe in the House, where elections are 15 months away. Voter dissatisfaction with decisions from Washington -- and a government controlled primarily by Democrats at the time -- led to the Republican sweep in 1994 and made Gingrich Speaker.

A spokesperson for former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani said this week that he would not run for New York governor in 2006. Duh. Does anyone doubt he is running for president?

John Roberts, the president's nominee to the Supreme Court, amended his statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, disclosing that he had worked as a cosmetics-industry lobbyist. Turns out he did some legal work and not actual lobbying. Still, it's these type loose threads that sometimes seem to get clipped off and sometimes get pulled and lead to an unraveling of the entire sweater.

More Roberts revelations: The Los Angeles Times reported that Roberts worked pro bono and behind the scenes in the mid-'90s to advise gay rights activists on legal strategists. Apparently Roberts' legal strategy helped the activists work for a landmark Supreme Court decision that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ultraconservatives might get worked up over these issues, and it sets up even more fireworks for the hearings. On the right, Sen. Sam Brownback, eying the nomination in 2008 and a favorite of conservatives, might be able to score some points by saying Roberts is not conservative enough. Yet, who is more conservative who can also get confirmed? Roberts is headed for the court, but now it appears he may not be as much of a right-wing evangelical as some first thought. It seems that he is more interested in neutral application of the law in some situations.

Bob Novak, a Washington columnist and CNN contributor, got ticked off at James Carville on the set of "Inside Politics," swore and left the set. Not his best day. Maybe he is just too stressed about the situation with the Valerie Plame investigation and the special prosecutor's investigation.

Florida Congresswoman Katherine Harris, the state's former secretary of state who presided over the "election" there of George W. Bush in 2000, is determined to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006. The Bushies don't want that, fearing she is too polarizing and her role in 2000 would hurt the chances of taking that seat from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat. The speaker of the state house said this week he would not run against Harris. She darn well could be the candidate and could win. This one is among the few top Senate races to watch next year, and Florida's politics continue to have a huge influence nationwide -- in fundraising and in presidential contests.

-- Ellensburg, Wash.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Are we ready for Clinton II?

The name on everyone's list for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president is Hillary Clinton. It's a combination of Republicans who want someone they think is a demon and will bring in fundraising checks like crazy. She would. The Democrats toss her name around because they are wistful about the glory days of 1993-2001 when they ruled at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Let's get one thing clear: Though she may have been branded a left-wing liberal by the media, her politics and voting record show that Hillary Clinton is a confirmed moderate of the most mainstream type. The lazy news media, talk radio hosts and conservative activists play a few clips and gloss over the sophisticated and complicated issued she has been involved with and shove her into a preconceived slot labeled with a big "L." They did the same to Howard Dean, whose anti-war stance was his most liberal position despite earning a favorable review from the National Rifle Association.

In 2000 and 2004, Democrats nominated men who tried to have it both ways -- liberal and moderate, and in so doing they confused and turned off voters. So, in 2008, will the Democrats look to a centrist standard-bearer such as Evan Bayh or Tim Vilsack, or will they re-nominate true liberal John Kerry? Or, perhaps they'll turn again to the chameleonic Clintons for a return to glory.

To see how, read the kickass piece in Slate magazine today about how Hillary Clinton could win, why she should and why she won't. It is a fascinating read, full of logical argument. Of course, the American voting public is anything but logical. The truth is one of two things will happen: Hillary will be so polarizing that she will all but assure the election of whatever Republican can lay claim to the mantle of George W. Bush. Or, she will masterfully grab the moderate swing voters while convincing the liberal left she really is one of them.

Meanwhile, Sen. Clinton of New York had a hallway exchange with Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania about the title of his new book, "It Takes a Family," a clear rebuttal to Sen. Clinton's book "It Takes a Village."

It's all pure speculation since Sen. Clinton has to get re-elected to the Senate first (she will) and then a bunch of other Democrats have to line up to get picked off. Heck, that is what the intervening years are fun for!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.