Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bob Herbert's Op-Ed, "Clueless in America"

A while back, I recommended that people read an article by Susan Jacoby titled, "The Dumbing of America." (If you haven't read it yet, stop now and go read it.)

In today's New York Times, Bob Herbert's Op-Ed piece titled, "Clueless in America" discusses the failings of the American educational system. This serious subject is worth addressing so please read his article below.

The New York Times

April 22, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist


We don’t hear a great deal about education in the presidential campaign. It’s much too serious a topic to compete with such fun stuff as Hillary tossing back a shot of whiskey, or Barack rolling a gutter ball.

The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

“We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades:

“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”

Many students get a first-rate education in the public schools, but they represent too small a fraction of the whole.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, offered a brutal critique of the nation’s high schools a few years ago, describing them as “obsolete” and saying, “When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”

Said Mr. Gates: “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they are broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools — even when they’re working as designed — cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”

The Educational Testing Service, in a report titled “America’s Perfect Storm,” cited three powerful forces that are affecting the quality of life for millions of Americans and already shaping the nation’s future. They are:

• The wide disparity in the literacy and math skills of both the school-age and adult populations. These skills, which play such a tremendous role in the lives of individuals and families, vary widely across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

• The “seismic changes” in the U.S. economy that have resulted from globalization, technological advances, shifts in the relationship of labor and capital, and other developments.

• Sweeping demographic changes. By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to reach 360 million. That population will be older and substantially more diverse, with immigration having a big impact on both the population as a whole and the work force.

These and so many other issues of crucial national importance require an educated populace if they are to be dealt with effectively. At the moment we are not even coming close to equipping the population with the intellectual tools that are needed.

While we’re effectively standing in place, other nations are catching up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement. You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that.

But, then, some of us are pretty dopey. In the Common Core survey, nearly 20 percent of respondents did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. Eleven percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower was the president forced from office by the Watergate scandal. Another 11 percent thought it was Harry Truman.

We’ve got work to do.

Monday, April 21, 2008

If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today.

I got the following in an email forward from a friend. Rather than cause the further decline of American worker productivity, I'm posting it here instead of sending it on.

I thought it was really funny and somewhat on-point (although it might have been that I read this just after replacing the hard drive on my computer by myself).

If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their famous sketch,

'Who's on First?' might have turned out something like this:


ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: Thanks. I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.


COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou

ABBOTT: Your computer?

COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.


COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.

ABBOTT: What about Windows?

COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?

ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?

COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?

ABBOTT: Wallpaper.

COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.

ABBOTT: Software for Windows?

COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

ABBOTT: I just did.

COSTELLO: You just did what?

ABBOTT: Recommend something

COSTELLO: You recommended something?


COSTELLO: For my office?


COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yes, ! for my office!

ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows

COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


COSTELLO: What word?

ABBOTT: Word in Office.

COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.

ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?.

ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue 'W'.

COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue 'w' if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?

ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.

COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?

ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.

COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?

ABBOTT: One copy.

COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?

ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.

COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?


(A few days later)………..

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you??

COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?

ABBOTT: Click on 'START'............

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Real Time with Bill Maher: New Rules on Being an Elitist

My thoughts - only better and with statistics that will make your heart skip a beat.

This story just came out in Newsweek regarding the cycle of American consumerism that appears to be on the decline along with our booming economy. It is a good follow up to my recent consumerism posts (which you can read here and here if you haven't already).

The Great Shopping Spree, R.I.P., by Robert J. Samuelson

For two decades, it's been driven by rising debt levels. At the end of 2007, household borrowing was a dizzying $14 trillion.

Apr 28, 2008 Issue of Newsweek

Transfixed by turmoil in the financial markets, we may be missing the year's biggest economic story: the end of the Great American Shopping Spree. For the past quarter century, Americans have gone on an unprecedented consumption binge--for cars, TVs, longer vacations and just about anything. The consequences have been profound for both the United States and the rest of the world, and the passage to something different and unknown may not be an improvement.

It was the ever-expanding stream of consumer spending that pulled the U.S. economy forward and, to a lesser extent, did the same for the global economy (the reason: imports satisfied much of Americans' frenzied buying). How big was the consumption shove? Consider. In 1980, Americans spent 63 percent of national income (gross domestic product) on consumer goods and services. For the past five years, consumer spending equaled 70 percent of GDP. At today's income levels, the difference amounts to an extra $1 trillion annually of higher spending.

Read the whole story here.

PI Op-Ed by Rick Steves: We need to get smart about marijuana

I'm not speaking as a consumer when I say that America's War on Drugs is idiotic. However, lack of first-hand knowledge never has stopped me from expressing an opinion before.

As I stated in this blog last summer when I spent a month in Amsterdam, civilization did not cease to exist when the Dutch stopped enforcing laws against marijuana and turned to regulating its use and providing treatment for drug addicts instead.

My favorite travel guy, Rick Steves is outspoken on the subject and recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Seattle PI. I'm posting it here for you all to enjoy - and hopefully for Marlo to look back on one day in amazement that we ever bothered to spend millions of dollars on prisons trying to stop the use of marijuana in this country.



We need to get smart about marijuana

Last updated March 25, 2008 5:27 p.m. PT


As a parent helping two children navigate their teen years, and as a travel writer who has seen firsthand how Europe deals with its drug problem, I've thought a lot about U.S. drug policy -- particularly our criminalization of marijuana.

Europe, like the U.S., is dealing with a persistent drug-abuse problem. But unlike us, Europe, which treats drug abuse primarily as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, measures the success of its drug policy in terms of pragmatic harm reduction.

Europeans seek a cure that isn't more costly than the problem. While the U.S. spends its tax dollars on police, courts and prisons, Europe fights drug abuse by funding doctors, counselors and clinics. European Union policymakers estimate that for each euro invested in drug education and counseling, they save 15 euros in police and health costs. Similar estimates have been made for U.S. health-based approaches by the Rand Corp. and others.

While Europeans are as firmly opposed to hard drugs as we are, the difference in how they approach marijuana is striking. Take the Netherlands, with its famously liberal marijuana laws. On my last trip to Amsterdam, I visited a "coffee shop" -- a cafe that openly and legally sells marijuana to people over 18. I sat and observed the very local, almost quaint scene: Neighbors were chatting. An older couple (who apparently didn't enjoy the trendy ambience) parked their bikes and dropped in for a baggie to go. An underage customer was shooed away. Then a police officer showed up -- but only to post a warning about the latest danger from chemical drugs on the streets.

Some concerned U.S. parents are comforted by the illusion of control created by our complete prohibition of marijuana. But the policy seems to be backfiring: Their kids say it's easier to buy marijuana than tobacco or alcohol. (You don't get carded when you buy something illegally.) Meanwhile, Dutch parents say their approach not only protects their younger children, but also helps insulate teens over 18 from street pushers trying to get them hooked on more addictive (and profitable) hard drugs.

After a decade of regulating marijuana, Dutch anti-drug abuse professionals agree there has been no significant increase in pot smoking among young people, and that overall cannabis use has increased only slightly. European and U.S. government statistics show per-capita consumption of marijuana for most of Europe (including the Netherlands) is about half that of the U.S., despite the criminal consequences facing American pot smokers.

When it comes to marijuana, European leaders understand that a society must choose: Tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. They've made their choice. We're still building more prisons.

According to Forbes magazine, 25 million Americans currently use marijuana (federal statistics indicate that one in three Americans has used marijuana at some point), which makes it a $113 billion untaxed industry in our country. The FBI reports that about 40 percent of the roughly 1.8 million annual drug arrests in the U.S. are for marijuana -- the majority (89 percent) for simple possession.

Rather than act as a deterrent, criminalization of marijuana drains precious resources, clogs our legal system and distracts law enforcement attention from more pressing safety concerns.

But things are changing. For example, in Seattle, Initiative 75, which makes adult marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority for local cops, was recently reviewed after four years in action. The results clearly show that during that period, marijuana use didn't measurably increase, and street crime associated with drugs actually went down.

More and more U.S. parents, lawyers, police, judges and even travel writers feel it's time for a change. Obviously, like Europeans, we don't want anyone to harm themselves or others by misusing marijuana. We simply believe that regulating and taxing what many consider a harmless vice is smarter than outlawing it.

Like my European friends, I believe we can adopt a pragmatic policy toward marijuana, with a focus on harm reduction and public health, rather than tough-talking but counterproductive criminalization. The time has come to have an honest discussion about our marijuana laws and their effectiveness. We need to find a policy that is neither "hard on drugs" nor "soft on drugs" -- but smart on drugs.

Rick Steves is a travel writer based in Edmonds.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An excellent thought.

From a recent letter to the editor.

The New York Times

April 9, 2008

Basic Writing Skills

To the Editor:

I am baffled that some educators are encouraged by the news that a third of America’s eighth graders and a fourth of the nation’s high school seniors can write proficiently (news article, April 4).

These results are no cause for celebration. Writing is a form of thinking. Alarmingly, we must assume that the vast majority of American students do not think well at all. And that they seem to get worse at it as they go from middle school to high school.

The nation’s educators should be dedicating every available resource to redress this calamitous situation. An entire generation is growing up without the ability to articulate ideas in a coherent fashion. How can we expect them to advance our society without this most basic of tools?

Hugh Siegel
New York, April 4, 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

The art of living (frugally).

When I was growing up, my grandpa (Albert) used to go out every day and pick two 1-gallon coffee cans filled with blackberries because he couldn't stand for them to go to waste. (He lived most of his life in Montana, where apparently blackberries are considered fruit instead of an obnoxious weed.)

After he picked the blackberries, he'd pick a sack or two of apples from the trees on the vacant lot next to our house. He'd then move on to the trees in the neighbors' front yards where they were letting their fruit go to waste. Once they were picked, he'd have us call around to friends and neighbors to give them away because our family couldn't eat them all. If we couldn't find people willing to take the fruit, he'd get upset about food going unnecessarily to waste. (fn. 1)

Grandpa probably did this until the year before he died at age 92. When he got older, he strung a wire from the tops of the cans to make a handle. He looped the wire through his belt to free his hands to both pick the berries and walk with his cane. Grandpa was hardworking and Frugal with a capital "F." We attributed this quality to the fact that he raised two sons during the Depression, which was no doubt a tremendous struggle.

Grandpa knew how to enjoy life though. He always ate breakfast. He'd have half a cup of coffee after lunch. He napped every day. He'd go out to eat sometimes. Grandpa went to the senior center to play cards with the rest of the men regularly. He'd cackle at scantily-clad women on the television. And, from the time he was around 75 or so until he died at age 92, he called his girlfriend, Edith, every single night promptly at 9:00. At the end of the call, he'd say, "I love you honey" and then make a big juicy smooching noise into the phone. The emphasis here is on j-u-i-c-y.

May we all grow to be 92 years old, still able to pick fruit on an uneven hillside, and unabashedly say to our loved-one every single night, "I love you honey," accompanied by a long loud smooch.

Fn. 1. Trying to use up the fruit in our house became a childhood torment for my sisters and me. While other kids had Sunny-D and Kool-Aid to drink, my mom used to make blackberry juice. Instead of maple syrup on our pancakes, we had blackberry syrup. Also, mom used to make apple cake, which was sliced apples covered with spice cake mix. I can appreciate the cake now as an adult, but as a kid, it was just embarrassing. To this day, though, I still cringe when people offer me blackberry-anything.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Does the constitution really grant people the right to be stupid!?!?!

These are the news stories that really get my blood boiling. Second amendment or no, I just don't think that people like the parents in the story below should be allowed to have guns.

3-year-old girl shoots self in head
Detroit toddler reportedly in critical condition; parents questioned

The Associated Press
updated 8:08 p.m. PT, Sun., April. 6, 2008

DETROIT - A 3-year-old girl found a gun in a bedroom of her home and shot herself in the head Sunday, police said.

One of the girl's parents apparently owned the gun, and at least one parent was home when she shot herself Sunday afternoon. Police questioned the parents and took the gun, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The girl was taken to Sinai Grace Hospital, then transferred to Children's Hospital of Michigan. The Detroit News reported she was in critical condition.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23986213/

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Because the American media is falling down on the job.

I read many different newspapers each day, including Le Monde, in French.

Today, a story appeared in Le Monde, but not in any of the American papers. Because I think this story is an important one, I'm posting it here, along with my amateur translation (in Italics).

My translation sucks, but I think it is important that we recognize the negative social movements that are occurring in this country so that we can work against them and foster cooperation and peace.

Les "groupes de haine" se multiplient aux Etats-Unis
LE MONDE | 03.04.08 | 13h13 • Mis à jour le 03.04.08 | 13h16
Washington, correspondante

Hate Groups Multiply in the United States

lors que les Etats-Unis s'apprêtent à honorer la mémoire de Martin Luther King, à l'occasion du 40eanniversaire de son assassinat le 4 avril à Memphis (Tennessee), le Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) a publié une enquête montrant un accroissement de 48% depuis 2000 du nombre de groupes incitant à la haine raciale.

As the United States readies itself to honor the memory of Martin Luther King on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his assassination on April 4th in Memphis (Tennessee), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) has publicized a study showing a 48% growth since 2000 of the number of groups inciting racial hatred.

Fondé en 1971 à Montgomery (Alabama) par le juriste Morris Dees pour défendre en justice les militants des droits civiques, le SPLC publie chaque année un rapport sur les groupes extrémistes américains qui fait autorité. Pour l'année 2007, il dénombre 888 groupes. Aux classiques néo-nazis viennent désormais s'ajouter les mouvements anti-Latinos.

Founded in 1971 in Montgomery (Alabama) by attorney Morris Dees to defend civil rights activists, the SPLC publicizes yearly reports about American extremist groups. In 2007, they number 888 groups. Neo-Nazis come to be overtaken by anti-Latino movements.

Selon le SPLC, l'augmentation est due à la création de nouveaux groupes anti-immigrants. Les agressions racistes contre les Latinos ont augmenté de 35% entre 2003 et 2006. Le mouvement blâme les hommes politiques et certains médias qui ont fait un fonds de commerce de la dénonciation du coût des clandestins pour le système de santé ou d'éducation.

According to the SPLC, this rise is due to new anti-immigrant groups being formed. Racial aggressions against Latinos have risen 35% between 2003 and 2006. The movement blames politicians and certain media outlets who have gotten much play from the denunciation of undocumented immigrants impact on the health and education systems.

Parmi les exemples, le centre cite l'Emigration Party of Nevada selon qui "l'Amérique est détruite de l'intérieur par une version moderne de l'armée de Gengis Khan". Les groupes radicaux croient généralement à un plan pour fondre le Canada, les Etats-Unis et le Mexique dans un seul pays (cette crainte n'est pas l'apanage des marginaux : les Assemblées de 18 Etats ont passé des résolutions s'y opposant par avance).

As an example, the center cites the Emigration Party of Nevada who says, "Interior America is ruined by a modern version of the army of Genghis Khan." Radical groups generally believe a plan exists to merge Canada, the United States and Mexico into a single country (this belief is not limited to the fringes: the legislatures of 18 states have passed resolutions opposing it in advance).

Mark Potok, l'éditeur du rapport (Intelligence Report), se félicite cependant de ce que l'immigration ait cessé d'être considérée comme un thème porteur par les républicains, ceux-ci ayant choisi un candidat, John McCain, plutôt modéré sur le sujet. "Il apparaît que les Américains, au moins pour l'instant, rejettent la démonisation raciste au profit d'une discussion rationnelle sur le sujet", estime-t-il.

Mark Potok, the editor of the report (Intelligence Report), while immigration has ceased to be considered a Republican-carried theme, has chosen a candidat, John McCain, more moderate on the subject. "It appears that Americans, at least for the moment reject racial demonstrations at the expense of rationale discussions of the subject," he estimates.

Le rapport indique d'autre part que le Ku Klux Klan, qui s'est lui aussi reconverti dans la dénonciation des immigrants, a décliné en 2007 après cinq années de croissance (155 groupes locaux contre 165 en 2006). Il s'inquiète de l'apparition d'un groupe anti-homosexuels virulent (Watchmen on The Walls), d'origine slave. Enfin un nouveau groupe de Black Panthers (non lié au mouvement originel) s'est créé et a organisé un sommet du "pouvoir noir" en octobre, à Atlanta.

The report indicates, on the othe rhand, that the Klu Klux Klan, who he also discovered in the denunciation of immigrants, has declined in 2007 after five years of growth (155 groups against 165 in 2006). He worries about the appearance of a virulent anti-homosexual group (Watchmen on the Walls). Also, a new movement of the Black Panthers group (not tied with the original movement), was created asnd organized around the cry of "Black Power" in October in Atlanta.

An argument for women ruling the world.

Life imitating art?

I remember when I was a kid, my family got cable television. Not such a big deal these days, but back then it was. We weren't supposed to watch certain movies on HBO or Showtime without approval from our parents. However, like all kids, we snuck in a few. Come to think of it, maybe this is the source of my current problem of having to hide my eyes during the gruesome bits during movies...but I digress.

Today in the news, there was a story about a young girl who was attacked by a hawk at Fenway Park.

I know it is totally irrational, but ever since I was a kid and watched either The Omen or Damien: Omen II (I can't remember which one) with the scene where the birds attack and kill the lady who was suspicious of Damien's devil-ness, I picture that scene when walking through a parking lot with large amounts of birds nearby, etc.

The thought of having a hawk swoop towards me with its talons exposed - yikes! That poor girl.

Advancing towards adulthood.

As Marlo has grown up, there have been things I wished she could appreciate as I do. These items particularly include really good British drama along the lines of films shown in PBS's Masterpiece Theater, and really good tea - not Lipton.

For those of you who think I'm crazy, aside from responding, "What took you so long to figure that out?" - just consider my wishes akin to that of a father wanting his son to learn how to shoot his favorite rifle or do 360s in a sports car.

Over the past few years, Marlo has grown to enjoy the same films as I do - Pride & Prejudice (the A&E version, not the ridiculously Americanized version with Keira Knightly), Sense & Sensibility, Wives & Daughters, etc. - but she's less fastidious about them than I, probably because she hasn't read the novels.

I'm also a bit fastidious about tea. I make it the proper way: Pre-heat the teapot with hot water. Put cold, fresh water in the kettle and bring it to a boil. Right when it hits a rolling boil, pour over the tea. (The one place where I'm not a purist is that I will use tea bags instead of loose tea.) Steep 3-7 minutes depending on the tea blend. Add milk to cup and then the tea. Nummy!

Yesterday, we passed another milestone. Marlo called me and said, "Go by the store and get some cream on your way home. I made Tetley and it is really good."


I picked up some sweetened condensed milk on my way home (mixing "cream" and sugar together). Marlo put it in her tea and came to sit on my bed so I could read some blog posts to her. She then informed me, "I need you to pick up some normal cream because I like honey in my tea."

I didn't have the heart to explain it to her that it is "honey and lemon" or "cream and sugar" not "cream and honey." I just have to keep remembering that I am getting what I want, even if it doesn't look exactly as I would like it to.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The commonalities are striking in these sad tales (updated).

A couple of days ago, a fourteen year old girl from Houston delivered a stillborn baby in an airplane lavatory on the way back from a school field trip and didn't tell anyone. Now, another fourteen year old, also from Houston, delivered a live baby in the bathroom at school and killed it by trying to flush it down the toilet.

Anyone want to bet me money whether both of their junior high schools have abstinence-only education?

(And on the topic of sex ed, here's a story out of Florida regarding teens who think that drinking a capful of bleach can prevent HIV, etc.)

Whoever said, "Ignorance is bliss," wasn't thinking about today's teenagers.

All is not lost if you haven't developed the capacity yet...

I've previously written about my opinion that many adult Americans would probably fail the Stanford Marshmallow Test, which to our detriment as a society has led us to be impulsive, debt-ridden, over-consumers.

However, if a person hasn't developed the capacity for willpower by age five (the average age of the Stanford Marshmallow Test subjects), it isn't too late. An article in the New York Times today reports that one can develop one's willpower capacity even as an adult.

Consider it exercise for your mind.

A Blast from the Past (an update)

This past week for Spring Break, I went down to Tulsa to work with attorney Renee Williams, my boss from 1995-1997, and her new law partner, Steve Andrew. It was really great on many different levels.

First of all, it was fantastic to hang out with Renee. We always got along really well back in the day - we'd call each other in the evenings if something particularly interesting or relevant to the law practice was on television, for example. It was even better now because, although I was doing work for the firm this week, I consider myself more of a colleague and friend than an employee. I stayed at her beautiful house, would work by day, and then would gossip and yap with Renee into the wee hours.

Secondly, it was so great to be doing REAL work again. Aside from a few days of work I put in for my most recent boss, Scott, last summer and the occasional research project from my attorney friend, Karol, I haven't done anything substantive since quitting work to attend law school full time in 2006. Except for a few rare classes, law school heavy on theory and light on useful, practical information.

The particular case I was working on for Renee involves a man rendered a paraplegic when a garbage truck overturned and pinned him underneath (all while he was conscious). I worked on it back in 1995. The case has now turned into an insurance bad faith action and my job is to pull together the evidence to show the damages (medical and economic) suffered by the client. This is no small job as he has nearly 200 medical providers when you add up the hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, ambulances, laboratories, radiologists, etc. that have treated him for the past 15 years. (Yes, a legal case is like a slow, lumbering elephant - there really isn't any such thing in reality as "swift justice" and certainly not when a case involves an insurance company who is trying to get out of paying what is owed under a policy).

Finally, Renee and Steve wanted me to come back down over the summer and continue to work on the file, because it'll take that long to really gather the evidence I'm responsible for gathering. However, I needed to do an externship for credit this summer so that I can graduate in December. (An externship is like an internship one does at a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, or a governmental agency, for no pay - i.e., public service - in exchange for academic credit from the law school.) Well, on the way back from a hearing on Oklahoma City, they stopped by the courthouse in Tulsa and talked a judge they admire into hiring me.

I am so excited. The judge has several death penalty trials coming up, including one on remand from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and a tax fraud case against the former insurance commissioner of Oklahoma, who was allegedly taking money from insurance companies in Texas. To top it off, the Judge had an article published in a legal journal where she did a comparative study of the death penalty in the United States and its abolition in South Africa. And I just wrote a comparative paper on the death penalty in the United States and its abolition in Europe. That the judge and I have similar interests just makes it that much more exciting.

So, I'll be in Tulsa this coming summer, working in my externship for the judge, and for Renee and Steve on the side, drinking cherry limeade slushies from Sonic and Tropical Sno to survive the heat. Of course, any of my friends are welcome to come visit me - the thunderstorms put on quite a show and are worth seeing at least once in a lifetime. They are spectacular and were actually one of the things I liked about Tulsa when I lived there before.

I guess they didn't specify the "Northwest" of what country.



Northwest brands reject pickles from Northwest growers

Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Last updated 9:36 a.m. PT


SKAGIT VALLEY -- On this rich rural land where tractors share the roads with cars, cucumber growers for decades have harvested their crops, which made their way onto pantry shelves in jars of Nalley, Farman's and Steinfeld's pickles that touted their Northwest roots.

That tradition is ending.

Starting this season, pickles in those jars will come from other parts of the country -- and even India.

Bay Valley Foods, a Green Bay, Wis., company that owns those labels, has broken a contract and told a small group of Western Washington and Oregon farmers it no longer needs their cucumbers. That's because the company, which says it's the nation's largest pickle and pepper supplier, is closing a processing plant in Portland in June, a month before harvesting begins.

"They decided they could get cucumbers cheaper elsewhere," said Don Kruse, a La Conner farmer who estimates he will lose half of his gross annual income -- a few hundred thousand dollars.

Ron Bottrell, a Bay Valley Foods spokesman, said it wasn't economical to keep the Portland plant running, and with its closure there was "no longer a need to source cucumbers in the Northwest."

He said the cukes would be sourced "elsewhere in the U.S.," but declined to disclose the locations; he added that India for some time has been a small source of cucumbers.

Skagit farmers, who were told of the decision in February, say Bay Valley's decision is a multimillion-dollar jolt to this agricultural community halfway between Seattle and the Canadian border, and it's expected to displace hundreds of migrant workers who depend on the late-summer crop. They also say Bay Valley's choice to pull out with two years left on a 10-year deal puts them, frankly, in a pickle on what to do with 1,000 acres earmarked for cucumbers.

"You can switch wives way easier than you can switch crops," said Mike Youngquist, a fourth-generation Mount Vernon farmer whose great-grandfather homesteaded here in the 1890s.

Bay Valley Foods and ProFac, a co-operative that represents the farmers, have reached a settlement for the affected 14 Skagit Valley farmers and another four from Woodburn, Ore. But Ken Dahlstedt, who negotiated the deal for the farmers, said the growers would rather harvest cucumbers.

"It would be safe to say the growers will be paid damages for lost delivery. It's a fair settlement. But the growers are still losing two years of delivery, and the biggest damage is for this year," said Dahlstedt, a grower who also is a Skagit County commissioner. "I think the company is being fair, but we would prefer to grow the crop and we would be financially better off to grow the crop."

Dahlstedt said the growers could receive more than $1 million, but gross sales for this coming year were estimated at $5 million. He said harvesting the crop can cost up to 60 percent of the gross sales.

Dahlstedt said some farmers still plan to sell to Pleasant Valley Farms, which is southeast of La Conner on Dodge Valley Road. Pleasant Valley, however, is primarily a wholesaler and a much smaller operation than Bay Valley. Pleasant Valley owners did not return calls for comment.

Along with cucumbers, Skagit Valley is home to about 70 different crops, with the biggest being potatoes. The closest McDonald's or Starbucks is miles away, and the favorite watering hole is the Rexville Grocery, a quaint outpost in rural Mount Vernon where locals can gossip, drink coffee and buy everything from wine to cat food to fresh clams.

Bay Valley's Bottrell said even though cucumbers no longer will come from Washington and Oregon, the brands would continue to be found in Northwest stores. He said he didn't know if the company would keep the slogans that date to World Wars I and II.

Nalley says its products have the "Down home taste of the Northwest since 1918," while Steinfeld's says its pickles are the "Quality brand of the Northwest since 1922," and Farman's says its products have the "Delicious taste of the Northwest since 1944."

Skagit Valley, with its rich riverbed soil and high water tables, began growing cucumbers for Tacoma-based Nalley and Enumclaw-based Farman's in the 1950s as farmland was becoming scarce around Seattle and Tacoma, Youngquist said.

In 1999, Dean Foods acquired Portland-based Steinfeld's, and a year later bought the Nalley and Farman's brands. ProFac, the farming co-op, agreed in 2000 to supply Dean Foods with cucumbers for up to a decade, and that deal was transferred over to Bay Valley Foods when it was spun off from Dean Foods in 2005.

Bay Valley Foods, which also sells Heifetz and Peter Piper's pickles, is a division of TreeHouse Foods Inc., an Illinois-based publicly held company.

TreeHouse last year said its pickles segment generated 28.5 percent of its nearly $1.2 billion of net sales. The company in 2007 had a 3.6 percent profit margin on $41.6 million in net income, according to a securities filing.

Youngquist, who said he grew cucumbers on only about 40 acres, said he likely would withstand Bay Valley's departure a bit better than some of the other farmers. Yet, Youngquist said he's very concerned about the farmworkers.

"For every acre it takes about one worker, and last year we (Skagit Valley) had 1,000 hand-picked acres. So 1,000 seasonal workers technically are out of a job," Youngquist said. "These are poor people who don't have a lot of skills other than being energetic and hard workers. ... They are the losers in this thing."

© 1998-2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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Diocese regrets hiring suspect in child porn case

Last updated April 1, 2008 9:27 p.m. PT


YAKIMA -- The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima said Tuesday he regrets hiring a retreat director known to be under investigation of child pornography charges in Oregon, saying it "wasn't a good hire."

Juan Jose Gonzalez, 37, of Cowiche is being held with bail set at $80,000 at the Yakima County Jail on a fugitive warrant issued in Marion County, Ore. He faces four charges of encouraging child sex abuse, a felony, according to Yakima County Superior Court records.

Bishop Carlos Sevilla said he hired Gonzalez in 2003 to work part time at the St. Peter Retreat Center in Cowiche because he viewed the incident as an "isolated episode," and because the job involved administrative work and teaching religious education to adults only, not children. Gonzalez was hired as full-time retreat director later that summer.

"It was a serious error in judgment on my part to employ Mr. Gonzalez while he was under investigation," Sevilla said in a statement. "I have always been and continue to be deeply committed to keeping the church a safe place. I should not have hired the employee, regret my serious failure in good judgment in doing so, and take full responsibility for my actions."

© 1998-2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer