Monday, November 13, 2006

Student publications improve awards showing

The Nashville convention brought another round of awards to my students. The newspaper earned its third straight national Pacemaker Award, the highest honor in scholastic journalism. The paper also placed fifth in the Best of Show contest for papers with more than 16 pages. The 2006 edition of the yearbook earned fourth place in its page-count category of 275-324. That’s the highest placing ever for our school’s yearbook.

One student, the newspaper’s editor in chief, earned an “excellent” rating in the on-site contest for commentary writing. The topic was how music downloading was hurting artists and performers.

The Best of Show and Write-Off contests are always a toss-up as far as I am concerned. We’ve had great products and talented students come away with no awards, and we’ve had some surprises, too. But I was starting to sweat the Pacemaker announcement. This year six Washington state news publications were among the 55 finalists. Typically about half the finalists are named Pacemakers, announced in no particular order. Four Washington finalists were named winners right away in the announcements but not us. I waited as several more were called and finally our name was read. I admit that I would have been disappointed to have not been named this year – one, because I believe the work was the best my students have done, and, two, because it is tough to lose when you’re sitting right next to all the winners. Also, during Best of Show for newspaper, just as I said as an aside to my colleague that things did not look good for placing, my school’s name was called. Ironic.

Three in a row is also an achievement of which I am particularly proud. I am glad it shows sustained excellence and I think at this point the newspaper’s reputation for string journalism can be cemented not just with people who know what a Pacemaker is or who support free expression but with casual readers and with those without long-term or close knowledge. It’s a reward and a validation of effort and toil. And it feels pretty darn good.

-- Composed in the airspace over the Midwest (posted from Issaquah, Wash.)

Nashville highlights

I took six students to the national high school journalism convention in Nashville, Tenn., over the Veterans Day weekend. As usual it was a blend of unexpected kinks in travel plans, fantastic learning seminars and speakers, and exposure to interesting and new cultural experiences.

The best laid plans: In order to save a bit of money and to arrive in time for the opening keynote presentation, I arranged a 6:30 a.m. departure from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, meaning we would need to arrive by 5 a.m. That meant leaving Wenatchee by roughly 2:15 a.m. I knew I could not ask a parent to drive us, but luckily one parent said we could borrow the Suburban vehicle. So, Wednesday night I went to bed at 8 p.m., woke at 1 a.m., loaded the kids at 2 and we were off. No traffic, weather or security troubles.

The only trouble was with our plane once we were aboard. Apparently the pilots were late because of a late pickup. They also had a delay in their pre-flight paperwork and then the air-conditioning system needed a servicing. So we sat at on the plane as the pilots completed their pre-flight checks, informed us that the plane was being repaired and that we would be underway soon.

Minutes passed. My mood, normally one that would have been intensifying in stress, was calm. I knew we had a layover in Atlanta of just 50 minutes, so any delay of more than a few minutes would mean the connection would already be boarding, and we would have to hurry. The Seattle plane left almost an hour late, and still I was calm because the amount of flight time the pilot indicated would still allow us to arrive in Atlanta with just a few minutes to spare – I hoped.

As soon as the plane landed, we grabbed our gear and aggressively moved toward the front exit from Row 35. We hurried from one terminal and concourse to the next, rushing through crowds of slow walkers, pull-along bags and custodial workers as we dashed down the escalators, ran along moving sidewalks and implored the automated train to drive faster. We arrived just a minute too late. The plane was gone.

A couple bright points were that our luggage would not have made the plane even if we had, so that would have been a complication to deal with in Nashville, and we did get seats on another flight just an hour later (even though our friends from another school had to wait even longer for a replacement connection). And we arrived in Nashville in one piece, having had a slight delay that just made us hurry a bit more but did not eliminate any of our planned activities.

Saturday night’s celebratory dinner brought another set of complications to our travel plans. We decided to eat at a local restaurant legend, the Wildhorse Saloon. I knew the restaurant did not take reservations, so I planned to arrive by 6:30 p.m., early enough to avoid a long wait on a busy night. The students had also decided they wanted to travel in style – by limousine. So I arranged a limo instead of a taxi, which turned out to be just slightly more expensive.

The awards ceremony ended late, so we had to hurry back to our hotel and return to the convention hotel. As we came to the designated pickup spot, I saw a limo and looked for the valet captain to make sure it was ours. Just then the limo pulled away. Several conversations with hotel staff led me to discover that it had been our limo and that the driver had picked up the wrong group – another group headed toward the Wildhorse. We arranged a new pickup and went downtown.

By that time, about 7:15 p.m., the Wildhorse was jumpin’. Packed. Three-hour wait. So we started walking around the neighborhood looking for a place that could accommodate a group of seven with minimal wait. Problem was that most of the places open were bars.

Finally, after at least a half dozen inquiries and walking in a loop of about eight blocks, we spied a small restaurant on a corner, Rippy’s. It wasn’t full, but it was definitely a bar. Apparently in Tennessee, minors are allowed in bars until about 10 p.m., as long as they are not served alcohol. I scrambled to put a table together, and we sat down to some authentic barbecue and live country music. Everyone in our group seemed happy to experience some authentic Nashville life, and despite the tobacco smoke wafting around the room, they were warm and full. The joint was fun.

Sunday’s travel seemed to go well because the closing ceremony ended early and we arrived at the airport early by a couple hours. We had a leisurely lunch, walked around, chatted. I had a splendid 30-minute relaxation massage. The flight to Atlanta was uneventful and brief.

After our hourlong layover, we boarded the flight to Seattle. We taxied and taxied and taxied. Then the pilot announced there would be a delay as a problem had been discovered. And we had to return to the gate to have it investigated by the maintenance workers. A few minutes later, he announced that a bearing needed replacement and if available it would be at least 60 to 90 minutes of repair time. Meanwhile, we heard reports by cellphone back home that the mountain highway through Snoqualmie Pass would have nasty weather and driving conditions. It was a one-two punch for my well-planned itinerary.

We did get in the air with a shorter delay than expected, but the weather in Washington still looked bad. One of the students had called or sent a text message to a friend back home. Turns out that friend, also a member of our yearbook staff, called her father, who was staying at the family’s condo in a suburb east of Seattle. I checked my voicemail, and the dad had called offering to help in any way possible, and we made arrangements to stay the night there. Looks like it would be a big slumber party and no school on Monday.

Update: We did stay the night, and it was very pleasant and orderly. At about 9 a.m., we’re on our way.

Learning and friends: Meanwhile, the extra day will allow some additional reflection about the learning that took place at the Nashville convention. The keynote speakers, Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, and Fred Clarke of the International Red Cross, were amazing. Clark shared his 50 writing tools, and I had a nice chat with him after his keynote as he signed my newly purchased copy of his book. I’m a real fan of his writing instruction. Clarke spoke about the collateral damage of conflict and shared his humanitarian work through photography. He presented information about conflicts I did not even know existed, and his photos made clear the point of his work.

In all, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel was a beautiful venue to host our convention, we had a good time, and we learned a lot. For several students it was a chance to recharge the batteries, while for others it was an inspiration to improve skills. I got to know each of my students better, and I look forward to returning this week (whenever we do) to put the new knowledge and experience to work.

-- Composed in the airspace over the Midwest (posted from Issaquah. Wash.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

'Borat' is offensively funny

I am so glad I had the chance to laugh my pants off Saturday night when I saw the new movie "Borat" in Seattle. The auditorium was packed, which is always nice when the crowd responds well to the humor on screen.

This movie blows "Jackass" away. It is far beyond a Christopher Guest mockmentary. It is hilarious. Just when I thought that singing the Kazakhi national anthem (sassy new words to our own tune) ar a rodeo was over the top, there is the naked wrestling match, the poop situation at a Southern mansion and the Pamela Anderson abduction. How this movie even got made despite more than 50 police interruptions is amazing.

In a few spots I had no idea whether I should even be laughing. I mean, some of that stuff is offensive! When I was involved in the state leadership program, one of the staff members developed a presentation on humor and a diagram that displayed varying levels of humor on a pyramid. The lower and less-offensive types, such as self-deprication, were at the bottom, and the pinnacle of the pyramid contained the types most likely to offend, such as racial and geneder humor. Let's just say "Borat" balances on the very tip of that pyramid. But just because it is offensive does not mean it ain't funny. It is. And gross.

See it if you can!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

One more day

As expected, the final days of the election season showed most races tightening. Some races are as close as possible, within just one percentage point. My last-minute handicapping, with predictions:
  • The Montana and Rhode Island Senate races have seen a resurgence by the Republican incumbents, Conrad Burns and Lincoln Chaffee, respectively. Chaffee might be able to hold on at the last minute, but Burns is going down despite Air Force One criss-crossing the state to fire up the base. Arizona is also now a tossup, though I believe incumbent Republican Sen. John Kyl will hold on -- barely.
  • Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington state Senate races all will turn or remain in Democrat control.
  • Tennessee will stay Republican because Harold ford Jr. won't be able to make up the deficit, and because I really do believe racists undercurrents have inflated opinion polls to date.
  • Missouri and Virginia will both flip to Democrats. The stem-cell issue in Missouri should turn out progressive voters, and if George Allen in Virginia has never been above 45% in polls as an incumbent, this Democrat tide will sweep him out.
  • That means, as long as the Dems keep New Jersey and Montana, they could lose Rhode Island and still win a majority with Missouri and Virginia.
  • On the House side, all indicators point towarda Democratic pickup of at least the needed 15 seats for a majority, plus an additional 15 seats or so. That will be tough to spin by the GOP on Wednesday morning.

On the local scene, the hottest race seems to be the one for Chelan County District Court judge. A Wenatchee World newspaper report showed that Nancy Harmon, the candidate who won 42 percent of the primary vote, has raised $58,000 toward her campaign with about $45,000 coming from her own money. The job pays about $125,000 per year -- well over her current salary as a Douglas County deputy prosecutor. Her opponent, Tony DiTommaso, has spent about $38,000 with about a third of that coming from his own money. They both seem like nice people to me, and I would be satisfied with either, though I am supporting Harmon and donated to her campaign. Both have run fine campaigns, if a bit snippy at times.

I think the statewide initiatives will have mixed results:
  • I-920 would abolish the state estate tax, which is 4% on estates over $2 million. Family farms are exempt. Family newspapers are not, and the state's family-owned newspapers (like The Wenatchee World and The Seattle Times Company, which owns papers in Seattle, Yakima, Walla Walla and Maine) are very much in favor of eliminating this tax. I predict it will not be abolished.
  • I-933 would allow landowners to sue the state for compensation when the state devalues property through eminent domain or prohibiting development. This is strongly backed by the state Farm Bureau. I predict it will not pass.
  • I-937 would force power utilities with a certain number of customers to develop alternate and renewable energy resources, ultimately comprising 15 percent of their total power generation. This is something I generally believe in and support, yet the initiative does not include hydro power as a renewable resource. That's why I oppose it. The law, if passed, would force utilities like our PUD to siphon resources into untested alternatives over the current clean renewable power source from the river. Sadly, I predict it will pass. I hope it gets amended or thrown out by a court.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.