Some Thoughts, or Waxing Philosophically While Hoping Someone Cares Enough to do Something

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December 21, 2016

Wow, another long break with nothing too philosophical to share, until today.

Tomorrow is my dad's 90th birthday. He is still going strong. While he spends a lot of time reading or watching sports on TV, he is still active outside the house. He is a world class wood carver. He has been making duck decoys for as long as I can remember, and he has carved toy boats, fish, swans, geese ... the list could go on, but this is not really about carving. It is about living. Ninety years. Consider all that he has seen; consider all that he has lived through; consider all that he has survived. The last point may be the most important because as a young boy he was hit by a car and laid up in the hospital for a while. Granted, cars did not go all that fast in the 1930s, but still, one hit him. Then, in the 1980s he was in an accident when the logging crane he was driving tipped over and he suffered a broken neck. He wore a halo for about a year. So, judging from just those two incidents one can surmise he is a pretty tough individual, and probably a bit lucky as well. Through it all he retains a sense of humor. I recall one night when he came home from work and his nose was cut and bloodied and splayed all across his face. It looked terrible. My brothers and I gasped and then my younger brother asked what happened. Dad turned to him and said, "Well, I thought the guy said 'Stand up,' turns out he said 'Shut up.'" We all laughed, then he told us the real story, a log he was loading on a truck broke in half and the butt end came through the window of his crane, just missing his head while the glass cut up his nose. Like I said, he's lucky.

However, beyond the exploits of my dad, and his stories of survival, there is a broader point. He like a lot of others, has lived through the good times and the bad times. After November I was convinced that we, in the US, were headed for some really bad times. While I am still not entirely certain that everything will be a bed of roses, I am trying to remain optimistic. While there may be some that want to see various aspects of American society falter or fail, for the most part, people want to prosper and live a long meaningful life. To do so means that everyone needs to succeed; everyone needs to be provided equal opportunities; no one deserves to be shunned or shut out because he or she is different from someone; no one deserves to be marginalized because of what he or she believes. Our challenge, each and every one of us is to insure that happens. We must respect others differences. We must also understand that when someone does something wrong, they need to be held accountable no matter how important the position he or she may hold.

And perhaps most important, we must be informed. There are a number of places one may go to get information. We are bombarded daily by sources of news, some real, some not so real, some just blatantly false. In order to know what is really happening we must be discerning; seek out a number of sources; sift through the information to get to the facts, and then, when we have the facts, accept them as such. No one disputes that we need oxygen to survive, that is an undisputable fact. So why are other facts even up for argument? Do not fall in to that trap. Accept the fact, and if you do not like where it takes you, look in to how you can change not the fact, but how you will adjust or adapt to a world where that is the fact. That is what will enable you to live a long life, accepting, adjusting and adapting. Doing so may take you to a day when you, like my dad, can celebrate a 90th birthday.

April 20, 2016

Well, I've taken a long break, and that has provided plenty of time to think.

What happened to civility? Now I know that during the election cycle, the candidates spar with each other and name calling and finger pointing is to be expected, to a degree. However, when that spills over to the general population, what can we say about ourselves as decent human beings? Why do people attack others they may not even know? Ok, I'll calm down for a moment and get specific, leaving Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Sanders to fight it out amongst themselves while I try to address a bigger issue.

The next time you read an article on a newspaper website, take a look at the comment section. No really, y9ou need not stay long, just open up the comments and read what people are saying. many of the comments posted belittle and deride a previous poster, who may have belittled someone else as well. To what end? The anonymity of the public comment forum means that someone can write just about anything about anyone. Sure, in many instances the poster needs to have a Facebook profile, but heck, even I do not use my real name on Facebook, and I have no reason to belittle anyone. I suppose that people feel safe behind their Facebook profile or whatever other profile they need to create to make a comment.

I remember once when I was in high school I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper. I signed my name, but asked that the letter be posted stating that 'name withheld at the request of the writer.' I got a call from the newspaper person in charge of the letters section who told me he would not with hold my name. I tired to convince him to do so because of the potential ramifications to others, he refused, I decided that the letter was not worth the trouble it may cause for someone else should my name appear with it. A wise choice on my part. Today, someone like me in that position would say, "What the hell, publish it, I don;t care about anyone else's feelings. It is what I believe, and everyone needs to know that even if they are harmed or called names in the course of it." Huh? A few years later I wrote another letter calling out a sports writer for a column he had written in which he said he found it funny and entertaining when sports fans yelled at referees. He too called me to discuss my letter. He asked me about my intent in writing it. At the time I was coaching high school girl's basketball, and we were trying to change the culture of the program and the fans, and I told him that we did not tolerate the actions his column touted. He refused to print the letter. However, I made my point as it was really aimed at the sports writer. As a side note, that sports writer is in another job now, and he and I have frequent contact, and he is one of the best at what he does, I respect him, and actually I respected him back then as well, I just wanted to move the game in a positive direction for the kids and fans I was working with.

The upshot of all of this is kind of like the sage advice your grandmother probably gave you when she said, "If you cannot say something nice about someone, do not say anything at all." Or maybe you remember the teacher who quoted George Eliot and told you, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and appear a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

There is no pain in returning to civility. Being different and having divergent ideas is what makes us interesting; it's why most of us crave human contact. therefore, think just for a moment before jumping on someone, consider the other person's position, think about how you would feel if you were on the other side... and do not react. that only feeds the beast. Here I will get Biblical and "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Peace and Civility

August 6, 2014

Recently a few casinos decided to cancel Ted Nugent concerts at their venues. I'm no Nugent fan, in fact I do not listen to his music nor anything he has to say. He is a bit too obnoxious. I might even consider him narrow minded, ill informed and I'm debating whether he is a bigot or biased. At any rate, when the casinos cancelled the concerts I was astounded to read the views of a number of people who were shouting that cancelling the concert was a violation of the first amendment and free speech rights. Really? have we become so stupid that people actually believe that?

Now a short Civics lesson. Casinos cancelled a concert. Congress did not write a law infringing or limiting anyone's speech. Nugent is still free to say what ever he feels the need to say. A number of the complainers seem to be upset because there was a vocal group of people that put a little pressure on the casinos to cancel Nugent because of his views on things ranging from Native Americans to the president. In talking to casino management, those people expressed their free speech rights. The casino management listened, and agreed with the concerns. Certainly a group of people who advocate for free speech would not want to limit the right of an other person to say something the first group might not agree with, but they did. A bit more of the Civics lesson. Everyone has free speech rights (though there are limits). Speaking also carries with it a semblance of responsibility. You see, there are circumstances for your speech. Nugent can say what he feels, but if someone finds his ideas objectionable, Nugent might face a consequence. His consequence most recently was that his shows were cancelled. No one infringed on his right to speak or his right to have an opinion. He certainly did not have a right to perform at the casinos. He was to be hired by them, and they have the right, as does your boss, to terminate such an agreement should they find reason.

Let us finish this by understanding that rarely are a person's free speech rights violated or infringed upon. You still can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater or advocate harm to a group of people based simply on their ethnicity, sexual preference, religion, or even a disability, but you can get in the face of a woman going to an abortion clinic and harass her about what she is about to do; you can stand across the street and protest military funerals; stand in front of a bus and hold a sign telling immigrant children to go home. So do not equate a business decision with a violation of free speech rights, it makes it appear that you do not know what you are speaking about.

July 17th, 2014

What happened to the days when people looked with either scorn or sympathy at the village idiot? That was a time when, on average, each town had one. Remember the guy who sat outside the library talking to himself? Or the woman who sat on the bus talking to her imaginary cat in the bag? The man outside the library scared children, mostly due to the fluctuating intonation of his voice. He was never really angry, but kids anxious to read Curious George or Harry Potter were unable to distinguish the mad from the mindless. And the lady on the bus, well, there were a number of people who offered to buy her a cat, mostly so she wouldn't be lonely, but also in hopes that having a real cat would give her a reason to stay home, and off the bus.

Today I believe that the village idiot, rather than the exception, is the rule. He shouts nonsense on every street corner; he scares the young and the old. She sees things where there is nothing; her imagination makes those who listen question reality.

You know, as i think about it, there may be 535 village idiots at work in the nation's capitol. And what is even more frightening is that a number of people, who under normal circumstances would shun their village idiot, gave these 535 their job. Oh my.

So 535 go to work, get face time on major networks and speak, saying things meant to frighten us, infuriate us, appease us, but under few circumstances make us think. The imaginary cat in the bag is real when she talks to it in front of an audience. We don't even need to see it to believe it exists. So we are convinced, and when the 535 ask if they have our blessing to continue acting as the village idiot, we give them our approval and send them back to frighten, infuriate, appease, and generally build their own importance. So, know tell me, who is the real village idiot?

June 23, 2014

Trust me, there is plenty of blame to go around. For what, you ask? For everything actually, but for the thoughts here, let us focus on politics. America has become, in my humble opinion, and possibly in the minds of a few others if recent polls can be trusted, increasingly divided. The problem does not matter, we are divided and choose to blame the other side.

Don't like The Affordable Care Act? If you identify with the Republicans, you blame the Democrats for pushing it through along party lines (choosing to forget or ignore that there were times when your party wanted to enact such legislation). If you identify with the Democrats, you blame the Republicans who refused to help iron out any kinks they for saw, because doing so would make it look like they favored (at least part of) the idea.

Don't like the situation in Iraq and the problems with the growing power of ISIS? If you identify with the Democrats you look back to history and 2003, citing the second Bush administration (along with Cheney and Rumsfield) for diving in to a war under false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction. If you identify with the Republicans, you point to the present and a president that seems weak in his foreign policy.

There are countless other examples and situations, but one element remains consistent. That element is that if it were not for the other side, the problem would not exist. Of course that makes sense, if we lived and operated in a country where everyone thought and believed alike. We do not, and politicians use that to their advantage and to the detriment of the country.

There is a solution. And it is really quite simple. Stop returning politicians to office. Vote them out. Let them join Eric Cantor in looking for work. Send instead problem solvers to fill the jobs of senators and representatives. The argument could be made that the country does not need more people in congress proposing laws to insure or protect special interests; what it needs is people that can work together and solve current problems, modify, if necessary existing policy, and actually move the country forward.

So when you get set to mark your ballot, whether it be for a federal, state or local position, and one of the candidates is an incumbent, vote for the other candidate. Send a clear message that these politicians work for you, and that they can be sent looking for work when you make the decision to replace them. They have no one to blame but themselves.

June 2, 2013

Today it seems that when someone mentions global warming there are groups that scream; change the term to climate change and many of the same people wail and they are shortly joined by others. However, consider that in certain parts of the world in the northern hemisphere cities have hit temperatures in the 80s and 90s in late October, the fall. And in late may, enough snow fell for one school district to cancel school, in the spring. So one can sit back and talk about how due to man, the weather on earth is changing. I choose to take different tact. The weather is a bit unusual for the seasons because the month is not in the earthly cycle where it is supposed to be. Let me explain.

Going back to look at a bit of history of the calendar, we will see that the Julian Calendar, called such because Julius Caesar initiated it in about 45 BCE, took the place of an older Roman calendar that had only ten months. In the Julian Calendar months alternated between 30 and 31 days. The leap year was accounted for in February which alternated between 29 and 30 days. Even so, there was a need to adjust for changes in the weather patterns, the length of day or night, when crops would grow and other necessities. That was accounted for by the winter gap, which adjusted the length of a year. There seems to be one year that lasted for 445 days, and that means a long time between birthdays. There was a need to adjust the calendar once the solstice did not occur when it was supposed to occur. I wonder if that meant the druids showed up at Stonehenge and had to camp and chant for days, or perhaps weeks awaiting the moment. Eventually, leap years were discontinued, until once again the calendar and solstices were out of step and leap years were reintroduced.

Catholics got in to the act under Pope Gregory. Just as the Roman calendar was named after the emperor who commissioned it, so with the new calendar, the Gregorian calendar. The Pope figured out that Easter was slipping away from Spring and occurring sometime in the summer. The difference in days and numbers threw off celebrations and feasts. I wonder if the change came about because the table was not set in time to observe The Feast of Epiphany. At any rate, the Pope set the number of days, hours and minutes and seconds in a year (365, 5 40, 20), but that meant dropping three days from the calendar every 400 years. I doubt Pope Gregory was concerned days that far in to the future. Most of Catholic Europe adopted the Pope's calendar, but the Protestant nations chose to keep time according to the method of Julius.

In 1752 the British decided they had too many days in a year, so they dropped 11 of them. That meant that people went to sleep on September 2nd and awoke on September 14th. Talk about oversleeping. This move brought the British more in line with the Gregorian calendar.

So, you are asking, what is the point of this history lesson? Well, I propose we quit all the back and forth about global warming, climate change, earthly heat, earthly cold, and simply make an adjustment to the calendar. Think about it. Still warm in October? No problem, change it to August. Cold and white in may? Easy solution, make it February. The idea is not so difficult to figure out, all we need to do is relive a few months, I did not particularly care for the events of May, so let's make an adjustment, realign the calendar to last March and give me another chance to have a better May.

April 1, 2012

The idea that parents, students, educational leaders and politicians want teacher accountability is a myth. To clarify the concept, accountability is defined by most of these groups as teaching to a high standard, consistently enabling students to achieve at the standard, and thus enabling students to score well on tests. There is little argument that teacher accountability is an admirable attribute and should be emulated in schools across the country. However, the pitfalls that come with trying to maintain a sense of accountability can take a toll on even the best or most effective educators.

In the classroom, maintaining a high standard means that students are asked to think, to achieve at a level just above grade level. In order to do so, they must be guided, instructed, led a bit. The student enters, in August or September where he left off in May or June of the last year. Therefore initial assessments and grades on those assessments often reflect the student's ability at the moment. Most of them are average, they are a C. The student that stretches his or her ability, takes chances to show growth, and then does indeed show growth, is generally rewarded with a better grade; that student is above average and may be rewarded with a B. A smaller proportion of students show extra ordinary growth and their work reflects abilities nearer to the next level of education as opposed to the one where they currently reside. This dynamic few are rewarded with an A. Of course, there will be those students who for reasons of ability or lack of desire, perform below the level of expectation. They will receive a D or perhaps fail if they do not turn in the required work.

Most teachers understand this. The problem occurs when grades are published and not everyone receives an A. Parents shudder when confronted with a grade marking their child only average. A teacher who would evaluate their child as average must have standards so high, that no one can achieve them. But wait; is that not where we started this discussion? Naturally, if the teacher is not teaching to a high standard, and simply expecting by some form of osmosis for students to improve their skills, we have a problem. However, if the teacher in the room is providing instruction that allows students to learn, to stretch and grow, and the student is not taking advantage of that, the fault can not lie with the teacher. The grade has become, rather than the tool to evaluate the student's achievement, the tool to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness. This is upside down.

Students need to continually practice what is taught. Gone are the days when a concept was addressed once or twice and then the class moved on to the next idea, hoping that like well cooked pasta thrown at a wall, previous ideas would stick. Teaching today is recursive. Students are provided multiple opportunities to show their skills, sometimes in different contexts. The idea is that skills are transferable. Practice and use of a skill sharpens it. There are stories of Larry Bird staying after practice to shoot 100 free throws, or of Steve Largent staying after practice to catch passes thrown by anyone who would throw to him (consider the concentration necessary to catch a pass thrown by the equipment manager as opposed to a starting quarterback). Bird and Largent wanted to hone their skills, and so should students who want to improve their abilities and their grades. Effective teachers recognize that practice, veiled behind small pieces or expected in culminating assignments, provide the student the opportunity to show growth and reach standards, or perhaps exceed them.

Standardized tests have created, on one hand a problem, on the other hand a solution. Neither choice is good however. Test scores may show how a student or a group of students perform on a given task, and that information can prove valuable to the teacher as he decides how to approach the tested concepts in upcoming lessons. Thus tests offer a solution to teaching. However, today, the test score is too often used as a final evaluating point to determine the effectiveness of a school, a curriculum or a teacher. While the tests may be considered high stakes for the previously mentioned groups, their importance does not seem to transfer with the same urgency to the student taking the test. Herein lies the problem. High stakes tests have become high stakes for the wrong group. Rarely is a student who fails at such tests not offered another opportunity to learn or take the test. A school or teacher that has too many failing test results may lose money, or in the case of the teacher, a job.

In the end, maintain high standards, but for the right reasons. Publish the results, but decipher and use the information in the manner it was intended, save the slings and arrows for combat more fitting. And finally, tests are a measurement of a moment of progress at a moment of time, not the end result of a lifetime.

 

August 28, 2011

Consider the First Amendment to the US Constitution which reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. No doubt an important piece of legislation. It allows Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and others to exist and practice religion openly and without interference in this country. It allows people to express ideas openly, either through speaking or the written word. People can gather to protest. They can ask the government to correct wrongs. It is the second aspect of this most often cited amendment that I wish to address. While I have no problem with another person having an opinion, I do find some of how they express themselves a tad bit irritating and offensive. It boils down to this: When someone expresses their opinion by belittling another, or making crude racial or sexual comments, and those comments can be heard by large numbers of people, they push the limits of respect and good taste. Allow this example: recently at a boxing match, a loud man sitting ringside made more than a few racist comments about one of the fighters in the ring. He peppered those comments using swear words that called in to question the fighter's parentage. A woman sitting nearby laughed hysterically each time Mr. Loudmouth spewed his invective speech. Others nearby cringed each time the man shouted and the woman guffawed. I will not argue that the man can think and believe whatever he likes about someone of another race or color. I will argue however that when he subjects others to such beliefs, he is treading awfully close to hate speech. One more clarification, I believe that Americans have gone a bit too far in terms of political correctness and sensitivity. However, we have done so because there have been instances when speech or actions have incited trouble. And that brings me to the root of the problem, and here I may sound as insensitive as Mr. Loudmouth. The problem is a lack of intelligence, common sense and decorum. Mix lacking those qualities with a few alcoholic beverages and you have the recipe for trouble. Perhaps until the next generation ages and understands the difference between private and public expression we are sentenced to endure such speech. I'm hoping society adapts a bit more quickly.

July 2011 (two weeks from Armegeddon)

We should all realize that it is the job of those that report the news to do as much as they can to make the news. Perhaps nothing could make that more evident than the recent problems surrounding NewsCorp and Rupert Murdoch. However, I am a bit tired of hearing of the dilemma regarding whether or not the US should raise the debt ceiling. No, wait, I'm really tired of hearing from the politicians involved. There is far too much deal making and horse trading going on to take them seriously. Consider this: the voters gave those men and women jobs in Washington and expected them to go there and write laws and debate legislation to fix or correct or begin anew government programs. And now, rather than write a law to decrease spending or increase revenue, which they have the power to do, these elected representatives are using those issues to push a purely political agenda. Tell me this, If the Republican party wants to cut spending, and believes that is what the people of the country want, and what their members will vote for, why do not two or three of them sponsor legislation and pass a bill to make it happen? And if Democrats believe that loopholes in the tax code need to be closed, why do not two or three of them sponsor legislation and pass a bill to make it happen? The answer is really quite easy to figure out. Both sides are posturing in the build up to the elections in 2012. neither side really wants to take a chance on actually doing anything meaningful, on the off chance that the other side will seize on such movement and make it a campaign issue. Oh, and consider this as well, one reason why Washington DC does not work efficiently is that if it did work efficiently there would be less need for the elected officials that voters continue to give jobs there.

Late Spring Early Summer 2011

Greece is on the verge of a monetary meltdown, and that country could be followed by Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and (gasp) the United States. Recessions take their toll, and when money is short, and those that have it are greedy, well, to take a line from WB Yeats, things fall apart. And so many of us sit and wait and consider, no perhaps we debate whether our lives have really become all that grand as we have innovated and grown to experience such comfort. I know we can not go back, but recent stories about tribes deep in the Amazon forests have given me cause to ponder the simplicity of life. These men, women and children are living as they did hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years ago. They don't worry about the interest rate on their bank accounts; they have no money and no institutions to hold them. They don't worry about the rising price of gasoline; if they can not walk to where they need to go, that place is simply just not worth seeing. They don't worry that corn costs 70 cents an ear because farmers can get more selling their corn for ethanol; they simply pull up a root or two, boil it and make something to eat. They don't worry that the various network news programs all cover stories differently, and that few get them right; they don't know anything that goes on outside of their realm of existence. And what's more, they are content. How burdened should we be with the events of the day? How much should stress shorten our lives? Take control of what you can. Fight the good fight and protect yourself. Don't bash someone so you look better. For one day, wear a loincloth and eat a root.

December 5

We are now a month past the November elections and as if the direction of the legislative body of the United States wasn't fairly clear prior to casting ballots, look at what is happening now. Four items in particular should be making the ordinary voter a bit angry no matter which party he or she supports. First, consider the START Treaty. The basic elements of the treaty have been discussed for years, and while lawmakers debated the small details, there seemed to be agreement that once the US could get Russia on board, the treaty was a go. And now? It is going nowhere because a Democratic president has made the move to gain an agreement with the Russians and Republican leaders are now not certain they can support an idea they have supported in the past. Political game playing. Speaking of which, how about those tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year. One portion of Congress wants to extend the entire package, one section wants to extend the package for all but the extremely wealthy, and there are some that want to make the cuts permanent. The argument for extending them all is that no one should raise taxes in a recession, or that the wealthy are the ones creating jobs and if their taxes are raised there will be fewer jobs. First, of course no one wants to pay more taxes, and if the is you, simply send a letter to your elected official saying you do not want to pay taxes and include a list of services you wish to see cut (to look credible, make certain to include services from which you receive some benefit). Second, if the wealthy are responsible for creating jobs with all the money they save from tax cuts, what have they been doing for the last ten years? Why has unemployment risen? I would argue that they are not creating jobs, but are instead increasing their wealth and holding on to their money. And on to jobs and extending unemployment benefits. For some folks, finding a job is difficult. Others may not be able to find the job they want. Some probably do not even look. Nonetheless, there are people who have a legitimate claim for benefits, and again your lawmakers want to make them suffer by not extending benefits. This points to the need to reform the system, but it does not mean that law makers should be playing politics with the well being of the unemployed. On to Don't Ask; Don't Tell and the right of a gay person to openly serve in the military. If I am reading the reports correctly, most of the evidence shows little to know effect when there are gay personnel in the military. But now for some lawmakers, the very report they waited for is not good enough and more needs to be done. They sound like a bunch of homophobes. So what motivates such behavior? My theory is that as long as you are afraid, the people you elect can and will do just about anything. Listen to them the next time they are on one of the Sunday talk shows. Count how many times they explain their actions in such a manner that you would fear the opposite result. Shameless behavior. Do not live in fear.

August 2

To really understand people, one should actually go meet them, live with them, talk to them, and experience life as they do. A while back, there was some outrage expressed during a flotilla campaign to send aid to Gaza. Remember the situation. Boats were boarded, people were killed, spokespersons on both sides expressed anger at the other. And the ships had departed from Turkey, the very country I would be visiting shortly. then, a week before my flight left, there was a bomb attack in Istanbul. A radical group had targeted some Turkish military personnel. I started to get unsolicited advice to cancel the trip and go elsewhere. But, if I figured if I was not living on the edge, I was taking up too much space. I went.

Turkey is an amazing country. It is a country of deep historical value. It is country rich in culture. And, it is a country where I met some of the most remarkable people, young and old, that I have had the privilege to know.

We started the adventure in Istanbul. because we stayed in the Sultanahmet district (at the beginning of the trip at the Citadel Hotel, at the end of the trip at the Grand Peninsula Hotel) we were within walking distance to the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market. You get the picture. Every step provided a different view, another perspective and a deeper look at a country and a culture that amazed and perplexed us. The Aya Sofia was once the largest church in the world. It is now, and has been, undergoing tremendous renovations. The Blue Mosque, a wonder from the outside is filled with color inside. Topkapi Palace embodies opulence, but not in manner that overwhelms or disgusts, it is simply beautiful. The Basilica cistern transports visitors to an underground world unlike any other. The Grand bazaar is a maze of sellers, scents and color. The Spice Market, smaller than the Bazaar, sells everything from saffron to leeches. We also crossed the Golden Horn, to the other side to take in the Galata Tower. From there we were able to see everyplace we had wandered. Sure we were stopped by innumerable carpet sellers. They were nice enough, fluent in conversation, and when we made it clear we were not buying any carpets, they still talked and offered insight regarding what to see and when to do so to avoid the tourists crowding ashore from the cruise ships. One piece of advice they offered that any traveller should take is to get on board one of the ferries going up the Bosphorus. Take the six hour trip. Relax and enjoy the shoreline vistas.

Our original plan had called for a three day excursion to see the museums of Ankara. Then we saw the pictures of Cappadocia. We quickly changed the itinerary and instead booked a trip through Cappadocia Tours. Suleyman Cakir took care of all the details, and our guide for the three days, Fatih Kaya was knowledgeable and complete. We toured an Underground City. Wandered through the open air museum in Goreme. Hiked down the Ihlara Canyon to experience the coexistence of nature and people. Perhaps the highlight of the trip came on the morning we climbed in to the basket of a hot air balloon operated by Mavi Ay. While each day was busy, we were never rushed. Such is the lifestyle of these tour operators. We had time to explore, ask questions and take pictures - a whole lot of pictures. The evenings? There is a Four Seasons Hotel in Istanbul, but better than that, we stayed at the Gamirasu Hotel, a cave hotel that was comfortable and staffed by the friendliest of people.

From the middle of the country we flew to the west coast, on the Aegean Sea to visit Kusadasi and tour the ancient ruins of Ephesus. It was hot. Well over 95 degrees each day, but being able to swim in the se in the afternoon made each day relaxing and pleasurable. Touring Ephesus is a must. We arranged our tour through OTTI Travel. We toured in an air conditioned van, with a great driver, and our guide, Banu, really knew her stuff. She had a great sense of humor, and made a morning during which the temperature reached over 100 degrees pleasant and peaceful. Describing Ephesus is difficult. Some will say ruins are ruins, a pillar is a pillar, and marble statues are carvings. Perhaps, but the history made two thousand year old area pop to life. Have you ever walked on the same streets as St Paul?

Back in Istanbul for a few days before leaving we took in the Archeological Museum, and searched out places to eat that we had not tried on the first go around. Each day ended at our favorite place for dessert, the Mado store in the Sultanahmet district. It is near the tram stop and across the street from Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park. There you will find delectable Turkish Delight in myriad flavors as well as ice cream that will have you coming back. The guys in the shop were very friendly as well. When we expressed a desire to take home some Turkish Delight, they put together a one pound variety pack. Nothing beats the taste of Turkey when back home.

So, did we need to be concerned regarding ill feelings over a flotilla? No. did we need to watch our step because that radical group had placed a bomb? No. did I need to hide my wallet because street crime is rampant? No. We met people, fellow humans. We respected them and treated them with dignity, and the favor was returned. That's what we learn from travel. As long as we don't get caught up in the hyperbole of politicians and fear mongers, we will be fine. We will relate to each other on a level that fosters understanding. When I awoke the day after returning I thought where better to learn what I thought about myself and my country than in a country like Turkey, that while secular, rings with a muezzin's call to prayer five times a day, embraces and incorporates that which is European and Asian, is populated with people that take pride in their heritage, geography and history, and offers visitors an opportunity to share that.

June 11

I have a number of friends in the field of education and because sometimes I think that people outside of the realm of education need to know how hard some teachers work, and that others are kind of clueless, I submit the following series of email messages:

June 8, 5 pm

Dear Sirs,

Today **** told me that *** will not, nor cannot, pass Mr. !!!!!'s English course. Very early on in the school year, comments were made that laid the foundation for a contentious teacher/student relationship. I know that learning to work with authority figures is an important lesson that will prepare **** for the real world; and at **** 's request, I have remained quiet and kept my concerns private. However, hearing that **** was openly accused of lying and plagiarizing are serious and slanderous charges that I feel must be addressed. Further, as an educator and community member, it greatly concerns me that a student could receive a failing grade without the instructor exhausting the standard course interventions which should include contacting parents when a student is at risk of failure, referring student to the guidance counselor, and/or requesting a parent/student/teacher conference.

As a fellow educator I realize there are many facets to something as final as a failing grade. I hope you can help me understand how and why this has happened, and work with me to create a satisfactory plan that will hold **** accountable for a passing grade.

Professionally,

?????? ?????

M.Ed., NBCT

June 8, 9 pm

M ?????,

I am uncertain what you mean in stating 'comments were made.' A few specifics would help to clarify a general statement.

Second, **** was not accused of lying. *** handed me a paper that *** said *** just found in *** binder, and that *** said I had not recorded in the gradebook. First, that assignment was done in class on the 25th of March, a day **** has an unexcused absence from my class. Second, **** must have known that assignment was not recorded as *** has checked *** grade online 99 times since the beginning of the second semester, 69 times since that assignment was due on the 25th. Third, I think if you look at the copies of the other assignments I sent with **** today, you will notice that the manner in which the grades are marked is consistent on the two I did grade, and different on the one *** supplied today. And finally, I did not accuse **** of lying; I said that I did not read that paper, nor did I grade it or mark it, and that if *** found it marked in *** binder, someone was playing an awful prank on ***. I would ask you to consider, when you look at what would be the first sentence of the second paragraph: 'Nora who although goes against society norms and finds money to save her husband's life, does this simply because she wants to save her husband's life.' the grammatical problems with the sentence. Yet, **** brings me a paper that received a 10 of a possible 10 for mechanics. That simply can not be. Additionally you might note the lack of paragraph indentation, another reason this paper could not be perfect mechanically. A score of 10 would indicate a perfect mechanical paper. Strangely, **** stopped insisting that I had graded it and asked if I would then read the assignment and grade it for ***. Why ask again if it had already been read and graded as *** claimed?

Regarding the plagiarism, you can check the websites that are listed on the copy I gave ****. I am certain I do not need to clarify the rules regarding plagiarism.

*** *'s sentence reads," Ophelia in her madness expresses indirectly the desires she is forbidden to act on; in turn, she presents herself as a victim of male lust and betrayal."

However, if you wish to look, here are the references:

Shakespeare A comparison of the role of women in his plays and in ...
Ophelia in her madness, can convey indirectly the desires she is forbidden to act on; she can present herself as a victim of male lust and betrayal: "Then ...
www.docshare.com/.../Shakespeare-A-comparison-of-the-role-of-women
Feminist Criticism and Teaching Shakespeare
Ophelia in her madness can express indirectly the desires she is forbidden to act on; can present herself as a victim of male lust and betrayal: "Then up he ...
web2.ade.org/ade/bulletin/n087/087015.htm

As the paper was to be a feminist criticism of Hamlet, it appears clear that **** lifted the material from one of these sources. I'm more than certain that this is a clear cut case of plagiarism, though I am willing to hear your defense.

As for interventions, I would have welcomed the chance to talk to ****, help ****, cajole *** in to finishing some assignments. However, *** has amassed 43 absences in my 3rd period class this semester alone. That amounts to missing nearly one half of the semester. Twenty two of those absences are unexcused. A little checking shows that there are days when **** was in *** first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth period classes but did not attend third period. Once again, as an educator, I know you understand the difficulty of conducting an intervention when a student is not present.

One of the advantages we have is the parent portal, a tool that **** again has used 99 times to access her grades and scores in classes. It is an amazing tool for parents to check on a student's progress or attendance. The system has been advertised on the school website, addressed at the open house, and touted I believe in the Gateway and numerous messages from district administrators. I understand from your message that you have remained quiet and kept your concerns private, however, there are times when being an overbearing parent can be beneficial.

I do appreciate your letter. You may not believe that, but I, like you am frustrated with *** *'s lack of progress and last minute attempts to get things done. I too would like to see a plan that would help every student pass every class. However, as a teacher, you realize, as do I, that plan involves two people working toward the same goal in a partnership. Presently 43 absences, 22 of them unexcused, a plagiarized paper, an unexcused absence on Friday the 4th when we wrote in class the last outside reading paper, and a mysteriously marked paper create more than a minute dilemma.

I know that the story that gets told at home may not accurately reflect what occurred. It is hard for some people to admit they made a mistake. It is much easier to blame another. M ?????, I have nothing to gain in this. I have no reason to make up a story or tell you anything but the truth. In fact, I think if you check around you will find I am a man of integrity. I believe in education and I have standards that I adhere to and that I hold students to as well. I also realize that not everyone may be capable of making good decisions, and in such cases they may face dire circumstances. Do you not think it pains me when students do not do well? Do you not think I experience a sense of heavy anxiety when students struggle? Do you not think I find it difficult to tell a student that they did not do well on an assignment? Do you not think I have feelings and that personal accusations and innuendo might hurt a bit? I would imagine that as a fellow teaching professional, you do understand, and that you intended nothing untoward.

In closing, I would also would like to hold **** accountable. However, as *** currently resides at 25%, that might be more than difficult.

Again, thanks for your concern. Please have a pleasant evening.

!. !!!!!

M.A. English, NBCT

June 9, 9:30 am

Oh my goodness. Your letter certainly gives insight and clarifies how and why **** has failed your course. Clearly, you have your "ducks in a row". I know the parent portal is a tool available to parents and used by some teachers; I regret not accessing it. I do think it a shame that technology has replaced direct communication, especially when a student has failed.

If you are truly interested, once this school year is over I would be happy to share with you some of the concerning "comments" (opinions, really), that students spoke of. Perhaps they were statements intended to spark debate.

?????? ?????

M.Ed., NBCT

# Grade Teacher

^^^^^^ ^^^^ Elementary

(not sent - simply wishful thinking)

M ??????,

I appreciate the fact that you see the situation for what it truly is rather than a skewed representation used to manipulate parents and teachers and pit one against the other.

I will forgo the opportunity to discuss "comments/opinions" as it appears that included in your sources is the very student that in *** dishonesty perpetuated the problems I outlined previously. There would undoubtedly be a credibility gap between the solid truth and what is represented in your *****'s comments. Hopefully *** can rebuild an element of trust with you, and learn that a parent's love and concern is unconditional.

!. !!!!!

M.A. English, NBCT

AP Composition and Literature, Sophomore English

<><><><> <><> School

Eng 101, Hum 130

$#$#$#$# Community College

 

May 27

I know why the banking industry is in trouble. It took me less than one hour to figure it out. This summer I am taking a trip which will necessitate carrying some foreign currency. Rather than deal with exchanging dollars for local currency when I reach my destination, I prefer to buy here, thus I have the money in my wallet when I land and desperately need a bottle of water.

Before buying I do some pretty extensive research. I keep my eye on the exchange rates, and watch the foreign markets. I check the banking websites to make certain that the establishment offers the currency I need. In fact, I call the customer service numbers for those banks to ask about and clarify the procedures. I did all of that yesterday for two banks, one the place where I do business, and the other, a bank I have used just down the road from my bank. As it turns out, my bank was unable to complete the transaction because they were bought a few months ago, and the complete transfer of all services will not happen until July. So, I withdrew the necessary cash and drove down the road to the bank which uses the name of our country to purchase the currency there. I had been assured by two customer service people that the branch would be able to sell me foreign currency, all I had to do was show up with the cash. The second representative I spoke to told me that if anyone at the branch had a question, they should call him or anyone at the service center and that person would take care of the matter. Ha! The first thing the representative at the bank of country's name told me was that they did not offer foreign currency transactions. I asked her to call the customer service center. She did, and she told the person on the other end of the line that in Washington, the branch offices don't have the necessary forms, and don't process foreign transactions. Despite the person at the service center trying to explain the procedure, the woman at the branch would not change her mind. She did tell me if I opened an account, and was willing to pay the $10 a month service fee, I could process the transaction. I asked her to look up the exchange rates, more to challenge her intellect than anything else as I had them in front of me having checked them before leaving work. She did, though she could not figure out the difference between the British Pound and the Turkish Lira. Once she figured everything out, she said the transaction could not be processed until the next day as it was after 2pm. I left telling her I now had a few things to think about.

I then crossed the freeway to a branch of Wells Fargo. I asked Jodie if she could answer a question about buying foreign currency, and she immediately said that while she knew a bit, I should talk to Mickey. I did. I told him the currencies I wished to purchase and the amount of each. In ten minutes he had the amounts ordered and he had taken my name and phone number to call me what they came in. And I am not even a customer at the bank.

So, I spent 45 minutes in a bank that said they offered the service, but really did not, dealing with a woman who because she called me a client made me feel dirty, only to drive to Wells Fargo a minute away and experience real customer service. Jodie an Mickey restored a bit of my faith in the banking system. The bank of country's name, not so much.

April 2, 2010

I waited until the second to write because I feared no one would take seriously anything written on the 1st. Today the airlines are set to announce some new screening procedures to be implemented at airports. Will this be another in a list of reasons why I have to show up two hours before my flight, and even then find that I arrive at the gate only minutes before the door closes and the plane leaves? Let's first of all start with the people the TSA hires. I imagine that they are nice enough folks, but are they adequately trained to do the job that will keep passengers safe while flying?

A few years back, just after the planes flew into the buildings in New York, the TSA made a big push to hire more people and to ramp up the screening process. I applied for a job. The procedure involved an online application that took about thirty minutes or so to complete. I was careful and truthful in my answers. At the time I had not just a high school diploma, but a four year college degree as well as a Master's Degree. I had extensive travel experience, having been to each continent in the northern hemisphere. I had taken foreign language classes, and made it a priority to learn the languages of the countries I visited. I fired the application off into cyberspace, and twenty minutes later I received an email telling me I was not qualified to work for the TSA. I'm not bitter. I have a job. I was however concerned about what might have been on my application that screened me out. Why would a government agency not want an educated, well traveled person working in an area that deals with people and travel?

Instead they hired the woman that works in the San Francisco airport that tore open my wife's suitcase, breaking the zipper, to inspect her bag of corn meal mix, something we can not get in Washington and she had bought while in Atlanta. No apology from the over zealous TSA screener, even though both of us tried to explain what it was and asked her to be careful with the bag. Or the person at the x-ray machine in Kansas City who said that the computer bag I carried counted as a second bag, not a personal item to carry on and I would have to check it. I explained that I asked at the desk, when checking in, and was told I was fine. My baggage carry on was a small gym bag. That TSA screener said the desk people did not understand the regulations and I would have to go back and check my bags. I trudged back tot he check in counter, where the person who checked me in the first time became a bit irritated, called someone and told me to go back to the screening area. This time, the person who started the problem was gone. I got on the plane.

You see, I really have no problem with new screening procedures, I simply want them to screen people that may cause harm. Leave the corn meal alone. Think before you declare what is a personal item. Be well prepared enough to, yes, I will use the word, profile the person that may be likely to cause problems. Read the handbook of procedures so you know who will match the information about potential suspects. Seriously, this is no joke, all I want to do is be able to travel, and enjoy a flight.

February 7, 2010

I suppose today should be reserved for thoughts about the big game in Miami. While I am looking forward to watching it with a few friends, a few other things are crowding the game from my head at the moment. The Tea Party folks are in the midst of some sort of convention in Nashville, Tennessee. The event is taking place at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. I stayed there last year when in Tennessee for my niece's wedding. Nice place, plenty of room, interesting layout, good outdoor pool. Now, I will remember it as home to, well, I'm not certain who these people are. From what I can read in the paper, or see on the news, they seem very upset with the current administration. Sheesh, Tom Tancredo and Sarah Palin, the two big name speakers so far, spent much of their time behind the podium calling those leaders some pretty despicable names. I'm really not much for name calling. Wait, to set the record straight, I do not mind calling someone out, but name calling as a method to tear someone down serves little purpose except to incite others who may choose not to think for themselves.

Let's consider thinking for a moment. I have heard a number of right leaning folks express that the current administration is enacting socialist policies, that Obama is a socialist, and the list goes on. First, how many of those critics have insurance, either for their car, their health, their teeth, their life? Is not insurance a socialist program? Consider that insurance companies pool the premiums to gain the widest coverage, and some policy holders use the coverage a lot while others use it little or not at all - socialism. Now I suppose that the argument arises because some folks are afraid of state or government control of insurance, or any other program. Fine, let your voice be heard, but know of what you speak please. Therefore, if you do not want any socialist programs, cancel all your insurance today.

I must return to the name calling. Why does anyone do it? The easy answer is that the name caller can appear better, smarter, more in control than the person they call a name. This is a facade, a curtain to hide behind. That person calls another a name to defray any negative attention that might lean their way. As of late, the loudest of the name callers seem to be the far right leaning conservatives. Yes, those same people that tout God, Jesus and religion just after calling someone with an opposing view an intolerant terrorist cradling socialist arse bent on destroying America, seem to be the guiltiest of name callers. I choose not to play that game; I choose to pay no attention to the person behind the curtain.

December 11, 2009

I have a few friends who are educators. Let's face it, the job is getting tougher. It seems that schools are being blamed for a number of the ills in society. Some of the criticism may be rightly aimed, but if we consider that the people in any occupation represent a microcosm of society as it exists, then we will see great work and we will see poor work. That however is not my focus here. I was talking to friends about what goes on in a normal classroom, just how much time is spent teaching and how much time is spent trying to maintain control or correct behavior and how much time is spent trying to convince the apathetic student to do his school work. In talking we figured that in the average 50 minute period, about one third of that time is spent (depending on the class - perhaps less in an upper level science or math class) asking students to take out paper or find a pen or open the book or start to write or put away the cell phone/ipod/blackberry. Good Lord, why are the parents of the students who are on task, and wanting to learn, not rising up and screaming about the injustice being done to their child because a teacher must spend so much time with the apathetic? If the situation were reversed, and a teacher spent all his time on those who came in and did as asked, the parents or advocates of those who were behind would be shouting about the inequity of a system that fosters elitism.

Is this what our public education system has become? I realize we are in the midst of the rebirth of the popularity of the vampire, especially amongst children, but is it right that a group of bottom feeders suck the life and strength from those who want to learn? Look, Count Dracula was pretty smart, and worldly. Lestat was a virtual genius. And from what I understand from my niece (having not read Twilight myself) Edward goes to high school. So I would offer a few choices. First, and I think most importantly, if you are a student that does little or nothing, wake up and get an education, get your work done and quit being a burden to others. If that is not within your grasp, find something you can do, and like to do, and pursue that. Consider that choice might mean leaving school and joining the Job Corps or the military, or working with your dad. And finally, if you are a parent of a kid whose educational opportunities are being pushed aside because the do nothings take up too much of the teacher's time, let your voice be heard, turn the focus toward academics and learning so your kid can reach his or her absolute potential.

November 22, 2009

Last night I was reminded again why as fans, we should wait until the event is over before we celebrate. When the Arizona Wildcats scored with just over seven minutes left in the game, the Arizona fans figured their team had wrapped up a trip to the Rose Bowl - a game they have never qualified to play. They slowly made their way to the front rows of the stadium, clutching roses in their hands and between their teeth. They were the picture of redness, an interesting color theme for the evening.

Then the Ducks, a team that seems to be able to score from anywhere on the field at any time, began a methodical march down the field.

With about two minutes left in the game, and the Ducks still on the far side of the fifty yardline, and needing a touchdown and extra point to tie, the red clad Arizona fans jumped from the stands and crowded the sidelines preparing to rush the field and celebrate, roses held high.

And then, the Ducks rolled. With six seconds left on the clock they scored; the extra point was good and the game was tied. Still Arizona fans stood on the sidelines, confident that they would after an overtime period still be able to rush the field and wave roses.

It did not happen that way. The Ducks won in the second overtime. The Arizona fans had to crawl back over the wall, back in to the stands, back to hope that they were not recognized on television while waiting to rush and celebrate.

Perhaps it was fitting that the Arizona fans were clad in red. That way their faces matched their clothing.

Go Ducks.

November 8, 2009

I am waiting for the vaccine to combat the H1N1 virus to become available to those who are not children, or pregnant women, or who work in the health care industry. I am not yet convinced it will be available.

I took, for the first time in my life the seasonal flu shot. In years past I have said no, taken my vitamins, eaten wisely and avoided situations where a person might become infected. However, this year, I bought in to the hype, and on a Sunday afternoon walked in to a local Urgent Care and got poked. The interesting thing about getting the shot was that the same woman who took my patient information, called me from the waiting room, and took me to an examination room, gave me the shot. I wondered if she could serve as a valet and go get my truck.

The next day, I was sick. I know that a vaccine is a small amount of an illness, meant to alert the immune system so the body can fight the real thing. but come on - if I wanted to get the flu, there were plenty of people around that I could let breathe in my direction. For three days I remembered why I had not taken the shot in years past.

So, if the H1N1 vaccine ever does show up will I stand in the line to get the shot? Probably. Will I get sick again? Probably. Will taking the shot be worth the wait and the suffering? Probably not. You see, the way I figure it, by the time the vaccine is available we will be past the time of infection for this strain, and the real danger will be from the later arriving seasonal flu - from which I am already safe. I remember more than a few years back, when a swine flu panic was sweeping the Northwest and the Portland Trailblazers were one of the best teams in basketball, Bill Walton made some off handed comment about rude and rowdy fans and how he and Maurice Lucas would, with the help of the swine flue virus, take care of them. If only we could deal with this in such a manner.

August 6, 2009

Just returned from Las Vegas, a place that no one should really visit in late July or early August unless he or she plans to spend the entire time in an air conditioned room or casino or submerged in a pool. Don't be fooled by the people that tell you that even though it is 110 degrees, "it's a dry heat." It is all heat, and 110 is really hot.

At any rate, I think I now understand why the tag line to visit Las Vegas is "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas." Here is what it really means.

The large woman, she probably weighed in at about 275 pounds, stuffed in and flowing out of the bikini can wear the bikini in Las Vegas because the image will stay in Vegas. I do not imagine she would wear that suit at a neighborhood pool where people know her by name, but pool side in Las Vegas, no one knows her so she is free to assault us. I considered trying to recreate the image, but doing so would call forth all the metaphorical powers in my grasp, and even then justice would not be served. Instead, try to imagine how you would cover 275 pounds of margarine with three handkerchiefs. And before you think women are the only violators, there were men with huge bellies (the kind that make one look in the mirror to make sure their shoes match) wandering about as well. So, in Vegas there is no need to hide that shamefully obese body. I mean, I saw you, but I do not know you, do not know where you live. I know that I would only be assaulted in Las Vegas.

The couple with a six week old baby sitting pool side need not worry about someone calling CPS when in Vegas. Here is the situation. The temperature outside was 110. The baby was in one of those on the floor type baby carriers. The only space available was in the direct afternoon sun. The parents placed the baby between their lounge chairs, and covered the carrier with a towel to block the sun. What would that feel like? Next time it is hot, place a thick beach towel over your head and stand outside for an hour. The baby cried occasionally, and one of the parents usually rocked the carrier to calm the little guy, but still, creating shade with a towel is hardly cooling. About an hour in to their pool side visit, mom picked baby up and took him to the side of the pool. No shade there. For twenty minutes six week old junior sat in mom's arms baking away in the hot sun. What happens in Vegas... except for coming home with a beet red baby, which could be a bit of a problem to explain to the neighbors.

Because what happens there stays there, far too many people leave any semblance of good mannerly behavior someplace else. In this town, it is ok to bump, push, shove, elbow, do what ever is necessary to get where you want to go. This means that if you are in a group of four or five, you can walk shoulder to shoulder, keeping those behind you from moving along while making those coming towards you move out of your way. Walking single file is not conducive to conversation, but when walking five abreast, can person one really effectively talk to person five anyway? You group walkers do not know the people who have to move, or who have to linger behind you, so ignore them, inconvenience them. Be nice when you return home because there the person you force off the sidewalk today might be the person pouring your coffee tomorrow.

And finally, the drunks. Over indulge in alcohol. Stagger around the streets. Carry one of those 128 ounce drinking globes (the ones with the three foot long straw and the lanyard that goes around your neck) everywhere you go. [As a side note, when the people who buy those leave to fly home, how do they take that glass with them?] Puke on your shoes, on the shoes of the girl you are with, on the people (trying) to share the sidewalk with you, on the people watching the Siren show at TI. Except for the girl, none of them will see you when you return home. The remnants of your $5.99 steak and egg breakfast mingled with the fruity drink will also stay in Vegas, a stain baked in to the sidewalk under 110 degree heat.

July 31, 2009

I like to travel. I have been fortunate enough to have had adventures in over half of the continents on the globe. I have met people that have amused me and bemused me. I will travel for as long as I am able, and have already booked the next adventure for next summer. However, before that occurs, I wish to make a couple of points.

I do not imagine anyone was happy when the airlines started to charge people to check a bag. Think about it. Airplanes have a large cargo hold. Airline workers place baggage in the hold and take it out. This has been the practice for quite a while. Those of you old enough to remember can recall a time when men boarded a plane carrying a book, while women carried a purse, with the book tucked inside, and very few people traveled with their children. Now it seems that almost everyone carries their luggage on board rather than check it. I understand, to a point, having been the victim of lost luggage in the past. However, carry on bags have gotten bigger and bigger while the overhead space has remained relatively the same, and the under seat space is barely big enough for a half case of beer (assuming the airline would let you carry that on). The metal racks at the check in counter, and they sometimes appear at the gates too, are built so the traveler will know if their bag will fit in the overhead bin or under the seat. When was the last time you saw someone check the size of their bag? When was the last time you saw a ticket agent ask someone to place their bag in the rack to make certain it would fit? I do not think I have ever seen that happen, though I have placed my carry on bag in the rack once or twice to make a point to the passenger behind me that is pulling a wheeled carry on slightly smaller than a dormitory refrigerator. In May my wife and I took a quick trip to Atlanta, flying on Continental. We packed in ONE carry on bag which easily fit in the rack. We were seated in row 7. As is the case in America, plane loads from the rear first. When we got to the door, the flight attendant told the remaining passengers on the jet way that all of us would have to check our bags, and reclaim them on the jet way in Houston, as the overhead bins were full. You see, what happened was that greedy over packing people seated in rows 15 through 30 stuck their bags up front so they could make their way down the aisle unencumbered, then when exiting, grab their bag from above my seat, and leave to make their connection. Luckily, our bag fit under the seat, though that meant no leg room. I won't fly Continental until the flight attendants start to enforce the airline carry on rules.

I do have a solution. The airlines can solve this problem one of two ways, and continue to make money. First, instead of charging for checked baggage, place two metal racks at the ticket counter and the gate. Make one smaller than those currently used. If a passenger's bag fits in that rack, they can carry it on for free. If it does not fit in that one, but fits in the one currently used, they pay fifteen dollars to carry the bag on the plane. If the bag does not fit in either rack, it must be checked. And as the passenger is now at the gate, and that means more work in order to get the bag on the plane, charge them fifty dollars. The second option, let a passenger check the first bag for free, and charge one hundred dollars for each additional checked bag. How much does a person need to take when traveling? I spent three weeks in Scandinavia and Russia a few years ago and packed in a carry on. I did the same thing while traveling in Australia last summer. I will do the same when traveling next summer. There are bound to be laundry facilities in almost any location. Finally, if you check a bag, that means you get to carry on the 'personal item' type of carry on, a purse or a camera bag or a small over the shoulder back pack. You should not wander in to the airport looking like a sherpa, check a free bag, and schlep the rest of your stuff through the security lines knocking people over and just generally being a nuisance.

I will continue to travel, and I imagine I will continue to see passengers carrying on bags that could (and considering the way they behave on airplanes, probably should) contain a toddler. That passenger will wrestle to get the bag over their head, then shove and pound it to get it to fit in the overhead bin. I put those people in the 'bemused' category.

(next time a bit about the people we see when traveling)

July 10, 2009

Count me as one that is really quite tired of hearing people complain about education. Open any newspaper, tune in local talk radio, listen to people in line at the grocery store, and you are likely to hear someone complain that students are not learning enough in school. Or that good teachers are being let go while some of the less talented teachers stay because of the union and tenure rules. Or that graduation rates are quite low. Or you may hear people wonder why those with knowledge in a subject do not go on to teach. The answer to that is easy: Money. A degree in math with knowledge of engineering will get the graduate a job that pays far more than a teacher, and let's be truthful, we value accumulating wealth over just about everything.

In less time than it takes you to remember your high school math class, I can tell you why we are hearing all the complaints. Education is the one thing most of us have in common. It is the one institution we all endured. So, does it not seem feasible that we have earned the right to complain about it and tell anyone who will listen how to fix it? Look, I fly fairly often, and in so doing I sit in the airline seats. I have sat in seats in planes made by Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed, and I'm old enough to say Hughes, but that does not entitle me to tell someone learned and skilled in seat design how to build a seat.

So if you want to complain about education, do so from the inside. Get in the classroom and work toward making a change. Help those in the field determine if they are an educational institution, a social institution or a blend of the two. Help them determine if the priority is keeping students in school to graduate, or helping students reach a point where they can be completive in the workforce. Help them refine what they do - either academically, socially or both - to the point where the mission is clear so that students, parents, teachers and administrators know precisely what is expected. Then, and perhaps only then, you can tune out all the complaints as they come from people whose experience comes from only one side of the classroom.

Maybe there is a bigger lesson here. Maybe we should apply this to the country as a whole. How about if before we complain about the way something or someone is working, we have a better, or at least a competing idea.

May 25, 2009

I wish to enlist your help in what may be a two man crusade to stop at least one injustice being fomented against the English language. If you have listened to politicians over the last few years, I would guess that at least once you have heard one of them refer to a country or group of people as an 'existential threat.' Dick Cheney has used it, so has Hilary Clinton. They use it to mean that a threat exists - you know, like some terrorist cell or the swine flu, or someone running a red light. Heaven help us, it appears that such threats are everywhere.

Are William Safire and I the only ones who recognized that 'existential' refers to the philosophy of such great thinkers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Kafka, Doestoevsky? Have you read these men who asked us to consider our very existence while trying to explain the irrational aspects of a world we try to make rational? Existence precedes essence. The primary tenant of a philosophy that I believe, with its other tenants, frees me to be a human rather than tying me to a post and living as others postulate.

There are no 'existential threats' unless you fear previously mentioned list of philosophers. There are threats that exist, some real, some imagined, all seemingly referred to as 'existential' in order to make them appear more threatening. So, do your part, join Safire and I and the next time you hear someone misuse the word, correct them. Say, "I think you simply mean that driving while intoxicated poses a threat, not an existential threat." Let us reclaim language from political ideologues.

May 22, 2009

Quite a few years after graduating from high school, I have performed in a genuine high school musical. I did not have to sing, or dance, had only nine lines, but was in a scene with three remarkable young actors. The opportunity came about when students cast in the play thought it might be entertaining to see adults in the role of Fletcher, the man looking for Violet, the street walker, in Wonderful Town. My part was really quite insignificant, though thoroughly enjoyable. Most interesting was what I experienced backstage and in the dressing room. Do you ever wonder what the heck young people are thinking? How come they act so crazy and do, let's face it, stupid things? Well, rest assured, there are young folks that would make you toss aside any such feelings. I watched a large cast of characters adjust costumes, apply make up, warm up their voices, help each other get ready, and then in front of an auditorium of people, make the imaginary become real. I watched students, who ranged in age from 14 to 18, become adult characters, sing beautifully and dance with precision while transporting viewers to New York in the 1930's. Some day, when Faith, Amanda and Marshall - the three people I got to act with - make it big, I will brag. For now, I have added a short entry on the resume, Actor, Fletcher in Wonderful Town, May 7-9, 2009.

April 1, 2009

I have officially become an American Statistic. The momentous occasion occurred last night, just after dinner. (Had it happened today, I would have laughed rather than take the call). The phone rang, the caller ID read 'Gallup' and I thought what the heck, I'll take this call - just for entertainment purposes. My entertainment mind you.

The caller began the session asking political questions: "Do you approve or disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing," "Do you think life is getting better or worse in the United States?" I made a mental note to run to the basement after the call was finished to find the old statistics book that explained how to develop survey questions devoid of bias. If the approve comes first are people more likely to choose it?

Next the caller asked about my health. Fair enough. I'm healthy for my age, I stay fit and eat right and do not over indulge in anything - moderation in all things - a line often attributed to Aristotle which still rings true thousands of years later. I did however stumble a bit when asked, "Have you had five servings of fruit or grains every day in the last seven days?" I made another mental note to look at the suggested servings of fruits and grains. Five of each seemed like a lot. I have a banana about 9 every morning, an apple or an orange with lunch. A bagel for lunch and toast for breakfast. Sometimes a piece of bread or some rice with dinner. But every day?

The questions about religion simply threw me. Protestant? Roman Catholic? Muslim? Jewish? Don't believe in religion? I was supposed to choose one of those? I couldn't very well say I did not believe in religion because he had just named a number of them. I tried to think of one off his list, but Zoroastrianism did not come to mind until after I had hung up and began the descent in to the basement library. I said I have to believe in all of them, but follow nothing that closely. I suppose that response will be counted in the 'margin of error section.'

We finished with questions about my job and education. I rocked. I have a great job. I work with great people. My boss and co workers treat me with respect. I make a decent living. I have a graduate degree and have done post graduate work. The caller had to be wondering then why I laughed at so many of the questions. The experience was funny. I gave answers to questions that under most circumstances I would have told the person asking to bug off. And I did it so I could be an American Statistic. Don't believe me? Check out my responses at the Gallup website. Of course, you won't recognize me, I am only a number.

February 22, 2009

I will begin by admitting that I like Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor. I thought he was quite good in the first Terminator film; he walked right down the middle between drama and comedy. That made the film interesting.

Today I like Schwarzenegger as a politician, not completely as a Republican politician, but as an elected official politician. This morning on ABC News This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Schwarzenegger spoke about the necessity of working for the people and leaving partisan politics behind. Now comes the hard part. He, and a number of other politicians on both sides must do just that. Forget the initial that comes after the name and work for me. In the long run I do not care whether you are symbolically linked to an elephant or a donkey. I want to keep my job, deposit my savings in a bank that will not go under, and enjoy the benefits of living free.

Some politicians don't get it. Instead we hear them rail against current policies - and I admit, not everything in the new ideas is 'peachy clean'- because they feel the need to spew the ideology of their party. Why here and why now? I think because there are some that are afraid that economic changes will not work. This is so unlike the situation leading up to the war in Iraq. Then, even those that stood in (silent) opposition to the war voted to go in because they did not want to be left out of the victory parade. One that has yet to happen. Now, perhaps with an over riding sense of cynicism, politicians have chosen to speak against change, hedging their political future on the success or failure of fiscal stimulus. I don't care about your political future, none of you, Democrat or Republican. Neither do I want to limit your right to oppose what you believe is misguided policy.

We live in a world of ideas. If you have one, speak up. If you do not, and instead only want to berate someone that does, say you disagree and sit back down. Thank your lucky stars that Arnold is only a governor, and not hell bent on destroying all opposition.

January 10, 2009

What is happening to boxing in the Pacific Northwest? Look at the schedule on the main page. Seven events scheduled for all of 2009? Remember the days when we could count on one a month? Remember the days when we would see our old boxing heroes sitting in the stands watching the fights with us? Well, ok, that population of heroes is aging, and some have passed on, but that hardly seems to be reason for boxing to fade away.

On one hand I know why it is fading. There are just not any big name thrilling fighters out there. Sure, we have our favorites, Medina, Torres, Anderson, Boose, Cantrell, Banks, Davis, Perez... But are they the next big headliner? Will they step up and take a challenge if there is a chance they may lose? I can click a link and view records at Box Rec and find any number of fighters that are undefeated or have fewer than 5 losses on their record. Does that mean anything? It might mean they are being carefully guided along, building a record in hopes that they can land the big money fight. And in some respects, there is nothing wrong with that; except when that big money fight is coupled with big disappointment. build a record by fighting increasingly better competition and disappointment may be avoided.

Another reason we see a decline: quite simply MMA. Good Lord, I can not watch it. Like reality tv or talk radio, I find it to be that which appeals to the basest of human thought. Yes, in that belief, I am an elitist. But wait, I do not begrudge you, if you are a fan of MMA, your choice to revel in the sport. In fact, I will champion your right to chose to like what you wish. Currently it is your money and your desire to see men in a cage punch, kick and wrestle their way to a championship that is driving the market. MMA ticket buyers swallow up seats in record numbers in record time. Casinos host the events. Promoters expand their reach and put the events together. Who can fault a free market system? Can we make a case contrary to supply and demand? Again , quite simply, no.

And so in the new year we will see fewer boxing shows and more MMA. So be it. But, in the (seemingly) never ending string of questions that populates this entry, is there anything that cane be done to bring boxing back? I say yes. I encourage fighters to take the tough fight. Bring the fans back. Make a night at the fights exciting. Let's recapture the excitement that was boxing in the northwest, and while we are at it, let's tap in to just a bit of the money the fans of MMA are willing to spend.

November 8th, 2008

I can finally write it, I can finally scream it from my porch (though my screams may be indistingiushable from the people fighting the next door), I can finally tell any of you reading this: I am glad the election cycle is over. What have we come to when an election process takes nearly two years, is filled with anger and vitriol, and one candidate can say virtually anything about their opponent because by the time the fact checkers get the real story, it is old news - the lie lives while the truth is flushed down the gutter.

I do however see at least one positive aspect in the current election, and that is, if we can believe the statistics of the voter rolls, and that is that young people voted in larger numbers in this election than in previous elections. It is far past the time for that group of people to start taking some responsibility for the future instead of leaving the future to those too old to live through it. If I hear one more old codger say he or she is putting America first, they better follow that statement explaining where they had been putting America during the last fifty years of their career, and then proving it. We are in a mess because too many of the old guard put themselves first and hoped for the best. That may have paid off for a number of them, but for many, such action spelled trouble.

I have always tried to be an advocate for people who possess a vision. I want to see forward thinkers. While how we got to a position is important, unless someone has an idea of what lies ahead, we will stay in that position for quite a while. My hope for you? Make a difference. Make a change. Speak a kind word or two to someone. And just before you blurt out your next complaint, think about following the complaint with a solution.

August 31st, 2008

Australia - more specifically Queensland, put this on you list of places to visit My wife and I did a short two week stint spending time between Brisbane and Cairns this month. The objective was to swim and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. That we did, and though it was the Australian 'winter,' we were able to adapt to the 75 to 80 degree weather. Now a few other things I found interesting (In three parts):

We spent a day with one of the most colorful characters in Queensland while staying in Rockhampton, a town we learned that does not usually make the short list of tourist destinations. I had read in a guide book, and found on the internet, that Capricorn Dave takes day trips and overnight excursions out of Rockhampton during which he allows guests to have close encounters with all kinds of creatures. A little adventure is always good, and we booked a day trip online before we left. Dave came by the hotel and picked us up and then drove through town to get two students from the Netherlands, Femke and Peter, and the adventure began. Before long we were out in the countryside looking for frogs, toads, spiders, lizards, kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, ants, echidnas, kookaburras and anything else that would frighten the daylights out of the squeamish. Ok, kangaroos and wallabies are kind of cute, and it is hard to get close to a wild bird, so we settled for being frightened of spiders and snakes and lizards. We found a bearded dragon sunning himself on a post. All of us held it and two of us let it sit on our head. Dave found an eastern brown snake, we looked at it, but as it is one of the most poisonous in the country we were content to look at it from a distance of four or five feet. Dave found a female Huntsman spider, and while Peter and I had little problem holding it, the women too overcame their fears and held it as well. How about that, overcoming a fear/phobia in the middle of a field, under a banyan fig tree, for the cost of a day out with a guide rather than spending thousands of dollars for a psychiatrist. We did see the kangaroos and wallabies. The difference you ask? Well, Kangaroos play soccer and Wallabies play rugby (thanks Dave, I'm still laughing even though few others get it). Before we returned to town we watched one of the most brilliant sunsets I have ever seen. Should Rockhampton be on you list of places to visit? Well, if you want an entire day filled with outdoor adventure, laughs and good company, book a day with Capricorn Dave, we were certainly not disappointed. For photos, click here

One of the things that I appreciated the most while in Australia was that the people were genuine and not afraid to say what they thought (unless they were on tv and pandering to the political correctness crowd - shame on you channel 9!). While we were there, John Molony, the mayor of Mt Isa, a small mining town in the north, issued a call for 'beauty challenged' women to come to his town because there is a shortage of eligible women in a town loaded with single men. I say bravo Mr Mayor! You spoke your mind. You did not say that beautiful women were not welcome. You did not issue a call for ugly women. In fact, you were attacked even when you were using the words favored by the purveyors of neutral language- beauty challenged certainly need not be derogatory.

And finally, you know those lousy air dryers that have taken the place of paper towels in public restrooms? The machines which you spend more time in front of than you do the urinal or on the toilet? The machines that blow out warm air with less force than Roger Whitaker whistling? Well, in Australia they run like a warm airplane test tunnel. No kidding. I was trying to figure out how to turn it off because my hands were dry and the air kept coming. Does that mean the air flow is adjustable and in this country some restroom attendant has turned down the power? If so, knock it off. I want to go in to the bathroom and get out. I do not want to start to dry my hands and finish the job wiping off the rest on my jeans as I exit.

August 3rd 2008

It's Open Season (For Politicians): While I enjoy thinking about politics and what the people running for office have to say, I tend to shy away from openly talking about campaigns, except with my wife who tends to agree with me, and some British friends who tend to scoff and call me an upstart colonist. So, I shall not launch in to a diatribe regarding which candidate I prefer, but I do feel the need to address campaign tactics. I am really tired of the attack ad. I do not want to hear what problems a candidate thinks his or her opponent carries. I already know he (using the male singular pronoun from here on out for the sake of ease) thinks he could do a better job, that is why he is an opponent and not a running mate. And then, when an attack ad is run, the media: television, radio, print and the web, go on for days trying to dissect the ad and tell us what it means and how horrible it is that the ad is being run. Notice however, that those media outlets that benefit financially from running attack ads do not stop running them. Therefore, because it appears that candidates will not stop using such tactics (even though they promise us such things will not happen in their campaign), and that the media is hungry for the ad revenue, I propose a solution. The media needs to initiate a sliding scale regarding the cost of political advertisements. For instance, lets say (for the sake of argument) that a 30 second spot on network television costs $600,000 (just a bit above the cost in the 05-06 season). Should a candidate run an ad in which they speak only about themselves, addressing their platform, their plans, their beliefs, they can buy that ad time for the base cost times a factor of ten, a total of six million bucks. However, should a candidate choose to run a negative ad, one which addresses the opponent, or contains attacks on the opponent, or is made solely for the purpose of pointing out differences between the candidates, they must buy the ad time for the base cost times a factor of fifty, a total thirty million bucks. Any politician that really wants to win, can then really buy an election. Then we too can decide on a candidate because if we see one running an inordinate number of attack ads calling his opponents an elitist (or the like) we can look to who has the deep pockets and really find the elitist, or the person who has more money than ideas about how to govern.

July 13th 2008

What to avoid shouting from the crowd: Look, I accept the prevalence of pop culture references from virtually everyone able to speak. However, there are some references that need to remain the domain of that inside voice rather than escaping from thunderous lungs during the course of a boxing match. Let me give you some examples. Two fighters taking part in a relatively uneventful match, one lacking excitement, fall in to a clinch in the middle of the ring. Someone shouts, "Bite his ear." Augh! No! Do not refer to one of boxing's darker moments because you want people to laugh. It was not funny when Tyson did it, it is not funny now when you shout it. Next, Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang (or Mr T), and Ivan Drago are fictional characters, so when you shout that you want to see one of them in the ring, you may as well be shouting to see Rocky the Squirrel (he too was fictional, and a cartoon). Those characters fought according to a script that someone wrote for them. Actually, with the exception of Tommy Morrison (Rocky V) and Antonio Tarver (Rocky Balboa) every one of the characters that steps in to the ring is an actor ... playing a part ... written by someone with a background in fiction. And finally, show some class when the women step in to the ring. I know we have seen some women fighters that really should consider any other line of work, but shouting, "Pull her hair," or "Kick her," or "You hit like a girl," is classless. Finally, the last thing I would want is for a boxing match to reflect the eerie silence of the funeral parlor at my grandmother's service. Shout, whistle, cheer, but do so in a manner that reflects your intellect and knowledge of the sport rather than reflecting the number of beers you have consumed.

July 5th 2008

Professional Human: Often when I am out covering boxing events people will ask, "What happened to Rich Baker? How come we don't see him as much anymore?" Well, Baker is still around. He drops in to watch the boxing at the EQC every once in a while. He plays jazz trumpet with bands in Seattle. He is helping his grandkids rebuild two Mustangs, and the kids are still a few years from driving. He gave me one of his new cards last time I saw him. It read 'professional human, serving the world since 19--.' I thought that was pretty good. No pretentious nonsense about being a world class photographer, an award winning writer. I thought about getting new business cards too. But mine are going to read 'amateur human.' I do not want to turn pro yet. I want to retain my amateur status so I can qualify for the Olympics should they ever decide to make 'being a human' an event. Seriously. I mean there is a move afoot to include competitive yoga in the Olympics. Three minutes in a steaming hot room, piped in music and six poses. That ought to rank right up there with that awful gymnastic ribbon dance debacle of a decade ago.

Ring Announcers: One of the greatest ring announcers of all time took care of the Playboy/ESPN show in Los Angeles. Jimmy Lennon Jr. is simply put, a class act. He doesn't shout, he correctly pronounces and annunciates names so that one syllable names retain that characteristic, his voice does not shift from high to low (say 'ping pong' and you will hear what I mean here)and he does not make vowel sounds last longer than the commercial breaks on Spike TV. He knows the show is about the guys in the ring, not him. There are too many faux announcers who think if they can sound like the guy that does all those annoying things Lennon does not do, they will be adored. Face it, if you announce in that style you are annoying, a caricature of what you are supposed to be doing. If you want to perform, get a gig on the radio. There your voice is your shtick, and I can choose to turn it off.

Making Weight:In this world of litigation and fights over every detail of a contract, how come when a fighter signs a contract to fight at a certain weight, he can ignore that? In the last couple of weeks I have witnessed fighters come in over weight and just shrug their shoulders expecting the other guy to acquiesce. Commissions tell the fighters to work it out. Promoters try to get both sides to come to some agreement. However, lately, the overweight guy seems to be getting the better end of the deal. He often throws some money at the other fighter, and goes off to the buffet table at the local casino. I remember a few years back when Diego Corrales faced John Brown and Corrales came in about two pounds heavy. He had to spit, he had to run, he tried to go to the bathroom. Each time he stepped on the scale every stitch of his clothing was on the floor. I sat with his mother as she too felt his anguish. He eventually made the weight; and the next night he probably entered the ring about seven or eight pounds heavier. Granted, rules are different for title fights, but if you know the contract weight, get to the contract weight. And promoters, write in the contract that if the fighter comes in overweight, and refuses to lose the weight, they forfeit a sizable portion of their purse. Make it a little more difficult to buy that quarter pounder with cheese.

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