January 26, 2004
Toy falls apart
A couple of years ago I wrote about the Las Vegas monorail, which seemed very toylike. Now pieces have begun falling off of it. The system is being built by Bombardier, which is part of one of the two coalitions competing for the Seattle monorail contract.
Posted by awm at 10:25 PM
January 22, 2004
NYT on Google bombing
Interesting article on Google bombing for political reasons over at the New York Times (reg required, yadda yadda). It takes as its starting point the campaign of a Bellevue, WA man to make George W. Bush's official biography the first result for "miserable failure," and the counter attempts by others to link it to Michael Moore.
Google bombing for phrases like that are more sport than anything. I doubt anyone will change their opinion of a celebrity or politician based on it. In fact, I doubt anyone who isn't in on the gag searches for "miserable failure" at all.
Of much more import is a Google bomb which attempts to go the other way: point a commonly used term to a new site which redefines or stands in opposition to the usual expectations for that term. Dan Savage's as-yet-unsuccessful campaign to introduce "santorum" as a scatological noun, replacing Senator Rick Santorum from the top spot, falls in this category. Success against a term with many existing links is much more difficult than one against an uncommon phrase. An interesting follow-on article might put more emphasis on how people have approached that problem.
Posted by awm at 09:38 AM
January 20, 2004
Via Andrew Sullivan, a bit of Churchill lives on in his parrot.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, this might be a hoax.
Posted by awm at 10:02 AM
January 18, 2004
Is Al Gore unimportant, too?
In his global warming speech last week, Al Gore quotes Carl Sagan:
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light…
I agree with the middle of this paragraph -- violence in the pursuit of glory is madness. But the overall tone is wrong. Sagan, and by implication Gore, appears to be arguing that Earth is unimportant, that to fight for what one believes is merely "posturing". It makes one wonder why Al Gore wants so badly to be leader of a large portion of Earth's inhabitants.
Posted by awm at 11:23 PM
Helen, come home
I just received my 36th district government guide, courtesy of Senator Jeanne Kohl-Wells. Here are the addresses of all three legislators from the district:
Senator Jeanne Kohl-Wells
157 Roy St., Seattle, WA 98109
PO Box 40436, JAC 432, Olympia, WA 98504-0436
Representative Helen Sommers
PO Box 40600, JLOB 204, Olympia, WA 98504
Representative Mary Lou Dickerson
2208 NW Market St., Suite 310A, Seattle, WA 98107
PO Box 4600, Mod 1 Building, Room 107, Olympia, WA 98504-0600
See anything missing? Where is Helen Sommers' district address? It turns out that she does have one, but it is not listed in the government guide or on her official website. The first place I found it was on the website of the Association of Washington Business, a group which seems to hold her in low regard.
Sommers first took her seat in 1973. It seems that over the past 30 years, she has forgotten the need to be accessible to her constituents, and just expects to be reelected automatically. Politicians who forget who is employing them usually find out they are forgotten themselves. Perhaps Sommers should remember that the next time she is asked what her entry in the government guide should be.
Posted by awm at 10:55 PM
January 14, 2004
Who is Andy MacDonald?
MacDonald is a fairly common Scottish surname, and since Saint Andrew is Scotland's patron saint, Andrew MacDonald is a common name. I estimate that there are at least several hundred of us -- not enough to fill a stadum, but enough for a convention at a Ramada. The most famous is a professional skateboarder, and the most scary is the pseudonym of a vicious racist who wrote The Turner Diaries, the book that inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City. One night at 2am I received a call from a man who loved the book and mistakenly wanted to thank me for it, by far the creepiest call I've ever gotten.
This encounter made me think of the great variety of activities engaged in under one name. Using Google I've compiled a list of other Andy MacDonalds, posted on the left under the blogroll. Perhaps it is of interest to nobody but me, but I will keep expanding it to help define "who is Andy MacDonald."
Posted by awm at 11:30 PM
January 13, 2004
Via David Halliday, the Washington Votes site allows easy searching of bills in the Washington legislature, including how each member voted. Amendments are included, too.
Posted by awm at 11:03 PM
The proposed Seattle 2004 budget is online. It has details on expenditures and number of positions in each department. Fiscal crisis has held the bottom line steady for the past two years, but in the late 1990s the city's expenditures grew at over 10% a year during a time of low inflation and modest population growth. Recently a number of levys were approved for parks and libraries, and in the next few years dollars will need to be found in the general budget to operate the new facilities created thereby. The upshot is that as soon as the economy improves, there will be great pressure to raise taxes and spend even more.
If Seattle is to keep its budget in line, there needs to be equal pressure to contain costs -- not pressure imposed by financial crisis, but by citizens protecting their own interests and lobbying for fiscal responsibility. Knowing where the money is spent is the first step in that process. I encourage everyone to spend a few minutes reading the overview and the summary tables.
Posted by awm at 09:20 PM
The first topic on KUOW's Weekday program today was travel to the Caribbean, particularly to Cuba. I was struck by how the two guests described the island. Both described its people as friendly and living very picturesque lives. I have no doubt the people of Cuba are friendly, but I beg to differ about the quaintness. The first guest described his life with a local cabaret singer and how charming it was that they would get to ride in '50s vintage cabs -- no acknowledgement that perhaps the locals would rather be able to get newer cars. The second described visiting a village and meeting a farmer on a bicycle ("everyone rides bicycles" -- aren't they eco-conscious!) and spending time at his home, where there was no electricity or running water. He and his sons enjoyed roughing it and riding the farmer's horses. I'm sure the farmer would rather get water from a tap than his colorful well.
Basically, time stopped in Cuba when Castro took over, and these travellers think it's cute that the people live in poverty. Communist peasants are charming. But if the government weren't trying to build a workers' paradise, I'm sure they would be the first to demand rural electrification, blaming the central government for its lack.
Posted by awm at 02:04 PM
January 12, 2004
Today my boss's boss's boss's boss turns forty! Go buy him something from his wishlist!
Posted by awm at 12:59 PM
January 11, 2004
A day after reading about learner-centered teaching, I find via the Command Post this New York Times article on counterinsurgency: Professor Nagl's War. The parallels are striking.
In Exiting, Ms. Chew describes how her students reacted when she organized the classroom to remove herself as the focus and make each student responsible to himself and his peers. At first they were confused and hostile: this was not the way classes were "supposed" to be run, therefore Ms. Chew must be a bad teacher. It took a series of discussions about responsibility, working with others, and the nature of learning before a class could operate with the new structure. When the transition was finally made, the kids became much stronger, learning more and benefitting in other areas of life.
A similar transition is happening in Iraq now, albeit on a much larger scale and with more serious consequences. Iraqi society is no longer focused toward a central figure and Iraqis are having to come to terms with the lack of structure. It shows in how they test the U.S. occupation forces through demonstrations and standoffs. As Major Nagl says ''We're into the behavior-modification phase." Iraqis, especially those who benefitted from the Saddam regime, are having to be taught a new way of interacting with each other, to take responsibility for their own lives and to develop a civil society. It is vitally important that we stay until the majority of them have internalized these values, even if it takes years. If we don't, Iraq will be taken by the bullies and descend into chaos.
Posted by awm at 12:16 PM
January 10, 2004
In a post highlighting one way charter schools can boost student performance even in public schools, the author of A School Yard Blog mentions her essay Exiting. Although she touts it for descriptions of parents, I found it most interesting for its description of students, particularly how they react to "learner-centered" teaching where students are expected to work together in groups to understand a subject. This results in two great advantages: students are able to describe and defend how they arrived at an answer, and they learn to work with little or no outside direction from an imposed authority figure. Both of these skills are important to succeed in any high-value job, but more importantly they are critical to being a functioning citizen of a democracy.
The essay itself is a commitment, being 49 pages and not the usual two paragraph blog-entry length, but I found myself sucked in by the writing, especially the journal entries and quotes from students. I was 30 pages in before I knew it. Well worth an hour of your time. It reminded me of ideas from Teaching as a Subversive Activity, but without the strong political bias.
Posted by awm at 01:21 PM
January 07, 2004
Ballard District Council
I have been a member of the Ballard District Council for a couple of years, first representing the Whittier Heights Community Council, currently the 15th Avenue NW Association. Disturbed by the lack of a BDC website, I volunteered to create one and was referred to a committee that had previously been set up for this reason. We met a couple of times, but then inertia took over and nothing real was done. I made a brief report to the council, but no decisions were taken and content wasn't created. All I had was a placeholder in the Community Links section of my navbar to remind me of the project.
Yesterday I decided to do something about it. I have created the Unofficial Ballard District Council website, ballarddistrictcouncil.org. There you will find agendas, calendars, meeting minutes (coming soon), a list of member organizations, name of officers and the bylaws. Perhaps one day this will become the official site and I will have help maintaining it. Until that time, look for updates around the second Tuesday of the month, which is when meetings are held.
Posted by awm at 04:58 PM
January 06, 2004
My grandfather's centenary
Today would have been Robert Allan MacDonald Sr.'s 100th birthday. He was my grandfather. Born in 1904 just weeks after the Wright Brothers made their first flight, he participated in many of the historic transitions of the 20th century. He had his own radio program in the 1920s. In the thirties, he promoted auto races in Colorado. During the Second World War, he was a civilian contractor building bases in Hawaii and Morocco. On his return he started a business in California building residential housing, becoming one of the first people to build low-income apartments in Oakland and developing a deepened distrust of bureaucracy in the process. After retirement in 1977 he wrote two books, one an autobiography for his family, and the other a guide on how to prosper in real estate and avoid scams called Real Astute Real Estate.
He and we always thought he would live to be 100, but he died in December 2002, just short of his 99th birthday, in his own bed on his beloved island of Kauai. How could I let today pass without remembering him?
Posted by awm at 12:09 PM
Life imitates Scrappleface
Does Al Gore think the voters are stupid? Probably not. But this PI columnist does.
Posted by awm at 11:49 AM
January 05, 2004
How to contact your state rep
Stefan Sharkansky has a wonderful post on the fight for charter schools in Washington, outlining the chance for passage this legislative session. He lists the historical supporters and opponents, which bolsters his thesis that the primary opponents are teachers unions and administrators who are afraid of losing their benefits. Given that charter schools give parents more control over their children's education and that they have been established successfully in 40 states, I support his call to pass legislation enabling their creation in Washington.
How to make it happen? As Stefan notes, the best way is to contact the legislators in your district. In Washington, each district has one senator and two house members, so you have three people you can get in touch with. In case you don't know who represents you, there is a handy page to find your state representatives on the Washington State website. Just type in your address and you'll get links to all three.
By the way, it is find to send email or make a phone call, but send a letter if you have the time. Letters from constituents are a big deal and are taken seriously. At a minimum, expect a form letter acknowledging receipt of your letter and having some statement about how the member intends to vote on the issue.
As always, be courteous when writing. Let him or her know that the issue is important to you, but don't threaten to vote for his or her opponent if you don't get your way. No one responds to threats well, and the member is smart enough to read between the lines. It is better to treat him or her as an old friend and build up a rapport with regular, thoughtful correspondence.
Posted by awm at 10:49 AM
January 01, 2004
I've finally added a blogroll on the left, just under the community links. First come the folks who I know personally, then what I read regularly. I expect this list to expand some, but not to become one of those enormous lists you see on some sites. Only sites I look at regularly will be on here.
Posted by awm at 11:30 PM
I have just upgraded this site to Movable Type 2.65, necessary to correct some security holes in older versions of the software. The folks at MT make it very easy to upgrade -- just download a new distribution and upload the files over the existing ones. Took about 10 minutes. Looking forward to MT 3.0, soon to be released.
Posted by awm at 05:53 PM
Happy New Year!
Happy 2004, everyone. My folks were here for a week around Christmas, which accounts for the lack of blogging. Erica and I were looking forward to it, and we all had a wonderful time, spending time visiting relatives, driving to La Conner, seeing the Frye museum.
Things are pretty much back to normal now. Erica is vacuuming up the last of the needles from the tree, which is outside waiting for clean green day. The dog is lying at my feet -- she is exhausted from playing in the snow yesterday in the backyard. 2003 seemed to go by very quickly, but looking back it was crowded with an immense number of activities. May 2004 be the same.
UPDATE: Omar at Iraq The Model has a moving account of why he will never forget 2003.
Posted by awm at 02:36 PM