Monday, May 29, 2006

ITMFA -- The time is now

My friend Superfrankenstein gave me my shiny new ITMFA flag pin on Saturday. In fact, he gave me the pin off his own shirt. He has more. They're just $5, enough for one for each friend and family member to have one.

What is ITMFA, you might ask? Well, I'll let you click on that link above and figure it out, but it basically means Impeach the Mo Fo Already. And the Mo Fo is the current occupant of the Oval Office.

ITMFA is the brainchild of Seattle writer Dan Savage, whose column "Savage Love" appears in the delightfully inappropriate weekly The Stranger. It's good stuff. Savage writes on the Web site for ITMFA that he is sending a pin or button to each Democrat member of Congress. His goal: to get one of these legislators to wear the pin on a Sunday morning talk show. It may take guts, but Seattle's Jim McDermott probably has enough chutzpah to do it.

Meanwhile, I've worn my flag pin two days in a row, and no comments form passersby. That's probably because it is Memorial Day weekend, a time when everyone wears a flag pin. But when I wear it around town, I will see what happens. It will only take one innocent inquiry to result in a dirty look around this red town, I am sure.

We'll see.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Day of memorials

Driving back into Wenatchee yesterday I passed the city cemetery and noticed not only the rows of small American flags fluttering in the evening breeze but also the neat bouquets of flowers placed on the graves throughout the grassy field. And as I thought how nice it was that people still decorated the graves for Memorial Day, I remembered how much that used to be a part of my Memorial Day weekend each year. My elder relatives always said they doubted people would do the decorating for many more years. It's a tradition that has dropped in priority.

We used to have two decorating days -- one with each side of the family. With my mom's side of the family, all the graves were at the local cemetery, and all the flowers were from my grandma's garden and yard -- peonies, iris, bachlor buttons, columbine, snowballs and cedar branches. Branches of the Hawthorne tree were clipped for decorating, and one grave of a young relative from long ago always was the only grave to receive a type of small yellow flower, like a multi-petaled buttercup. Grandma always said it was this relative's favorite.

As we walked around the cemetery, Grandma and Mom always knew where each person was buried, and there was a little conversation with those who had passed on. We would fill the coffee cans with water from the spigot and then make a nice arrangement from the pile of flowers that Gram had brought in from the farm in the big trunk of her Olsmobile. It was also a day for instructing about the family tree, learning about family ties and seeing the legacy.

On my dad's side, we often would travel the few miles to the next town and clear the graves of any weeds and debris. On some of the older graves, we would have to fill the coffee cans of flowers with water and hike into the woods to the clearing with the concrete markers. Some of these old graves had impressive headstones, with ceramic photos affixed to the fronts and the years of life chiseled into stone. Many of the gravesites were raised with small concrete platforms. Inside the edge of the grave, about six inches wide and a foot tall, was a covering of white rocks, probably quartz. I recall one year we worked all weekend to replace the rocks with a board covered with a green plastic outdoor carpet -- it sort of looked like Astroturf. It did make the graves look a lot nicer.

No matter where I was or who I was with as I traipsed through the cemeteries carrying flowers for departed relatives, it was a day about remembering. It's been many years since I did that, and it's not really something I am fond of doing now. My views of cemeteries have changed, and I don't visit any more. Just because I don't go to place flowers doesn't mean I don't remember. But, yes, it does look nice.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Now that's a cover that sells

Slate magazine commissioned, as part of its Pulp Fiction week, a set of new covers of six classic novels in the mode of the pulp newsstand novels of the mid 20th Century. The art of this genre is so interesting in its depiction of women, good vs. evil, and intensification/downplay that
some could be studied as cultural artifacts.

But the Slate covers are fantastic. I think the cover for The Iliad is best, and the Animal Farm edition would be guaranteed to make nearly every freshman boy avoid standing up. I can only imagine what some of our other literature might have as a pulp cover.

Great stuff.

-- Seattle

Cuban dinner

This Memorial Day weekend I am out of town for a couple days to get some relaxing and a change of scenery as well as to visit a few friends in Seattle. Saturday night I had a fantastic dinner at a Cuban restaurant in lower Queen Anne/Belltown caled the Mojito Cafe. The marinated steak was aweosme. The mojito drink was not so bad, either.

I walked around a bit at the Northwest Folklife Festival as well. Despite the rain, people seemed to really be enjoying themselves. There were plenty of free spirits and a lot of piercings, bare feet and recycled clothing. The music in the background was peaceful and relaxing.

Today, lunch with another longtime friend and then back home to still have a day around the house before that last leg before school gets out for summer.

-- Seattle

Absolute Politics

The top three officials at the Justice Department, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have said they would resign if forced to return evidence siezed last week in a raid of the office of Rep. William Jefferson. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, has been linked to the Abramhoff bribery scandals.

Members of Congress universally expressed outrage that the FBI would make the unprecedented move of raiding a Capitol Hill office of a lawmaker. The FBI and others don't see why Congress is off limits if a crime has been committed. And now, it appears they are willing to stake their jobs on it. The White House ordered the evidence sealed for 45 days so a compromise could be brokered and tempers could cool.

Smart move. When people start talking in absolutes -- such as willing to quit their job -- things get heated very fast. The White House should know this; President Bush only this week declared some of his previous statements about the war on terrorism perhaps had an escalating effect and eroded the opinion of Americans among friendly nations worldwide. He also cited the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse as a low point in the Iraq war. Bush's tough talk as president has left little wiggle room for diplomats, and it appears he has finally acknowledged that his rhetoric -- at least a bit -- has impacted how people perceive the United States, its policies and its people.

Now is not the time for absolutes. Diplomacy and common ground are preferred.

Update: Slate weighs in with a legal analysis from the point of view of another Jefferson -- this time, it's Thomas J.

-- Seattle

Perpetual minority

Maybe there's a reason that Republicans in Washington state have not had a statewide majority in like two decades. They're out of touch, out of the mainstream of Washington leta alone the nation, and they sometimes are just plain nuts. The latest example is the 2006 state party platform, adopted this weekend in Yakima, that would bar children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens. This despite the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Read here.

Seems like once again a few manuipulative folks have taken control of the state party. Meanwhile all the people who have to explain this to the public or who have won statewide (that would be only Attorney General Rob McKenna bythe way) think the move is pretty foolish. The fact that this happened in Yakima of all places is so ironic. The city is one of the most dependent on agriculture labor and has a huge population of immigrants -- illegal and legal. Mexico's President Vicente Fox even visited there just this week.

The GOP in this state had a chance in 2004 to claim the governor's mansion with a strong candidate and history on their side. They could not put that together, and 2006 is not looking very good to reclaim the Legislature, either. And, with at least two weakened U.S. Representatives and a Senate candidate that is facing an increasingly popular incumbent, it looks like this blue state may just stay that way a while.

-- Seattle

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Save your money from 'American Dreamz'

I saw "American Dreamz" Saturday night. I thought the premise looked decent, but the execution was probably among the worst movies I have ever seen. Yes, it really was that bad, and I am disappointed I paid $9.50 to see it.

I could have excused the completely ridiculous situation if the comedy were better. However, this movie could not decide whether it wanted to be a realistic but funny movie such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or even "Dave" or whether it wanted to be a complete spoof/satire like
"Dick." Unfortunately, it was neither and was so painfully unfunny to me that I would have left if my friend had not been entertained by it.

Verdict: Save your money. Don't even rent it. And save your time, too -- it's not even worth reading the back of the DVD case.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Teaching the First Freedoms

I had the opportunity Friday to attend a daylong instructional session on how to incorporate the principles of the First Amendment into my classroom and even around school. I am already one of just a few teachers who incorporates any instruction of the First Amendment at all, so I have a base of knowledge and a framework to build on.

The session was held at Central Washington University as part of its yearlong First Amendment Festival. The instructor was Sam Chaltain, formerly of the First Amendment Schools program and now on special assignment with the Knight Foundation. It was, appropriately, free.

Most of the participants were professors from CWU’s Communication Department, yet there were a handful of college students and high school teachers, including me and one colleague from my own English Department.

In his opening lecture, Chaltain noted that educators must create the context and culture for learning and active citizenship. The First Amendment (as well as the 14th) provides opportunities to make curriculum more active through discussions and participation.

Opening the second session, participants listed several statements that summarized the morning. I listed a few in my notes:
We must help kids to acquire the skills they need to attain visibility, and we need to help them understand why visibility matters. Every student needs to find not only his or her voice but also a forum to speak without interruption and a chance to listen to the ideas of another.
We must provide meaningful opportunities for students to practice freedom responsibly. Students must learn to balance freedom with responsibility, and we must create a chance for that to take place.
We must balance individual rights with civic responsibilities. One of the most important ideas about the First Amendment is that we should guard the rights of others in order to fully appreciate our own.

In the exercise of freedom, Chaltain said, we extend the promise of America. That statement is the essential point that all educators -- especially those in public schools -- must remember and must work toward because everything else is based on it. The promise of America cannot be an empty one. It must be reachable and real for every citizen -- every person -- in order to live up to the dream of the founders.

Friday’s learning was less of an instruction on the importance of the First Amendment’s words as it was a reminder to me that the mission I have is so important to live up to the ideas and values and experiences behind those words. Maybe now, after this invigorating and stimulating day, I will have colleagues join me in bringing more active learning about first freedoms to the classrooms at our school. Certainly now more than ever -- at a time when people’s knowledge and value of the First Amendment has ebbed and those in power have sought to capitalize on that -- it has become so important to foster in our youth an appreciation for first freedoms and to show how those freedoms are woven into nearly every issue of the day.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bye bye, Blueberry

After eight years and nine months of loyalty and comfort, I have finally parted ways with the car I have affectionately called Blueberry. For that time, my first adult car, which I bought in part to replace a stolen car and in part to mark my entry into the professional world, Blueberry was so much more than a 1996 Mercury Mystique. The car was my comfort, my reliable transport, part of my identity.

We've been through so much. Blueberry survived many a prank when I used to park on the street in a questionable neighborhood. There have been pranks with toilet paper, of course, but also hot dogs, marshmallows, maple syrup and even a pumpkin that smashed the trunk lid and caused several hundred dollars of damage and body repairs. I've backed into many obstacles, had a few dings from shopping carts and doors and a scraped bumpers of nearby cars. Someone once backed into my rear fender with a trailer. And, astonishingly, we survived hitting a deer. We've swerved, spun out, skidded and slid. We've hydroplaned and overheated. We've spent 90,000 miles together -- not so many when all things are considered -- and the car has just 110,000 total.

So Blueberry joined the inventory of Cascade Auto Center this evening, rushed away to be part of a weekend used car blowout at the Kmart parking lot. So someone else might be driving Blueberry soon. I hope that person's experience is as good as mine and that the car survives another 100,000 miles.

But as of today, I have a new vehicle in my life. I'm celebrating my newly minted master's degree and the accomplishment I made. This is a sweet little rig -- a 2006 Subaru Forester. I don't feel like I am cheating on Blueberry, just that I moved on when it became time for a change. And if you want to buy a full set of mounted snow tires, let me know.

Nominations for the new car's nickname are being accepted now.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Farewell, 'West Wing'

It is with more than a bit of sadness that I declare my feelings for my favorite television series, "The West Wing," which comes to an end tonight. As I type this I am watching the pre-finale presentation of the premiere episode of "The West Wing" from 1999.

The series has been to me, and to many others, a model of television and a weekly appointment for a dose of what America could be. In 1999 when the series premiered, we were in the second half of the second term of a Democratic president considered by many to have made too many concessions to reality -- the reality of a Republican-controlled Congress -- at the same time he faced a scandal of immense and unprecedented proportions. But at least the stock market was booming.

Enter "The West Wing" -- a show that not only provided a snappy hour of television drama but also made you a bit smarter for having watched and also made you think that we could be doing so much better if only we could get past politics. Aaron Sorkin crafted an hour each week that showed viewers many facets of an issue, and the dialog did not speak down to people nor get weighed down with intricate policies. Simply put, it was masterful.

And for the next several seasons, the show continued on an even keel, churning along and attracting accolades and laurels for its smart and witty writing, inspired acting and attention to detail. In the back of our minds, of course, we all knew it had to end. It was no "M*A*S*H," where the Korean War on screen went on far longer than it did in real life. No, we knew that in a maximum of six or seven seasons, this show as we knew it would end. Term limits, you know.

And so, as the campaign for the new presidential term heated up, we weaned ourselves from Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet and decided we could live with Jimmy Smits' Matt Santos or Alan Alda's Arnold Vinick. And the sixth season started to limp a bit, but by mid-seventh season, it was almost as if the show had turned into an even better franchise. Yet, the folks at NBC Universal have pulled the plug on a series when it seems it could have continued easily into the next term.

It could have continued to inspire, to educate, to entertain the masses and also make some money and win some awards along the way. But, we all knew this day would come, and it's best to let something go in peace and remember with longing a better time. It was a show that never failed to strive to be better, to portray America as a place whose best days still lay ahead, to demonstrate when to stand firm with one's convictions or when to offer compromise. In seven years, I have no shortage of favorite scenes, lines and plots. Thank goodness for my set of DVDs.

I'll watch with interest the last hour of "The West Wing," which begins in just a few minutes, and I will post any additional comments if I have them. And as I watch, I'll think about how many times I have wished America really were this way, about the people who did not make it to the end, and about how I have the responsibility to take an entertaining inspiration and make into a reality.

POST-VIEWING UPDATE: That was probably the longest hour of the show I have ever watched. That's what happens when the only plot device is to wrap up all the plots. I'll overlook a couple small glitches and factual errors. But it was tender and nice and sweet and, yes, inspirational. I knew either Bartlet or Santos would ask "What's next?" As soon as Mallory, Leo's daughter, came with a package for Bartlet I knew exactly what it was. That little napkin has been through more episodes than some characters. The finale was appropriately final and reverent to the show's history.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Blog shoutout

A fellow media adviser, Jeff Nusser, sent me an e-mail announcing his new Weblog, which is described below. The guy is a former sports reporter and now advises media at a high school in Pierce County, Washington. And he does a fantastic job. His blog is about sports, of course, so it's of little interest to me mainly because I don't much care for or know about sports. But I thought I would give it a little publicity. Check it out.

From Jeff:
Yes, it's true -- I have joined the throngs of those seeking to publish their thoughts and musings on the Internet. The new blog is called Hangin' With The Nuss (corny, I know -- blame News Tribune writer Craig Hill; the title was his idea a loooong time ago) and it can be found at

In a move that hardly will be surprising to any of you, it's a sports-focused site that will feature commentary from myself on the different issues in the sports world with a special eye turned toward Seattle sports. The idea is to create a place where Seattle sports fans can get together and dialogue in a fun way by posting comments about the travails and triumphs of their favorite franchises.

Why would I step out and do something so potentially embarassing? Mostly, I miss writing. Ever since I stopped being a full-time sports journalist five years ago, I've always wanted to figure out a way to keep writing. I've been able to do that a bit by freelancing, but mostly I just get to do fluffy feature stories. This is an opportunity to do some commentary writing on subjects that I find interesting. Oddly enough, I actually was inspired after going to see a new literature reading series last week that was organized by an educator friend -- I figured if he can take a step out for something he's passionate about, I could too. This blog is a result of that. Besides, as you know, if there's anyone that has an opinion on just about everything sports ... it's me.

I have no delusions of grandeur where thousands of loyal readers are hanging on my every word; mostly I'd be happy if a few people read it every once in a while and left thoughtful comments when they did.

So, if you like sports, please check it out -- the first post is up, analyzing the Mariners' series against the Devil Rays and why the 14 runs they scored in their two wins aren't necessarily a portent of future offensive success. And if you like what you see -- whether you agree or disagree with my assessment -- leave a comment ... and tell a friend.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

You can call me 'Master'

Today is Graduation Day. No, not at the school where I work but at the University of Missouri in Columbia. I've finished my Master of Education degree, and I have graduated. But I am not in Columbia, Mo., today -- too expensive to go all that way just for a ceremony. Yet, today is Graduation Day.

So, today I reflect on where I have been these last two years and where I am headed as a result of the learning I have gained. The piece of paper I have earned and will receive soon is a measure of a goal achieved. I set this goal several years ago -- to have the degree by age 30. I later revised it to be started by 30. I reached that (by a few days) and have actually finished a semester ahead of the program schedule due to a course transfer. Online learning worked beautifully for me.

During the two years I studied in this program, I learned a lot about myself, saw as I changed both as a teacher and learner as well as a person, became better at what I do at the same time struggling to just get by with what I was hired to do, and became a night owl and online regular. I have gained a lot, sacrificed some and ranked this experience among my best. I am proud to be able to say I set and met my goal, that I did more than what was expected or even than was required.

Today is Graduation Day, and though I may not be in my black robe and mortarboard with light blue hood, I am there in spirit. Today, I can say I have achieved. I am happy to join the alumni of the University of Missouri, Columbia, the nation's first and finest journalism school. Some day I may even get to see the campus.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Fully spring

There are days every year when you know it's good to live here, when you're glad that you do. In the fall the magnificent color changes and crisp air make evrything seem vibrant. The summer warmth and peace are relaxing. The winter snows covering the hillsides and weighing down the trees absorb all the stresses of the world.

But spring -- spring is the best. The last few weeks have seen the slow emergence of color and rebirth around the valley. Yesterday, as I drove through the mountains to Ellensburg, it was as if someone had sprayed green fuzz everywhere, and balsam flowers exploded abundantly. For just a few weeks, everything is green.

This is my favorite moment of the seasons. It's fresh, it's full of life and of potential, a reminder that evrything gets a fresh start at some point.

The fruit blossoms are spent, and the early tulips and daffodils have passed. Now I see two flowers I always associate with May: peonies and Hawthorne tree blooms. We always used to use both to decorate the gravesites at Memorial Day, and Hawthorne is one of my favorites still. My own yard has struggled this spring, but still it progresses, the flowers poking out despite my negligence. The fresh start comes regardless.

So take a few minutes to pause and just soak in the joy of spring. Then take a few more to really enjoy it. It only comes once a year, and it doesn't last long before it is pushed aside by the heat of summer.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Marching for equality

Today in communities around the nation, and in my own community, immigrants -- legal and illegal -- joined by friends and allies, marched and rallied to support fair immigration policies in the United States. Media reports estimate a total of 14 million people nationwide participated in a march.

Plans in Wenatchee included small rallies in outlying areas and a convergence here in the afternoon with a very visible march through downtown that ended at Lincoln Park at about 6 p.m. A friend and I went to the park to see the turnout at 6:10. While some participants in the crowd were dissipating, it appeared there were still about 2,000 people at the park listening to speeches, thanks and music.

This issue is the most important long-term issue in a generation. It is complicated and sensitive. It's clear there are a lot of people here illegally already, and we should just accept that and work to regulate immigration and control the southern border for the future.

It's easy to label people, point a finger and say that's whom to blame. But that doesn't solve a problem. And let's remember: almost all of us came here from somewhere else looking for a better life and wanting a sliver of the American Dream. We could do worse than to have people wanting to get in this country and build a better life.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.