Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What Would Jesus Charge?

From The Washington Post:

FEMA Plans to Reimburse Faith Groups for Aid

As Civil Libertarians Object, Religious Organizations Weigh Whether to Apply

By Alan Cooperman and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005; Page A01

After weeks of prodding by Republican lawmakers and the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations that have opened their doors to provide shelter, food and supplies to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Ummmm... yeah. The federal government should not be reimbursing charities for doing the charitable work that charities do when people need it. Charity means the food, shelter, assistance and so on is given without the expectation of compensation. The Salvation Army announced that it would not immediately accept the reimbursements from the government, but a spokesperson said on "NewsNight" tonight that it would be open to working as a subcontractor.

My main concern is that the payments represent a violation of the separation of church and state. The government should not be subsidizing churches. Their job is to be available to assist in the community during times of need, not to get a government contract. Especially when one considers the size and look of some of today's "mega-churches" that seem quite a bit removed from the concept of charity.

Maybe it's time for some churches to get down in the gutters and work with the poor. Would Jesus have sought a government kickback? I doubt it. Churches should be helping, just as many other secular organizations should also be partners in the relief efforts. But they should not expect to get paid by the government to do so.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Indictments aplenty

Today marks the return to a tradition that paused in the mid-1990s, and that is indicting members of Congress. But after a long absence, people who might have been wondering if being in Congress meant a free ride to do anything get some satisfaction. Today Tom DeLay, the leader of the majority Republicans in the House, was indicted for criminal conspiracy. He could face up to two years in prison.

This means, of course, that DeLay will have to temporarily step aside as the Majority Leader, one of the House rules that was almost changed a few months ago but then allowed to stand because the Republicans looked like hypocrites. The Republicans, the Congressional "management" since the election of 1994, now know how it feels -- remember the House banking scandal? Remember the House post office scandal? Remember all those Democrats in the majority who were targeted by bomb-throwing conservatives? Now, Republicans show they can't handle the power, either. This is the latest in a string of examples of how Republicans sustain a culture of corruption, shown well in the investigation of Sen. Bill Frist over the sale of hospital company stock allegedly with insider information.

Reportedly, the duties of majority leader will be assumed, at least temporarily, by Rep. David Drier of California, himself a former candidate for leader and speaker. Other duties will be assumed by the majority whip, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

In the meantime, it's an opening for Democrats -- a chance to show that Democrats have learned from the mistakes of past leaders from the days the Dems ruled the halls of Congress. It's an opening to draw a distinction -- a chance to say we know how to run a country and it is better than these guys, a chance to show Democrats will represent all Americans, not just the ones who write big checks for campaigns. It's a chance to put this country back on the right track again.

And they have just 15 months until the 2006 election.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's no 'West Wing'

Tonight I watched the premiere of "Commander in Chief," the ABC television show about Geena davis becoming the first female president. Her character, Mackenzie Allen, ascends to the presidency upon the death of the president from a brain aneurism and stroke. The plot is complicated by the fact that Allen is an independent picked to balance the ticket of a power-hungry conservative Republican. The president, on his death bed, asks Allen to resign so that the super-conservative Speaker of the House, played convincingly by Donald Sutherland, can continue the agenda of the late president. But Sutherland's Speaker says the wrong things to the acting president, and she refuses to resign.

That's the basic plot of the pilot episode. Of course there were a few side issues, too, but the purpose was basically introducing characters and establishing the long-term conflicts.

It's a solid enough idea, and Davis and Sutherland are sure quality actors. My problem is with the details. My main gripe is that if the show does not work hard on details, the show is not believeable. If the details are unbelievable, how is the viewer supposed to accept the premise of something that has never happened before, namely that a woman became president.

I hate to compare this show to "The West Wing," but such a comparison is inevitable. "The West Wing" is head and shoulders above "Commander in Chief," though.

Here are some of the details I found annoying:
  • President Allen addresses a joint session of Congress. The room appears mainly white. The chamber of the House of Representatives, where this speech would take place, is not white. It's red and blue and wooden. She also makes her way down the center aisle (at least the sergeant-at-arms announced her "Mr. Speaker..."), but almost no one gathered in the chamber reached over to shake her hand as always happens when the president comes. I imagine that the first female president would be absolutely mobbed by Congressional hangers-on who want a glimpse on TV shaking hands with the president. Also, in this Congressional speech, the Speaker sits behind and to the left of the president. The Senate president (in this case, the President Pro Tempore since there was no vice president in office) sits behind and to the right of the president. Sutherland was here; he's the Speaker.
  • In earlier scenes, Davis is shown arriving at the White House and coming out of her limousine in open air. I imagine that simply would not happen, especially with heightened security. The president would exit the limo under the portico of the White House. And still, the press would hardly be watching quietly from behind a rope line; they'd be shouting questions like crazy.
  • She is also shown without much of a security detail during the episode.
  • One of the most unbelievable instances came at the beginning of the show, when the hospitalized president's chief of staff and the U.S. Attorney General travel to France to meet then-Vice President Allen and inform her about the president's aneurism and stroke. I would hope that in a time when the 25th Amendment to the Constitution should clearly dictate that the president is incapacitated and the vice president should assume the role of acting president, that two government officials would not make a long plane trip before telling the vice president about it!

These are a few of the details that jumped out at me. I have come to rely on "The West Wing" as a fictional account of insider Washington; I know it's fake. But it is successful and compelling because the story and characters are fictional in a mostly plausible world where actual incidents and traditions and protocols are respected. In one of the worst ironies, the new "FLOTUS" -- President Allen'd husband -- meets with the First Lady's staff member who runs the protocol office! The three separate slams on Hillary Clinton are also unnecessary. Sure Hillary Clinton ruffled a few feathers, and perhaps one joke about her office in the White House's West Wing would have been tolerable. But the show also displays a huge portrait of Nancy Reagan -- yet there's no mention of her wacky astrology and penchant for fancy clothes, let alone her nasty temper.

All in all, I think I'll come back next Tuesday for another episode of "Commander in Chief." After all, no presidential administration should be judged by its first 100 days, and no show about the presidency should be judged just on its pilot.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Kickball: The Apple Leaf 6, Wa Wa 3

The second-annual Student Publications Kickball Game ended with The Apple Leaf successfully defending its title. The newspaper staff defeated the Wa Wa yearbook staff 6-3 in roughly 75 minutes of play.

The newspaper students went to an early lead, scoring in the second inning and again an inning later. The Wa Wa staff tied it up soon after, and each team scored an additional point a few minutes later. The score remained tied 3-3 for several rapid innings. The Apple Leaf kids sparked a late rally to win it all at the end. Wa Wa, up last, could not come back to make up the defecit.

Several staff members complained throughout the game about the officiating -- by this writer. After the game, though, several yearbook staff members admitted that the bad calls were applied equally.

Perma-pitchers Jeff (AL) and Eli (WW) each had their highlight moments. Eli pitched two innings where he retired all kickers in rapid succession, including one where he caught two line drives in a row. Jeff snagged one of his own, despite a knee injury that did not allow him to run at all. He said he just trotted, inviting me to see him run Friday night at the football game.

At one change of innings, Jeff -- who is well over 6 feet and on the plus side of 200 pounds -- engaged Eli in a wrestling match. Eli is about 5'2" and weighs less than a buck. His tight grip shook Jeff, but the big guy pulled a throw that flung Eli to the ground flailing. I might add that Jeff is also the defending district champ at the shot put.

The umpire (that's me) even caught a foul ball, just for fun, which bounced off of open palms, hit the top of his head and then bounced back into his hands. It was later replicated by laughing students. It was indeed counted as an out. Sorry.

Most of the players had great kicks or catches, and some even tried to pull out their baseball knowledge and strategy. It did not work, as the game is all about having fun and being funny. I laughed hard at the slips on the moist grass and the cannon arms that resulted in a stinging blow to the rump from the blue playground ball.

Phil (AL) kept running to the base even after his kick had been caught because he just wanted to slide.
That proved handy for Adam (AL) as he made a sweet play at first. Micah (WW) developed a nice set-catch method for his work in left field, ending the hopes of many a long kicker.

For some, though, the game was about bragging rights. The Apple Leaf staff was cheered on by its non-pllaying staff members, who had prepared signs, including "You'll need a PACEMAKER after we get through with you!" in reference to the newspaper staff's national award, called a Pacemaker. taunts and mild threats had permeated the newsroom for days.

The newspaper has ruled the field for two years, but the results may be different after the winter social game. It's a no-holds-barred game of Dodgeball. Look out, newspaper kids, because the yearbook staff has you in its sights.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Satire and making fun of Geraldo

My friend Superfrankenstein and his pal, Hart Seely, have collaborated on a new satire, which appears at the National Lampoon Web site. This time, the dynamic duo have set the crosshairs on a perennial target: Geraldo Rivera.

The best part is that they lampoon Mr. Rivera without directly attacking him. He just looks dumb. Seriously, this stuff is funny. Check it out.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Support a free press NOW

For over 30 years, there has been one resource available free to scholastic and collegiate journalists as they sought advice and advocacy for their free press rights. The Student Press Law Center has faced a huge increase in calls and hits to its Web site in recent years, and it has seen operating costs grow as well. Now, there is a chance to raise funds for a permanent endowment, funds to be particlly matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in support of the SPLC's mission in a campaign called Tomorrow's Voices.

The foundation has made a huge commitment in the last five years to shore up the infrastructure of scholastic journalism, including millions dedicated to teacher training and a Web site for students, counselors and teachers as well as newspaper editors. Now, the Knight Foundation has turned to the SPLC as a crucial component of a successful student media program.

A letter from the SPLC executive director, Mark Goodman, makes the case:
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has pledged a $1.25 million endowment gift to the SPLC if we can raise $2.5 million on our own. That fund will exist solely to generate resources to help the SPLC continue to provide free legal assistance to high school and college journalists and the advisers who work with them. We have a Sept. 30 deadline for reaching the $1.5 million mark. Remarkably, we're only about $50,000 away from that goal. If we receive your gift or pledge before Sept. 30, we can submit it for matching funds from the Knight Foundation this year. Contributions of any size will make a difference to the success of our campaign and to the student journalists who we serve. For details about how to give (you can make a secure online donation or send us a check or pledge form), go to the Web site.

My good friend Bob Greenman of Brooklyn, N.Y., implored our colleagues to send a donation:
The SPLC is the only organization devoted to protecting the First Amendment rights of students, advisers and student publications. It is virtually a hallowed institution in this world of scholastic journalism, and almost every publications staff at one time or another will seek its advice and support, by email, phone or in person. Its publications benefit all of us.
Now, I urge everyone who values a free scholastic press to make a donation. Even a few dollars would help. Remember that every two dollars means another dollar from the Knight Foundation. At our summer journalism workshops, the 280 advisers and students raised over $800 for the SPLC, much of which will be matched by the Knight Foundation.

Go online and make a donation today. Or, send a check to the SPLC. Or, if you see me at school, give your donation to me, and I will send the funds along to the SPLC. In addition to my own annual contribution, I plan a special donation for the Tomorrow's Voices campaign.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

'Would you believe...'

Don Adams, the actor who played Agent 86 on TV's "Get Smart," has died at age 82.

I recall many afternoons spent watching various reruns, including "Get Smart," where I would later often mimic the characters or create new situations to play act. And what kid of a certain time period didn't hold his shoe up to his ear -- just as Maxwell Smart did with his shoe phone -- and say in a nasally voice, "Would you believe...?"

Thank goodness for his companion, the lovely Agent 99, who would bail him out and save the day.

There's a bit of Maxwell Smart in all of us -- an Everyman who was far more approachable than the dream of James Bond. A bit of that is absent from today's television with its emphasis on forensics investigations shows and so-called reality shows.

So we mourn the loss of Maxwell Smart, and the person who breathed life into that character, Don Adams. We didn't realize what we had. Sorry about that, Chief.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

SCOTUS Watch '05: Junior edition

Just in time to pick a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra day O'Connor (a second time), Slate has a list of possible choices for the President. He threaded the needle deftly this time out, but he likely won't have two grand slams in a row.

The conservatives think John Roberts turned out to be less than truly perfect; the Democrats think he was not moderate enough. Nonetheless, he'll be confirmed next week. The senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced he will vote to confirm Roberts as chief justice, while Sens. Harry Reid, the minority leader; John Kerry and Edward Kennedy all have said they will not vote for Roberts.

So how does Bush succeed again? Some possible choices:
Pick a woman. Even Laura Bush thinks that a woman should be replaced with a woman. She probably just thinks that Ruth Bader Ginsburg should not be the lone female voice on the court. Looks good for Edith Clement or Edith Jones. Bad idea if Bush picks Priscilla Owen or Janice Rogers Brown.

Pick a Hispanic. Benefits: Bush gets to have a "first" for history's sake and he gets some points with a constituency of increasing influence. Drawbacks: The people on that short list all raise an eyebrow with either the extreme right (Alberto Gonzales) or extreme left (Emilio Garza).

Pick a politician, preferably a Bushie. Look at the Justice Department (Larry Thompson) or at state attorneys general or even private attorneys.

I imagine we'll have a nominee next week, so O'Connor won't have to stick around for more than a month or so. But Bush's successful nominee will stick around for a couple decades.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Another Open House

Tonight was Open House. I love meeting parents and talking about the classes, so Open House is actually an activity I enjoy. This year we moved from seven-minute class sessions to 10-minute sessions, and I noticed the change because my usual speech lasted just seven minutes.

Before the Open House began, the four of us who teach the sections of Freshman Honors English held a meeting for parents in that class. The purpose was to inform parents of the sequence of classes in honors, the curriculum we teach and how to help their children to have balance and manage time. I spoke about the literature we teach and the amount of reading we have. During the part about the writing we do, one parent spoke up and questioned why we prohibit the use of the verb “to be.” My colleague explained very well, but this parent would not let the issue go. I thought she was inappropriate to do so in the large group. Her husband brought the issue up again during my class session because their son is in my class. I explained that it was just one activity we use to force students to write in different ways, such as using third person or present tense. I found out later that the mom had brought the issue up before with my colleague, so it’s been a back-and-forth discussion for a while.

Overall, my classes went well, and I had a pretty good turnout — parents of honors students and parents of journalism students — usually show up. I believe that Open House should be something we discuss as a staff because perhaps we can find a way to spend our time that is better for parents and students and staff. For example, we could add more time to our conference schedule. That might lead to some increase in learning and achievement.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Shame on the University of Califormia

California is a place where civil liberties have generally been strongly supported. In particular, Califonia students have long enjoyed freedoms greater than those in many other states. Students control their scholastic publications and broadcasts. Perhaps just one indicator of the success of journalism in California is today's announcement by the National Scholastic Press Association of finalists for its prestigious Pacemaker Award. Of the 51 finalists, 11 are from California; one of those is a middle school.

So, it is especially troubling to hear of a slow effort to pinch off the lively and robust -- and successful -- journalism programs in the Golden State. And, it has little to do with school financing, Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan for teacher tenure revisions or the so-called No Child Left Behind Act. It has everything to do with a pompous and self-righteous university system being unwilling to recognize that learning comes in varied forms -- sometimes even without books.

A colleague in journalism education -- a fellow adviser -- has resorted to sounding an alarm and taking his dissatisfaction public through the Shame on UC Weblog. The writer posts:
We’re not content to watch as our shrinking population of journalism classes shrinks even further. To stand by as the number of working advisers shrinks, too, until there’s no one left to fight for what many of us believe is the best thing going in many schools.

And so we lie. We submit course descriptions that play up the presence of literature and essays in our curricula and downplay the reality, which is that the all-consuming, richly rewarding task of producing a student news publication leaves little time for anything else. (Follow the logic here to its conclusion: Take away the publication and add literature and essays and what do you get? An English class, not an elective, and certainly not a free and functioning student press.)

A solution must be found. Everyone knows the UC system is the tail that wags the dog of eduction in this nation. Witness the revised SAT if you doubt UC's influence. Therefore, what is good for California is good for us all. Read the blog. Post a suggestion. Fight the good fight.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Could William Shatner be any more campy?

As I type this, William Shatner has just finished reprising his speech at the beginning of the "Star Trek" theme song. At the Emmy Awards, CBS apparently showcased four theme songs of classic shows. Each theme had celebrity singers and a Web site tie-in for voting.The audience guffawed throughout Shatner's utterance of the famous words -- "Space, the final frontier..." -- knowing full well that Shatner now is a parody of himself. He simply cannot be taken seriously. The horrible pun-filled intro did not help.

I missed the early performance of the "Green Acres" theme by Donald Trump and Megan Mullaly. That would have been a treat. Also performed was "Fame" and "The Jeffersons."

William Shatner = campy. Sadly, no mention of James Doohan, who died just a few months ago.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Two weeks of small pleasures

The first two weeks of this school year have been especially full with activities and tasks. I recall a few years ago coming home during these two weeks and sitting around, enjoying the final days of the Indian Summer without much to do yet for school. But this year has been different because I have been occupied with the production of the Panther Sports souvenir program and with my online classes for my master's degree. Those activities have sucked up nearly all my so-called free time these past two weeks, and it has been difficult to find time -- much less energy -- to do anything else.

Nonetheless, I have had a couple gem moments in the past couple weeks:
Friday night I went to Yakima for a football game, and I had a chance to make two stops that were wonderful experiences. First, I my driving companion, DrPezz, agreed to allow me to stop in Ellensburg on the way so that I could get a haircut at my favorite barber, The Clipper. It's the best cut around, and he always vacuums the loose clipped hair off the top of my head at the end of the cut. Even today, the clipper cut is just $10, and appointments are required.

One treat of going to Yakima for a sports contest as part of the "staff" (DrPezz takes stats, and I helped tabulate) is the chance to eat at the one and only Miner's Drive-In. The drive-in offers space in the kitchen to coaches and bus drivers and, thankfully, to other "staff" who want to gorge on as much food as can be stuffed in one's mouth. Everything is free, of course, but even better is the service that is unparallelled in the restaurant industry. A worker is assigned to each table in the busy kitchen. As the other employees scurry around to prepare the varied menu items, they demonstrate efficiency and courtesy. "Please" and "Thank you" are as common as shout-outs for french fries, milk shakes and Big Miner burgers. It's the Nordstrom of burger joints. On most occasions, the owner stops by to greet the customers and make everyone feel welcome. She always dresses to the nines, all polished up for her Friday night guests. She's a piece of work. She delighted the Wenatchee coaches with her signature phrase: "If you leave here hungry, it's your own damn fault!"

I've been having a great time in my classes so far this year. I think that I say that every year around this time, before their lustre has worn off, before the truly hard part of the semester has hit both me and them, before I have to be a hard-nosed and finger-wagging disciplinarian and before they start asking if I can provide any extra credit. But I like everyone so far. And we've had some fun -- they usually laugh at my jokes and I at their antics. I've already identified some kids with whom I can joke and who will be the targets of my practical jokes and playful banter.

We've redesigned the newspaper, and it will debut Wednesday with the first issue on Volume 89. It's amazing what a few changes in typefaces and design can do to buoy my spirits; I am so energized for this newspaper. I can hardly wait. It also helps that the content involves guns, race, air quality and a kid who survived a hurricane. Dang, it's good.

Finally, I faced my first incident with a memo from the office formatted in Comic Sans. I deleted it promptly. I knew it must not be important.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"One nation, (redacted), indivisible..."

A federal district court judgein California has determined that it is unconstitutional for a school to require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as written with the words "under God." The case had been brought by the same California atheist who won a similar ruling in 2002 but whose appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, after winning in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, was thrown out because the man did not have custody of the daughter on whose behalf he brought the suit. The judge said he was bound by the Ninth Circuit decision and cited it in his ruling.

More from the Los Angeles Times

Once again the courts have found that the government cannot lead a recitation each day that contains an endorsement of a religion, which violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

What a perfect ruling for Constitution Day this week.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

A second chance for Bush

With his address to the nation tonight from New Orleans, President Bush is trying to resucitate his fading second term, even as he acknwledges how incapable he has become.

Slate has excellent analysis about his speech and that Bush used it as a Second Second Inaugral.
Second terms usually start on the steps of the Capitol. George Bush hopes that his starts in Jackson Square. Before the storm, his second four years had been defined by impotency. The war he started in Iraq became even bloodier and looked more hopeless. Cindy Sheehan appeared to be working harder than he was. Gas prices jumped and he admitted there was little he could do to help. He had to install John Bolton in the United Nations after the senators who wouldn't confirm him had gone home for the summer. His plan for revamping Social Security fell flat in the turf almost right out of the gate.
Bush proposed Gulf Opportunity Zones, and he said the federal government would pay for almost all of the rebuilding and cleanup costs for Hurricane Katrina. Of course, much of the federal money will go to corporations run by Bush crony donors, without paying prevailing wages and without bids. If Iraq is the albatross around Bush's neck, the effects of Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be Bush's cement shoes.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, September 12, 2005

In Seattle, stripping=speech

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Court rules Seattle can't ban new strip clubs


Seattle no longer can ban new strip clubs, a U.S. District Court ruled today.

The decision means an end to the city's 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs. The city won't appeal.

In anticipation of the ruling, city officials are pressing for a ban on lap dancing with the expectation that increased distance between customers and dancers makes Seattle unattractive as a location for existing and prospective strip club owners.

The lap dancing ban is expected to heard in a City Council committee meeting next week.

Seattle has five strip club licensees and four open strip clubs.

So rejoice strip fans, and civil libertarians. In Western Washington, stripping equals speech. But if the Seattle City Council has its way, the point will be moot because no one will be able to get close enough to see the stripping/speech. Despite the potential for ridicule by late-night talk show hosts and right-wing columnists and shout shows, this is a good day for the Constitution and First Amendment.

Yes, the Constitution even protects strippers. Let's celebrate that this week as we recognize Constitution Day.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Michael Brown gets put out to pasture

Michael Brown, the embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has resigned. His resignation likely was asked for as the first of what will probably be several Bush Administration officials sent to the wood shed as punishment and scapegoat.

Brown's replacement, R. David Paulison, is a 30-year veteran of emergency management in Florida's Miami-Dade County area who will serve as acting director.

The disaster relief efforts in New Orleans have been coordinated for a few days by the Coast Guard's chief of staff, Vice Admiral Thad Allen, a noted leader in managing crises.

Today's moves mark the first correct steps toward getting the rebuilding underway in an efficient and practical way. If the Bushies are to look decisive, if the administration is to convince people that it can protect the homeland, then more reorganization is necessary. President Bush has visited New Orleans three times since the hurricane, and there weren't even any fundraisers or campaign rallies -- the usual reason he makes a repeat visit to a small Southern state. In his fifth year of being president, he is again acting presidential. Meanwhile, the presiden't approval ratings have dropped to an all-time low, especially among blacks. Bush must be glad he does not face re-election this year.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Hurricane can't stop the learning

Learning continues in colleges and schools along the Gulf Coast despite the impact of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, the stories of how the school systems are coping with the aftermath are amazing. Catholic dioceses have worked hard to regroup and to support parents of students whose schools have been destroyed or are unavailable for learning. Public schools in neighboring states, notably in Texas and Georgia but also around the nation, have welcomed students and worked to accommodate the influx of new kids in already-crowded classrooms and with skimpy budgets.

CNN reports that as many as 372,000 students have been displaced. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is the Bush Administration official charged with crafting a plan to get students in class and back to learning.

I wonder if those schools will be held accountable for state tests on students who barely arrived in their states in time to be tested. Spellings is expected to ask for authority to waive certain provisions of the so-called "No Child Left Behind" Act about student testing and teacher requirements because of the unusual and extenuating circumstances at the start of the 2005-06 school year.

But the colleges and universities, both public and private, are emerging as the heroes in this situation. Here's a transcript from the Sept. 12 edition of CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown:
BROWN: ... Tens of thousands of college students found their school year washed away by the floods of Katrina. They scattered around the country, in some cases transferring to schools where their classrooms aren't under water. But hundreds of students from New Orleans found open doors and a surprisingly warm welcome just a few miles up river, in Baton Rouge.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They're welcoming some unfamiliar faces at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Some 750 of them so far. Thousands of students displaced from colleges in New Orleans have been fanning out across country, looking for places to spend the fall semester. And maybe longer.

MEGAN PERRY, DISPLACED STUDENT: I thought it was going to be like last time, just a quick vacation, to be quite honest.

FREED: Megan Perry was supposed to attend Dillard University this fall, but Dillard is under water.

PERRY: It's very disappointing and frustrating, because I had everything already planned. I had all my stuff. I bought all my books.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still have water in my house.

FREED: The influx of new faces had the student government worried about how everybody would fit in. How would you characterize their mood? I mean, are they -- is there anger, is there frustration? Are they feeling lost, stumbling around?

JUSTIN MCCORKLE, STUDENT GOVERNMENT PRESIDENT: Shockingly, they're surprisingly comfortable, surprisingly comfortable. they're surprisingly comfortable. Actually, just blending in. Like if you just looked around the campus, you would never know who were the transfer students.

FREED (on camera): Have you slept much in the last two weeks?

DR. EDWARD JACKSON, SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY CHANCELLOR: I have -- it's gotten a little better as we've gone on, but it's been tough.

FREED (voice over): Southern's chancellor says one thing hurricane transfer student won't have to worry about here is tuition, at least not for now.

JACKSON: If a student has paid tuition at a university in New Orleans, they will not have to pay tuition again.

FREED: The chancellor explains the school will take students at their word if they say they've paid up at another college. And he says the schools will just have to figure it out later. Jonathan Freed, CNN, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The chancellor of Southern University demonstrates the spirit of the academy -- that learning must continue -- and the spirit of goodwill. He trusts the students who say they have paid tuition, and he welcomes them to his campus. Surely some will abuse his goodwill, but far more will benefit.

Through this tragedy, and in the two weeks since, stories of hope and goodwill and perseverance continue to emerge. It is the American spirit, alive and well.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Roberts hearings begin

As the U.S. Senate opened hearings for the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court today, the Democrats, who promised more grilling than a Labor Day picnic, seem to have started with a whimper. Perhaps they will gain momentum as the hearings continue; perhaps they will save their bombs for the hearings for the replacement of Sandra Day O'Connor, which will come later.

As Battlefield Shrinks, Democrats Mute Their Attacks

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005; Page A07

The first day of confirmation hearings for Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to become the 17th chief justice of the United States proved to be a tepid opening to what once was billed as a battle of monumental proportions between left and right.

There may yet be some of the fireworks that were predicted when the first of two Supreme Court vacancies opened up two months ago -- particularly this morning, when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee begin to question Roberts. But with Roberts's confirmation seemingly assured, some of the fight appears to have gone out of the Democrats and they have been forced to shift their strategy.

Some conventional wisdom says that since Roberts' nomination is now for William Rehnquist's seat -- a conservative being replaced by a conservative -- it would seem fruitless for a Democratic minority to try to oppose the nomination without some substantial evidence of a compelling reason why Roberts should not be seated on the court.

Replacing O'Connor, on the other hand, means a shift. While she was generally conservative, O'Connor also could be counted on to move toward the center or to cobble together a majority of justices for varied reasons. Democrats likely will fight harder to ensure that O'Connor is replaced with someone who is not more conservative than she was. Meanwhile, O'Connor remains on the court until her successor is confirmed. That creates the situation where she will participate in selecting cases and hearing oral arguments but will probably vote or not write opinions because of the passage of time between arguments and decisions.

Senate Judiciary Committee has a full calendar ahead of it. Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is no Bush loyalist, and he has spoken harshly about the Supreme Court's move in recent years to undermine the will of Congress. In his recent book, he asked who the hell they thought they were. Roberts will get no free pass from Specter and the Senators.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

What is the legacy of 9/11?

Four years ago, I started my day as everyone else did. It was just a regular Tuesday, a day early in the school year when I was fresh and ready and optimistic as I readied for teaching. It would be the last Tuesday for a long time that seemed "regular."

That morning, at just a couple minutes after 7 a.m., I turned on the TV to watch a few minutes of the "Today" show while I made my lunch. I heard Tom Brokaw's voice. I knew something was up. I went to watch and see what was happening, and I saw one of the Twin Towers fall live on NBC. My eyes were literally riveted to the images, and I struggled to understand what was happening. I forced myself to finish my routine and get to school. I knew it was going to be a remarkable day for the news media.

As I came to understand the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the resulting chain of events that occurred -- in New York City, in Washington, D.C., in Afghanistan and around the world -- I knew that "regular" had a new meaning. Aaron Brown, who was pressed into service ahead of schedule in his CNN debut that month, on his new show began to refer to life as "the new normal."

Four years after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, we have returned to a sort of normalcy, a "new normal." What, then, is the legacy of 9/11?

The legacy of 9/11 is a perpetual state of fear. The government relies on people to be fearful, and it maneuvers to guarantee that people will not feel safe. The color-coded terror-alert level and the periodic bulletins about "credible threats" ramp up the population's fears. Playing on these fears is how the powerful maintain power.

The legacy of 9/11 is political gain from finding a new demon. American history is full of examples of enemies who were demonized and dehumanized. We know the terms: FOB. WOP. Kraut. Nip. Gook. Kike. Nigger. Fag. Spic. Camel jockey. Towel head. Politicians gain from the subtle and sinister association of anything bad in life with something that is evil. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies: They aren't interested in solving your problems. They're interested in just two things: Telling you who is to blame for it and making you afraid of it.

The legacy of 9/11 is opportunity to overreach in government. The USA PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security and a laundry list of federal regulations are examples of government's rapid and extensive expansion in the Bush Administration. But this expansion is an overreach; true conservatives oppose this expansion because they loath the massive federal bureaucracy while liberals oppose the expansion because it is against traditional liberal ideals.

The legacy of 9/11 is economic instability for decades under the guise of security now. The federal expansion is being paid for with borrowed money -- the funds our government owes me and people in my generation and the generations to come. The late 1990s saw balanced federal budgets. Certainly President Clinton deserves much of the credit for a balanced budget, but the Republican Congress voted for these fiscally responsible budgets. Just a few years later, the federal government operates under record defecits. Even winning the Cold War was cheaper than this. What will be left of the federal government to pass on to future generations if this habit is left unchecked?

The legacy of 9/11 is a noose tightening around the neck of civil liberties and no one to grant clemency. An expansion of secret federal investigations, prisoners being held without an opportunity to hear a charge or consult with legal counsel, invasive searches in order to use the mass-transit system of commercial flight -- these are just a few of the myriad ways where civil liberties have been restricted in the months after 9/11. Additionally, the chill on America's airwaves and in its print publications -- where anyone questioning the government's actions is shouted down as unpatriotic -- is shocking. The forum where people could debate and consider and think is down for the count.

The legacy of 9/11 is a huge federal bureaucracy with a euphemistic title that teeters under its own weight. Homeland Security? The federal government last week bungled the effort to do exactly what it was supposed to do -- keep the homeland secure. With eyes searching the horizon for the next 747 headed for a skyscraper, the department was caught completely off guard in this crisis. The message to the world is obvious: Our homeland is not secure from natural disaster, and the government cannot move quickly to save its own citizens domestically.

The legacy of 9/11 is a president whose effectiveness depends on the lustre of handling a crisis from four years ago. A few days after the terror attacks, President Bush stood on a heap of rubble, placed his arm around a firefighter and shouted into a bullhorn that the world hears us loud and clear. It was a clarion call that America was resilient and would not be defeated. We all stood proudly alongside our leaders and our fellow citizens, firmly resisting the terror that we could easily have succumbed to. But that president has squandered his ability to lead by tilting at windmills in the Persian Gulf region, by making every issue about terror and by burnishing his reputation with a response team that he did not put in place. Now, just four years later, he handled another domestic crisis miserably. There was no enemy to blame, no one to demonize, no thing to scapegoat. In fact, the people realized a new fear -- that their government would not be there for them when they needed it. And the President is the one to blame.

The legacy of 9/11 is greater insecurity in the world as rogues line up to oppose American interests and to punish American allies. Iraq's insurgency is constant and building. Terror groups have successfully bombed targets in Spain and Britain. Reasonable leaders and citizens around the world wonder how America could have steered away from its responsibility as the last remaining superpower.America is seen as a superbully.

The legacy of 9/11 is seeing the predictions of Orwell and Bradbury come true. Each described, though their literature, events similar to the ones we have witnessed in the last four years. Government controls life. Authority demands conformity. Do not think as an individual. Do not question. Go along and be safe. But Orwell and Bradbury wrote as warning. It remains to be seen if someone will stand as Montague and question and defy and spark a dissent.

The legacy of 9/11 is fear and control and mismanagement and insecurity. The legacy of 9/11 is irony.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Goodbye, Gilligan

Nearly lost in the overwhelming amount of news out of the Gulf Coast region hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina is the news today that Bob Denver, namesake star of TV's "Gilligan's Island," has died at age 70.

His New York Times obituary.
His fan Web site (which uses Comic Sans but I will overlook).

I have long been a huge fan of the TV show "Gilligan's Island." I enjoyed sitting "right back to hear a tale, a take of a fateful trip." Each episode reliably provided comic antics and physical humor -- all in an episode where the seven castaways would grasp at a resuce or way off the island only to have some screw-up from Gilligan or just dumb luck dash their hopes. Denver, as Gilligan, never failed to deliver, always taking a smack on the head from the Skipper's cap for his foolishness.

There's a bit of Gilligan in us all, I think -- at least there is in me. There's an island in the Pacific gone dark tonight in memory of everyone's li'l buddy.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Attitude change and a ripple from Katrina

Sometimes attitude change comes gradually, a slow evolution.

Sometimes attitude change happens suddenly and because of a lack of other options, a forced change of view.

Sometimes attitude change comes from a specific event, a catalyst that changes perspective.

And so it was all three today at school, the first day of the 2005-06 school year, a day I had approached with little of the enthusiasm I had held in prior years. It was a day I did not dread, but it was also a day I did not celebrate. But this morning, as I awoke ready for a new term, I found that place inside -- a place we all have -- where I knew what this day was for, what my job is, how I had to change an attitude to move forward.

The change came gradually today. As I slowly got moving, showered, decided on the perfect shirt and tie for the first-day first impression, I felt myself changing attitude. By the time I was out the door and on my way to the grovery store to buy first-day snacks, I was bright-eyed and ready to tackle new challenges.

The change was forced today. In my awakening this morning, I knew I had to find the energy and enthusiasm that I owed my students and colleagues. I knew I needed to get there in a short time as classes were to begin in 90 minutes. I found that energy and enthusiasm, and I forced myself into a kick start. By the end of the first class, and continuing throughout the day, I gained momentum. At the end of the day I felt good about how I had started this year, my ninth.

The change came from a catalyst today. After my first class period, I stopped by the large classroom where the school's five counselors were working to repair, replace or construct schedules for dozens of waiting students. I knew the lines would be long all day, and I wanted to have an idea of the crowd. As I walked past the area, I greeted a counselor waiting in the hall with a student and adult. The counselor introduced me to a young man and said he was from Louisiana. In his Cajun-influenced speech, he told his story.

We chatted for a minute as he explained he had come from his town a few minutes south of New Orleans to Wenatchee to live with his aunt since his home was likely destroyed and his school was in unknown condition. Classes began about a month ago, he said; they ended abruptly last week. His mother is in the armed services, assigned to the area's relief efforts and moving locations frequently. He said his grandparents live in a rural area that was not close to a school. He did not mention his father.

So he sought his stable family in Wenatchee, thousands of miles away. I asked how long he thought he might be here in Wenatchee, and he said he expected to be here all year. If he did well and liked it, he said, he might complete his schooling here next year. Our school is already crowded this year with new students from all over, but we found room for one more student. How could we not? As I watched new programs tonight, I saw stories of similar situations in schools around the South, situations I knew would be replicated in schools around the country. Mothballed schools in Portland, Ore., are being readied for those who have fled the flood and devastation back home. Washington state has prepared for 2,000 "guests" -- people who will need food, shelter, comfort and, yes, education.

As I watched tonight on TV the compassion and sensitivity shown to the hurricane's victims as they entered new schools in Dallas and Houston, I found that place inside that changed my attitude for the year. It came both gradually and suddenly, from within and from a young man from New Orleans, but I found it.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Bearing witness: Reports from the newsroom

A friend of mine who works in the local newsroom sent this e-mail message to some of her friends a few days ago in an attempt to deal with some of the events of a tough week. The events have allowed festering thoughts to come to the surface and the frayed nerves allow a stronger reaction. But people are upset, and it's a frustrating situation all around.

It's been an emotional week in the news biz.... it's heartbreaking to bear witness day after day, story after story, picture after picture, to that mess down in the gulf, and not feel shame and disgust at the unnecessariness of it all -- or much of it.

I'm against rampant group emailing, and you'll note I RARELY pass along things but I am making an exception, because I think everyone needs to understand the depth of the emotion this tragedy has generated. And I'm not talking about a hurricane.

Did you hear Rush Limbaugh was criticizing people who stayed? He said if they had no car or money, they should have WALKED out of New Orleans. In the dark, in the middle of a torrential downpour, with their babies and their grandmas, i guess. What a horrible, vicious
man he is.

All I can say is, when everyone is safe (which astonishingly is still not the case, a WEEK later) and the immediate crisis is past, there had better be hell to pay in high places. If the RIGHT people aren't held accountable for this, and quickly, and with serious consequences, I fear there will be turmoil in this country for years to come.
My newsroom friend also included an e-mail from a friend, a former reporter, a black woman who lives in Houston and is going to school down there. I've edited it to some essential points.
As for Katrina ... it's heartbreaking, infuriating and just plain horrible. Houston is trying to deal with as best it can. They've shut the Astrodome down. It's too crowded. Mayor White is asking Houstonians to open up their homes to house people.

My aunt has opened up one of her rental houses and my family is gathering clothes to drop off at the donation centers. Our church has been feeding breakfast to the victims; my cousin's parish is feeding and another local church is a temporary shelter.

I find myself waffling between anger, fear and despair. I am fearful because the people are so angry and frustrated and desperate. Desperate people do desperate things when they don't feel like there's anything to lose. We've had some reports of looting and vandalism but HPD has been working overtime to curtail some of that.

I am so angry because this, at least to me, is a prime example of the class and race problem in this country. There is no reason Charity Hospital should still have patients inside, while Tulane, which is across the street, has been evacuated for days. No reason, except that Charity is the public hospital for indigent patients, most of whom are black. Tulane is a private hospital.

If this disaster had struck in Martha's Vineyard, the Hamptons, or Kennebunkport and rich, white vacationers were stranded there, those people would have been rescued the day after Katrina blew over, without any public prompting or outrage. But because it is New Orleans, where 2/3 of the residents are black and more than 20 percent live in poverty, they've been made to live among the feces, urine, stagnant water risking disease. They are thirsty, hungry and lived among decaying dead bodies throughout the convention center.
This event has caused many new discussions, and will have lasting implications more far-reaching than perhaps any other we have known.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Journalists as first responders

Michael Fancher, the executive editor at The Seattle Times, published an eloquent essay in the Sept. 4 edition in his regular Sunday column, "Inside The Times."

In this column, Fancher includes journalists among the first responders on the scenes of numerous disasters.

Think about the people we call "first responders."

Chances are you thought about the men and women in police, fire and possibly military uniforms. They are the ones first on the scene of any disaster, prepared to do their jobs under the worst circumstances imaginable. They are genuine heroes.

Now think about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of entire communities along the Gulf Coast. When the wind and water were gone, so were homes, hopes and dreams.


Think about the people we call "first responders."

Chances are you didn't think about the men and women with notebooks, pens, cameras and microphones. They, too, are the ones first on the scene of any disaster, prepared to do their jobs under the worst circumstances imaginable.

Fancher writes that the journalists on the scene, particularly now along the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricane Katrina, have played an important role in the rescue and relief operations. Certainly, spreading the news of this calamity has resulted in an outpouring of resources and aid from people around the nation and world. The role of journalists is important to document, to notify, to call attention, to advocate.
When I think of those first responders, I think about the men and women of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, who were forced to evacuate their building Tuesday. At first they had no way to print and distribute their newspaper, but they continued to publish online even as their own homes and lives were torn apart.

By Friday, The Times-Picayune was being printed at the Houma Courier, a neighboring newspaper owned by The New York Times, and distributed to evacuees living in shelters. Jim Amoss, a New Orleans native and editor of The Times-Picayune since 1990, told CNN that people grabbed the newspaper like it was food.

First responders also help people before disasters, and The Times-Picayune certainly tried. In 2002 it published a five-part series that was prescient. The summary of the series said, "It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day."


You probably have your own unforgettable images and stories from the hurricane. Stop to consider what someone had to do to capture those moments.

Thinking about journalists as first responders takes nothing away from the men and women in police, fire and military uniforms. Without the courage, service and sacrifice of emergency rescue workers, we would be lost. They are genuine heroes.

But, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shows, so too are the first responders of the press.

It's been a week when I have turned to my newspaper, my television, my radio and my computer to get news from a place I have never visited about people I don't know. I have found comfort in the reliable voices informing me from this distance, and I have trusted them when they express frustration and outrage on behalf of us all. I have found myself missing the voices of comfort that I trusted in these times for so long: Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. But Brian Williams and Aaron Brown and many others have supplied coverage so comprehensive and sensitive and rich that I believe a new generation of voices has risen to replace those that have faded.

These journalists have been first responders here, and I hope they will always be among the first responders in the future.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, September 05, 2005

New Year's Eve

It's New Year's Eve -- a new school year, that is.

Labor Day weekend is the traditional end of the summer, and this year is no exception. As I walked into the school this afternoon for a few final preparations for tomorrow's opening day, I noticed the floors, waxed and buffed to a high shine. Within a few weeks, that shine will fade, as new pencils are worn down, full notebooks become thinner and backpacks show the strain of use and abuse.

As I enter my ninth year of teaching, I find that I am less excited as I have been in the past. It's not that this year is less exciting; in fact, there are many things for which I am enthusiastic. I think it is that I have reached a point in this career that there are fewer new things to excite me, and at the same time, there are a lot more things to wear down me and my colleagues. This school year brings great accomplishments with our state test results -- results that are a bit misleading because many who might have been eligible for testing were excluded and will be included this year. The year brings new challenges with personnel and curriculum changes. The year brings the challenge of higher enrollment -- where to put the students, who to teach them and how will that affect everything else?

The year started a day early with the participation of our students in a football game, the Old Spice Emerald City Kickoff Classic, held today at Qwest Field in Seattle, the home field of the Seahawks. Our team lost, but it was a nice experience in the crisp late-summer air under the blue skies with wispy clouds. The facility is a jewel in the city, a public stadium that dwarfs everything inside. The band sounded fantastic, and it was nice to see som many people who had made the trek across the Cascades for one last fling before bucking down to the wearying routines of daily schooling.

But the bright spots for me are always the moments in my own classes. Tuesday morning, there will be a rush of thousands of shoes over those waxed and buffed floors, and students will shuffle to classes. Some will cruise the halls familiarly, while others will stumble to find a classroom at the end of a long hallway. We'll call the roll, go over the syllabus and start the teaching by cracking open those new notebooks and sharpening those new pencils.

So it is on New Year's Eve, the mixed emotion of a fading summer and the promise and excitment, though tempered, of a new term.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

SCOTUS Watch '05: Chief Justice Roberts?

President Bush announced he would nominate John G. Roberts Jr. as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States, replacing the late William Rehnquist.

Roberts is likely to be confirmed quickly and without much of a fight. He's been out there meeting with senators for several weeks, since the president nominated him to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in July. He's a conservative, a former clerk for Rehnquist who will keep his legacy alive.

As for O'Connor, she gets a contract extension, if you will. Her retirement letter indicated she would serve until her replacement had been confirmed. Since Roberts will now replace Rehnquist, it means if he is confirmed this month, the court will open its term in October with a full complement, including O'Connor. That also gives Bush a chance to search for another associate justice -- perhaps a woman or a person of color -- while looking decisive and in control today as he moves Roberts into a new position.

Apparently, Bush had this idea in mind in case the situation came into being.

The autumn SCOTUS Watch just got very interesting.

-- Seattle

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mama, he's a lame duck now

With every twp-term presidential administration, there is a point where it is clear that the president is a lame duck. He can't run for re-election. Others are vying for his office. This usually happens somewhere just after the mid-term Congressional election. If there is ever doubt when George W. Bush became a lame duck, though, it might be recorded as Aug. 30, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area of the United States.

This week showed that President Bush simply cannot be "presidential" at a time of crisis. He jokes about his party-boy past in the city, he declares he is looking forward to sitting on the porch of a rebuilt home belonging to Sen. Trent Lott in Mississippi, he flies over a disaster area confortably ensconced in his roaring jet, he congratulates his incompetent director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he hugs a black family as if he can actually understand the loss they feel.

And it all just looks like a load of crap.

President Bush's policies have led to a city in absolute crisis, and the disaster is a signal to the rest of the world: America cannot simultaneously wage a war in a foreign land and also defend the homeland.

This is America, a shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope for tired and poor, huddled masses. This is America, a nation so mighty it won the Cold War through intimidation and force. This is America, a republic that serves as a model of democracy for developing countries around the world. In America we have come to know comfort. We accept that nature will wreak havoc and will cause problems. We know that nowhere is absolutely safe, and we work to minimize dangers. We feel the hurt in the world, and we generously share our wealth.

And so when we see refugees walking across a highway to get out of a flooded city; when we har about the stinking, festid waters rising too rapidly for some to escape; when we watch people climb to the rooftops, arms flailing for a rescuer, any rescuer, we have to say ourselves, incredulous: This does not happen in America.

We look to our leaders -- our president -- at a time of crisis. We seek comfort. We want assurance that government is working and will help. We want the resources to come swiftly, just as they have gone swiftly to Indonesia, to Somalia, to sites of calamities around the globe. But when we looked to our leader, we got a snicker, a fly-by and false words of hope. We did not get what we needed.

So, George W. Bush is a lame duck -- and he should be. The fall will be consumed by two major responsibilities: rescuing the Gulf Coast and filling two vacancies on the Supreme Court. Congress will head to the winter recess and return in January for an election-year session. If Congress is smart, it will discover, as thousands of Southerners learned the hard way this week, that the president is not a leader. Congress should move quickly to enact an aid package, without waiting for the president. In fact, the Congress should force the president to act in a responsible way.

This was a bad week for George W. Bush. Now, the president is the lamest of ducks, and we're already looking past him.

-- Seattle

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Rodeo tradition

I love the rodeo. It's not so much that I love the sport of rodeo as much as I love the tradition of going to the rodeo. Today was my 31st year attending the Ellensburg Rodeo -- I have attended at least one performance each year I have been alive.

I have a few specific parts that must be included in my annual Labor Day Weekend ritual. First is the food. I always eat a barbecue beef sandwich and corn on the cob from the CMA church booth at the Kittitas County Fair. It's quite possibly the best eating of any food tent. I also buy a few Fisher Fair Scones. The little cakes with butter and raspberry jam inserted between flaky layers are so perfect that I can't resist taking home a bag full.

I love to watch the Grand Entry for the rodeo. Dozens of horses and riders lope into the arena, some carrying flags or waving regally, winding in serpentine fashon around positions set by the members of the King County Mounted Sheriff's Posse, themselves on Palomino horses and silver-clad saddles. Immediately after the Grand Entry is the National Anthem and then introductions along the track as each rodeo's royalty representative gallops along the track's stretch at lightning speed, waving to adoring fans and making sure to keep her hat on her head. Unlike royal court members for other festivals, including my own town's Apple Blossom royalty, these girls must be experts in horsemanship and riding in addition to being articulate representatives of rodeo.

I and my family have a long tradition of rodeo involvement. The Ellensurg Rodeo had its 83d year in 2005. But even before the rodeo had been created formally, the people I descended from were active in hosting rodeos at their ranches on the outskirts of Ellensburg. The Fergusons and Thomases were inducted into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame for that involvement and key role in helping to establish a tradition of rodeo and the entity now known as the Ellensburg Rodeo in the early 20th century.

As a child, I remember attending the shows with my grandma, Edith Thomas, who saw the rodeo each of its four days, keeping score on her daysheet in her distinctive and careful writing and pausing every now and then to smoke a cigarette. She packed a great lunch each day -- fried chicken, ham, tomatoes, cucumbers and plenty of Coca-Cola. We all loved the home cooking even better than the fair food.

As I grew into early teenage years, I sold programs each day of the show for $1.50 apiece. I made 15 cents for each program, but the bonuses at 50, 100 and 150 were where the real money could be made. For a few years I was among the top sellers who were able to attend a Seattle Mariners game courtesy of the Daily Record, the newspaper that also published the rodeo program. My brother and I were in stiff competition for program sales, and I remember one year when he took our sister, aged maybe 6, out to the street to sell. I thought that was cheap, and he was selling programs as fast as he could make change. He was also able to carry 50 programs, where I was able to tote just one bundle of 25.

And so I return to the beautiful Kittitas Valley each year with fond memories of the rodeo. It's pretty predictable -- the same corny jokes, a few surprises with uncooperative animals, maybe an injury. But I love it, and I could not imagine a Labor Day Weekend without it.

-- Seattle

Farewell, Chief Justice

Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Saturday night after a long battle with thyroid cancer and missing several weeks of courtroom arguments. He was 80 and had served on the Supreme Court for 33 years, 18 as its chief justice.

His death causes major political upheaval on an already tumultuous court:

President Bush had already nominated John Roberts to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Roberts' Senate confirmation hearings are set to begin in a matter of days. He is likely to be confirmed, and some believe he is not as conservative as his record might indicate. I suspect he'll be as unpredictable as the woman he replaces.

Just a few weeks before the new term is set to begin, the Chief Justice position is vacant. The court will operate with just eight justices until a replacement can be selected and confirmed by the Senate. Tie votes return a case to the lower court and can't establish a legal precedent. It is not immediately clear, to me at least, who will fill the role of chief in the interim; John Paul Stevens is the court's most senior associate justice.

President Bush will likely feel there is some political cover -- replacing Rehnquist with a conservative would not change the court's makeup as Rehnquist had been solidly and reliably in the conservative column. Yet Bush has an opportunity not seen since 1986, namely to appoint the person to guide the court for what could turn out to be decades.

The horserace: There has already been some talk -- and surely there will be more -- about elevating Associate Justice Antonin Scalia to the chief justice position. Scalia is one of Bush's favorite jurists along wi th Justice Clarence Thomas. Elevating Scalia would also allow Bush to appoint another associate justice, perhaps Anthony Luttig or Edith Clement, or even Alberto Gonzales, all people who were apparently very much in the running this summer to replace O'Connor. However, historically, such elevations are not particularly common. In fact, Chief Justice Earl Warren had served as California governor and never had been on a court.

So, if Bush wants a safe assurance that the court will remain in conservative leadership, he should appoint Scalia. It would be a fight in the Senate, especially along the lines of conflict of interest with previous cases, but he would likely be confirmed. If Bush wants to leave a mark for history, he will probably go with Clement or Gonzales. On of the talking heads pointed out that Clement is on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, from New Orleans, and that could gain Bush some politics points. But I doubt that.

Watching the Supreme Court just got a whole lot more interesting. The White House staff surely must be asking "What next?" Between managing the catastrophe along the Gulf Coast and a major nomination (Roberts'), they already had enough on their plate. But this will really spread the staff thin.

Meanwhile, look to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to be the man challenged with guiding all these nominations through the Senate. He could very well be the one who comes out of all this with a feather in his cap for brokering a deal among senators and the administration.

-- Seattle

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Words seem inadequate

It has developed into a disaster of such proportion, such magnitude, such devastation, that words seem inadequate to describe the situation along the Gulf Coast in what used to be New Orleans, La., and Biloxi, Miss.

Like many Americans, I suspect, I have grown a bit immune to the seemingly endless reports whenever there is a natural disaster or some tragic calamity. Earlier this summer, the coverage of Hurricane Emily seemed almost comic as television reporters struggled to stay out in the windy storm to scoop their competition. So when I heard a few early reports about a hurricane, this one named Katrina, headed toward New Orleans last week, I paid little attention. My increasing activity at work meant less time for watching news, so I only caught bits of information in passing. But I have been drawn to this event in the last two days, and I have just come to realize the full extent of the damage, the devastation, the repercussions of this hurricane.

A few aspects have been especially troubling:
Those in such dire straits that they have resorted to opportunistic looting are despicable. Taking some food or bottled water or other supplies from a vacant grocery store is, I think, rational during an emergency. A person can come back later and pay, and it is likely the groceries would have spoiled anyway. But to grab toys, electronic entertainment equipment and such defies any understanding. There is no electricity to run the electronics anyway.

The pathetically slow response from the federal government is troubling. One reporter on CNN, speaking about the large number of people who trekked to the convention center in New Orleans hoping for relief, found little in the way of provisions or assistance. They followed the law, he said, they trusted their government to help them. They relied on the infrastructure and support they believed would be there for them. It wasn't. We have to find a way to do better -- or even more people will die.

Helecopter flights were grounded after officials realized that the flights were unsafe because people were shooting at the 'copters. Shooting! There is no humane explanation for such behavior. So, while resources were actually available and helping, some fool turned to violence and caused a disruption in the rescue system that likely led to danger or deaths.

Word came today that "Pvt. Katrina" had joined the fight for the Islamic terrorists. Leave it to extemists to use a natural disaster for propaganda purposes. Surely Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell can't be far behind in their willingness to blame this event on gays and the ACLU.

Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have been deputized again to coordinate the collection of funds to assist in the relief efforts. So the beggars in chief will hold out their palms -- this time for an area so hard-hit that it is beginning to look eerily like Indonesia or Sri Lanka of eight months ago.

The most outrageous snippet I heard today: That New Oleans should declare itself a separate nation and ask for global relief. Who knows?

In coming weeks and months, people will question the political decisions and such that contributed to the disaster. The cleanup will continue, and people will try to put their lives back together. We'll all suffer -- economically and with an influx of Louisianans determined to live somewhere else. For now, though, workers contend with flooding, with bullets and with hot tempers. I wish them the best.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.