Friday, July 28, 2006

Off to work for a week

I had hoped to have an average of one post daily for July -- mainly to make up for the fact that I only posted once (!) during June. But the last few days have beene specially busy as I finalized details for the journalism workshop I co-direct. I thought I would have some extra time, but today I went to school to do the last-minute work, and the custodians had waxed the floor in the hall, so I could not get to my classroom to work. I had to come back later in the afternoon. Then, tonight, it took me forever to load all the boxes and various packages of supplies and givewaway items into the car. That Forester is loaded to the roof and the back end is riding low. The best part is that almost none of that stuff comes home with me. We sell, give away or consume almost all of it, thankfully.

So that's where I will be for a week. I am excited -- I love being able to share with colleagues and also to help them get started or grow in a career I really enjoy. Then, four days with students is also enjoyable. It is a certain buzz and excitement about starting the year with goals and a good attitude.

Despite my good attitude now I am sure I will be tired and a bit cranky by the end of the week. Staying in a college dorm and eating mediocre food while trying to stay on top of running the workshop can really take a lot out of a person.

I will have Internet access during the workshop, and I will try to post something to get August started off right, but I won't have the flexibility to spend as much time as I might want on this.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is West the right direction for the Democrats?

Two news stories in the last few days indicate that the Democrat Party is headed in a direction that could ensure Democratic Congressional majorities, the White House and elected Democrats in offices around the country. The party's centrists, those who compose the Democratic Leadership Council, have targeted the Mountain West as the key for election success. All I have to say is: "Finally!"

The Republican stronghold has moved increasingly toward the South in recent elections. The Mountain West used to be reliably Republican under Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as the independent spirit and anti-government attitudes among the citizens identified with the traditional conservatives. But as the GOP has become increasingly controlled by Neo-Conservatives and Evangelical Christians, voters in the West, who with the exception of Utah generally are not religion-based voters, will search for a new party. That is exactly what the DLC hopes to capitalize on. It's exactly what I suggested as a Southwest Stragegy for 2004, but it did not happen.

What did happen in 2004 was two Congressional wins in Colorado and a capture of the state legislature for the first time since the Kennedy Administration. A Democrat won in Montana, a state that voted for George W. Bush by a strong margin. Democrats now have governors in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana.

The DLC held its convention last weekend in Denver, what DLC founder Al From has dubbed the capital of the New West. Speakers included Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Clinton mentioned the "American Dream Inititive," which outlines a set of policy initiatives aimed at middle class voters dealing with education, health care and the economy. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, was a former chair of the DLC when he was governor of Arkansas. As a Senator, Al Gore was also a DLC member. So is Joe Lieberman.

In another move, the Democrat National Committee also voted to allow Nevada to hold a caucus in the week between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary in 2008. While Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally been first in the nation, they are small states with nearly totally white populations. The Democrats also suggested South Carolina as an ealier primary. Moving the Nevada and South Carolina contests allows a broader representation of ethnicities to meet candidates early. With Hispanics becoming an increasingly large block of voters, including Nevada early has the benefit of a candidate needing to appeal to Latinos.

The move to capture the West is a good one for the Democrats. The values of the West: rugged individualism, fiscal responsibility, social and environmental responsibility, government investment in infrastructure for the benefit of the people -- those are Democrat values. When the party and its candidates are able to make that case to voters, I am confident they will be successful.

Finally, one decision is pending that could have a big impact on getting the message out and showing just how serious the Dems are about the West. The DNC should pick Denver as host city for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Denver is among three cities vying for the spot with Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City. The Democrats could energize the West and develop new voter blocks with the move. They should act fast to do it.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Take a 'bite' outta Seattle

I love the Bite of Seattle, the city's annual festival to celebrate one of my favorite things: food. Oh man, so many delightful tastes, smells and sights awaited me as I walked around the campus of the Seattle Center earlier today. And this weekend is one of the hottest on record in the city -- 97 degrees yesterday. It is not supposed to be as hot today, thankfully, but there is something nice about enjoying good fair food while walking along in the sun at the Center.

Today I had some mango chicken on rice from an Indian restaurant. I followed that with a huge strawberry shortcake, which I had to throw away some of because I got so full and it was super sweet. I think I also got tired of it because the weather was hot and I had spilled some of the syrup on my shirt front. However, I bought one of those Tide On the Go pens, and I saved my shirt soon after. That was $2.99 plus tax well spent.

I am headed back over to the Bite with my friends the CIB and Superfrankenstein, so we will get another chance to chow down in just a bit. This is a rite of summer, and I really do enjoy coming to the city for it. I could not have asked for better weather, and my control of my portions and sugar so far this summer has paid off in looser shorts and the ability to indulge a bit more this weekend. Woo-hoo!

-- Seattle

Summer Movies '06 part 4

There is something special about a city like Seattle that has a sophisticated and mature film-loving population. Even better, theaters exist here to host small-run or independent or documentary films -- and I love 'em.

"Who Killed the Electric Car?": This movie is a fantastic documentary that really feels like a PBS special for the first hour or so. It traces the history of electric-powered automobiles and how they were shoved out of the marketplace in the 1930s by the internal combustion engine and cheap oil but later made a resurgence in the 1990s when California decreed that a certain percentage of cars sold in the state by each manufaturer must be emissions-neutral. Then, as the cars gained popularity, the companies fought the law and stopped producing the cars. Took them all back, in fact! The last half hour is pretty judgmental about who did, in fact, kill the electric car -- and while the blame could easily be placed at the feet of the automobile manufacturers and the oil companies, it also gets placed elsewhere (hint: the Bush Administration had a lot to do with it). My rating is to see this movie on DVD because it probably won't play very far outside the art houses of a green-friendly city like Seattle.

Bonus for energy watchers: The Huffington Post has a new song from Paul Hipp about global warming. Check it out.

Also, a video with Will Ferrell as the president on global warming. Funny.

-- Seattle

Presidential firsts and foibles

President George W. Bush had two firsts this week: He used his veto authority for the first time, and he spoke to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the first time since becoming president in 2001.

One would expect that with Congress and the White House both controlled by the same party that there would be relatively few bills that would get passed of which the president would disapprove. But one might expect a couple here and there to slip through -- we all know Congress can be irresponsible sometimes. And one would expect that the president would sort of be the wise and responsible one, keeping outrageous legislation from taking effect, acting as a good steward of the nation's resources and treasury. Alas, for five full years, President Bush has signed everything Congress sent him -- everything. That is, until now.

In a move that made him look like he was out of touch with most of the citizenry and that he was trying to both save face from a 2001 decision and also earn political capital with his Christian conservative base, he vetoed a bill that in short would have allowed additional research using stem cells. Bush had in 2001, through executive order, banned the use of anything other than existing stem cell lines, and he had resisted numerous calls to relent, even a personal lobby from Nancy Reagan, wife of the president whose Alzheimer's Disease might have been assisted in treatment through advances gained by research on stem cells. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter were supportive, two colleagues at opposite ends of the GOP. Heck, even Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, came around to see that allowing more research was a wise move, even though is a medical doctor who should have been on board much sooner.

But Bush has vetoed the bill, and the votes are not present in the Senate to override (the initial vote was 63-37). I am not sure what he gained from this as he has no more elections himself, but he is trying to reassert himself as the moral leader and the party chief.

Then, a couple days later, Bush finally accepted an invitation to speak before the NAACP, the nation's largest group of African-Americans. He received a cool reception to say the least. Under the guise of whipping up support for Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Bush came to speak, something he did not do at all during his first term or even when running for re-election, something that most other presidents have done with regularity. Ninety percent of blacks voted for Al Gore in 2000, and Bush made only a slight gain in 2004, so he knows these are not his people. The body language and actions almost a year ago in New Orleans and teh Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina should also serve to illustrate that point.

Bush was introduced as the man who would sign the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, and he had a big applause line when he called for renewing the act, but that was pretty much the extent of the cheering. In fact, when he turned to a standard line he had used many times before in campaign appearances and other speeches, talking about faith and heart, he probably expected at least a holler from somewhere. Nope. Nothing. He mentioned a few of his black pals -- and they are few. Problem is, Condoleeza Rice, while very well respected by many Americans, is not a black icon, and certainly not seen as a hero by the kind of activists who would be likely to attend a convention of the NAACP. Georgia Rep. John Lewis would have lit the crowd on fire.

So this week of firsts was a one-two punch for the President, I think. The man needs to figure out what his priorities are and stop trying to look like he is the president and just be the president, someone who leads with the best interests of the country in mind and who looks respectable at al times. He had a couple gaffes at the G8 summit last week as well, when he swore when the microphone was live, and when he was seen on video giving a neck rub to German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- and she looked extremely unconfortable and moved so he would stop. It was creepy to watch.

The GOP should be paging the legends of image-making: Michael Deaver and Peggy Noonan. Stat.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Summer Movies '06 part 3

I saw "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" Friday night at the splendid Lincoln Square Cinemas in Bellevue, Wash. I was expecting nothing more than 90 minutes of entertaining and fun, and this movie did not fail to deliver that. The basic premise is that Luke Wilson discovers that his new girlfriend really is the super-powered "G-Girl" (Uma Thurman), and her intense jealousy, controlling nature and somewhat neurotic personality lead him to break up with her. That sparks the body of the movie, where she hates him and tries to get back at him.

The film is full of cliches and ridiculous scenes, yet they don't feel hokey or obvious like they are a parody of other superhero movies. For example, in one scene where Thurman tries to hurt Wilson, she throws a live shark through a window into the apartment where he is with another woman (that's the jealousy part), and the shark flops around gnashing its teeth at the sofa cushions and such until it gets flipped out through another window. Later, Thurman and another, newly powered girl have a battle royale with each other, rolling around and fighting in a huge super-powered cat fight. It is hilarious and reminded me of some scenes from "Interview with a Vampire," where the vampires fight each other.

I needed to get out of the heat and into the air-conditioned comfort of leather seats and gourmet treats (cranberry hard ice cream -- yum!). This was the perfect fluffy summer film. Sometimes you need some fluff.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Dreamy me

Me and dreams don't usually get along so much. I mean, I know everyone has dreams, but I almost never remember my dreams. Almost never. But the last two nights I have had woken up and remembered my dreams vividly. Here are the last two.

Monday morning: I woke up remembering that I had dreamed that one of my best friends had been hired as an assistant principal at my school. I think I was so excited that I did a cartwheel, and that may have been why I woke up. That would have been a cool experience, because this friend would totally rock as an assistant principal, and we would get to work together again.

Tuesday morning: OK I had remembered this dream, but now as I sit down to type, I can't remember it! It did involve school and it was vivid. If I remember it, I will post it here.

I wonder if I will continue to remember my dreams. Maybe I need to get one of those dream journals, so I can remember my dreams.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Cheney and the First Amendment

I stumbled across a fascinating account on Slate of how Vice President Dick Cheney should wrap himself in the First Amendment in order to defend himself from the lawsuit filed recently by former ambassador Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, the former covert CIA agent whose identity Cheney apparently disclosed to the press. The Wilsons claim Cheney led a campaign to "out" Plame Wilson in order to get back at Ambassador Wilson for his criticism in an opinion piece in The New York Times in 2003.

Honestly, this article is a very interesting legal argument about how Cheney could defend himself and bolster the First Amendment at the same time, a thought I find shocking given this administration's apparent regard for our fundamental freedoms. Nonetheless, I do think the Wilsons have a weak case, one that could actually hurt the First Amendment and the ability of public officials to disclose information to reporters. It's worth reading.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Holy sh!t -- the president swore!

President Bush was recorded using profanity today in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The conversation just before a lunch of the leaders at the G8 summit in St. Pteresburg, Russia, was recorded when cameras were filming the leaders sitting down to the lunch for release to media. Apparently, the cameras do not normally record footage in a format where specific conversations are intelligible.

Read the CNN report and watch the video of raw footage, which includes the profanity and the context. By the way, CNN titled the report "The sh-t heard 'round the world." Now that is funny.

I have not seen any of the talking heads nattering on about this today, but I imagine they are making it a so-called "top story" when it really is no big deal. Bush said he thinks Syria should "stop this shit" in rfeference to the Middle Eastern nation's role in recent violence in the region, especially in Lebanon. Honestly, a few million other residents of the country and world think Syria should stop that shit as well.

This does not bother me at all. The president is an somewhat earthy man, and it comes as no surprise that he swears. Hell, he has let his guard down on an open mic before (in 2000, as a candidate, he called a New York Times reporter a "major league asshole"). And, Bush is from Texas.

I kind of like a person who swears. Some people say swearing shows a lack of vocabulary. Not so, I say. I think there is an art and heirarchy to swearing that allows one to combine vocabulary, word form, tone and inflection to achieve the perfect expression for a situation. Sometimes we don't have a proper "polite company" word for a thought. We need a swear word, dammit.

President Bush is right that Syria should "stop this shit," and if he needs to go on TV to say it, I say go for it. Hell, it probably won't change the impression of him held by most people.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Daily Routine 11

Yesterday afternoon was pure bliss, and I decided to go for a short bike ride in the evening. I watched "The Family Stone" on DVD, and then rode a bit from 8:15 to 8:45 p.m.

this morning it was back to work on the journalism workshop before noon. In addition to getting some registration information from CWU, I also completed revision of the confirmation letter that I have to send tomorrow. I could have done those this afternoon, but I forgot to go to the post office for stamps.

I met a friend for lunch at Taco Del Mar because Monday is double-punch day for the punch cards. After 10, the next burrito is free! We like to go there because we can get our cars washed across the street, where the ultimate wash is by hand, and a worker dries the car afterward. It is a bit extra, but it is worth it to have a nicely cleaned car. Mine did not really need it inside, but I had a lot of caked on bugs on the front grill and windshield, so I needed the extra attention. I had the added benefit of a coupon for the wash since I had paid once a year ago and never got the wash because I forgot to leave the keys when I crossed the street for lunch.

Whiel my friend's car went through the washing tunnel in about a half hour -- the perfect lunch time -- mine was not even vacuumed by the time we returned from the taco stand. So, I waited an extra half hour for my car. Good thing I did not have that much else to do this afternoon anyway.

On the way home, I stopped at a local furniture store to check out beds. I am shopping for a new one. Basically, I need a new mattress, which means I have an excuse for a new bed, and I want to paint the bedroom, so I need to make sure the color matches the style of the furniture. It all comes down to the headboard. I am picky. I want a bookshelf headboard, but there are not many of those in stores. This store had some nice headboards -- finished and unfinished -- but no bookshelf headboards. The sales clerk was helping someone else, and I had to go to the bathroom, so I left. I may go back to talk with them again to see if they can craft or order something.

I spent the afternoon at the school newspaper editor's house. It was a mid-summer newspaper staff social, and it was great -- very relaxing and low-key. Probably we could have had some sort of planned activity, but the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves well enough, so I did not want to make it feel like it was a structured school activity. I was pleased that pretty much the entire staff showed up at least for a little bit. I still have some recruiting to do, because we have a small group right now. Scheduling has become increasingly difficult the past few years, and that also cost me a few valuable students for next year. There are finite spots in a student's schedule after all. It was good to see everyone, and I know we will have a fantastic year ahead; these are some talented and creative students. There are a few challenges, but I am also optimistic that the students will rise to the expectations.

I came home and went up to school to print off some materials for the workshop. I rode my bike, so I could work off the cake that I ate this afternoon. I have not had much refined sugar this summer, so that was a shock to my system! When I got to school, I noticed all four of the doors of the entrance nearest my classroom were boarded up and tha glass missing. I am not sure what happened there, but it looks like it was possibly vandalism. I also had to ride past several dozen lounging football players; the school is sponsoring a football camp with players from all over the state. Some of them lodge in the school gym or camp on the lawn out back.

I have been working for a couple hours on some more journalism-related activities, including the national awards committee, on which I serve. Some of the nominees are really outstanding, and it is going to be a tough selection process.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A $10,000 piece of paper

It arrived in the mail Saturday. No fanfare, no fancy envelope, no frame. It was just a piece of stiff paper in a white, flat cardboard mailing envelope. It was stamped "DO NOT BEND" and mailed form Columbia, Mo., and I knew exactly what it was when I spied it in the mailbox yesterday evening.

It is my diploma for my master's degree. FInally, it had arrived.

I have to be honest in saying that I sort of doubted that I had actually earned the degree until I had the tangible proof in my hand. Online learning has many wonderful advantages, but it also keeps one disconnected from actual campus communication. Despite all my e-mails and filled-out forms, I wanted proof. Now I have it.

In the winter of 2004 I finally started in earnest to seek a master's degree program that I would find both educationally stimulating and useful but one that also had some flexibility, so I would not need to travel a lot or be locked into a regular class meeting time. I though I found the perfect one at the University of Nebraska, even if it would have required a short residency on campus each summer in addition to the online offerings. Then I uncovered the new program from the University of Missouri. It was everything I had sought and more. Plus, it had the added prestige of being from one of the nation's finest journalism schools -- and no residency requirement.

The past two years were a struggle, a challenge, a life-changing experience. At times I thought I would just about keel over from the amoount of work. I learned to balance my work and professional life with my academic needs, but sometimes it took a mistake to learn how to balance. At the beginning of a couple of those semesters, I was not sure how I would ever get all the work done. I learned how to prioritize and what was unnecessary.

And now, I have my reward.

Not only did I get the degree that I wanted, I accomplished a personal and professional goal. I also learned a lot of good material that will help me professionally in the future. And, come Spetember, I get a big ol' pay increase!

So that stiff piece of paper with a bunch of frilly scrollwork and Old English letters and my name on it will someday get displayed. I am not sure how or where, but I need to put that up. It symbolizes a huge accomplishment to me, and I paid a lot for it. During these last two years I also made sacrifices -- of time I could have devoted to my work or my students or my home or my friends or my own life. Now, I can put some of those on front burners again. I look forward to it.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Central Washington poltitics

Filing for this fall's elections is still a few days away, beginning July 23, but with the number of signs hammered in yards and vacant lots around town you would think it was already the final weeks of the campaign. Around Wenatchee, the hottest race -- at least judging by the number of yard signs -- is the election for an open seat as judge in Chelan County District Court. The current judge is retiring. Since the position is officially nonpartisan, there are actually four announced candidates: Allen Blackmon, Tony DiTommaso, Nancy Harmon and Stan Morse.

Three of the four live in Wenatchee; Morse lives in Chelan. All appear to have solid credentials as prepaaration for a judicial position. Blackmon is currently a deputy prosecutor for Chelan County, and Harmon does the same for Douglas County. DiTommaso is a local attorney. Interestingly, I know the three local candidates through friends or because I had their children in class (Harmon and DiTommaso).

If the number of signs is an indicator, Harmon is the best organized and most popular of the candidates. She has a strong and diverse committee of well-connected locals, and they were out early lining up endorsements and placing signs. She is also a Democrat precinct committee officer, so I suspect that organization helped her a bit. I sent her $50.

DiTommaso comes in second -- I noticed he had some large signs on streetcorners usually occupied by the Republican-backed candidates. I assume he has a network that spans both parties. I also noticed yesterday that a lot mor eyard signs were out along some of the arterial streets, so perhaps a committee had canvassed the neighborhoods.

Blackmon seems to be off to the slowest start. He has just a few yard signs out, and they are in locations that are not especially visible, at least compared to the other announced candidates. He initially tried to sign me up to serve on his steering committee, but I hesitated. I saw Harmon was running soon after, and I am glad because I really like her and think she would be best.

Morse just announced this week, according to local media, and he has campaign experience. He lost a bid each for state Supreme Court and for Chelan County Superior Court. Perhaps the open seat will give him a chance, but he is not from the major population center, so he has a struggle for recognition.

The state primary is in a couple months, and the nonpartisan races are on the ballot. Not only will that election winnow the field to two candidates, but if anyone were to receive over 50 percent of the vote, he or she would be elected. That makes the early contest especially interesting. Chelan County also will switch to all voting by mail, so turnout could be higher as well.

In Douglas County, all I have seen signs for is the sheriff's race, and that race has been one where the local Republican party has been very involved. I don't live there, so I pay little attention, but it has made the paper several times.

Meanwhile, on my travel to Ellensburg yesterday, I noticed two large signs for Senate candidate Mike McGavick. One was at Liberty and the other in a yard a few miles outside Ellensburg. I have not seen any in Chelan County yet. I did see plenty of campaign signs for other offices in Ellensburg, including county treasurer, county commissioner, sheriff, state senate and state representative. I also noticed that there were signs for both Democrats and Republicans, and I was pleased to see that there in Kittitas County, at least, that races do not regularly go unopposed. In Chelan County, some of the countywide offices have such entrenched Republicans that they don't even have to put up a yard sign or buy an ad. Hopefully the efforts of the re-energized Democrats in Chelan and Douglas counties will bring more elected Democrats.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A day with family

I spent the day in Ellensburg, mainly at my brother's house. My job was to watch the two boys, ages 3 and 1, so that my brother could work outside on the building that has beena work in progress for over two years. He built a large garage/shop next to the house, and on the back side of the garage is an apartment, where my mom is scheduled to move when it is complete. Meanwhile, she has been living in the house with my brother's family since November.

There are just a few tasks left on the apartment, but my brother works weekdays, and his wife works weekends, so there is not a lot of time when he can be out there and not have to worry about the little ones getting into something. So I came down to help. Jay spent several hours out at the shop relocating a door just a couple inches because it hit the garage door mechanism when opened. After a lot of sawing, he had the space opened, and I helped him position the new door. I was able to help because his wife had come home from her work just a bit early. When I left, it looked like that task would be finished today with trim and weather stripping installed.

On my way out of there, I took a detour out to the old homestead thatg used to be my grandma's farm, located about 10 miles north of town. My mom owns 64 acres on the north side of the farm, mostly sagebrush and no development, while her sister owns the southern 96 acres, which also includes the house, barn, pastures and corrals. Since I had not been out there in years, it was interesting to drive past and see how things had changed. It is definitely much more run down, and a lot of the large older tress are gone -- perhaps from age, perhaps from neglect. And the great big green grassy yard is mostly gone, replaced by some goat pens and such. The small house my grandfather built by hand looks dilapidated, and the huge evergreen tree the once provided shade and concealed much of the farmhouse is now gone, its stump capped by a small flower pot. I am glad I have my memories of the farm, so the sights did not disappoint me too much.

I checked out the area my mom owns, as well. It has a nice view of the valley since it is so far to the north, and development is creeping cloaser with some new homes in the area. Kittitas County is a hot commodity now, with its proximity to urban areas via the freeway, and many people are moving east to escape the urban and suburban problems and for cheaper cost of living. The local paper , of which I have now read four days' editions, had a series of articles comparing Ellensburg and the Kittitas Valley to the areas of Bend, Ore., and Bozeman, Mont. I think that is a bit of a stretch, but the population in Ellensburg is poised to explode. The good news is that the planners have done a good job, and local ordinances have also ensured strict design rules are followed, so the town maintains some of its historic character while allowing new national retailers.

Now I am at one of the local coffee shops with free wireless Internet. Thank goodness for that, I say. I am enjoying a delicious mixed berry smoothie, and it is a very relaxing environment. Sometimes it is just nice to get away from home to the home that used to be.

-- Ellensburg, Wash.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Daily Routine 10

I read ooutside on the chaise lounge for about an hour. I was sweating so much because it was especially hot out at mid-day. I also cleaned off the front porch of all the leaves and such that had accumulated on the doormat. After I came in, showered and cleaned up, and then I had some lunch (still working on the pot roast from earlier in the week) and read some more.

As I was eating, the UPS delivery man came by and delivered the set of nominations for the national awards committee I serve on, so I spent a bit of time reading those and seeing who had been nominated. The votes are not due for a while, so I have time to carefully consider each application, but I always like to sift through and glance at the support materials.

I watched some TV and DVD this afternoon and was bad as an eater. I snacked a lot, even though I was not especially hungry. I have been really good about not doing that this summer, resulting in me not gaining any weight despite the fact that I am much less active because I am not working. Then I read the paper, and generally just hung out this afternoon and evening.

Although it has been very restful, it has also been almost boring. I need to have something to do -- or at least have a deadline before me in order to keep my mind occupied. Of course I have plenty of things to do, but I am not motivated at all to do those things. Tonight I have talked on the phone and sent a few e-mails and watched some TV. It is amazing how little good TV is on Fridays. Not much at all. I considered going to the movies, but I have pretty much seen everything I want that is playing and most of the movies available at the theater are completely lame. "The Lake House" and "You, Me and Dupree" are not films I am at all interested in.

Tomorrow I head to Ellensburg early, so I can help my brother and he can get an early start on his work building.

This is the end of my five-day experiment of posting my daily routine -- even the minor details -- twice each day. I will try to post at least once a day for the next few days, but some of my travels and activities that I have coming up may make that difficult. I have learned that more frequent posts generally leads to an increase in site visits and page views.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Dems press McGavick on his positions

The Washington state Democrats have gone on the offensive this week. They know that one of the most vulnerable seats this year in the United States Senate is right here in the Evergreen State, and they are working hard to ensure that it remains occupied by its incumbent, Sen. Maria Cantwell. The Republicans have already annointed their nominee, Mike McGavick, a former CEO of the Safeco insurance company and former chief of staff to Sen. Slade Gorton, whom Cantwell defeated by a few hundred voted in 2000.

To keep the pressure on, the state Democrats have launched an effort to tail McGavick at all his events. This week's e-mail bulletin from Dwight Pelz, state party chair, outlines the plan:
As Mike McGavick gases up his campaign RV and hits the road, he continues to duck the issues and avoid answering tough questions. It’s understandable that McGavick would be less than “open” about where he stands, because when he does take a clear position he’s right in line with President Bush and out of step with Washington state.

Mike McGavick talks about being straightforward with Washingtonians, but he hasn’t offered a single plan for how he’s going to help Washington’s working families deal with the real issues they face every day.

Washington state deserves better. Mike needs to turn his mic on and come clean about where he stands.

With that in mind, we’ll be responding to Mike’s empty rhetoric by joining him on the road with the “Is This Mike On?” tour. The “Mike-Check Squad” will tag along with Mike, making sure “Mr. Transparent” answers voter’s questions about the issues they care about and that Mike tells the truth about his positions. We’ll be right there, wherever Mike is, checking to see if Mike’s mic is really on.

For more information about Mike McGavick and the “Mike-Check Squad”, check out our new website at:
McGavick has gained national support, including the effort on his behalf of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the powerful and most-senior Republican member of the Senate. Cantwell made an enemy of Stevens with her filibuster of the bill to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska, and Stevens has worked to make her life hard. Supporting her opponent is one clear way of doing that -- and he even hosted a fundraiser for McGavick up in Alaska.

You can see that the Dems mean business, too. Not only does the national party intend to keep this seat, the Dems simply must hold all their incumbent seats if they have any hope of regaining a majority in the Senate. National chair Howard Dean and others seem committed to this task. Dean has orchestrated a 50-state strategy, laying thr groundowrk for victories not only in 2006 but 2008 and beyond. The Republicans did this by electing their candidates to school boards, city councils and county commissions in the 1980s, so they have a network of volunteers, donors and candidates that is well established. Now, the Dems are playing catch-up. With strong efforts like what is happening in Washington state, it should be interesting to see what happens.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Daily Routine 9

Last night was basically a TV night. I slept in until 9 a.m.; for some reason I was especially tired last night and then into this morning.

I got up and decided to do some little yard tasks. Mainly I watered the trees in the front yard since they don't get much from the drip system. They really need to be watered individually about every other week, but I usually don't make time to do it except about once a month for about 30-40 minutes at a time. I watered the back yard last night, and it was good to see that the yard was still damp in places this morning. With the weather averaging in the high 80s and 90s, it's good to keep the yard in good shape.

I saw a pair of insects near the plum tree in the front yard this morning. They were solid black, about the size of a big fly, but they also had an orange stripe across the abdomen. I had never seen this bug before. They both just sat there, not flying at all. Hope they're harmless.

I also picked a heaping handful of raspberries and added them to my yogurt this morning. Dang, but that is good. And I love that there is a seemingly endless supply of berries right there for me to eat. I usually have berries well into late summer and fall, through September at least.

In addition to some general e-mail business and such, I have been watching the "Ellen" show this morning as Ellen DeGeneres celebrated her 25th anniversary in comedy. I know it is a repeat, but the summer is a chance to catch up with some shows I enjoy watching. And Ellen is dang funny. I remember her from the '80s, when she was on a show on VH1 called "Standup Spotlight." The host for that show was Rosie O'Donnell. It was great, and I watched it all the time. I generally like Ellen's type of physical and sarcastic comedy. It just seems so natural instead of the scripted gags that so many stand-up comedians use today. The "Ellen" show is also just so fun -- everyone seems happy to be there.

In just a bit, I plan to get outside and do some reading on the chaise lounge in the back yard. Finally, it is seeming like summer to me.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Daily Routine 8

On my way out of town, I decided to get Taco Bell for lunch. I don't know why I chose that because it is probably the worst thing to eat in the car (messy and smelly), but I figured a quesadilla would not be too difficult. So I ordered that, but when I got to the window, the young worker said they had "thrown in" a crunch wrap for free. Of course I ate part of that and could then only eat half of the quesadilla before I was full. I was kind of pleased to get the bonus, but I also thought it was wasteful.

I had a very pleasant drive to Ellensburg. It was nice and I sort of lapsed into thoughts, so I was surprised at how quickly the drive seemed to have gone.

I had just enough time to get some business done, buying tickets for the Jazz in the Valley concert that we will attend as part of the teacher workshop in a couple weeks. The Saturday evening tickets cost $15, but it should be a nice experience for all of our participants.

Then I went to get a haircut from my favorite barber, the Clipper. While I waited, I read the Ellensburg Daily Record. It is a pretty quick read; I am surprised they can still manage to have a daily paper. He said he was super busy this week because he is leaving for a two-week vacation. While I was in the chair, he made two haircut appointments for tomorrow, filling up his book completely. He and his wife are driving to Branson, Mo., and then back via the Southwest so they can see the Grand Canyon. We talked about the highways through Arizona since I had taken a road trip through there a year ago. He gave me a fantastic haircut, so it should hold for a while -- I am glad I remembered to get in before he left or I would have been pretty shaggy by the time he returned.

Before I left Ellensburg, I stopped for some ice cream at a local shop, Winegar's, which used to be a local dairy. I had a small scoop of my favorite flavor, Kori Mint (named for a guy I went to school with). It is a buttercream ice cream with little bits of mint candy. Delicious. I had it all eaten before I was back on the highway.

I took my time coming home using a longer route. I wanted to check out the new wind farm being built on a ridge between Ellensburg and Vantage. Gov. Chris Gregoire was in Ellensburg yesterday to dedicate the farm and praise it as a way to harness the future. I think it is unsightly, and it is only 20 percent complete.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Daily Routine 7

I woke up this morning with a call from a colleague who is in Illinois. He apologized for calling early (it was 8:20), but I should have been up anyway. I have spent the entire morning so far on the workshop. I entered the teacher data forms, and had to call two people with questions about their forms. Then I inventoried the materials from last year, ordered new materials from the national association's bookstore, ordered promotional materials from the Student Press Law Center and had a quick phone call with my co-director. I'll make a shopping list for office supplies and such for next week.

Took a phone call from a former student, the one who I did the reference for on Monday. He got the job, so after training, he will be an inspector for the migrant worker tent camps that are located around the area.

It doesn't sound like a lot, but time really gets away from you when you're working on various activities.

Later today I am headed to Ellensburg for some personal business, and I will be taking the afternoon off from workshop planning. The last few days I have not been spending as much time on summer vacationing as I would like. So, this afternoon is all about relaxing and being lazy.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Daily Routine 6

I spent the afternoon on a few errands: a billing matter at school, lunch and hanging out, and shopping at Lowe's and Target. I love the Godfather's Pizza lunch buffet -- plenty of pizza, a decent salad bar and pop for $6.75 with tax. That's a deal. I found Target to be tempting as usual. I am surprised at how I can just wander and find things to look at -- a lot of stuff I don't want or need, and some stuff that I can't afford. I was looking at both stores for new lamps for my bedside, and I realized that they should match whatever bedroom decor I have, and that means knowing what color walls and such and what color bedding. So, I ended up just looking for bedding for a new bed I don't yet have. I guess it was almost pointless. Although, I did see a lot of ugly lamps.

So I came home and plowed through the remainder of those registration forms. I finished them about 5:15. I then had to analyze and sort through all the data, so I would know how many students are in each of the class sessions we offer, how many from each school and so on. I typed all this up and sent it to my co-director.

I also watered theyard in front today, knowing it has been a few days since I watered last. I noticed that there are a couple leaks on the drip watering system, leaving some spots really soggy. I'll have to get out there and make some adjustments. Not only is that waseful of the water, but it is unnecessary.

I attended a meeting this evening of the homeowner's association. This time, our second meeting recently, we did have enough owners present to qualify as a meeting. We elected three new directors to satisfy the requirements set by the bank, and now we can get on to doing the business of the association. I thought about being one of the directors, but I really don't want to get entangled with that sort of thing, so I kept my hand down when it was time to volunteer. I think the job sounds easy enough, but I don't want to become liable for anything.

After the hourlong meeting, I stopped by Fred Meyer to look at more lamps, and I did not see any that I liked. I am also looking to re-do both bathrooms, so I looked at towels and shower curtains. Again, nothing struck my fancy. I did buy some low-sugar Popsicles with Diet Dr Pepper, diet Orange Crush and diet root beer. They sound delicious, and they only have 15 calories apiece.

Came home and ate some pot roast leftovers and watched that talent show on TV with Regis, Brandi, David Hasselhoff and some British guy. Every reality show has some British guy now.

SHOUT OUTS: I saw in a post to my Blog here that one of my students has been selected for a position as a contributor to Cosmo Girl! magazine. She is pretty darned excited, and she deserves it -- she will be great. So, here's a shout out to Kayley for her new responsibilities (and a hope she will remember she also has school responsibilities that come first!). And, I want to welcome back a frequent contributor to the comments section. I see that the ever-popular Adam has returned as well. I only hope that his responses to my posts will be as plentiful and interesting as in the past.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Daily Routine 5

Last night was pretty much a TV night, just clicking around. It was nice.

I woke up well rested at about 8:30 this morning. I got up and checked e-mail and surfed around for a while. I also made a couple phone calls for the summer workshop, trying to get some donated items for our participants.

I also paid some bills and entered a bunch of receipts into my checkbook. It is good to know that I am going to be OK financially this month. Because I bought the new car in May, I am a bit tight until the pay raise kicks in come the end of September. I do have some extra money coming, though, with my honorarium for the summer workshop and with some extra days I submitted for pay that will be on my paycheck at the end of July. Still, the MasterCard bill is not shrinking very fast.

Today's weather is overcast, but I can tell it is warm out and it would be a great day for yardwork but I don't really have the mind for it today. Plus, there is not much except for weed-pulling, and that is not at all what I am in the mood for today. I could do some RoundUp on the gravel-bound weeds, but I am not up for that either. I should do it because the weeds just get worse the more I procrastinate, but I am just in an indoors mood today.

Finally, those last few registration forms are looming over me. I have about 45 to go still, and I am just tired of them. I had to call a few kids last night to get their information because it was not included on the form. I have also discovered that not every school and teacher are organized and responsible -- some of the miscommunication is really evident.

I have some errands to do around town today, including a quick trip up to school. I just finished a 49-minute phone interview with a college student from Kansas, who picked my brain for all aspects of advising student publications. The questions were detailed and interesting. I wish I had the chance to do that kind of investigating before I took this job. Of course my own personal experiences as a student journalist helped me immensely, so I was more prepared than a lot of people who start advising when they start teaching.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Daily Routine 4

After about an hour perusing the statistics from my blog's site meter, I learned a lot about who is looking at this site, when and for how long. Obviously, the more I post, the more it gets viewed. It was also interesting to see what search results brought people here. That is a future entry I am sure, after I analyze the data a bit more. Some did give me a chuckle, though. Anyway, to my readers in Minneapolis and Israel and Ireland as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest, I extend a hearty welcome. Post something and say hello.

I spent the morning doing a quick bit of yardwork and then reading out in the back yard on the chaise lounge. The weather was pretty much perfect -- warm enough to feel good on bare skin but not hot enough that you could feel a burn or so you would sweat profusely. I was so into reading my book that I did not hear the phone ring and was startled when my brother walked around the side of the house at about 12:30.

He had stopped by to continue working on the light switches in my bathroom. He tested a bunch of switches. We shut off every breaker on the panel -- located very inconveniently at the far end of the garage, at the farthest point from my bathroom -- and finally after about 30 minutes of investigating, an offhand commenta bout the bedside lamp provided the answer. Turns out that old, hand-me-down lamp had some sort of defect inside (I remarked how it had stopped working) and was not only drawing all the power from the circuit, it was interrupting the electrical flow to the bathroom lights. Suddenly, it all made sense. We unplugged the lamp, and all the switches worked. Wish was had done that at the beginning, so we could have avoided a bunch of testing and unscrewing and such. More for Jay, not so much for me. Anyway, another half hour of putting everything back together and it all works fine now.

I treated him to lunch before he had to return to his job site here in town (he'll be working at one of the area's hydroelectric dams for about a week to complete an installation of alarm systems). We had a nice chat over lunch as he explained to me a lot about his work and the business and such. It was a good chance to sit down and talk, and I don't remember the last time we have done something like that because of other relatives or just being too busy.

He is also nearing completion at his place in Ellensburg of an apartment for our mother, but he has had little time to work because when he is off work, his wife is at work as a waitress. So, it makes it hard to watch the two little boys, ages 3 and 1, while he works on completing the house. So, I am set to go down there Saturday to help -- to babysit and also to help him if I can. I am probably more use keeping an eye on the kids than I am in building because I am not at all handy. Anyway, we'll see how it all goes.

After lunch, by now 2:30 p.m., I stopped by the offices of the local newspaper to pick up a past edition and to say hi to some of my newsroom friends. I heard many groans about me being on summer vacation and they also expressed some frustration at the failure of a new software package that they had spent months working on. Then, home for more data entry, some phone calls and some e-mails. I had leftovers for dinner and read the newspaper. Today's local top stories include the sentencing of a 15-year-old for murdering a playmate three years ago, a story which gained national attention, as well as the total of damage to the region's fruit crop resulting from last week's hail storm just north of here. The total in just two counties is over $90 million in lost fruit, and dozens of workers will likely be laid off since there is a meager crop now to pack.

Tonight my favorite show of the summer. "Last Comic Standing," is on. At least there is something funny on TV this summer. Although, I caught an episode of the new show "Treasure Hunters" last week while in Phoenix, and it has a lot of potential as well.

Tomorrow, I just may be shopping for some new bedside lamps.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Cantwell heats up race

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Washington Democrat running for re-election this year, has had a good week. And it's only Tuesday.

She announced Sunday that a rival for the Democrat nomination, Mark Wilson, would drop out of the race, endorse her and come to work for her. Wilson, who has previously run for election on the Green Party and as a Democrat, had been the main alternative for the anti-war flank of the party, which has been irate with Cantwell because of her votes in support of the war in Iraq. Wilson said that he had come to terms with Cantwell's positions, knowing that she is working hard to bring troops home.

Now on the Cantwell Web site is her first television ad, which is also running on cable in all the state's media markets. You can watch it here. The spot features Sen. Cantwell's work in energy regulation, an issue I have long said will be the one that wins her re-election.

Cantwell is well-funded and she is lining up her support and her plan to re-election. One of those strategies is to continue to work hard for the people of Washington state -- working in ways that will help everyday citizens. Her recent e-mail newsletter listed this goal:
Last week I visited a center for abused and neglected children in Spokane to call for desperately-needed resources to help the many children caught up in the meth epidemic. Everyday, at childcare facilities, hospitals, homes, and raided labs all across our state, healthcare workers and first responders see firsthand the harm meth inflicts on our state’s families and children. We need to do more to give these kids a fighting chance and get them the support they need to excel. That’s why I’m pushing the Senate to pass bipartisan legislation immediately to provide $40 million in new annual funding for drug prevention, treatment, training, and counseling to help curb the effects of meth on children. We’ve already done a great deal to confront the raging meth crisis, but we’re still not doing enough to protect the drug’s most vulnerable victims. Between 2000 and 2005, meth arrests and seizures affected approximately 15,000 children in our country. Over the past decade, there has been a 62 percent increase in children entering foster care because of an increase in meth-using parents. In Spokane last year, law enforcement officials made approximately 75 arrests involving drug-endangered children, and referred approximately 125 children to Child Protective Services. In Benton and Franklin Counties, 160 of the 250 kids in foster care are there because of parental meth use. It’s strikingly clear that we need to do more to keep meth from tearing families apart. Congress needs to provide these children with help as soon as possible to help keep parental meth use from holding kids back for the rest of their lives.
Sen. Cantwell is a hard worker, and she is the right choice for another six years as a Senator from the Evergreen State. I know I'll be working hard to see she is re-elected.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Daily Routine 3

I awoke this morning at 7:30 a.m. to make sure I was up and ready in case my brother was early on his way to his local job. He was delayed by some highway construction, but he arrived about 9 a.m. and took a look at the electrical problem. He assessed the situation and said he would be back later to look in more detail.

Before his arrival, I returned an e-mail about the workshop and entered about 25 more registration forms for the summer workshop. I think I am more effective at that early in the day and without any additional distractions. Last night when I did some, I was also watching TV, and my pace slowed down a lot. However, at least I did make some progress, and I have only about 75 to go. I came across the forms for my own students and I had my first summer thoughts about actually missing some of my students. I don't miss the daily grind, but I do miss seeing some people I really enjoy.

I picked a heaping handful of raspberries from the patch alongside my shop, and I ate them with a good portion of plain yogurt and a tablespoon of brown sugar this morning. That should keep me running for most of the morning. One of the benefits of summer is that I can set my own schedule for the most part, which means I can eat when I am hungry as opposed to set meal times. I think it is a healthier way to live, and I only get a few weeks of it per year.

Now, it's time for a bit of yard work I could not get to because of the sprinkler yesterday morning, and some reading. Maybe a daytime talk show also.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Daily Routine 2

I went to lunch with a colleague/friend and then we went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" at the cinema. We arrived plenty early, and it was like a social convention, because I saw two former students, a former colleague and a current student, who was working the concessions stand. The theater ended up being pretty full, so I was glad we had arrived a bit early.

The movie was pretty good overall. It's not supposed to be a deep-thinking, thought-provoking piece of art. It is a summer popcorn flick. And it was good. Johnny Depp and the rest of the cast were fine in their performances, and the plot cruised along well. Turns out it is a cliffhanger ending, with the third installment of the series already filmed and slated for release in a year. I knew that part, but I had not realized it was a two-parter. The whole movie and premise is fantasy-based, and I knew that from the first movie's over-the-top swashbuckling with undead pirates. But the most ridiculous part of this film was the sword fight atop the mill's water wheel that breaks loose and rolls through the forest. That was the part I just thought was too hard to suspend disbelief for. I don't know why, but it was.

The annoying parts of the film experience was the teens in there using their phones to send text messages. The illuminated screens were annoying. The other part was the fact that the projected image was slightly out of focus -- the left half of the screen was just a bit blurry. It was not enough to go out during the show. Afterward I complained to the manager.

Came home this afternoon and got to work entering some of the registration forms for the summer journalism workshop. I am the co-director, and one of my responsibilities is to be the registrar. I know we have just over 200 students registered so far, and I entered 70 of them before dinner. Took my dinner break (the pot roast) and read the newspaper. My brother called this afternoon to let me know when he would be by tomorrow to take a look at the light switches in my bathroom. He will be here for work anyway, so he is stopping by. After a bright flash of the vanity lights, they suddenly stopped working just before my trip a couple weeks ago. So, knowing he would be here in the morning, I did a little cleaning up around the house.

That's pretty much it. Tonight I plan a bit of TV (Kathy Griffin is on "Larry King Live" tonight) and entering a few more of the registration forms, since I promised I would have totals available for my co-director tomorrow.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Daily Routine 1

Today I am launching an experiment. In an effort to process my week of summer, I am planning to submit an entry twice each day. One will be around noon, and another will be around 9 p.m. This will also help document what I have done in a week of summer -- sort of a digital diary. So, here goes.

This morning, I got up around 8:30 a.m. I went to the kitchen and prepared a pot roast for the slow cooker, which required slicing the carrots and potatoes and seasoning the meat. I put it in at 9 a.m.

I checked my e-mail and watched a bit of "Today" before I went outside to work in the yard. That work included mowing the grass in the back yard, some watering and pruning and removal of dead blooms on several of the plants. I was excited to see that the Rose of Sharon has one bloom on it finally, and it will continue to bloom through September. Also, finally, there is a bloom on the purple echinacea that I planted more than a year ago (it barely survived last year and did not bloom). I pulled some stray plants and weeds, including some damned morning glory, the most despicable weed I know.

While I waited for the sprinkler to finish, I read some of the current book I am reading. It is called 10th Grade by Joseph Weisberg. The entire book is written in the voice of a sophomore, including a lack of punctuation and many run-on sentences. As a result, it is slow going, because I have to read some passages two or three times to decipher the meaning. I am about a third of the way through it so far. One friend, herself a former teacher, called reading the book a "busman's holiday" because I was doing the same thing on my leisure time that I do all the time at work. Well, this is a lot more interesting than the typical assignments.

I responded to a reference check for a former student. He is applying for a job with the state Department of Health. He graduated a few years ago, and he has been busy since attending college and traveling abroad. Coincidentally, I ran into his mom at the movie the other night.

I took a shower, got dressed and ate a bowl of Jell-O, which hit the spot.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Summer '06 movies part 2

"The Devil Wears Prada": This is a well-made film with superior acting, a strong plot and a clear message. I read one review that said Anne Hathaway, the editor's assistant, starts as the movie's protagonist and then Meryl Streep, appropriately, steals away every scene as the devilish magazine editor and runs away with the film. Hathaway climbs back in the driver's seat just in time to bring the film to a nice denouement. Overall, this movie clips along at a nice pace, uses some great physical comedy to convey meaning with few words and provides a nice showcase for the talents of both Hathaway and Streep. Streep just keeps churning out one dynamic role after another. She is awesome. Rating: Pay full price (although I went to a matinee because I am cheap and the theater is air-conditioned).

I also saw "A History of Violence" on DVD last week. It was fantastic, and the themes really start to pick at what kind of violence we have in society. I wish the film had added a few minutes of dialog to really explore violence in our media and culture, but that may not have been as entertaining.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Is Joe Lieberman a Republican?

If there is one race to watch this summer -- and likely well into the fall as well -- just for pure entertainment, it is the Connecticut Senate race, where Joe Lieberman is defending his seat against a surging primary opponent, Ned Lamont. Lieberman, already one of the party's more conservative members and hawkish on Iraq, has faced increasing scorn from the left wing -- especially bloggers -- who question his loyalty and ties to the president. Now, Lieberman is hedging his bets by gathering signatures that would allow him to run unafilliated in the November general election if he should lose the Democratic primary Aug. 8.

Read more from The Washington Post.

The question some Democrats, including me, have asked for a while is whether Lieberman is really a Republican. He votes with the conservatives often, and he is known famously for his public scolding of President Clinton on the Senate floor over the Monica Lewinsky affair. That moral authority and middle ground led to his selection as vice presidential nominee in 2000, but he could not pull in enough votes to ensure a victory for the Dems. In the six years since, he has been outspoken in his support for the war, nodding in unison with the White House. Lieberman said that if he is re-elected, he would continue as a Democrat and would remain in the caucus. Good news, I guess, for attempts to regain a majority.

However, it appears increasingly unlikely that Democrats will regain control of the Senate in November. They must retain all of their 18 seats up for election this year and overturn six of the 15 Republican seats up for grabs. They might make a few gains, perhaps in Rhode Island, Montana, Tennessee, Ohio or Pennsylvania, but odds are they'll lose at least one incumbent seat, perhaps in New Jersey or, sadly, Washington. The Washington Post has some great interactive analytical maps that I plan to peruse in between pool time on my vacation this week.

-- Peoria, Ariz.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Congress shall make one law abridging the freedom ...

It's not that I want to burn a flag. It's that I should be able to if I should want to. That is the central principle behind the First Amendment, 45 words that establish five fundamental freedoms that a bunch of nincompoops in the capital would undo with their self-imposed authority to punish flag burners and other desecrators.

Thank goodness it did not pass the Senate last week. Thank goodness a slight majority had the decent sense to actually stand up for freedom instead of trampling it. The flag is a symbol of freedom. Protecting the flag from being used as a symbol in a protest -- yes even burning it -- robs it of its symbolism. And I'd rather protesters burn a flag than something or someone else.

On June 15, the day after Flag Day mind you, a very smart and articulate friend of mine, a retired journalism educator, sent an e-mail emploring everyone to contact Senators and urge a vote against the proposed Constitutional amendment -- the one that barely failed this week. He wrote, in part:
This would be the first time that the First Amendment was amended. Imagine the ramifications if this proposed amendment were to become part of the Constitution.

All the surveys show that the general public has little understanding of the substance and significance of the First Amendment. Politicians are acting politically, and many supporters are acting emotionally. We need politicians with courage and citizens with rational minds to stop
this assault on the First Amendment.

Personally, I strongly oppose flag burning. I believe flag burners are people of poor judgment. I prefer other ways of protest. But I also believe that the flag itself is a symbol of freedom that supports the right of protesters to burn the flag as a means of expressing dissent. I wonder how such an amendment could be enforced. Where would the lines be drawn? Flag etiquette says the flag should not be worn as clothing, yet even some police and military officials wear a flag shoulder patch. Would it be desecration to wear the patch on the butt? Would it be desecration for an artist to depict the flag in a way that offended a government official?

In 1989, the US Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson that flag burning is free speech protected by the First Amendment. Now the Congress wants to change all that. They want: "Congress shall make 'ONE' law ... abridging the freedom of speech ...."

My friends, we should never be this close to having legislative erosion of the First Amendment. If our schools did a better job of truly teaching the value of the First Amendment, if our school officials did a better job of letting students truly practice the First Amendment, and if our schools abandoned an authoritarian approach to education in favor of a democratic approach, then perhaps we could be nurturing generations that would see and avoid the grave danger to freedom that the currently proposed amendment poses.
He is articulate and passionate and a true First Amendment Freedom Fighter. I admire him. Just this weekend, Frank Rich of The New York Times, wrote on the topic of the narrowly defeated measure. He opened:
"Old Glory lost today," Bill Frist declaimed last week when his second attempt to rewrite the Constitution in a single month went the way of his happy prognosis for Terri Schiavo. Of course it isn't Old Glory that lost when the flag-burning amendment flamed out. The flag always survives the politicians who wrap themselves in it. What really provoked Mr. Frist's crocodile tears was the foiling of yet another ruse to distract Americans from the wreckage in Iraq.
Mr. Rich closed with:
The assault on a free press during our own wartime should be recognized for what it is: another desperate ploy by officials trying to hide their own lethal mistakes in the shadows. It's the antithesis of everything we celebrate with the blazing lights of Independence Day.
Independence Day is this week. While we still have some independence, let's celebrate it.

-- Peoria, Ariz.

Summer '06 movies part one

So far this summer I have seen four movies with a few more planned. A quick list plus my commentary, as usual, follows:

"An Inconvenient Truth": I saw this in Seattle (OK, Bellevue) a couple weeks ago, but even if I had not seen it in one of the most environmentally friendly metro areas in the nation among a very receptive audience, I would still think it was a good film and one that should be seen by every thinking citizen. Yes, Al Gore is on a mission -- and it is not just to curb global warming (more on that below). Yes, it is a slick presentation that cherry-picks information to bolster its case. But, it is a compelling argument and it appears more than just post hoc ergo propter hoc that the rise in the planet's temperature correlates to the increase in emissions by automobiles and the decline of planetary vegetation. It's at least worth a look for argument's' sake. Don't dismiss it out of hand as a liberal viewpoint. Conservatives like to live here, too. Rating: Pay full price.

By the way, is Al Gore running for president? Oh, heck yeah. I am convinced this is the first of many events planned to launch a third presidential campaign for Gore, one that could cause a whole lot of problems for Democrats. I have some more detailed opinions on Gore and others trying to take over the White House come January 2009, but this is a post about movies. Anyway, he is running. Even if he says he is not, he will run because someone will beg him to.

"Superman Returns": I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. Story is decent, keeping in mind that any comic-book transfer has to have an inordinate amount of back story. I am not sure why it was necessary here -- we all know Jor El sent his son to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton, and little Kal El landed in Kansas, where he was raised by framers as Clark Kent who, with sun-powered special abilities, later became a reporter at the Daily Planet. The acting is swell, especially Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. The details are amusing, and any longtime super-fan will see a few little gems for them among the scenery. But the special effects seem sort of ho-hum, especially after the amazing things we saw in "Spider-Man" and the fascinating things we got in last summer's "Batman Begins." I guess I just expected a bit more from the Man of Steel. Where "Spider-Man" goes campy and succeeds, "Superman Returns" seems overly earnest and falls a bit short. It's a tough tighrope to walk as a comic book film, and this one fell off. Rating: Matinee.

"A Prairie Home Companion": With a cast that contains Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen and, yes, Lindsay Lohan, I knew this would be a good flick. I was surprised at how entertaining the Garrison Keillor screenplay turned out to be. It was a delight. And Robert Altman's directing is simply masterful. Watch how he uses mirrors and conversation not only to propel the plot but also to build character. We get so much characterization that it feels as if we've know these people for years. And guess what, that's exactly how we are supposed to feel. I like Keillor's stuff on the radio and his Lake Wobegon readings. I attended this show with my dad and stepmom, and they both really enjoyed it. In fact, my dad even watched a Keillor July 4 special on PBS tonight after being exposed to the stuff. But this film has to be seen to be appreciated. Rating: See it soon and do pay full price.

"Wordplay": The last few years have brought a string of documentaries about some group of slightly overobsessive people who are really into something, whether it is the national spelling bee ("Spellbound"), the "Star Trek" TV show ("Trekkies"), ballroom dancing ("Mad, Hot Ballroom") or Scrabble ("Word Wars"). Now, we have a film that highlights a few people who are compelled to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle -- daily, quickly and accurately -- and then who attend a national competition in Stamford, Conn. It's "Wordplay," and it is a sweet film done well. It won't get wide release, but it is worth viewing, if only to compare to the others in this genre. Plus, I learned a lot about how the puzzles are composed and published. This film is not very critical; in fact it sort of glorifies the puzzle solvers -- when the everyday solvers are juxtaposed with Jon Stewart, Ken Burns and Bill Clinton you know it's legitimate. Rating: Pay full price if you get a chance, or rent it as soon as it is available.

I have a couple more films on my list to see before I return home, and a few that I am dying to see when they are released later this summer ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" and others).

-- Peoria, Ariz.