Jun 30, 2006


Before I head up to Issaquah to help my folks with some cleaning and painting, I thought I'd point out that the Mariners are finally a winning team, and not just in record only. It's one thing to win 10-3 by beating up on bad pitching, but it's another to come back in the top of the ninth after being beaten up by a stellar effort. (For our side, a fine turn by Meche, who gave up two runs, one unearned. Eddie Guardado looked good earning the win, and Putz was Putz.)

My folks are remodeling what was once my grandpa's home, cleaning out mold, painting, replacing countertops, reflooring, adding blinds and new appliances. Outwardly Grandpa would have been furious, but secretly he would have been pleased, for his only real anger in life was reserved for underperforming Seattle franchises.

Jun 29, 2006

despiriting inspiration

Bryan Curtis has a nice mean essay about AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time Not Counting the Future.
As to that second category—the pure inspirers—what exactly do the filmmakers think their movies will inspire a person to do? Read more Whitman? Call your mom and tell her you love her? It's just a hunch, but what I think inspiring movies do more than anything is inspire more inspirational movies. George Bailey begets Norma Rae who begets Forrest Gump who begets—well, whomever Russell Crowe is playing in the next Ron Howard film. It's a vicious cycle of inspiration, spanning decades. And it's enough to make anyone a cynic.
All true. I harken back to the teacherrefpoet's take on the subject.
Maybe I just don't want to go along with any kind of manipulation. When Texas Western won the NCAA title in tonight's movie, people in the theater actually applauded. APPLAUDED! Like they were surprised! Give me a break.

But as I watch people around me feel inspired on cue while my wife and I snicker quietly to ourselves, I sometimes wonder if I'm missing out on something.

Then I snap out of it.
We eagerly await the trp's dissection and deconstruction of the list.

NBA draft: complete ignoramus report

I'll leave expert analysis to the blogging experts like Ed Brayton, who notes,
In one of the craziest drafts I've ever seen, the craziest move of the night belonged to - who else? - Isiah Thomas. I've given the numbers before to demonstrate Thomas' world class incompetence as an executive, but let's recap: 3 years ago he took over a 35 win team that was $40 million over the salary cap and had long term contracts with stiffs from one end of the bench to the other He's traded away 25 players and traded for 18 players in 3 years. And he now has a 20 win team that's $85 million over the salary cap and long term contracts with a different set of stiffs from one end of the bench to the other.
Thomas at least made one good move. According to Fox Sports' Mike Kahn, the worst draft grade--D plus--belongs to our very own Sonics.
The selection of Sene screams that they really didn't want to add another athlete considering he's the third consecutive 7-footer they've drafted in the first round and fourth since 1998. Brown could be a solid bench player, and Halperin joins Eliyahu as the only Israelis ever drafted. It's always tough to know where the Sonics are coming from, other than trying to pinch pennies.
Don't blame them--they don't even know how long they'll be playing in Seattle.

Update: Steve Kelley isn't too thrilled about Seattle's picks, either.

Jun 28, 2006

Charlotte takes Morrison

A while back I promised to keep track of Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick, basketball players who whooped it up in the NCAA, but were considered weak NBA prospects by Charley Rosen.

Now the Seattle P-I is reporting that Morrison was chosen 3rd by the Charlotte Bobcats.

Update: Ed Brayton, on the other hand, thinks Morrison has the determination to make it in the NBA.

Redick went to Orlando.

like my blog? send me money.

C'mon. You know you ought to.

feet can breathe again in Federal Way

In a reversal of its previous decision, the Federal Way School Board has decided that a flip-flop ban is unenforceable.

(If they had called them "thongs," no one would have blinked twice at the ban.)

list of important teaching questions to be asked in an interview for a teaching position

Obligatory Preface
1. Teaching interviews vary by region, level, and subject area.
2. I've gone through four teaching interviews and sat on a couple others. They were all different. I had to teach a lesson in one, and decipher a poem in another. Californians wanted to know if I could teach via "Direct Instruction." Coloradans wanted to know if I were willing to teach middle school.
3. That being said, there are some common themes in the kinds of questions you're likely to face.
4. Others with different (and greater) experience(s) are encouraged to comment.

As far as common teaching interview questions go, this is one of the better lists out there. Let's focus on the category titled "Instructional Techniques."

1. Describe any school experience you have had, particularly in student teaching (or in another teaching position) that has prepared you for a full-time position at our school.
My advice: name something you learned from each assignment. For example, I student-taught at Black Hills High School, enduring the same prep for four straight classes. I learned how to maintain my sanity with variety, and that no two classes are ever alike.

2. How would you integrate technology into the curriculum you would teach?
Luddites from past teaching generations can pretend technological ignorance, but you're expected to know how computers can be used in the classroom. You're reading a blog; do you know how to use one? Can you run a Powerpoint presentation? Do you know your school's computer resources? Talk to the tech staff before you interview, so you don't make impossible claims.

3. Describe any innovative projects you have been involved in developing.
This is tough if you have no experience, but you can at least offer your wild plans in that circumstance. Think community involvement. Think technology. And, above all, think student achievement and assessment. How did / will your project affect student learning? If you can't demonstrate it, think in a different direction.

4. Give an example of how you have used cooperative learning in your classroom.
How did your groups form? What was their task? How did the formation of the group match the task? What learning goals were involved? How did you assess group work? Did you have group members assess each other? Did they have precise and preformulated roles and goals? How did you accommodate different ability levels? How did you accommodate those who wouldn't cooperate?

5. What four words would students use to describe your teaching strategies?
For me:
1. Various
2. Energetic
3. Interesting
4. Interactive
If I'm bored, my students will be, too.

6. What rules do you have for your classroom?
Keep it to a simple list--maybe five at the most. Be sure to read the school's discipline policy so you don't say anything that won't fly.

7. Describe your teaching style and how you accommodate the different learning styles of the students in your classes.
This would be the expansion of #5 above. I would say...
1. Various. Engaging students on multiple levels and with diverse personalities means providing many kinds of activities, from drama to song to art to lecture to group discussions to blogging to... you get the picture.
2. Energetic. Students know of my care for them and their passion for the subject because I show it every day. (List of examples would go here. I won't bore you.)
3. Interactive. Even when I lecture I take questions and solicit comments. I can't stand being a "talking head."
4. Interesting. This comes as a natural consequence of variety, energy, and interaction.

8. What do you consider to be your strengths and how will you use them in your teaching?
Yes, it's okay to brag about yourself. If you don't have the confidence to, you'll have a tough time in the classroom, whether it's kindergarten or Advanced Calculus. Humor. Patience. Gregariousness. Empathy. Tirelessness. Whatever you've got, flaunt.

Have other suggestions? Think my advice sucks? Let me know in the comments.

[109th in a series]

solve the gerrymandering puzzle--with geometry!

There is no perfect, perfectly-acceptable way to fairly apportion political districts. When we value local representation, we have to draw some kind of boundary to make "local" meaningful. Sadly, though, gerrymandering lets entrenched political powerhouses stay that way. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that redistricting can take place at any time, with few restrictions, how can we avoid this or this?*

Wikipedia mentions several mathematical solutions. They fail not because they're theoretically poor, but because they're incomprehensible to the Average American, who took Algebra only because he had to and would gladly live in a world without math.

Which is why I offer a simple solution that would allow political parties to continue drawing up districts, but with one clear guideline.

Anderson's Geometric Gerrymandering Guideline
Any polygon created by a redistricting effort could have no more than ten sides.

Geometric, aesthetic, and comprehensible. No more natural boundaries, no more quibbling over neighborhoods, no more wondering which district you're voting in this time. Let Pythagoras rule politics.

*As an aside, I note that gerrymanderers have stuck with two-dimensional boundaries. What's to stop them from taking advantage of all three? Maybe highrises and condos and apartment complexes vote differently by floor.

better to burn out than fade away

Gerrymandering is here to stay.

Sleater-Kinney isn't.

saying a little in a lot

So, if I'm reading this article right,

1. Education is good because it helps prepare workers for the globalized economy.
2. Obstacles stand in the way.
3. We must do something to remove these obstacles. Something involving transformation.
4. After that, I got nothin'.

This kind of empty rhetoric couldn't transform a Transformer.

5/17: hitting the big time

I see that a number of you are coming over from the WEA Chinook website, probably wondering what this little blog is all about. It started when David Johnston and I realized that there was no online resource for union news that's updated "live," and no online place for union members to contribute to--and not just watch--the conversation. We also wanted a place where union members could "talk shop," discuss strategy, and learn about upcoming events and calls to action. The blog's role has also expanded into wider educational issues of interest, but its primary function is still the same: interactive access to the information that matters to you.

Now that our first incoming link is in place, it's time for 5/17 to truly go public. From now on, 5/17's posts will be a part of the normal online universe, appearing in search results and fully available to outsiders. Those of you who are currently reading but not commenting, speak up! We need to know who our readers are, and we need to know how we're doing.

Jun 27, 2006

why are we putting on the pounds?

"I think it's very creative," said Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director of the weight management program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who had no role in the report. "We are facing an epidemic with no tipping point in the near future. At this point, there are no silly ideas."
Oh, yes there are. In fact, I'll list five just to prove Kushner wrong.

1. Americans have evolved the ability to photosynthesize.
2. Lettuce actually contains 500 calories per gram.
3. The Food Network hypnotizes people into eating more.
4. Gay marriage is destroying traditional marriage. Divorced women overeat to compensate for loneliness.
5. Aliens are abducting people and injecting them with metabolism-slowing hormones in preparation for the slaughter. I saw that Twilight Zone.

Jun 26, 2006

ten films you should watch instead

Reason's Tim Cavanaugh points us to The Onion's Classic Movies it's Okay to Hate. Cavanaugh opines,
This is the kind of catalogue that should have at least 40 or 50 entries, instead of just 10, and even with this short list there are some I disagree with.
Indeed. But instead of trying to augment the list, I'm going to take it the other direction: ten films you should watch instead, listed in the same order as their overrated counterparts.

1. The Forbidden Planet
It's the Id! The Id! Young Leslie Nielsen is taciturn and sexy, much like young Harrison Ford. (Their later careers only seem to have diverged. Both make stupid comedies these days.)

2. Hail the Conquering Hero
Only Preston Sturges could satirize World War II hero-worship and make it work. Way ahead of its time.

3. Chopper
Eric Bana is magnetically evil as Mark "Chopper" Read, an infamous Australian killer. Yes, the Eric Bana of Munich. The guy has range.

4. Le Trou
It's tense, it's gripping, and, best of all, it's true.

5. Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956)
It's tense, it's gripping, and, best of all, it's more realistic than Friedkin's now-laughable demon flick.

6. Fantasia 2000
Call me a heretic, but I like it better than the original.

7. Shaolin Soccer
You want stupid sports comedy? Stephen Chow directs and stars in the stupidest of them all. I got my parents to watch--and enjoy--this one. What better time than smack in the middle of the World Cup?

8. Battleship Potemkin
The Odessa Steps sequence will never be surpassed.

9. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Tortured female leads done right.

10. Raising Arizona
More offbeat, symbolic, and Coenesque than the execrable Lebowski.

in which I cancel AT&T long distance service

Many years ago, when I first moved into my own bachelor pad, the kindly folks at AT&T called to warn me about the dangers of slamming, encouraging me to sign up for their service. Nestled safely in Ma Bell's bosom, I'd never have to fear the guerilla tactics of sleazy corporations.

That is, until AT&T turned sleazy.

Their One Rate plan, which I originally signed up for, was perfect: no play, no pay. If you didn't make any long distance calls--and believe me, I didn't--you paid nothing. But one day Ma Bell realized that I wasn't paying anything, ever, and they changed the plan. Now the One Rate plan required a $5 minimum charge. When I got the letter, I called to cancel. "Don't do that," they pleaded, their sweet, soothing voices lulling me into a hypnagogic state. "We have a new plan, the One Rate Simple plan. It's just like the old One Rate plan."

Sucker that I was, I said okay, fine, whatever. Then six months later, post-SBC merger, I got another letter. "Beginning with bills issued on or after July 1, 2006, a $5 monthly usage minimum charge will apply to the AT&T One Rate Simple plan."

That was it. That, and the way AT&T treats its customers' private information: as a plaything for NSA hacks, data miners, and God knows who else.

Maybe AT&T has gotten too many calls from jaded customers, or maybe the merger has killed corporate morale, or maybe a combination of the above. When I called to cancel, the operator--I'll call him "Ray"--didn't even try to stop me, offer me a different service, or even ask why I was quitting. He just typed and chatted away, complaining that he "has to do everything now," and asking me all sorts of questions about where I work, what my summer plans are, and anything else that might be of use to NSA flunkies. (He even promised to send a check for the $6.82 credit I've carried since forever, the fifth such promise I've been given.)

Am I ever glad I quit. If you're with AT&T, you should, too. Don't pay a cent to a company that respects nothing but its bottom line.

Update: Miracle of miracles, the check arrived two weeks later. $6.82 doesn't buy much solace, but it does afford a goodly amount of trans-fatty acids and high-fructose corn syrup.


To quote Huck Finn, society is becoming less 'sivilized." Four-letter words, once the province of sailors and vice presidents, now fill the air in nurseries and church services. Is nothing sacrosanct?

But wait. Maybe the problem of incivility runs in a different direction. It's not the people who talk, it's the people who don't listen, absorbed in their iPod soundtracks, slowly going deaf. "Just three words," to paraphrase Mr. McGuire, "Hearing aid stocks."

But wait again. Maybe blogging will revitalize our sense of community, just like newspapers used to. Free-flowing marketplace of ideals.

So when people talk, if they talk at all, they'll swear, or they'll blog. Society is doomed.

holding down a BS job

Stanley Bing's newest book: 100 Bullshit Jobs... And How to Get Them. The Times has the whys and wherefores.
"I don't ever intend to do that much work on a book again," he says.

Obviously, "Writer of This Book" (Bing) made No. 96 on the list, sandwiched between "Xerox Repairman" and "Wine Industry Professional," whose job it is to "Talk the talk. And Drink!"

Writing the book was the hard part for Bing. But coming up with a list of 100 careers (if you can call them careers) from the many BS industries in the world was easier than BS job No. 24: "Cold Caller...."

Don't get the wrong idea, having a BS job is a good thing. A great thing even. People with BS jobs are "having fun, making a living, and enjoying their lives, perhaps more than you," Bing writes.
If it weren't for the "making a living" part, teaching English would probably qualify.

On a related English-teachery note, read about how language is getting saltier--and, paradoxically, losing some of its saltiness.

Jun 25, 2006

Sunday night double feature

Two films about the same war, yet about as different as two films could possibly be.

Up first, The Longest Day. Groundbreaking special effects, award-winning cinematography, ambitious storytelling (every side is represented, even the Scottish, with a young Sean Connery to boot). Today its realism seems a little phony--the actors can't quite carry off some of the purposeful poignant scenes--but its heart is in the right place. Watch for Paul Anka (and watch out for Paul Anka's horrific title song).

Second, Forbidden Games, René Clément's masterpiece. It begins with a Stuka strafing French refugees, orphaning a tiny girl who is rescued by a kindly farming family. The slice-of-life that follows, the powerful commentary on death, religion, and courage, the unaffected yet romantic style, the humor and pathos, the earnest naivete of its leading characters, children maintaining their innocence in a world gone mad...
"Michel, what's a womb?"
"It's around where Georges is wounded."
... is poetic, tragic, and unforgettable. See it as soon as you can.

how old is Dave Niehaus?

To give you some idea...
Dave Niehaus signed the Declaration of Independence, just under John Hancock's famous autograph, in a nearly illegible scrawl.

Dave Niehaus invented the flugelhorn, the harpsichord, and the clarinet.

Dave Niehaus's first broadcasting experience was calling the lawn bowling matches between Genghis Khan and Ma Jianlong.

Dave Niehaus ghost-wrote Augustine's Confessions.

Dave Niehaus slept through most of the Iron Age, saying he preferred the action and excitement of the Bronze.

Dave Niehaus cut his teeth on pterodactyl.
The short answer: no one knows. Honestly. Not even Wikipedia.

[108th in a series]

all hail Ken Griffey, Jr.

... for just passing Mike Schmidt's home run mark.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn both hit two- run home runs to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field in the finale of a three-game set.

In the process, Griffey collected his 549th career home run, which moved him past Mike Schmidt and into sole possession of 11th place on the all-time home run list.
I've admired Griffey's quiet, smooth style since he came into the big leagues and was immortalized with his own Super Nintendo classic. If it weren't for injuries, we'd all be talking about how Junior Griffey beat the Babe and was catching up to Hammerin' Hank--without so much as a wiffle ball of controversy.

summer of bargaining

We can be glad our efforts have finally reaped a result. Elsewhere in Washington, districts and unions face a long summer session, with bargaining predicted to continue well into August for some.
In Everett this spring, 36 elementary teachers have classes that exceed specified contract levels. Add in four middle school teachers who have been assigned more than 174 students each, and four high school teachers who each were assigned more students than the absolute district limit and you have 44 instances in a single district where crowding is a serious issue.

It's a hot button for members: a huge majority of Everett EA members have said they are willing to take action to ensure the district provides relief. So far, no contract settlement is in sight.

grace is poop

A moderately clever blog title--"poop de grace"--led to the extremely bizarre search term featured above, and the strangest comment this blog has ever received:
my sister is poop de grace!!!
So much for the spiritual implications.

[107th in a series]

Jun 24, 2006

late night math: 0.999... = 1

See why .9999999999999999999999999999999999999
999999999999999999999999999999999999 (and so on) = 1 here.

Don't believe it? You're wrong.

[Link via EvolutionBlog]

the roots of my misanthropy

When I hate mankind--
which isn't often--
and never lasts long--
and the old-style gendered noun is essential--
I blame buffoons.

Buffoon #1
Driving home from Elma on Thursday night, arriving by the Pacific Avenue exit, I discover a slender chap riding his bicycle in the dark, wearing dark clothes, with no reflectors, only visible because my headlights are right on him. He's having trouble with the slight slope. I wait patiently, thinking if he'll just stay in his lane I can pass him on the left, and then slowly make my move--when all of a sudden he veers over and cuts me off. I honk my horn to let him know I'm behind him, and he responds with an immediate "F--- you!" followed by something inaudible and a comment about female dogs. (I'm driving my wife's car, a little Mazda with the world's least intimidating horn. If he shouts, "F--- you, roadrunner!" I'll at least respect his quick wit.)

Buffoon #2
This lazy afternoon Melissa and I are sitting in Sylvester Park by the gazebo, sipping on cranberry bubble tea from Chopsticks and reading our respective halves of The Stranger. (No, not the Camus novel.) All of a sudden a rather portly gentleman clad in a ratty gray t-shirt, gym shorts, knee-high white socks, and crosstrainers bursts out of Starbucks across the street. "Are you a redneck?" he shouts. "I'm a redneck! That's right!" He looks back, but his intended target doesn't reply, so he storms off, stopping by a store window to to preen, check his shirt, and flex.

an official start to summer

Though school ended Wednesday, I spent the last two days there grading and cleaning, my wife joining me on Friday so I wouldn't have to head in today. We packed books from one shelf to another, filled the recycling bin with paper, took down posters, threw away anything I couldn't justify keeping, all without the benefit of World Cup football in the background because the cable was turned off. Six solid hours of labor interrupted by a visit to the Taco Bus (mmm... Taco Bus) and capped with a quick meal at Brewery City Pizza (the best cheap dinner date in Olympia).

The day was not yet done.

I've been playing with a group of Elma musician-types for over five years now, churning out a mix of jazz, blues, and rock standards in various and sundry local gigs. By "local," I mean local to Elma. Though I've thought for a long time that we have the talent to play in Olympia, Tacoma, or even Seattle, if we really wanted, the other guys have always demurred. Our biggest accomplishment was a day at the Grays Harbor County Fair as Ciscoe Morris's follow-up.

Until last night. We were invited to jam at the Veritas Cafe on Capitol Way from 8:00 on (though it turned out to be a mistake, and we started at 8:30), and I daresay we rocked the place. It is immensely satisfying when utter strangers waltz in off the street to see who's funking up "Milk Cow Blues" or playing "Favorite Things" in 5/4 time, and loudly express their disappointment that we're not going to play until midnight because we are mortals who require rest and nourishment.

Bigger things may be in store, since the cafe's owner was hyped up on our style and gave us contacts for paying gigs. Being paid to play! That would be amazing. But even if they're not, even if I were to drop dead from a funk embolism tomorrow morning, last night's show would suffice as the concluding peak of a long amateur career.

Oh, and if you don't know, I drum for the Mike Dean Project, led by guitarist Mike Dean, with bassist Jeff Perrin, keyboardist Kent Keeran, and vocalist Kim Hinderlie. You've never heard of us? Neither have we.

Jun 23, 2006

uphill battle in Federal Way

It's all about the librarians--or, in Federal Way, the lack thereof.
Federal Way Superintendent Tom Murphy has recommended a budget that aims to avoid a $4 million shortfall largely through slashing the number of librarians from 34 to seven. Each school currently has one librarian; the recommendation would give each school a librarian one day a week.

"The effects will be dramatic," said Chad Marsh, Decatur High School's librarian. "We're going to be sending students out from our high schools that aren't as well-prepared as students from communities that have library programs that are well-staffed and well-funded."

The budget proposal, which the Federal Way School Board will vote on after a public hearing Tuesday, would allow noncertificated aides to operate school libraries on days the librarian wasn't there. Currently, librarians run the libraries, work with teachers to develop curriculum related to books and help teach kids how to manage information they find in research.
No disrespect to noncertificated aides--my mom runs an elementary library, and she gets something like $13 per hour, never having been certified--but schools deserve highly qualified instructors at all levels.

(Yes, we'll be in session this summer. We never quit thinking about education in the great Northwest.)

the 37th Skeptics' Circle

Autism Diva hosts the latest edition.

My favorite entry (since I'm an English teacher) is Rockstars' Ramblings' "Doggerel Index." Its purpose and function: to assemble and refute a list of common pseudoarguments used by quacks, trolls, conspiracy theorists, and woo-peddlers of all stripes.
1: The more cliché it is, the better. Net trolls like to use cookie-cutter "arguments." If linking to one of my entries saves you time and effort that would have been spent typing yet another refutation of a trivial point, I'd like to be able cover them all.

2: If the word is a commonly misused technical term, like "quantum," please try to point me to a good source for the word's actual meaning, as well as a few abuses. "Quantum" is currently on the prospective list, but I'd like to brush up on my quantum mechanics a little before I dive in.

3: No politics. I don't care to dissect politically-oriented doggerel yet. For now, I feel my efforts should be devoted to getting people to distinguish between the black-and-white issues of science versus pseudoscience, rather than the grays of politics. So, no requests for "terrorism," "amnesty," or whatever the hot button issue is at the time you read this. There will, of course, be some inherent crossover, since propaganda is propaganda, regardless of its subject.
Oh, and as an aside, I should point out that English teachers, by contract and moral duty, are required to retort when someone asks, "Can I go to the bathroom?"

With a blank expression, I always say, "I don't know. I'm not a doctor."

Jun 22, 2006

bat feces lipstick

Your lips will echolocate in sonic splendor as you find your way in the dark of the club to the hottest of the hotties smashed and swearing at the bar. Guano Girl is the hippest, smoothest, chunkiest, pulchitrudinousest, freshest concoction imaginable. In fact, we guarantee that you simply can't imagine how luscious and lascivious your lips will feel when you glide Guano Girl over them. If you do imagine it, your brain will explode into a million million fragments. That's our Guano Girl Guarantee.

[106th in a series]

sports roundup

1. Anyone noticed that the Mariners are finally playing like a team afire, like a well-oiled machine, like ravenous rotifers? They've been stacked with talent all year, but it's only recently that they've consistently found the will to win. I'll take my hopes dashed, thank you.

2. The scrappy U.S. squad is doomed in the 62nd minute and counting. In this year of high ratings and ecstatic announcers (all on Univision), the best thing for American soccer would have been an American trip to the sweet 16. Alas.

3. CHS track star Jordan Swarthout will appear in milk mustache ad. There's a scholarship in it, too.

4. The Virtual Mariners are poised for another run at the World Series, led by the pitching finesse of Tim Leary and the batting prowess of Craig Litton.

Jun 21, 2006

first day of summer

Not just calendarically, but scholastically. School's out, and I have several things to look forward to...

1. Two straight days of grading and packing up my classroom. (Thankfully, there's no construction in our pod this year, so I don't have to take down posters or bring my files home.)

2. Midsummer meetings and email discussions as we polish up a new 9th-grade curriculum.

3. Two road trips, in July and August, to Chicago and Alberta.

4. Sleep.

5. A Mariners game or two, one guaranteed in September.

6. Blogging.

7. An end to the mucus. Seriously, this cold sucks.

8. Spending more time with my wife. (Somehow, her summer vacation is longer than mine.)

9. Badminton versus Dad.

10. Reading for pleasure. Maybe.

11. World Cup. GOL. GOL. GOL. GOL. GOL.

Jun 20, 2006

union votes yes in landslide; Olympian scooped

Cross-posted from my other blog. (Yes, I have another blog.)

Move over, old media. Today at 4:45 the Olympia Education Association voted overwhelmingly in favor of approving the district's latest contract offer. By a 175-27 vote, the OEA chose to accept a compensation compromise adding 9 hours of optional time and twelve hours of staff development over two years, among a raft of additional changes.

David Johnston, union president and member of the bargaining team, announced the results, clearly glad to end the impasse. If the union had voted against the proposal, Johnston said he would ask for the formation of a new bargaining team and "fresh ideas."

After a brief question-and-answer period, union members filed down out of the Olympia High School bleachers to collect and turn in their ballots, as Johnston stood at the microphone waiting for anyone to speak for or against the proposal.

This teacher successfully graded fifteen final exams as the discussion and voting took place, and then cast his ballot in favor.

Update: The Olympian posted at 5:19, which I beat (on my other blog, at least) by a full five minutes. Of course, the paper wants to make you wait for the details. We don't play it that way here.

Olympia union votes to ratify; newspaper scooped

Move over, old media. Today at 4:45 the Olympia Education Association voted overwhelmingly in favor of approving the district's latest contract offer. By a 175-27 vote, the OEA chose to accept a compensation compromise adding 9 hours of optional time and twelve hours of staff development over two years, among a raft of additional changes.

David Johnston, union president and member of the bargaining team, announced the results, clearly glad to end the impasse. If the union had voted against the proposal, Johnston said he would ask for the formation of a new bargaining team and "fresh ideas."

After a brief question-and-answer period, union members filed down out of the Olympia High School bleachers to collect and turn in their ballots, as Johnston stood at the microphone waiting for anyone to speak for or against the proposal.

This teacher successfully graded fifteen final exams as the discussion and voting took place, and then cast his ballot in favor.

Details of some of the contract changes are available below.

1. Special Education Bargaining Committee and OT/PT/SLP Bargaining Committee to meet in 2006-7 to recommend bargaining language changes.

2. Nurses given language allowing right to call a meeting should their working conditions be of serious concern.

3. Teacher-Librarians given a new official designation, allowed to call for a meeting to discuss building budget concerns. Meaning of FTE toward teacher-librarian changed.

4. Language in the contract ensuring that any and all materials placed in employee's building and permanent file will include employee signature.

5. RIF changes

* Language to improve communication channels so it is clear, consistent, and updated centrally.
* Adds District experience for seniority.
* Now includes all endorsement areas for consideration during RIF
* Vastly increased role for employee in choosing available positions with full knowledge of all positions available (RIF / Seniority list open, updated annually)
* RIF'd employees able to use emergency leave for out-of-district interviews, as well as personal days including the last week of school

6. A change would take place in the way sick leave accrues. (I missed this part, since it was just added today.)

7. Compensation / Staff Development Changes

* For this past year, retroactively applied: no additional compensation.
* For the next contract year: 6 hours of staff development and 6 hours of optional time.
* For the year after that: 6 more hours of staff development combined with the other six for two added calendar days, and 3 more hours of optional time.
* Midwinter break would be reduced to accommodate the new days so we wouldn't have to work further into the summer. Spring Break likely moved to the first week of April.
* Teachers would no longer have to fill out timeslips to earn their optional time. Instead, the union would decide how those hours would be apportioned--all at one time, month by month, whatever.

The new staff development days would be a mixture of Building and District offerings, attendance, as always, at the employee's discretion.
Update: Not only did I scoop The Olympian by five minutes (after having to drive home to blog), but I've got the details The Olympian wants you to wait for. Take that!

Jun 19, 2006

Federal Way School Board gets down to business

Now that the academic year is largely done, the Federal Way School Board can concentrate on a matter of serious grave urgency.

Flip flops. Oh, and also "...slippers, pajamas, halter tops, shirts that expose the stomach, unusually low-riding pants and shorts and skirts that are shorter than the end of a student's fingertips."

give me twenty-six lead soldiers, Benjamin Franklin

Ben, we've had a tough fight against the Redcoats, the Hessians, and the secret squadron of armadillos imported from Florida. But we've never given up, not ever, and now we're going to win this thing.

That's right. It's your buddy, George Washington, calling on you to summon all your inventive powers and create a weapon that cannot be stopped. Twenty-six lead soldiers, standing in a phalanx of fury at the front of the line.

Give me twenty-six lead soldiers, Benjamin Franklin, and I will destroy the British army in six hours. Give me the die-cast demons I need, and I will guarantee you victory by Tuesday. Wednesday at the latest.

You can do it. You conjured up bifocals, and that stove-thingie, and the lightning rod, and the public library, and the composting toilet, and the inflatable dinghy. Twenty-six lead soldiers armed with cannons and muskets. A small order for a gigantic genius.

Give me twenty-six lead soldiers, Benjamin Franklin, and my army will become an unassailable force for good. That is, unless the British have a really, really hot fire and melt them into puddles of defeat.

In that case, give me twenty-six tungsten soldiers. I've got some British ass to kick.

[105th in a series]


Sophomores: First half, a written exam on a passage from the book they read, out of eight choices. Second half, work-related video and Powerpoint projects. Already I've learned the wrong (and wronger) way to sell a Tiki, why you shouldn't play basketball on the job, how to chase a notebook thief, and why working for UPS "isn't that great."

More to come.

Jun 18, 2006

commentary on the most recent bargaining proposal

Here are my thoughts. Share yours in the comments.

1. Special Education Bargaining Committee and OT/PT/SLP Bargaining Committee to meet in 2006-7 to recommend bargaining language changes.

Don't know, won't say.

2. Nurses given language allowing right to call a meeting should their working conditions be of serious concern.

Commonsensical. Our nurses are thinly stretched and need a mechanism to ensure that their plight is officially recognized.

3. Teacher-Librarians given a new official designation, allowed to call for a meeting to discuss building budget concerns. Meaning of FTE toward teacher-librarian changed.

I'm the son of an elementary school librarian who for many years had to teach library classes without a teaching certificate. Her district was--and is--lucky to have her. Thankfully, our district's teacher-librarians are highly qualified. Seems more than reasonable to officially recognize their role outside the confines of the bookshelves.

4. Language in the contract ensuring that any and all materials placed in employee's building and permanent file will include employee signature.

In my rookie ignorance, I was surprised to know that this isn't already the case. I wholeheartedly support this measure to increase openness in staff / administrative relationships.

5. RIF changes
  • Language to improve communication channels so it is clear, consistent, and updated centrally.
  • Adds District experience for seniority.
  • Now includes all endorsement areas for consideration during RIF
  • Vastly increased role for employee in choosing available positions with full knowledge of all positions available (RIF / Seniority list open, updated annually)
  • RIF'd employees able to use emergency leave for out-of-district interviews, as well as personal days including the last week of school
These directly address some of the largest concerns coming out of the RIF process. (I was a Riffie. Were you?) The first provision, ironically, is the vaguest, but the central updates will be the most significant change. Adding district experience is an easy way to reward loyalty. I'm not sure which endorsements will be added for consideration and what effect the third provision will have; anyone who knows is encouraged to comment. The fourth and fifth provisions are important and a significant sign of respect for the person in the middle of the process. Let's hope these are all unnecessary.

6. Compensation / Staff Development Changes
Corrected from the previous post.
  • For this past year, retroactively applied: no additional compensation.
  • For the next contract year: 6 hours of staff development in one added day, and 6 hours of optional time.
  • For the year after that: 6 more hours of staff development in another added day combined with the other six for two added calendar days, and 3 more hours of optional time.
  • Midwinter break would be reduced to accommodate the new days so we wouldn't have to work further into the summer. Spring Break likely moved to the first week of April.
  • Teachers would no longer have to fill out timeslips to earn their optional time. Instead, the union would decide how those hours would be apportioned--all at one time, month by month, whatever.

The new staff development days would be a mixture of Building and District offerings, attendance, as always, at the employee's discretion.

These latest concessions are worth supporting. They represent a significant raise and a workable compromise. Although mid-winter break is much-needed respite, making it'll still be a four-day weekend. Also, the possible spring break move would eliminate the let's-come-back-to-the-WASL, as the current schedule has it.

In short, I'm voting to ratify. The changes are significant and respect the needs of both sides. I haven't yet heard a good reason to vote "no," so if you think you have one, share it in the comments.

a scanner, darkly

Maybe it's the pseudoephedrine, but for some reason I find this utterly entrancing. Michael Golembewski of Olympia has created a new way to use the common computer scanner: as a camera. Check out the bizarre, fun, creepy photos that result.

[Link via Sean O'Neill, writing about another strange photo project]

my Capital High School graduation speech

[Delivered last night at St. Martin's Pavilion. Kevin Meserve, student speaker, gave a wonderful speech about how the graduates didn't need another lesson, but just needed the confidence to put their knowledge into action. Thankfully, I followed the choir. Photos of graduates here.]

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of family, friends, teachers, administrators, school board members, and people who sneaked in past security—gathered here to celebrate, to applaud, to mark this rite of passage.

If you knew my history of graduation speech debacles, you might not have invited me up here. A decade ago, as valedictorian of Elma High School’s class of ’96, I gave a pithy address on the merits of failure, later to learn that the speakers didn’t work right, so only the front two rows could hear me, while the rest sat in polite silence.

Four years ago, at Evergreen’s commencement, my speech was well received, so much so that as I sat watching undergraduates take their diplomas, a young woman approached me and said, “I liked your speech, let’s talk sometime over coffee.” She then handed me her phone number and walked away. I lost the number and never saw her again.

Two attempts, two inglorious failures, two out of many more in twenty-seven eventful years. Yet here I stand. Indulge me in a moment of Scottish poetry and learn why.

Robert Burns, in his well-known poem, “To a Mouse On Turning Up Her Nest With the Plough,” adopts the voice of a farmer disconsolate for having destroyed a rodent’s tiny home, and this just before the onset of winter. The farmer-poet concludes with a lesson:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
What Burns is saying: the joy promised to us—the joy we promise ourselves—often arrives battered and bruised, if it arrives at all. As Al Swearengen of HBO’s Deadwood puts it, “Pain and damage don’t end the world, or despair, or… beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store.” Thus, in at least one way, it’s better to be a mouse, with no memory of regrets and disappointments, and, consequently, nothing to fear.

Today, some may tell you, “Fondly remember this—you will look back and say it was the best time of your life.” They are liars. The best time of my life is today. Tomorrow will be the best time, too, and the day after that, if I choose it to be. Memory is a prison, regret a poison, nostalgia a toxin. The present only is the essence of freedom: the power to escape the manacles of memory, to make and remake each day, to build and rebuild, to do and undo, to forge ahead despite the sting of disappointment and the paralysis of regret.

What I am not saying is to live each day as if it were your last. Such advice is hollow and self-defeating, for we must plan and work and carry on in the absence of apocalypse. No, ultimately, the easiest way—and trust me, you’ll want to know the easiest way—the easiest way is to live so that regret is impossible: to live well. To be kind and loyal and patient and good. To examine your beliefs in the harsh light of critical thought. To learn from others only that which will better you. To love, and to be loved.

I do not promise that the easiest way will be easy—and, as any stockbroker will tell you, past performance is not indicative of future success. But I promise you that when you fail, what you lack in achievement you will gain in humility, and you will try again.

Some of you have earned your seat in this auditorium by struggling to overcome regret and disappointment. You already know what I mean, and I salute your dedication. I have much to learn from you. To the rest, I hope your path of ease continues far into the future. You enjoy my jealousy.

To all of you, the class of 2006, you are now loosed from the bonds of memory and of public education. Go forth and thrive in the world of your making.

Thank you.

Jun 17, 2006


I went a day without blogging, and am now experiencing the onset of cold-like symptoms, perfect for the day I speak at graduation. Ah, well. My other graduation speeches have been marked by failures.

No more blogging today. I've got a speech to finish.

Jun 15, 2006

no-knock jokes

Old joke:

"Knock knock."

Who's there?

"Police! Open up! We have a warrant to search the premises!"

[scrambling, stashing bong and reggae records] Shit!

New joke:

"Knock knock."

Who's there?

"Mike, your next door neighbor. The police raided the wrong house when looking for you. I think someone got shot!"

breaking news: new district offer, new meeting time

You read it here first. The district has a new offer. I'll try to explain it as clearly as it was explained to me, but watch this space for David Johnston's commentary later on.

The district's original position: 14 hours staff development.
Our original position: 9 hours optional time, 6 hours staff development.

The district's latest offer:

1. For this past year, retroactively applied: no additional compensation.
2. For the next contract year: 6 hours of staff development in one added day, and 6 hours of optional time.
3. For the year after that: 6 more hours of staff development in another added day, and 3 more hours of optional time.

These days are all added permanently to the contract--once they're there, they stay there. In essence, the district gets what it wants--extra training time--and we get what we want, the added compensation for the work we already do.

Other important changes:

4. Midwinter break would be reduced to accommodate the new days so we wouldn't have to work further into the summer.
5. Teachers would no longer have to fill out timeslips to earn their optional time. Instead, the union would decide how those hours would be apportioned--all at one time, month by month, whatever.

We're meeting TUESDAY, 4:00 at OHS to discuss and possibly vote on this new offer.

Jun 14, 2006

pseudoephedrine clouds the mind

My wife has been home sick all day with a nasty cold-slash-allergy-attack. Under the influence of pseudoephedrine, she has been watching all four Harry Potter movies as a "Harrython" (her term).

I had to visit Albertsons to buy another pack of the stuff, handing over my license, penning my name and address, passing an informal IQ test, exhaling into a breathalyzer, and writing an essay on political economy before I was deemed fit to buy twenty-four pseudoephedrine tablets.

(Have you tried the "PE" variant that's pseudoephedrine-free? It doesn't do anything for me.)

I mentioned to the pharmacist that the provisions have done nothing to reduce meth production, since drug traffickers have stepped up importation, but his only response was, "Yeah, well, in Oregon they tried this and it failed, so now you have to get Sudafed with a prescription." Which totally solves the problem.

Since now it's a hassle to buy something that we're going to need, my tendency is to stock up, but that looks suspicious, so I can't.

I can, however, whine about it here. So I do.

battle lines shift in the war against lice

Think your plate is full? If you're an elementary school teacher, you have a unique teacherly task: catching lice before they're catching. And now it seems that lice populations are evolving resistance to a common countermeasure.
Eighty per cent of head lice appear resistant to a common treatment that relies on pyrethroid chemicals, researchers report.... Parents should try products containing organophosphates or silicone-based insecticides as a first-line approach to rid their children’s hair of the bugs, according to the new study.
Thankfully, it's been reported only in Wales and Israel so far, but scientists warn that the problem may grow.

There's a metaphor in here. Something about developing new strategies to persist in the face of opposition. Maybe we've got to be the nagging itch in the district's scalp.

I didn't say it was a good metaphor.

WASL scores in students' hands

(Actual conversation.)

Student: I passed everything but the writing test.

Me: Are you joking? You're a perfectly capable writer.

Student: I made up my own writing prompt.

Me: Why would you do that?

Student: [smiling] I just wanted to.

Me: You just wanted to take the WASL again?

Student: I have summer school anyway. Might as well have something to work toward.

maybe gay marriage really is destroying marriage

After all, it's making grown heterosexual men run naked in the streets to prove they're ready for commitment.

[link via Obscure Store]

Jun 13, 2006

today's spam poem

Summer, 1986

feet blistered by sting grass
you drank in the folksinger's mustard ballad
vowels coated in diphthong oil
smoother than cypress wax

where were Emeril Lagasse's parents born?

It's a fair question.

Out of all the Emeril biographies, which might mention this obscure trivium?

Well, he's of Portuguese and French Canadian heritage, born in Massachussetts, if StarChefs can be trusted.

Emeril's official bio lists his mom's name--Hilda--but not where she hails from. This bio is silent, too.

Even Wikipedia fails us.

Which brings me to the point: no one cares about their parents anymore. We're all selfish, self-absorbed, self-admiring egomaniacs with no regard for the folks who brought us kicking and screaming into the world, who nurtured us and coddled us and disciplined us when it counted. And no one cares for geography, either. We're so fluid, moving from place to place like mercury on a paper plate, no longer bound by convention or transportation. It's a spiritual loss, really. The local gods are dead, and the abstraction replacing them won't answer our calls.

So you'll never, ever know the answer, unless you can somehow catch Emeril's ear.

No, not even then. All he'll say is "BAM!" His bodyguards speak with their fists.

[104th in a series]

your bargaining team: David Johnston

Union president, CHS English teacher

OSD Experience
15 years

Bargaining Team Experience
12 years

Greatest Moments in Bargaining
1. Learning From Diane Rae, Gary Brown, and Jim O'Sullivan
2. Pulling 36 straight hours bargaining at Knox, looking up at the ceiling wondering what I had gotten myself into.
3. Trying and failing many times to convince a former District Administrator that the latest proposal was a "give" to them (because we wanted something else in return) and finally saying, "Fine, if you can't figure out that this proposal puts more money in the District's pockets, then we withdraw the damn thing and don't want to talk about it anymore!"

Jun 12, 2006

adult takes risks, gets hurt: news at 11

When the Pennsylvania law that was appealed to allow helmetless riding comes back before the legislature, which you predict with certainty, will they call it "Ben's Law?" Because Ben Roethlisberger would be pissed if they did.

In an interview with ESPN from a year ago, it's easy to spot Roethlisberger's frustration with the protectionist-slanted questions.
ESPN: How do you view that you are putting your employment at risk?
Roethlisberger: It's tough. It's kind of like we say: "Let those who ride decide." I can make a decision. I'm a man. You're not going to make a decision for me, especially if you're not my boss or my employer. You don't have the right to make that decision for me, so I'm gonna go out and be as careful as I can … look how many people are killed in car accidents every day. Its risk whatever you do....

Roethlisberger: There's a lot of people that ride that people don't know about, it's amazing.
ESPN: Why? What do you mean by that?
Roethlisberger: … (John) Elway rode his whole career. (Troy) Aikman. All those guys. They still ride theirs. I bet I'd have to say over 75 percent of the league people ride motorcycles.
ESPN: What would people have thought if they did know that John Elway rode a motorcycle?
Roethlisberger: I have no idea. I don't what would people think. You know … I just know people they make a big fuss like Kellen and I are the first guys ever to ride motorcycles you know I think that's just silly.
ESPN: Can you understand that there is a focus on the risk factor?
Roethlisberger: Yes, but there is a risk in everything you do. (In) everyday life, there is a risk no matter what you are doing. And yeah, there is a risk if I'm out there doing wheelies on a motorcycle. But I'm being the safest rider I can be.

not that it's a state run store or anything

Several Lacey businesses have been busted again for selling ale to adolescents. This line says it all.

"Los Pinos Lounge, Shell and the State Liquor Store are repeat offenders from the last compliance check conducted in March."

Do you think they'll suspend the state store's liquor license for five days, as per usual?

your bargaining team

Coming soon: a series of profiles of the people who continually advocate for you. You'll get to know David Johnston, Jim O'Sullivan, Diane Rae, Sharyn Merrigan, Pat Ferguson, and Duncan Clarke. Watch this space!

if you read one education-based article in the Seattle Times this year

Make it this one. Dreams of reform, now over a decade old, have crashed headlong into reality.
Educators would have up to 10 planning days a year, paid for with $108 million annually. Instead, the state has spent $514 million in 12 years on professional development. Statewide, teachers were funded for four days of planning, then three, then two.

The council envisioned escalating grants every year for readiness-to-learn programs, totaling more than $265 million in the first six years. Instead the state has spent about $3.6 million per year since 1994 for a small number of schools.

The council wanted mentoring for every new teacher and two-year scholarships at any public college or university in the state for deserving high-school graduates — dreams the state is still struggling to fulfill.
And then there's a bold admission by a former governor.
"One thing we never really did implement, and the report never really addressed, was the issue of funding. So Olympia never took it up, either," said Locke, now a partner in a major Seattle law firm. "Clearly there has to be additional funding to help students come up to the standards."
Clearly. In twenty-twenty hindsight.

Lesson: we can't wait for bureaucrats to give us what we need. We have to actively pursue it, whether at the local, state, or national level.

Jun 11, 2006

the spam poetry archive

Arranged by title.

altar of the apocalypse
The Lieutenant Colonel
one more free
Summer, 1986
untitled, 8/6/2005
untitled, 4/28/2006
untitled, 5/16/2006
Your life, theory-blind

today's spam poem

for Ezra Pound

altar of the apocalypse

the trade school dairy
strewn with gold foil and manganese,
the steam exhaust of scented ferns

photos of the Olympia waterfront and Capitol Lake

I took these snapshots back in 2002, when I first moved to Olympia after landing my first--and present--job at Capital. There are fewer better places in this world to enjoy a sunset.

not your Grandpa Jetson's smart pills

As a teacher, should I be enthused or concerned?

Cal Thomas: gay marriage will ruin society

This is going to be a long post. Click "read more" if you wish to...

Cal Thomas, as usual, is on a rhetorical rampage. This time, he's tearing up the advocates of gay marriage, with a shortsighted view of history, loaded assumptions, and all the bluster he can summon. (As an aside, the title--not chosen by Thomas--is "Moral sense lost when personal choice guides decisions." Was it meant to tick off libertarians?) Thomas's words are italicized. Mine are straight.

WASHINGTON - "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God and before these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony."

So begins most "traditional" marriage ceremonies in Western culture for as long as anyone can remember.

"For as long as anyone can remember" means "for the past hem-n-haw years," because if you skip back to the time of Moses--you know, Mr. Ten Commandments, source of all Western social righteousness--all of a sudden it's culturally acceptable to have multiple wives. Thomas also limits his moral scope to the West because Right and True are confined geographically....

Now we are told such exclusivity of preserving marriage for men and women "discriminates" against people of the same sex who wish to "marry" each other. Some forms of discrimination are good, because they send a signal and provide an example that certain behavior is to be preferred over other behaviors for the betterment of society.

Finger-quotin' Margo Thomas is admirably frank: being gay is Wrong, ergo allowing gays to be openly gay is Wrong. More on this later.

That a president of the United States would feel compelled, for whatever reason, to make a public statement that marriage should be reserved for men and women is a leading indicator of the moral state of the union.

That Cal Thomas argues in the entire absence of evidence that gay marriage will ruin society is a leading indicator of the moral and intellectual state of Cal Thomas.

Today, right and wrong, an objective concept rooted in unchanging truth, has been dismissed in favor of the imposed rulings of federal judges guided by their own whims and opinion polls (various polls show the country equally split between those who oppose same-sex marriage and those who would allow it). We are now adrift to sort out our choices based on a weather vane principle: whichever way the wind blows is where we'll go.

Thomas dismisses any complex constitutional questions with a wave of the hand, and conflates objective morality with (one particular strand of) Christian morality.

When nothing is either true or false and all decisions about life and morals are based on personal choices and whatever new "trend" happens to capture our attention, we lose our moral sense, which, like an immune system, was established to protect us from cultural as well as biological viruses.

You see, gay marriage is somehow less moral than willy-nilly relationships, gay or straight. People who make a public commitment to remain loyal to the death somehow don't believe in "true or false." Oh, and they're putting us at risk of biological viruses, the only remotely empirical argument Thomas can muster as to why being gay is wrong.

The charge is made that President Bush is "again" using the issue of same-sex marriage to rally his base. But it is not the president who has made this a political issue. Those who would melt the glue of marriage, which has held societies together for millennia, are using the legal and political system for their own ends. In every state where same-sex marriage has been on the ballot, it has been decisively defeated. But like the war in Iraq, the "insurgents" in the culture wars believe all they must do is hang on long enough and the majority will surrender because protracted warfare interferes with our pursuit of pleasure and material consumption.

How will gay marriage "melt the glue of marriage?" We await the argument. (Thomas also forgets himself here, saying that marriage has held "societies together for millennia." Watch out--polygamy is at the back door.)

Some claim that heterosexuals ought to tend to their own marriages before they prohibit people of the same sex from marrying. While it is true that too many heterosexuals divorce (and too many others live together without becoming married), using this as a wedge to undermine a "norm," which, when practiced, serves children and society well, is not a sufficient reason for broadening - and therefore undermining - the traditional definition of what it means to be married.

Ah, so adding people to the club undermines the club. How, Mr. Thomas? How?

Allowing same-sex marriage would be the ultimate in social engineering on a scale even grander than the judicial fiat that brought us abortion on demand. And it won't stop there. People whose beliefs about marriage are founded on religious doctrines can expect lawsuits accusing them of "discrimination" should they refuse to hire someone who is "married" to a person of the same sex. Some countries have enacted or are considering laws that prohibit anyone, including ministers, from publicly stating that homosexual practice is wrong, or a "sin." Remember sin? Sinful is what we were before we became "dysfunctional."

When there is no "no" to any behavior, then there must be "yes" to every behavior. If same-sex "marriage" is allowed, no one will ever be able to say "no" to anything again.

At long last, we have a pseudo-argument. Gay marriage is social engineering, which is inherently bad. Gay marriage will lead to lawsuits against homophobes. Gay marriage is a slippery slope away from legitimizing every possible immoral behavior. Being gay is wrong, something to do with viruses and sin, and discriminating against gays is good social policy. Oh, and the definition of marriage will be undermined in a mysterious and inexplicable way if gays are allowed to marry.

That's the best Thomas can do, and, quite frankly, it stinks.

Jun 10, 2006

mixing it up: discussion strategies in the English classroom

I polled my students on their preferred discussion format out of several choices, all encountered throughout the year: whole class teacher facilitated, whole class student facilitated, whole class with Powerpoint paraphrasing and student facilitation (see below), small groups, small groups into whole class, and online. Here are their thoughts.
I think it helps when you're mediating the discussion. It helps keep it moving without a lot of clutter and I find it more interesting.

I like the Powerpoint. It helps you keep on track, if you're trying to think about something, and if you zone out, when you get lost, you can look at the board to see what you missed.... I do wish you would talk, though. It gives us reassurance to hear a bleep from your vast range of knowledge.

For me, discussing stuff in small groups works best. Then after we talk in the small groups, we come back to one big group and discuss what we talked about in the smaller groups.

The online discussions were nice because I was able to think through what I wanted to say, and then say it without worrying about a sudden change of topics.

I liked the discussions in small groups best because everyone can get a word in. Instead of calling on people you can have almost regular conversations. Also, if you don't really like to speak up in front of a lot of people it is easier.

The blog, while not anonymous, creates (at least for me) a sense of anonymity that makes it easier to just say what you want to say.
I expanded my use of Powerpoint for some whole-group discussions this year, typing the students' comments as they talked, so everyone, sitting in a horseshoe, could see my paraphrase of the conversation. I almost never talked, interrupting only to redirect a severe sidetrack or to point out when certain participants hadn't yet had a chance to join in.

It doesn't surprise me that each of the different discussion types has an equal number of adherents. If I did the same thing every time, not only would my students die of boredom, but I would, too.

well, duh

You'd think it wouldn't take a study, but they studied it anyway. Turns out quality teachers raise student achievement, while inept teachers "drag it down." (Notice that the article leads with the negative. Hrm.)
Low-income and minority children benefit the most from good teachers, the study found. In Illinois' poorest elementary schools with low teacher quality, the average pass rate on state tests was 31 percent. But in similar low-income schools with higher-ranked teachers, the rate jumped to 43 percent, research revealed.
And how do you suppose we can attract and retain quality teachers?

Jun 9, 2006

welcome to the new media, same as the old media

What I love about blogger David Goldstein: his shamelessness, his sleeve-worn sentiments, his vitriolic humor, his dogged partisanship, and, most important, his utter transparency. You always know just where he stands, even if he leaps to a new location.

Following Goldy's announcement that he's joining the KVI team, David Postman points out an obvious instance.
And now that Goldstein is going mainstream, he wants his first official guest to be Tim Eyman, the inspiration for horsesass. In his invitation to Eyman, Goldstein says, "Now I know you might have some reservations about appearing on the air with a host who made his name by calling you names, but this is radio, and you are, after all, a media whore."
Again, please remember that this is radio Tim, radio - tens of thousands of people hearing you talk - so if there really is no such thing as bad press, what do you have to lose? And besides, we're going to talk about you anyway, so why not be there to defend yourself?
But wait, wasn't it Goldstein who was just telling us dupes in the press to ignore Eyman?
So to my friends in the media I'd like to suggest that you take Timmy at his word one last time, and refuse to give him any coverage at all. Zero. Zilch. Nada. No clips on the news, no column inches in the paper... not even to curse him out. The guy just dissed you. (Again.) Don't reward him. Can the press resist?
Apparently not.
Goldstein responds:
For his part, Postman makes a salient point that perhaps it was a little hypocritical of me to advise the press to ignore Tim, and then go and invite him onto my show. Yeah, I guess. At the very least it’s probably bad strategy. I’m not approaching my radio show any differently than I approach my blogging – I’m an unabashed, partisan liberal with an unabashed, partisan liberal agenda – but I suppose I need to give some thought as to how my first, tentative steps into the cold waters of the mainstream might change my role in the media.
I'd also suggest he think carefully about his stated position on KVI's trouble with campaign regulations.
[I]t was with some ambivalence that I approached the controversy over KVI’s shameless promotion of I-912, the anti-road maintenance initiative. On the one hand, I was one of the first “media watchdogs” to publicly express outrage over how blatantly John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur used their shows to actively advertise, organize and fundraise for I-912; without them, the initiative campaign simply would not exist. On the other hand, I’m no dummy – when I get my own radio show I plan to take a page from the KVI playbook and be just as active in promoting progressive initiatives, causes and candidates. It’s not only good politics, it’s damn good for business....

While I admit that the line between advocacy and advertising is blurry, and that I am uncomfortable at the thought of a bureaucrat or even a judge having the power to determine when this line is crossed, there is no question that the line exists, and to ignore it is to open our system to inevitable abuse. If media outlets can use their enormous power to run political campaigns outside the established regulatory framework, they will.

And in fact... KVI has. John and Kirby crossed the line, and to make matters worse, they used the public airwaves to do it. The people of Washington have a right to know the true value of KVI’s in-kind contribution to the I-912 campaign. Filing these reports may be a hassle, but then, so is democracy.
It might not be long before Goldstein finds himself at the end of litigation because of his "unabashed, partisan" views. In this strange world of regulated speech, anything can happen--and probably will.

need a creative boost?

As a socially responsible blogger, you should do your part to model healthy behaviors to our nation's youth. "But Jim," you say, "I'm no good at that. My ideas are trivial or dull. What can I do?"

Enter the Centers for Disease Control. Scores of important and pressing topics, tips, and story prompts: AIDS and other STDs in Youth, Alcohol Use and Pregnancy, Allergies, Anthrax, Antibiotic Resistance in Nursing Homes and Day Care Centers, Asthma, Asthma in Children, and Autism. And that's just the letter A.

How about "Bat Bites and Rabies" as a humdinger of a story germ? (No, the good kind of germ.)
The parents of a young child are awakened at night by strange noises in their child's bedroom. They find a bat behaving strangely: not hiding, making strange noises, having difficulty flying. The parents kill the bat and awaken the child. They find no evidence of a bite or scratch from the bat, and the child reports no contact with or bite from the bat. The father saves the bat in the freezer, "just in case." A few weeks later, the child becomes very ill, with fever and flu-like symptoms. The distraught parents rush the child to a nearby hospital emergency room where they are asked about contact with animals. The parents tell doctors about the bat; the doctors suspect rabies. After consultation with the state health department, the doctor seeing the child asks the parents to bring in the bat. It tests positive for rabies and the parents are told their child will not survive.

Alternative Ending: Being cautious, the parents take the child to a hospital emergency room immediately after finding and trapping a bat in the bedroom. Doctors consult the state health department; the bat is tested for rabies and found to be rabid. Rabies shots are administered (vaccine and immune globulin immediately) and four additional doses of vaccine are given over the next month. The child recovers.
Here's how the story might play out "for reals."
"Do you hear those strange noises coming from Cameron's bedroom?" Jen nudged her husband, who mumbled something about puberty and rolled over. Jen insisted. "Sounds like squeaking and flapping."

"Honey, it's nothing to be concerned--"

"Nonsense, Paul," said Jen. "I'm going to check it out." She leapt out of bed and strolled across the hall. To her horror, a furry flying creature was hopping about on the carpet, not hiding, making strange noises, and trying unsuccessfully to fly out the open window.

"Kill it," shrieked Jen to Paul, who had stumbled into the bedroom behind her. His nightgown flowing about him, Paul chased the bat around the room, tripping on Cameron's X-Box and stubbing his toe.

"Sheep!" shouted Paul. "Gosh darn it! Holy heck!" He grabbed a baseball bat and smashed it into the fruit bat, which now lay in a bloody pool on the floor, dead. Cameron, in a hypnopompic stupor, rubbed his eyes and stared in disbelief.

Jen examined Cameron for bites or scratches, and, finding none, told Paul to get rid of the bat. "No way!" said Paul. "I'm going to put it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Just in case."

"You absolutely will not," said Jen. "That's gross."

"Ick," Cameron observed.

Paul, with a brisk "Whatever," went downstairs to enact his plan.

Three weeks later, Cameron came home from school complaining about fever and flu-like symptoms. Paul told him to suck it up, while Jen said she'd take him to the hospital. "Just in case," she added. Paul frowned.

Later that evening, after several tests, the doctor announced that Cameron had contracted rabies and would be dead within a few days. He was right. Paul and Jen spent their remaining five years together despising themselves and each other.

Alternative Ending: Paul and Jen took Cameron to the emergency room the same night of the bat-fight. Doctors, testing the bat for rabies and administering rabies shots to luckless Cameron, were able to save his life. Paul and Jen's relationship, though, was given three to six years. It lasted five.
See how simple it is? Give it a try! When you're done, send me the link. We'll have a unique micro-carnival, the Carnival of CDC Edutainment.

50 random questions

I like my list better, but this is the "real" list popping up all over LiveJournal and MySpace.

(For the correct answers, click "

1. Your name spelled backwards.
Eman Ruoy.

2. Where were your parents born?
Just outside the womb.

3. What is the last thing you downloaded onto your computer?
This question-generating password-stealing life-destroying sinus-congesting virus.

4. What's your favorite restaurant?
What's your favorite restaurant, huh? Huh?

5. Last time you swam in a pool?
Last time I swam in a pool what?

6. Have you ever been in a school play?
"No Exit." Directed and starred.

7. How many kids do you want?
Are we talking goat kids or human kids?

8. Type of music you dislike most?

9. Are you registered to vote?
In three states.

10. Do you have cable?
If you've a pulley.

11. Have you ever ridden on a moped?
If I had, I'd never admit it.

12. Ever prank call anybody?
I prefer wasting people's time with pointless conversation starters.

13. Ever get a parking ticket?
They drive on parkways.

14. Would you go bungee jumping or sky diving?
I spit upon your false dichotomy.

15. Furthest place you ever traveled?
All the way from the foul line to the hoop. I am Tiger Woods.

16. Do you have a garden?

17. What's your favorite comic strip?

18. Do you really know all the words to your national anthem?
I wrote them.

19. Bath or Shower, morning or night?
Yes, yes, yes, yes.

20. Best movie you've seen in the past month?
MySpace or Yours: A Cautionary Tale

21. Favorite pizza topping?
Potato skins.

22. Chips or popcorn?
Potato skins.

23. What color lipstick do you usually wear?

24. Have you ever smoked peanut shells?
With alder or hickory on medium heat for eight hours or until the meat falls off the bone.

25. Have you ever been in a beauty pageant?
My life is a beauty pageant.

26. Orange or Apple juice?
Cranberry. I still despise your dichotomies, you narrow-minded nabob.

27. Who was the last person you went out to dinner with and where did you dine?
Ronaldinho, at a tiny Vienamese noodle house on the south side.

28. Favorite type chocolate bar?
I am allergic to chocolate, you insensitive clod.

29. When was the last time you voted at the polls?
When Dewey defeated Truman in '48.

30. Last time you ate a homegrown tomato?
The last time I stole into my neighbor's garden.

31. Have you ever won a trophy?
Most Likely to Fritter, 1996-present.

32. Are you a good cook?
Is Emeril Lagasse a good cook? If yes, then yes, because I'm Emeril Lagasse. If no, then yes, because you are a provincial boob, and I am Emeril Lagasse.

33. Do you know how to pump your own gas?
Speak to my attorney.

34. Ever order an article from an infomercial?
You never get just one article. That's the entire point of an infomercial.

35. Sprite or 7-Up?
Sierra Mist?

36. Have you ever had to wear a uniform to work?
They called it an institute, or institution, I can't remember.

37. Last thing you bought at a pharmacy?
A duck call.

38. Ever throw up in public?
I'm about to.

39. Would you prefer being a millionaire or find true love?
I'd prefer having a perfect grasp of English grammar.

40. Do you believe in love at first sight?
Ever since I first saw a mirror.

41. Ever call a 1-900 number?
Sierra Mist?

42. Can exes be friends?
Some things take geologic time.

43. Who was the last person you visited in a hospital?
Myself, in an unforgettable out-of-body experience.

44. Did you have a lot of hair when you were a baby?
I am a mammal. So are you, I'm guessing.

45. What message is on your answering machine?
"If you like more options, press one."

46. What's your all time favorite Saturday Night Live Character?
Gumby, dammit.

47. What was the name of your first pet?
Do any of these questions seem like the ones you're supposed to answer when you've forgotten your password? Don't answer them, okay?

48. What is in your purse?
Potato skins.

49. Favorite thing to do before bedtime?
Speak to my attorney.

50. What is one thing you are grateful for today?
These questions. They've made me reconsider nearly every aspect of my life, and discover that I'm not nearly as big a loser as a lot of people I know.

[103rd in a series]

36th Skeptics' Circle posted

I need to check my email more often--it went up Thursday as it always does.

Head over to The Examining Room of Dr. Charles, and don't forget your insurance.

where have all the science bloggers gone?

Why, to ScienceBlogs, of course.

Joining the crew among the current blogroll: Bora Zivkovic, who's renamed his home A Blog Around the Clock, and Carl Zimmer, still blogging at The Loom.

Makes me wish I had followed my Biology 101 professor's advice and switched majors.

WASL wait over

And the results, as you probably know by now, aren't pretty.
Well over half of the 71,136 students tested passed the reading test - 60,873; 10,263 failed to meet the standard.

In writing, 59,196 of the 70,812 students met the standard; 11,616 did not.

In math, 37,866 of the 70,255 scored met the standard; 32,359 did not
Running a back of the envelope calculation...

1. Assuming that 50% of roughly 70,000 students ultimately have failed all three sections--a reasonable estimate, in my reasonable estimation...

2. Assuming the state's per-student dollar figure at the upper bound holds for 50% of the 50% (in other words, assuming that half who failed, failed miserably)...

3. Assuming that the 28.5 million figure isn't sheer puffery...

Then the state is ready to spend roughly $7.85 million on remediation. (If every single sophomore failed miserably, the state would spend $23 million.)

So... why the gap? Where does the rest of the money go?

Time to investigate.

Added: Here's the breakdown [pdf], thanks to OSPI's handy-dandy website. Something you might not know:
(6) School districts may carry over from one year to the next up to
20 percent of funds allocated under this program; however, carryover funds shall be expended for promoting academic success programs, and may be used to provide extended learning programs for students beyond their eleventh grade year who want continued remedial assistance to pass the WASL.

animals are smarter

Would you be disappointed if a chimpanzee beat you at a short-term memory game?

Would you become angry if it cleaned you out at the blackjack table when your lover was watching?

Would you curse at the chimp, but under your breath and in your second language?

Would you write a letter to the CWAPC begging for support?

Would you be upset if NewScientist mysteriously stopped recognizing your username and password?

Would you hoot and holler and fling feces at the screen?

Would you sigh in bemusement and pick lice from your lover's scalp while waiting on hold for tech support?

[102nd in a series]

Jun 8, 2006

WASL woe for some, relief for others

The preliminary--and by preliminary, I mean satisfying in the way only a blogger could appreciate--results of the WASL-that-counts are in, and they're a mix of "gains" and disappointments.

Well over half of the 71,136 students tested passed the reading test - 60,873; 10,263 failed to meet the standard.

In writing, 59,196 of the 70,812 students met the standard; 11,616 did not.

In math, 37,866 of the 70,255 scored met the standard; 32,359 did not.
Seattle Times:
Preliminary numbers show nearly 86 percent of 10th-graders passed the reading section of the 2006 WASL; 84 percent passed writing and 54 percent passed math.

But those initial scores, released this morning by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, do not include about 10,000 student records that, for a number of reasons, need to be examined. Some students have been counted twice, for example. Others are special-education students who this year had the option of taking the fourth-or seventh-grade versions of the WASL.
The Olympian:
Of the 70,255 who took the math test, 37,866 met or exceeded the standard and another 32,359 did not pass. The improvements in mathematics were most noteworthy in the movement of students out of the lowest achievement level — a one-third reduction, state officials said.

Of the 71,136 who took the reading test, 60,873 students met or exceeded the standard and another 10,263 did not pass. More than half of the students — 43,758 — scored in the highest performance level. This year’s results also show a two-thirds reduction in the number of students scoring in the lowest performance level.

Of the 70,812 who took the writing test, 59,196 met or exceeded the standard and another 11,616 did not pass.

There were nearly 10,000 more students than last year who achieved the writing standard, and there were two-thirds fewer students performing in the lowest level.
Gains were probably due to the fact that the test had to be taken seriously. The disappointing result in mathematics, though, means that close to 45% probably failed all three sections, though it's impossible to be sure with so many discrepancies (and the fact that the three statistics can't be combined).

There are also discrepancies in last year's statistics. KOMO claims, "Last year, 46.9 percent of 10th graders who took the WASL passed all three sections," while the Times claims, "Last year, 42 percent of sophomores passed all three."

I won't know for some time how my own students fared.

Jun 7, 2006

today's spam poem

...comes at a bad time. The announcement prefacing the gibberish:
- Your USD 888 BONUS!
- Freeplay non limit
- 70+ ANY games
Alas, gambling away your life savings (or even a penny) is now an "unranked" felony in Washington state.
"I think the government has a lot more important things to do than to worry about online poker," says Bob Holley after winning a hand at poker at a local casino.
With that in mind, today's poem considers the greatest gamble of all. No, not love.

one more free

The car slips into the spot ahead
like a friendly gopher snake.
Scanning the side street with a telescope,
Dr. Mahseredjian, Armenian, psychology faculty,
molds a hare-mad strategy.
Left signal: bluff.
Duck right into the last space as
driver behind flips goose.

One more inference a theory makes.