Sunday, January 29, 2006

A wild week in state politics

The last couple days have brought two significant developments on the state political scene where the Legislature passed a law that will ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, and where both state parties replaced retiring leaders with newcomers to the party leadership.

Friday the state House and Senate did what had failed to be done for roughly 30 years perviously: add sexual orientation to the list of reasons for which a person cannot be discriminated against in employment, housing and insurance. Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she would sign the bill into law this week. It is shocking to think that it took until 2006 for the state to protect gay men and lesbians from being fired, being denied housing rental or sale or being able to get insurance because of their sexual orientation.

Opponents of the measure -- mainly Republicans and a couple conservative Democrats -- used two main arguments to fight the ban on discrimination. They said the measure would lead to the state allowing people of the same sex to wed. It does not allow such marriages. However, the state supreme court is expected to issue a ruling soon in a case heard last spring about whether the state's constitution does allow such marriages. The other argument basically said employers, landlords and other business people should not be forced to accept something to which they are morally opposed (homosexuality) or that gays and lesbians do not face the same discrimination as people of color or the disabled. However, state law already forbids discrimination because of a religion -- something that arguably has a moral perspective and which is clearly a choice. Using the Repiblican logic, one could ask whether an employer who is Muslim should be forced to hire someone who is Christian.

Some have raised the idea of taking the recently passed law to the people as a referendum. By the time that made its way to the ballot it would have been a law already for months or more, and I suspect people in Washington state, known for their tolerance and progressive attitude, would be reluctant to remove rights once granted.

Saturday the two main parties elected new chairs. The Democrats chose Dright Pelz, a former King County Councilman and state legislator from Seattle, who was the favorite of the state's senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, and Gov. Gregoire. He replaces the retiring Paul Berendt, who led the party for several years, culminating in a contentions election recount and court challenge from November 2004 to June 2005. Pelz beat Laura Ruderman, a former state legislator who was the Democrat candidate for Secretary fo State in 2004.

Thhings for the Republicans did not go as predictably. The party's vice chair, Fredi Simpson of Wenatchee, had collected the endorsements of the state's most prominent Republicans, including the 2004 GOP gubernatorial nominee, Dino Rossi, Attorney General Rob McKenna and the state's Republican U.S. Representatives: Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris. The successful candidate instead was Diane Tebelius, who lost to Reichert in the primary in the suburban Eighth District in 2004. She is an attorney with Justice Department experience and replaced Chris Vance, who left to take a job in the private sector. Wenatchee's reputation as the nexus of GOP power in Washington state seems to be slipping in favor of the Eastside suburbs of Seattle.

With a contentious 2006 election approaching, these two new chairs each have an uphill battle. The GOP hopes to make gains in the Legislature and perhaps a Congressional seat, but their big prize is the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Maria Cantwell, who barely beat Slade Gorton in 2000. The Republicans are also still bitter about the gubernatorial election of 2004, which they say was stolen from Rossi despite three vote tallies and an airtight court case that did not prove anything and in fact cost Rossi four votes.

The Democrats seek to hold the Legislature and Congressional seats as well as send Cantwell back to the other Washington. Sen. Hillary Clinton was in Seattle Friday for a Cantwell fundraiser, the first of what will likely be several Democrat stars traipsing through the state to keep that seat in the Democrats' hands. It's key to the Democratic National Committee's hopes of regaining the U.S. Senate in 2006 and the White House in 2008.

There are no other statewide races in 2006, so these will get all the media attention. Pelz has promised to do something that has not occurred in many Eastern Washington counties in a long time: field a candidate in every race in the state. Issues such as the WASL, the state budget and the newly passed gay-rights measure will surely factor into the races. If Pelz is successful at finding candidates, 2006 may shape up to be interesting as some incumbents are forced to engage in debate where they have run unopposed for years.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Waiting to exhale: Countdown to WASL

The Seattle Times announced in its Sunday edition that it is launching a yearlong series of stories following students from around the Puget Sound as they prepare for, take and receive scores for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the state's high-stakes test required for all students to graduate in 2008 and which will count for the first time when taken by this year's sophomores beginning in March.

The newspaper has one of the strongest education reportersw around in Linda Shaw, and she probably knows more about the WASL than most educators. Shaw wrote an introduction for the piece:

This spring, when high-school sophomores take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the stakes will be very high. So will the stress.

The Class of 2008 is the first group of students required to pass the WASL in order to graduate. For educators, parents and students, that's a sobering prospect: So far, more than half of the state's 10th-graders each year fail to pass at least one part of the test.

Today, The Seattle Times begins a series of stories examining the use of the WASL as a graduation requirement. Over the next several months, we'll explore a number of key questions about the exam.

How are schools preparing students? How is the test affecting low-income and minority students, groups that have struggled with it the most? What has happened in states that already have graduation tests in place? Did Olympia, in demanding the state's students meet tougher standards, give schools the money and materials needed to succeed?

And we'll track the debate in the Legislature, where lawmakers are reconsidering whether so much of a student's future should ride on the outcome of one test.

We'll also view the WASL through the eyes of a handful of Puget Sound sophomores — all of whom failed at least part of the test in seventh grade — as they gear up to take it this time around.

Today, we introduce you to three students who have agreed to share their experiences, pass or fail.

The Times' Executive Editor, Mike Fancher, wrote about the endeavor in his Sunday column about the paper:

"I was surprised at how scared they are."

— Ben Graeber, teacher at Hazen High in Renton

"They" are members of the Class of 2008, the first students who must pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to graduate from high school. They obviously have a huge stake in the WASL test, but so do the rest of us. That is why The Seattle Times today launches an extended project we call "The Class of 2008: Facing the Test." Throughout the year we will look anew at important questions:

How good is the test? What does it expect of students? How has the education system and the state helped them to do what is being asked of them?

We begin today with Linda Shaw's overview of the WASL and some arresting statistics about the students whose futures are on the line. The number of students thought to be at risk to fail some portion of the test this year is alarming. And for the Class of 2008, the test is a hurdle they must get over to graduate.

Small wonder Ben Graeber's language-arts students are scared, as many sophomores throughout the state must be. And today we introduce readers to three sophomores who have agreed to let us follow them through the WASL experience.

Everyone is holding his or her breath this spring to see if all the questions we've had for a decade will be answered when the scores come back -- and they'll be back earlier than ever, by June 6 so students can take summer remediation courses. Some of my questions:
  • Will we really see scores increase dramatically as so many leaders have predicted? The thinking goes that because this year it finally "counts," students will take the WASL more seriously and will perform better. In 2005, just 47 percent of students passed all three sections (mathematics, reading and writing -- science is not required until the Class of 2010). In Wenatchee, it's even tougher -- students in the Class of 2007 need to pass the WASL to graduate because of a local requirement.
  • Will students of color, students living in poverty, students with English as a nonnative language and students with special needs perform as well as other students? These groups have a far lower pass rate than other students. Not surprisingly, affluent, suburban students who are Caucasian or Asian perform the best.
  • What will the retakes and alternative assessments look like? If a student cannot demonstrate competency on the WASL, how will we allow him or her to demonstrate competency in a way that maintains the rigor of the WASL and does not duplicate the requirements of one of the other three graduation requirements (transcript, culminating project and fifth-year plan)?
  • What will happen after another year or even two and the state's Class of 2008 is still far from 100 percent passing the WASL? That's the $64,000 question, and if I knew how to solve this and others, I would be shouting it from every mountaintop.
So, we countdown to WASL -- roughly 30 class days -- and we hope we can make a difference in the remaining time before thousands of sophomores across the state open their test booklets and with a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil begin to anser questions and solve problems. It's here to stay, and we're all waiting to exhale when we see students pass at rates we need them to.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A memory forged in fire

Jan. 28, 1986, I know exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing. In classrooms across the country, kids were watching the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. Shuttle missions were still rare and widely watched. This one was extra-special. This mission carried a special astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire and who would have been the first teacher in space. Everyone had talked about it.

And while space shuttle launches had become just a bit routine, this one soon turned into anything but typical. Just moments into the launch, as the shuttle catapaulted into the stratosphere, the dwindling shape of the orbiter and its rocket-fuel boosters exploded into a ball of fire as family members watched below and millions of people watched on live television around America.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, and the intervening years have not been smooth for the space shuttle program with the shuttle Columbia disintegrating on atmospheric re-entry in 2003.

The Challenger explosion was a striking benchmark in my life, perhaps because of what it stood for -- exploration, science and the pursuit of knowledge. A new day was dawning in space research, a day that was postponed, perhaps for 20 years. It's time to renew the drive that took Americans to the moon and become a program that conducts scientific research for knowledge's sake. The American spirit needs the shot in the arm, and the seven astronauts who dies on Jan. 28, 1986, deserve for their legacy to be nothing less.

-- Seattle

Friday, January 27, 2006

'Transamerica' shines spotlight in small corner

The movie where Felicity Huffman earned a Best Actress in a Drama Golden Globe award registered with me as a fun tale about a small corner of the gender spectrum, one where most viewers will have their first exposure. In short, "Transamerica" is a solid film with a knockout performance by Huffman. The plot begins with Huffman as a pre-operative transsexual woman in Los Angeles who discovers she has a son, who is a juvenile delinquent in New York. She heads to New York to try to deal with the issue -- without informing the boy of the true story. She brings the boy cross-country by car, and the adventures bring them closer together while giving viewers insight into two characters with a lot in common about covering things up.

While the main plot winds along as a tender story about growing closer to family and learning to drop facades in order to gain acceptance, there are a lot of humorous situations to make this a charming movie. The nice part is that the film doesn't push the humor at the cost of the story or treating its characters as flat. Instead, the humor seems to work as a safety valve for what could have been a film that buckled under the weight of its message.

I'm pleased to be able to find nice, sweet films like "Transamerica" and "Junebug" that treat the characters as people with a story instead of a story filled with people just to ger from the opening to closing credits. Although I have seen a few of the movies in 2006, this is a ripple effect of the great year of film taht was 2005.

-- Seattle

Senior Par-tay

Jan. 26 was a first-ever event at school. The senior class senate, which I advise, planned a party to mark the end of the students' seventh semester and dubbed it the "7/8 Party." It was a chance to have fun with a goal of bringing the seniors together.

The components included four stations for the "Halo 2" video game, a projected movie, card games, two sets of "Dance, Dance Revolution," basketball and dodge ball. We also ordered 20 pizzas, and one senator brought 12 two-liter jugs of pop. The senators and I had our fingers crossed that we would get at least a few dozen people attending and that people would not try to be "fashionably late."

We were surprised at the turnout of well over 100 people, between a quarter and a third of the class. There was also a diverse mixture of students, not just the usual faces. The best part was that the kids seemed to just be having fun -- the senators called it "chill." I also appreciated the dedication of our dozen or so parent and community chaperones, who mainly had to work the next day.

If the goal was to have fun and bring the class together, I say "mission accomplished."

-- Seattle

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Finals Week fracas

I don't know what it is about Finals Week at school, but it always seems to be a sort of weird, subdued environment that belies the reality of bedlam. Everyone seems stressed except for me. Frankly, I think this week is one of the easiest weeks for me as a teacher -- all the students are present, everyone is academically focused, I don't have to do much because the kids are performing speeches or tests or whatever, and at the end of the week no one has any homework. Dang, what could be better?

Two main things have frustrated me this week, though. One is the ridiculous schedule, and the other is the arrogance of some of my colleagues. A compounding factor is the whininess of some of my students who need to be told to shut up for once in their life.

The schedule is absurd. With six classes as the basic schedule, one ould think we could do three finals one day and three the next. But no, we have a Tuesday that includes a 20-minute period followed by a 90-minute final. Wednesday has three 90-minute finals, a 50-minute regular class that is completely pointless and an end time that is five minutes earlier than normal. Thursday brings two 90-minute finals and a start time that is five minutes later than normal. It also includes a final exam period after lunch for the "zero period" even though no one uses that time for a test because they have already taken it earlier.

That leads me to the arrogance part. Some of my colleagues seem to think they can cancel a class or test at whim without regard for the impact on the rest of us. The "zero period" teachers usually have their test earlier in the week and then cancel the Thursday afternoon test period. We could all have a smoother week if the Tuesday final were moved to Thursday if the "zero period" classes continue to do whatever they please. Other colleagues told students not to come to class -- they said they would not be taking attendance -- if the student already had an A grade. That is ridiculous! Every student of mine has to come to the final. I had a student today with a 101 percent grade who took the final. No exceptions.

These are the things that bug me and make it hard to maintain order and accountability during the week of nuttiness. So, here is my proposal for a smooth finals week:
  • Two days of finals only. "Zero period" classes schedule their final when convenient because there are few to whom this applies. Each day has three tests.
  • Each day has a 60-minute lunch period. Juniors and seniors with a 3.0 GPA are allowed to go off campus for lunch, freeing space in the cafeteria. That would be a privilege worth earning, I think. And, students would be sure to return because they all have a test to take.
Maybe the faculty needs to have a good discussion about the value of finals. Seems like not everyone values them, and maybe we don't even need them. They may be more hassle than they are worth, especially if people are not giving tests or projects or even meeting class. Maybe we're just doing something because we've always done it that way.

And honestly, some people need to get over the fact that a disappointing grade is not my fault -- they need to accept the fact that I don't round grades and I should not need to remind them to study. Grow up and move on.

Whatever the case, I am looking forward to having the day off Friday for "Records Day" and then starting fresh on Monday.

Happy New Semester!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Computer repaired -- early and under budget

I am so glad to have back at my home the trusty computer that has helped me through so many online courses and Weblog postings. It came home with me today after I had it repaired this afternoon. I was not expecting it to be done until tonight, but the repairman got it done fast and it ended up costing less than we both expected.

Gotta love that.

And now back to the 14-inch screen, too! Yay.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ivins says thumbs down to Hillary

I am not usually a fan of Molly Ivins. Too folksy. Too much of a cheap Bush-basher. Frankly, I think she would not be a nationally syndicated columnist without the electoral success of George W. Bush.

Anyway, her column Jan. 23 is a solid one:

It's time for Democrats to put up or shut up

By Molly Ivins

Creators Syndicate

I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.

Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone. This is not a Dick Morris election. The senator is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.

The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times when a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.

If no one in conventional-wisdom politics has the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said, then you go out and find some obscure junior senator from Minnesota with the guts to do it. In 1968, McCarthy was the little boy who said out loud, "Look, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes." Bobby Kennedy -- rough, tough Bobby Kennedy -- didn't do it. Just this quiet man trained by Benedictines who liked to quote poetry.

What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing President Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich.

The majority (77 percent) think we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) think big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

I listen to people like Rep. Rahm Emanuel superciliously explaining elementary politics to us clueless naifs outside the Beltway ("First, you have to win elections"). Can't you even read the polls?

Here's a prize example by columnist Barry Casselman: "There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party now under way, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008."

This supposedly pits Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, emboldened by "a string of bad news from the Middle East ... into calling for premature retreat from Iraq," vs. those pragmatic folk like Rep. Steny Hoyer, Emmanuel and Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman.

Oh, come on, people -- get a grip on the concept of leadership. Look at this war -- from the lies that led us into it to the lies they continue to dump on us daily.

You sit there in Washington so frightened of the big, bad Republican machine that you have no idea what people are thinking. I'm telling you right now, Tom DeLay is going to lose in his district. If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to own the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.

Do it all, go long, go for public campaign financing for Congress. I'm serious as a stroke about this -- that is the only reform that will work, and you know it, and so does everyone else who's ever studied this. Embrace redistricting reform, electoral reform, House rules changes, the whole package. Own this issue or let Jack Abramoff politics continue to run your town.

Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them. I've said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were "German dogs." They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The minute that someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means.

That, or you could just blow them off elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless "string of bad news."

Do not sit there cowering and pretending that the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can.

It's enough to make every true yellow-dog Democrat question whether the politics of Hillary Clinton, and the other centrists who woo both sides of the aisle, will be the message that wins in 2006 and 2008. Increasingly, I find myself looking at candidates such as Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a senator with conscience and with a voice that sounds more and more worth listening to.

Don't get me wrong; I don't want to support a candidate who can't ever win an election, but I don't think the alternative to George W. Bush and the corruption of the Republican Party has to be just to the left. Why can't we step back and say, "Hey, they're weak. Let's put up a candidate that is a sharp contrast, not just bluish shade of red."

I don't know who that candidate is, but it ain't Hillary Clinton.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Term's up

The news today from Los Angeles is that my favorite show, "The West Wing," has been cancelled. The plan is for the coming election nin the show's plot line to be the finale, and as President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) boards Air Force One to return to his native New Hampshire, the new president will be sworn in. The new president -- either Alan Alda's Sen. Arnold Vinick or Jimmy Smits' Rep. Matt Santos -- won't have much time to enjoy the Oval Office.

The final episode will air May 18, preceded by an hourlong retrospective. The show will also deal with the real-world death of John Spencer, the actor who played Leo McGarry, former chief of staff and later the Democrat nominee for vice president.

Read what Melanie McFarland, television critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has to say.

Russell Shaw at the Huffington Post, via Yahoo! News, had some alternate reasons.

Here's a blog site about the cancellation.

For seven seasons, "The West Wing" has been my weekly solace, a chance to remember some of my ideals and enjoy them portrayed in believable and engaging characters on one of the best-written series on television. I own five seasons on DVD, and I watch every extra, every episode. Simply put, I love the show.

Come fall, I won't be turning to that other White House show on ABC. I'll find something to grab my attention, and I'll remember fondly the glory days of the Bartlet Administration.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Pranks for the memories

The last few weeks have brought an occasional prank phone call at strange hours. The number usually is blocked, and my phone announces this with an abnormal ring tone and the phrase "Unknown caller" spoken in a pseudo-human voice. Sometimes I answer, trying to grasp a clue as to this unknown caller. Other times, I just let the call go to voice mail. Sometimes there is a message.

Saturday at about 2:40 a.m., that exact situation occurred. As I awoke to the chirp noise that indicates a voice message, I knew I needed to leave the snuggly warmth of my bed to see who had called, just in case it was an emergency. With family members spread around the country and time zones, and with a disabled parent, the likelihood of an early morning call with bad news is not out of the question.

But this call was no emergency. This call was just a stupid prank along the lines of those I have received in the past. This time, though, the prankster was sloppy and left the phone identification. My interrogations and research should be able to ascertain the culprits, and I have just one reminder: I love a good practical joke, and I like to get even. I always do.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Missing my own computer

The past week has shown me how valuable it is to have my own computer. Well, it really is not mine; I just get exclusive use of it for my work with the state journalism teachers group. On Jan. 12, I set the computer on the edge of my coffee table, and it slid off and crashed down to the wood laminate floor below, breaking the power plug and AC adapter.

While I ordered a replacement part and a new adapter, I have been using my school laptop at home to check e-mail and to have basic productivity. This week new classes started for my master's degree, and I have realized how many files I have on the other computer that I would like to access -- and files I have created this week that will need to be transferred. E-mail and attachments will be great for that. Still, it has been kind of a pain, and I don't have my e-mail contacts and such available either.

I've hardly been on the computer at all in the last week. For some reason I don't even feel like surfing the Web. The small screen of this 12" iBook and the tiny keyboard area may be factors. I've actually done some work around the house -- I finally put together three sets of shelves for the garage last weekend -- and I have burned through a couple of my Netflix movies. In a way, I guess that has been good.

I should have my replacement part early next week, and I should be able to get the computer repaired quickly. The whole simple mistake will cost me $200, and I guess the damage could have been a lot worse. The computer seems to work fine, but I did not use it for long after I dropped it because I wanted to save the battery in case I needed it before the repairs.

Maybe when I am back to my usual computer, I will be back to my usual level of activity online. In the meantime, I am spending plenty of time around the house in nondigital pursuits.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

'King Kong' rules

I finally had the chance to see the Peter Jackson epic "King Kong" this evening, and I have just one word to describe the experience: awesome. What made this an even better experience was attending and later discussing the film with my friend Superfrankenstein, a true King Kong afficionado.

I'll save my usual evaluation of films I see, and instead I offer some of my favorite parts of the film:
  • Jackson's directing make this film a true epic and done in epic proportion. From sweeping camera shots to iconographic moments the visuals never disaapoint. Even little details such as close-up shots of intimate moments and details in the shot give the film that extra touch that make it worthwhile.
  • The acting approaches the brink of cheesy in some spots, but all the performances are top-notch. Jack Black as movie director Carl Denham is just the right amount over the top. And Naomi Watts really shines as Ann Darrow. Considering that most of her acting was solo in front of a green screen, she probably deserves some recognition for her ability to deliver a performance that seems inspired.
  • The film moves along at a steady clip, and I found myself wondering what would be the next complication for the characters. After arriving at the island, having Ann snatched by Kong, chasing the ape through the jungle and a huge dinosaur stampede, I glanced at my watch and realized the film was just half over. Every twist to the plot and even more unlikely super adventure all seemed entirely plausible on an island that harbored a giant ape and dinosaurs.
  • I had to avert my eyes during the scenes with the huge bugs. I don't know what is the fascination that filmmakers have with giant bugs -- we see them all too often -- but I can't stand 'em.
  • Finally, I actually became drawn in by the love story -- a pair of parallel love stories, actually, with the Ann-Kong and Ann-Jack Driscoll love lines. The movie-within-a-movie also was interesting to watch.

I went to the theater thinking I would probably find the film to be entertaining. I ended up spending about three hours well entertained, my jaw slack as I watched wide-eyed.

What a film!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

"OK, kids, pass the test and I get a raise."

Well, it's happening. The fear of nearly every union-loving teacher is coming to pass. The success of teachers is being measured by the success of their students -- in one Texas school district at least. A news story from Houston appears below, with my comments afterward.
Houston teachers' pay now tied to scores
The Associated Press
HOUSTON — Houston became the largest school district in the country on Thursday, Jan. 12, to adopt a merit pay plan for teachers that focuses on students' tests scores.

By a 9-0 vote, the Houston school board approved a plan that offers teachers as much as $3,000 in extra pay if their students improve on state and national tests. The program could be expanded to provide as much as $10,000 in merit pay for teachers.

The vote came after several teachers told the board at its monthly meeting they believed the plan was flawed and unfair because some teachers will be eligible for larger bonuses than others.

"This is not a perfect plan, but it is a beginning," said school board president Diana Davila.

Other school districts nationwide have implemented various types of incentive pay programs for teachers in recent years. Denver adopted one in November, becoming at the time the largest district to do so. Houston, with more than 200,000 students, is the nation's seventh-largest district.

The plan is divided into three sections, with as much as $1,000 in bonus pay tied to each.

The first will award bonuses to all teachers in schools rated acceptable or higher, based on scores on the state's main standardized test. The second ties pay to student improvement on a standardized test that compares performance to nationwide norms.

In the third section, reading and math teachers whose students fare well compared with others in the district would be eligible for bonuses.

The teachers' union doesn't approve of the plan, saying it focuses too much on test scores and is too complicated.

"Any time you divide one set of teachers from another, you are sending the wrong message," said Jana Angelov, a high school art teacher who has been with the district for eight years.

Ben Hernandez, 30, a kindergarten teacher who helped design the plan, said that even though he does not like the focus on test scores, he believes the plan will be a good way to reward teachers for hard work.

"If I am to continue to be successful as an educator, I must change," he said. "The system must change also. This proposal is a change from the past, a change for the better."

The district will continue working to increase teachers' base pay, Superintendent Abe Saavedra said. And he is open to modifying the plan if needed.

"It's time not only for this district but for every district in this country to start looking (to see) if there is a different way to compensate our professionals," he said.

In general, teachers across the country have been paid based on their years of experience and education levels. Starting teachers in Houston make about $36,000 a year. The average salary in the district is about $45,000.

This plan, as with any argument for merit pay, is flawed for several fundamental reasons:

First, merit pay always pits teacher against teacher, eroding the environment of collaboration that often leads to innovation and improvement in the first place. In the school where I teach, teachers often share materials and ideas, work together and learn from each other. With merit pay incentives based on the results of students on certain tests, teachers would be less likely to help their colleagues -- people they would see as competition. As I read the Houston plan above, the third section of raises would pit teachers against their colleagues across the district by using norms instead of standards. That means someone is above the norm and someone is below it -- a lot of kids will be average, and that would mean a lot of teachers would go without the bonuses.

Second, the incentives for achievement are based on tests which, especially in the Houston plan, will not allow for widespread success; there will be few winners. As explained above, using certain tests, only the top-performing students would earn a bonus for their teacher. There is more in the curriculum, indeed more to learning, than can be measured on a standardized or norm-referenced test.

Third, merit pay incentives force teachers to make tough choices about curriculum -- either they will focus on one test which will provide the best pay bonus, they will spend all their time helping lower-achieving students at the expense of other students, or they will refuse to teach the classes of needier students who stand a lower chance of success on these tests. While some people may say that "teaching to the test" is exactly what is needed, in most cases doing so is not educationally sound. Certainly, all teaching should be geared toward academic achievement, and much of a class' curriculum is measured on a test, but some of the tests do not measure all of the learning by every student. Furthermore, some students may not be able to demonstrate their learning effectively on some tests. Perhaps they are students who are just learning English or need special assistance; these students do not perform well on such tests.

Once again, bad educational reform has begun in Houston, Texas. Former Education Secretary Rod Paige had been superintendent of Houston Schools while George W. Bush was governor of the state. The duo took Houston's model national in what became the "No Child Left Behind" Act. I'll be watching Houston to see what happens there. Every teacher wants the best for his or her students, but what is the true cost of merit pay?

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Campaign '08 is off and running

Now that he has left the governor's mansion in Virginia, Mark Warner has his sights set on the White House. If there was any doubt whether he was running for president, the media frenzy around him should clarify he is definitely a candidate for teh Democratic nomination for president in 2008.

A large profile in the Washington Post, reprinted in papers around the country, and a national Sunday-morning interview both contribute to Warner's moment in the spotlight. He is an attractive candidate for the Democrats for several reasons.

He is a moderate politician in a modern Southern state. The last two successful Democratic
candidates were governors in Southern states. Warner, 51, has worked to reach bipartisan success with the Republican-controlled legislature.

He has three huge hurdles in his path to the nomination. First is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is the odds-on favorite to be the nominee. She has a huge fundraising and name-recognition advantage over Warner, who has barely any of either. Second is that he is a centrist, and the Democrat primary voters usually like someone a bit more to the left. Problem is, Sen. Clinton already has a firm control of the center, and she is vulnerable on the left with her positions on the Iraq war. Third, as a governor, he has not had a chance to gain a lot of experience with foreign policy, especially since he is not from a border or heavy-immigration state such as New Mexico or Florida. While some would point to the lack of experience of Bill Clinton in 1991, then governor of Arkansas, this is a different world -- a post-9/11 world. Warner should try to play up how while some in Washington have been appropriating money for homeland security, he was on the front lines actually implementing the policies to get the job done.

Warner will make a strong candidate in the Democratic primary. To be successful, he needs to carve a niche as a moderate, experienced alternative to Sen. Clinton, and someone with real experience governing. Four of the last five presidents were governors prior to being elected president. Warner's main competition for the center are two strong candidates: Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Bayh was governor of Indiana, a conservative Midwestern state, before being elected twice to the Senate. Richardson served as a Congressman, gaining notoriety for his negotiating abilities with North Korea, and later ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy before being elected governor in 2002.

On the Republican ticket, don't overlook another Virginian angling for the nomination: Sen. George Allen, a handsome and articulate conservative who is a strong candidate.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blame it on the rain

It has been raining. For days and days, and for a few days more still, it has rained. Here in the sunney warmth we like to call Eastern Washington, the rain has subsided a bit and we even had some blue sky today. Tuesday I saw a brilliant rainbow through the front office windows at school. Not only had I nearly forgotten what a rainbow looked like, I had nearly forgotten what a window looked like (few classrooms at school have windows, and just one hallway does).

Seattle is headed for the longest stretch of rainy days on record, which would be 33 days. The city has experienced 25 so far. Meanwhile, parts of the state are sliding off, sinking under and slipping away as the rain keeps coming.

Pat Robertson will blame it on the gays or the unfaithful or the pronographers or someone. Just wait -- I bet he will. Then, as usual, he will apologize, and someone will condemn him.

Meanwhile, I just wish it would either snow or get to spring already.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Legislature opens like a lion

The 60-day legislative session opened in Olympia Jan. 9, with much speculation about just what can be accomplished in the short-but-intense session as senators and representatives hope to finish on time, under budget and get home to campaign for re-election.

The main issues, at least according to all the media reports include the state operating budget, education reform's next step, and gay rights.
  • The budget reflects a roughly $1.4 billion surplus that comes just a year after plugging a $1.8 billion hole a year ago. Some say return the money to taxpayers; others favor reinstating drastic cuts made to balance the budget. I say let's wait a year and see if the surplus was a fluke or whether the revenue projections and growth mean the state can lower tax rates slightly.
  • Among the contentious debates will be whether to back away from the state's high-stakes exit test, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, because trends show huge numbers of sophomores won't pass this spring on schedule and therefore won't be on track to graduate as planned in 2008. Some say the WASL should be revised or removed as such a pivotal graduation requirement (it is now just one of four, the others being course completion, a fifth-year plan and a culminating project). Others say that high standards must be maintained. But is the WASL's high standard too high? Can the state afford to pay for remediation of all the students who don't meet the standards? Can it afford to lose face if it backs away?
  • The gay-rights bill would add sexual orientation to the list of groups against whom discrimination is illegal in Washington state. The bill has been offered nearly each of the past 20 years and failed in the Senate last session by just one vote. It gained a lot of strength on the first day of the session. Sen. Bill Finkbeiner of Kirkland, formerly a Democrat who switched parties and became Republican leader but who stepped down from that post late last year, said he would support the bill. He had voted for it twice when he was in the state House, but he voted no last year in the Senate, when he was Republican leader. Now, without the need to lead his more conservative colleagues, he is again free to vote for the measure, and sponsors are more optimistic than ever of its passage.

So, there is a lot going on in Olympia already. The question remains whether the Legislature can deliver or whether it will get bogged down in the short session and fail to accomplish much of anything. If the first day is a measure, this should be a productive session.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rodent revenge

Via CNN and The Associated Press:

FORT SUMNER, New Mexico (AP) -- A mouse got its revenge against a homeowner who tried to dispose of it in a pile of burning leaves. The blazing creature ran back to the man's house and set it on fire.

Luciano Mares, 81, of Fort Sumner said he caught the mouse inside his house and wanted to get rid of it.

"I had some leaves burning outside, so I threw it in the fire, and the mouse was on fire and ran back at the house," Mares said from a motel room Saturday.

Village Fire Chief Juan Chavez said the burning mouse ran to just beneath a window, and the flames spread up from there and throughout the house.

No was hurt inside, but the home and everything in it was destroyed.

Unseasonably dry and windy conditions have charred more than 53,000 acres and destroyed 10 homes in southeastern New Mexico in recent weeks.

"I've seen numerous house fires," village Fire Department Capt. Jim Lyssy said, "but nothing as unique as this one."

Now that is irony!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Keep the money, Patty

Politicians from around the country are moving as quickly as possible to distance themselves from the tinge of guilt by being associated with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who this week pled guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe a public official. Among his alleged illegal acts was getting money to politicians through American Indian tribes he represented, in some cases tribes with competing interests. Some elected officials have returned the funds from tribes or donated the money to charities when they believed that the money may have come after Abramoff's influence.

Washington state's two U.S. Senators both gained funds from tribal organizations, yet neither received tribal funds when the donation was influenced by Abramoff. Sen. Maria Cantwell said earlier in the week she would keep the money in her campaign fund, but late this week she said she was donating the money to an American Indian charity anyway. She is in a tough re-election battle this year, and she probably doesn't need any more scrutiny of her fundraising.

Sen. Patty Murray, meanwhile, said she had received upwards of $40,000 from tribal organizations, making her the eighth-highest recipient and second-highest Democrat. She emphasized none came via Abramoff's influence and said she would keep the money in her campaign fund.

The Seattle Times, in Sunday's editorial, said Sen. Murray should return the money. The Times says it should be returned to avoid any association of impropriety and to remove any taint associated with the current scandal.

I respectfully disagree. Murray said the money was not sent improperly. We should take her at her word, and if we learn otherwise, we should hold her accountable at that time. This is just one more example of exacerbating a problem by making people believe something is amiss where it is not. At a time when we should be seeking to point out a bright spot among our elected officials, The Seattle Times instead says to essentially admit guilt even though everyone knows there has been no crime. Sen. Murray has done nothing wrong; in fact, she has done everything right in this situation by checking her funds, determining there was no Abramoff connection and informing her constituents in Washington state.

The Times should not ask elected representatives to reach a false standard. Instead, they should recognize a good decision when it has been made to meet the high standard for good faith and open government.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

'Munich' makes you think

Saturday night I saw the movie "Munich," Steven Spielberg's epic inspired by the events which began in September 1972 when 11 Israeli athletes were captured and later killed at the Olympic Games in Munich, then part of West Germany. Simply put, the film is a fast-paced thriller that stands on its own as cinema but also provokes thought at the larger world and geopolitics.

On one level the movie was interesting because, being born in 1974, I did not experience the events at the Olympics that year. One should not use a fictional movie "inspired" by real events as a hitory text, but still I gained a great deal of general knowledge about the politics and issues of the time.

Beyond the historical information, the movie prompts viewers to think not only about what happened more than 30 years ago but also how that set in motion a series of events since then. The movie's main theme is articulated early in the film by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir: "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." The young Israeli state finds itself in a conflict of whether to pursue a violent solution to the violence it experienced in Munich. At one point a character asks if it is right for violence to beget more violence.

Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s, and one finds the Middle East tackling the same problems. Recently, Israel determined that the solution to ending the violence against its people was to stop negotiating for peace and to unilaterally move to protect its citizens and Israeli interests by attacking the insurgents and building a wall to separate Israel and Palestine. While some of the violence has been reduced, the wall and attacks also promted new attacks. Interestingly, these were major projects implemented by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who this week suffered a debilitating stroke, effectively ending his political career if not his life. The question remains who will emerge to continue his plans or to change course, writing the next chapter of the saga that started with Israeli statehood and continued in Munich in 1972.

Spielberg's movie achieves a balance in thought-provoking film. As a Jew himself, and as someone who has done much through his film career to advance the case for Jews, Spielberg could have been expected to portray the Israelis in sympathetic light. However, while the movie certainly shows the athletes as the victims, Spielberg shows how everyone is a victim and that everyone must now look over his or her shoulder in the world we live in.

This is exactly the kind of film that should be seen and discussed around America, especially in communities like Wenatchee with limited cultural opportunities. There is a market for smart cinema in the rural areas of our country, and we need to support it.

Finally, I appreciated the eagerness demonstrated by the older couples sitting behind me, but people should become at least moderately educated before attending a historical film, and they should also refrain from commenting during the screening. It is extremely annoying and disruptive to overhear questions and comments while trying to listen to a number of important bits of information on screen.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

'Daily' Dose

From "America: The Calendar":
Saturday, Jan. 7 "The Democratic Party's symbol, the donkey, represents the type of nstubbornness that forces a town council to put a menorah up in the square alongside the Christmas tree even though the town has only five Jewish families."

Sunday, Jan. 8 "The Republican Party's symbol, the elephant, represents the astounding memory of people who, if you say anything bad about them ever, file it away in a Rolodex of spite...and then trample you to death."

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

A banner week

Well, my post last week about the minimum wage (Let's be fair) prompted 26 comments as of the morning of Jan. 8, making 2006 a great start here at Loganite. Thanks to my loyal readers, I logged the following statistics:
Total: 6,058 (since tracking began)
Average per Day: 29
Average Visit Length: 3:49
This Week: 200

Page Views
Total: 17,343 (since tracking began)
Average per Day: 101
Average per Visit: 3.5
This Week: 704

My own views of the site have not been included for some time, so this week shows there has been a lot of activity. Now, my friends at other Blog sites get a lot more hits, in the thousands, but for me, this has been heavy traffic.

To those who are now regular posters: Avoid the ad homineum attacks, please. I generally believe this to be an open forum, I don't set out to mock or ridicule others, and I try to base my opinions on evidence or personal experience. I like others to do the same.

Keep commenting!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Maury and Connie, together at last

Television talk personality Maury Povich and his broadcast journalist wife, Connie Chung, have a new show on MSNBC, called "Weekend with Maury and Connie," and debuted today. Both of the hosts have long careers in television broadcasting, and Chung has worked for ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, while Povich has hosted his own syndicated talk show for about 20 years.

I have not seen the show, which apparently will focus on everything in the week's headlines from politics to pop culture.

No word on whether there will be paternity tests or if the host will ask a guest to whisper a secret into her ear.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tom DeLay, exit stage right

Tom DeLay, the embattled Congressman who rose to power to become known as the "velvet hammer" as the Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives but who lately has been under indictment for campaign finance violations has said he would not seek to return to the leadership post he took leave from late in 2005.

CNN reports

A group of moderate Republicans, seemingly ready to cut DeLay loose as an example of the party's corruption and then move on, circulated a petition among conference members which sought a new leadership election. Obviously the leading contender is Roy Blunt, the previous whip who has been the acting leader in DeLay's absence.

I suspect this is just the first of several "head to roll" that we will see in the coming weeks and months. If I were in GOP shoes, I would also seek to cut out the bad parts and move on. This is a Congressional election year, and members of Congress probably want all the bad news about the Abramoff lobbying scandal behind them as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll reports that a plurality of Americans favor a change in party to lead the Congress, 49 percent to 36 percent. Of course, the Congress is elected district by district and not based on any national poll. Still, strong candidates and close elections could mean good news for the Dems.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson at it again

Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a failed candidate for president, has spent several occasions over the last year explaining his belief that natural disasters and various calamities are really God's wrath for wrongdoing. He always apologizes soon after. This week was no different, claiming that the reason Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive brain hemmorhage and stroke was because Sharon was working to carve up the Holy Land in order to achieve peace in the region. Read the CNN article.

Of course, Robertson has since apologized. Sharon remains in a coma near death. This time, even the Bush Administration has issued a rebuke of Robertson.

Local commentator Ken Schram, of Seattle's KOMO-TV, offered his views, too.

My view? Pretty simple: Does anyone actually believe this nut anymore? Pat Robertson is grasping at any shred of hope to keep his name in the news. He's a lunatic and deserves no more media attention.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Letterman 1, O'Reilly 0

On the Jan. 3 edition of "Late Show with David Letterman," the host got into it with guest Bill O'Reilly over the so-called war on Christmas, the very real war in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan's protest of that war (O'Reilly apparently said Sheehan called the insurgents "freedom fighters") and whether O'Reilly is full of crap (or at least 60 percent crap).

Yes, Letterman told O'Reilly he thought about 60 percent of what O'Reilly said was crap.

Crooks and Liars has a video worth watching. Letterman schools O'Reilly. And here is a transcript of the exchange.

I must have been the only one not watching last night. I often do, but I switched to CNN and later my DVD of "The West Wing" just to escape. I'll be back tonight to see Dave's follow-up and if he cracks a few jokes about it all. He's the king of late night.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Mine miracle? Media mistake!

In probably one of the worst examples of the news media's rush to get the headline out before the headline is even known, most media outlets reported late into the night Jan. 3 and early Jan. 4 that 12 of the 13 miners trapped in West Virginia because of an explosion had been recovered alive. In fact, hours later, it was revealed that just the opposite was true: Only one was recovered alive. Meanwhile, families and townspeople rejoiced, the news media reported and no one had confirmed whether the report was true or supported by the minimg company or the authorities.

This all occurred at press deadline for most newspapers, and this morning's editions went to press with headlines declaring a miracle had occurred in the mine. By the time those papers hit the doorsteps of readers, the news had changed -- dramatically and for the worse. The Newseum collects daily front pages and has them here. (The pages will likely be archived for future reference, in which case, click on the archives link.) The early edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the one at our school library, had the headline about miners being found alive. Later editions had a headline about the tragedy. View both here.

Lesson 1 for the news media has got to be that every story needs to be confirmed from an authoritative source or multiple sources. Period.

I watched CNN, which included a replay of the moment when the network broke the news, and a man, panting and emotional, told Anderson Cooper that the 12 men had been recovered alive. Cooper asked repeatedly who had told the man of the success, but the man just referred to the church bells ringing in jubilation. Later, apparently, the media did get the correct information -- after the families had been informed by the mining company and the governor.

Now, the families and citizens are furious at anyone around, blaming everyone and everything for what is just a cruel tragedy. I don't think the media are entirely to blame here -- they reported what was happeneing and what they had been told. Nonetheless, there should have been more caution in the reportage, perhaps with the words "unconfirmed report" attached to graphics and dialog.

Today, there is as much hand-wringing as there is reporting about the results. And it is just more fodder for the people who despise the media.

Note: This version has corrected several typographical errors, including the word "opposite," which was misspelled as "poopsite." That apparently was pretty amusing to some readers.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A thumb in the eye

Below is the best piece of news poking a figurative thumb in the eye of the Washington politicians.

Oakland Tribune sends copies of '1984' to Congress

The Oakland Tribune in a Dec. 23, 2005, editorial called on its readers to mail or drop off their "tattered copies" of George Orwell's "1984." The editorial argued that "Big Brother Is Watching" via the wiretaps of U.S. citizens "secretly authorized" by President Bush. When 537 copies of the book are gathered, they'll be sent to each member of Congress and to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The paper urged readers: "Feel free to inscribe the book with a note, reminding these fine people that we Americans take the threat to our liberties seriously. Remind Congress that it makes no sense to fight a war for democracy in a foreign land while allowing our democratic principles to erode at home."

What a crappy few weeks in the nation's capital: the slow erosion of the Bush Administration's tight control on leaks, let alone its credibility; the realization that the president circumvented the courts and Congress in ordering domestic spying; the agreement of lobbyist Jack Abramson to admit wrongdoing in exchange for naming names and implicating others in his schemes, probably including several powerful Congressmen. And get ready for a sizzling week of hearings as the Senate Judiciary Committee grills Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

It is 2006, a mid-term election year of a lame-duck president. The intensity will only increase from here.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Let's be fair

As 2006 dawned, thousands of workers in Washington state got a much-deserved raise. The state's new minimum wage is $7.63, up from $7.35 a year ago. Beginning in 2001, the rate has been adjusted on Jan. 1 annually for inflation by a calculation using the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers for the prior year. Workers who are 14 or 15 years old, may be paid at 85 percent of the wage, which is now $6.49. This is the highest minimum wage in the nation; Oregon, which passed a law similar to Washington's in 2002, now has a wage of $7.50.

While $7.63 may seem like pretty good money, according to the AFL-CIO, if the federal minimum wage established in 1968 had kept up with inflation, it would be about $7.60 today. So, Washington's is pretty close to that pace. When established 38 years ago, the federal minimum wage was $1.60. Today, shockingly, it is just $5.15 per hour, and the vast majority of states follow the federal minimum or have no mimimum, which means certain job classifications covered by the federal law must be paid at the federal rate.

What does the minimum wage buy today? Not much. In Michigan minimum of $5.15 will buy a couple gallons of gas for the many cars made there. In Nebraska the federal minimum of $5.15 will cover a standard fast-food combo meal made from beef grown nearby (in Idaho, where the potatoes for french fries are grown, the rate is $5.15, too). One hour's work won;t cover a bucket of chicken if you work in Kentucky, where the rate is $5.15. Want a drink during Mardi Gras in Louisiana -- a worker there would be able to buy a couple cheap drinks after working for an hour at the state's rate of $5.15 per hour. In Nevada, an hour's work at $5.15 would be one hand at most casinos' cheapest card table, and a day's wages could be lost pretty quickly.

Workers in some states fare just a bit better. Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut, Rhode Island and a few other states pay a minimum of between $6.50 and $7.50 per hour.

The federal wage is roughly two-thirds of what is considered poverty for a family of three people. When you calculate that a wage of $7.74 per hour for 40 hours a week for a year is necessary to be above the poverty line in America, it is amazing that more states don't set minimum wages that are at least closer to $7 than to $5.

Well, that state-by-state effort is the plan of the Democrats in 2006. Knowing that a federal minimum wage increase has been blocked since 1997, the Dems are planning to fire up the base and turn out the vote with a core issue. And, the wage is still $5.15 in several so-called "swing states" like Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Arizona in addition to those listed above.

The Republicans should be scared. The Democrats might just back them into a corner, and pass such wage increases either in individual states or by forcing Congress to act. A dollar increase in each of the next three years should have the federal minimum wage caught up with prices by the end of the decade. It's the fair thing to do for some of America's hardest workers and most vulnerable. If we expect people to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," we have to do more to give them a helping hand.

Do whatever you can to promote passage of fair labor laws and minimum wage increases across the nation this year.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Daily dose of 'Daily'

One of the best holiday presents to myself was the "America (the Calendar)" daily calendar I bought for myself. It was half off on Dec. 30, so for just $6 I get to enjoy a tidbit of sarcastic and ironic American history all year presented by the people from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

If anything is worth sharing, I will. Of course, half of the stuff is profane, and I have resisted the urge to make my Weblog as dirty as my mouth usually is.

Anyway, two days now, and it's funny stuff.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Vacation Movies, Part III

I saw two movies over the weekend:
"Breakfast on Pluto" -- Cillian Murphy stars as a young transvestite in Ireland whose motivation, aside from bucking the rigid constraints of his Catholic-school life, is finding the mother who left him at the stoop of the priest when he was just a baby. The film is told in 36 short chapters, and it is these slices, rather than a traditional plot line, that drive the story and give it a similarity to a Charles Dickens tale.

I liked this film, and the acting performances are smart and not overplayed. I owuld have liked to have known more about the background to the decades portrayed in the film of the British-Irish conflicts.

"Brokeback Mountain" -- This film had so mych buzz and then hype surrounding it and trivializing it that I hope it gets wider release, so more people can actually see it and participate in the experience that is definitely among the best films I saw this year. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall play two Wyoming cowboys who must fight their natural feelings and conform to what society expects of them. The most telling quote comes from Ennis (Ledger): "If you can't fix it, you have to stand it."

This film really is more than what most people will call it: "the gay cowboy movie." It is a beautiful love story about two people who must deny their true feelings and remain separated by social structures and geographical distance. That this film includes mainstream actors will get it noticed. It is not sensational. It is not stereotypical. It is an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking and storytelling. It's worth seeing.

2005 was a good film year: As I type this, Ebert and Roeper are recapping their top ten films of the year. Not only have I seen many of their selections, I also enjoyed a lot of creat cinema this year, including the delightful "Millions" and "Junebug." Some of the great examples of just how good this year was are now coming out on DVD, and they are worth a viewing as well.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

2006: So far, so good

I rang in the new year with a gaggle of fun people, including my pals the CIB (a.k.a UnionGrrl) and Superfrankenstein at their condo on lower Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. The evening included many spiritous libations and some down-home good eats (including various hors d'oeuvres, a huge ham, black-eyed peas, collared greens that I did not eat, and almond cake) selected for their good luck in the new year. The entertainment included making sure each guest had voted for A.H.O.Y. '05 (balloting open until Jan. 8).

At midnight, we all gathered on the terrace and watched the Space Needle fireworks just a few blocks away. Although the nearby buildings obscured some of the lower pyrotechnics, there was still quite a show.

The only sour spot of the last day of 2005 dealt with my car, of course, just like so many car troubles dominated the year's pitfalls. The window is stuck in the down position, and, unable to get the window back up, I was forced to cover the opening with plastic sheeting and seal it with duct tape. It looks pretty bad, yet the fix did hold the entire trip over two mountain passes back to Wenatchee tonight.

So 2006, the Chinese Year of the Dog, has opened with plenty of socializing and some relaxation, hopefully both harbingers of the year to come.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.