Link to jump to start of content The Seattle Times Company Jobs Autos Homes Rentals NWsource Classifieds seattletimes.com
The Seattle Times STOP: The Seattle Times Opinion Blog
Traffic | Weather | Your account Movies | Restaurants | Today's events



Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

The opinions you read below are those of the individual writers, not necessarily views that will become formal positions of The Seattle Times. Respond to STop
(Please be aware that your name and comments may be published here, unless you specify otherwise).

Currently, STop cannot automatically post readers' comments on the blog. However, the editorial staff will regularly post readers' comments. Your comments are sent directly to the individual editor or writer.

space space space

Jim Vesely
space
Jim Vesely
E-mail | Bio


Lee Moriwaki
space
Lee Moriwaki
E-mail | Bio


Joni Balter
space
Joni Balter
E-mail | Bio


Eric Devericks
space
Eric Devericks
E-mail | Bio


Lance Dickie
space
Lance Dickie
E-mail | Bio


Bruce Ramsey
space
Bruce Ramsey
E-mail | Bio


Kate Riley
space
Kate Riley
E-mail | Bio


Lynne Varner
space
Lynne Varner
E-mail | Bio


Ryan Blethen
space
Ryan Blethen
E-mail | Bio


April 29, 2005

Hype over closures

It’s Friday, and I have an itch to pick on a competitor. Above the fold on page one of the Seattle P-I the headline, “Closures may not save money,” is a classic example of a headline that misleads. Technically it is not inaccurate, but by its emphasis and placement it is wrong.

The subhead, “School officials admit restructuring plan could worsen, not help, budget,” compounds the misdirection.

The story is about the Seattle School District’s plan to close 10 schools in order to save money. What it says is that the savings in operating expenses would be offset by increased capital expenses in the first year. This is because students would have to be moved to other schools, and those other schools would have to be fixed up to accommodate them.

That this would happen is obvious, and the school district should have pointed it out. It is good that the P-I reporter did it. But the story really doesn’t say, “Closures may not save money.” It says they won’t save money for a few years. If you read the story past the jump, you get the essence: Closing schools will cost $10 million to $24 million in one-time expenses, and will save $2.6 million the first year and $3.2 a year million after that. They will also avoid tens of millions of dollars of capital expenses that would have been needed sometime in the future on the closed schools.

Let’s split the difference between $10 million and $24 million and assume the capital cost is $17 million. Here is how the school district will do:

After one year, down $14.4 million.

After two years, down $11.2 million.

After three years, down $8 million.

After four years, down $4.8 million.

After five years, down $1.6 million.

After six years, up $1.6 million, and it’s all up after that. We don’t know what years the capital expenditures would have been needed on the 10 closed schools, but if you add them, you’re way ahead.

It’s exactly the same with stories about the federal government closing bases that the military doesn’t need. It always costs more to close bases than to keep them open, in the first year. In the long run it pays to close them, and the smart thing, financially, is to close them.

A reader could figure out the same thing from the P-I story, but the reader was not given any help by the headline.

A final note: Headlines, particularly page one above the fold like this one, are written to sell newspapers. They are not written by reporters, but by editors. Several times when I was a news reporter, back in the 1980s, I had stories on page one, and faced pressure from an editor to hype the story to fit the headline. Probably that is what happened here.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:28 PM


Diversity--and also standards

A habitual reader takes me to task for advocating positions the reader saw as stark contradictions. The reader correctly notes that in my column, "Being Open to Equity and Equality," I cheer recognition of multiple forms of intelligence and talent as a way of diversifying public school gifted programs.

The next day, the lead editorial on our page cheered the increased flexibility of the No Child Left Behind law. The reader correctly notes that as a member of the Seattle Times Editorial Board, I had a hand in that editorial.

But, there is no contradiction in advocating for better recognition of minority student achievement and for the federal law that has the best chance of getting us there. The heart of No Child Left Behind is its unapologetic demand that states educate minority students to the same high standards used for white students. The federal law smartly requires academic achievement to be disaggregated by race to ensure dismal results aren't hidden in large statewide averages.

The reader wants me to reject NCLB because after all there is "open revolt against the law" with Utah and California among the loudest. Yes, and there was open revolt when Brown vs. Board of Education widened access to quality public schools. Our government didn't back down then. Don't count on it backing down now.

Respond to Lynne.

Posted by Lynne Varner at 04:28 PM


April 28, 2005

Questionable associations

Microsoft Corp. has taken a lot of heat for its withdrawal of support for a bill that would make homosexuals a protected class under the antidiscrimination laws. Several of our stories are here, here, and here.

My colleagues in the Seattle media tend to make two assumptions that ought at least to be questioned. One is that issues like this are a corporate concern. Is there anything about Microsoft that makes its voice particularly important on the question of gay rights? Certainly if Microsoft were on the other side, lobbying against the measure, the progressives would be making inflammatory comments about corporate power, corporate influence, corporations trying to control our lives, etc. Well, what sorts of issues should business corporations address in their lobbying? Microsoft says it decided to narrow the range of questions it lobbies for. Maybe it should. I am not sure, but it bothers me that I don’t hear Seattle people asking the question.

The second issue is the matter of personal liberty. Traditionally, liberty included the right to associate with others or not. That is the freedom of association. All anti-discrimination laws interfere with this. They say, “You are forbidden to disassociate yourself, at least in your business affairs, with a protected group.” The first protected group was African Americans, which was the group that had the strongest argument for special treatment. For about 35 years, we have been adding groups, each with a weaker argument, but each with a drumroll of moral fire and certainty from progressives. Clearly the intention is benign; it is to force everyone to ignore race, ethnicity, disability and now sexual orientation in their business affairs. I don’t quarrel with the intention, but I don’t like the force. I particularly don’t like the commentary that assumes that bigotry is the only motivation for opposing such laws. Barry Goldwater opposed the federal civil rights law of 1964 for this reason. Some of the people who voted for him that year were undoubtedly bigots, but he wasn’t.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:51 PM


April 27, 2005

Textbooks, and no excuses

Upon reading my column, "Being Open to Equity and Quality," a reader asks, "How can schools force parents and students to return textbooks?" Schools already know how to get students and parents to obey rules. There are sanctions in place that range from poor grades to withholding student transcripts. A school where a significant portion of the population flouts the rules has a much bigger problem than unreturned textbooks. That school is accepting and reinforcing failure.

Schools that don't expect a high rate of textbook returns tend to be places where excuses are rampant for why children routinely ignore homework and parents blow off school conferences. These schools tend to have principals fluent in the language of woes but inarticulate about how to surmount them. None of this serves students well. Indeed, low expectations ensure our students' failure.

A better question posed by the aforementioned reader would be how we move education from a passive acceptance of failure to a culture that actively rejects it. My answer would be to implement a rule of no excuses. Not from the School Board, from parents or from educators. Education funds are limited, teachers are overburdened and some parents work two jobs and go home tired at night. These are challenges, not excuses to abdicate our responsibilty to our children.

Respond to Lynne.

Posted by Lynne Varner at 11:48 AM


April 26, 2005

Travel to Cuba

The story of Carlos Lazo of Shoreline raises the question of travel to Cuba. Lazo is a Cuban refugee who left behind two sons by a previous wife, and he would like to visit them. He is making an issue of his military service in Iraq: he has served his country in war, and therefore his country ought to let him visit his sons.

In my view, Americans ought to have the right to travel to any foreign country they choose, as long as we are not at war with it—and we are not at war with Cuba. That Lazo served in the military has nothing to do with it really, though it may give him a rhetorical platform on which to raise the issue. That Cuba is communist also should have nothing to do with it. Americans were long allowed to travel to communist countries. I went to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria when they were communist. I went Spain when it was fascist. Travel should be free. If foreign countries want to regulate their citizens, it is unfortunate, but it is their business. The U.S. government should leave our travels alone.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:35 PM


April 25, 2005

Why subsidize the wheat farmer?

A reader from eastern Washington made a comment about subsidies, and I responded, “How about subsidies to wheat growers?”—knowing that he was one. He replied:

The odd thing is that I get the subsidy and then deposit it into my checking account and then I pay all of my bills to the local merchants, people that work for me, etc and you know there isn’t anything left. Farmers get lots of criticism for getting subsidies but in reality it goes to all of the people in my community, some of which criticize me for getting the subsidy…

In the case of ag commodities I raise wheat and compete with people in other countries that raise wheat. The producers in some of the countries that compete with my wheat are subsidized by their governments. In addition they don’t have many of the regulations that I face in growing my crop. I would much rather have a level playing field to compete with those producers but that probably isn’t going to happen.

How about you? Do you prefer to buy your food from some third world country where they use chemicals that US producers are prohibited from using? Do you actually think someone is inspecting the food that comes into our country? They don’t seem to be doing a very good job of keeping out people from other countries so don’t expect them to do a good job of inspecting food produced in other countries.

I’m opposed to subsidizing farmers. In my view, the demand for food will support a certain number of farmers with a reasonable profit, and some marginal ones just hanging on, and that the net effect of subsidies is to create a whole new set of marginal farmers just hanging on. If the subsidy went away, the number of farmers would drop, some marginal land would go out of farming and the price of the formerly subsidized farmland would fall. Most farmers would adjust, as they adjust to the weather.

I don’t worry about foreign food. When I buy a bag of flour I don’t know if the wheat comes from the United States or Canada. I eat Thai rice and don’t worry about it. I occasionally eat basmati rice from India or Pakistan. I was recently in Hong Kong and India, and though I worried about the water in India, and about eating fresh salads, I never worried about the chappatis, puris, or the other things made from flour. I lived with my family in Hong Kong for almost four years, and we were careful to wash the fresh vegetables, many of which came from China, where the farmers occasionally put on too much pesticide. We never worried about food products packaged in a modern factory. I figured that if the product were making people sick I would hear about it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:34 PM


April 22, 2005

India criticized


I got many replies from Indians and Indian Americans on the column I wrote about travel as a tourist in India, some of them quite heated. Here was one of the calmer ones:

This was an interesting article. Made me realize how different the experience of a foreign tourist is compared to an Indian tourist in India. It seems you had a miserable time in India and as an Indian I do apologize for it. I really hope we learn to treat the tourist well if we want to be a successful tourist destination. But I do have to point out a few things which make this article seem biased.

1)The fact that India sells more Coke and Pepsi does not signify progress. It just means our children our adopting the bad habits of the western world and
become obese too. We need better roads, more industry and better infrastructure to really claim we are progressing. Western products that really make a difference in our country are the mobile phones, computers, planes, etc. Not Coke and Pespi!!!

2)Recommendations of Mohandas Gandhi got us freedom from the white colonialist rule. So I would think twice before disparaging his views. His views were right for his times. The problems were caused by the politicians who did not want to bring about change in the later years.

3)It would really help if Americans did think about India and Pakistan. Coz then they will realize that their president who seems to support democracy has
been entertaining a dictator who came to power through a coup at his beloved Texas Ranch. This same dictator was involved in supporting Taliban, supporting the scientist who leaked nuclear secrets to North Korea, supporting terrorist in Kashmir and refuses to hold democratic elections in his country.


I replied:

Thanks for your note. Actually, I did not have a terrible time in India. I expected the hassle, because I remembered it from before. It was a kind of a game, except that my money was at stake. Except for the $320, it was mostly small amounts at stake. But I found the mental struggle with the tourism industry people interesting, and frustrating, and I wrote about it. That's all: I wrote about that aspect critically. It doesn't mean that overall I had a bad time. India was exciting, colorful, different. I liked the food and the chai. The people who were not trying to make money off me were very nice. My son got a huge kick out of riding in autorickshaws. There were many things I liked about India, but I wanted to write about this one thing that was on my mind.

I wrote about Coke and Pepsi because they were everywhere--not just for the elite--and because Americans are familiar with them. Of course Coke and Pepsi are basically sugar water, and not important in themselves. Nineteen years ago, there was Thums Up [a local cola]. India could have survived with Thums Up, which is still there.

About Gandhi. Maybe I was making a leap too far; several Indians have criticized me on it. As I understand it, Gandhi developed his self-sufficiency idea, but as a political strategy against the British, and it was Nehru who changed it into an policy for heavy industry.

On India/Pakistan: The USA has already taken sides with Israel/Palestine. It is bad enough. I don't want to take sides in Kashmir. NO, no, no, no. Let India and Pakistan figure it out.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:21 PM


April 21, 2005

China's young nationalists


This New York Times story on the protests in China is saturated with a cynicism that I think is fully justified. It reminds the reader that the protesters are almost all under 30, and cannot have suffered from Japan’s occupation of 1937-1945 (in Manchuria, 1931-1945). The Japanese Army was extraordinary cruel, and is infamous particularly for the Rape of Nanjing, but Japan has apologized for the war many times. It is an odd thing, this continual demand for new and greater apologies. The people demanding the apologies did not suffer during WWII, and the people expected to apologize committed no sins—because all of them are too young to have been involved in it. The whole business is ridiculous.

The other complaint is that Japan’s school textbooks do not paint an appropriately negative image of its wartime acts. I have not seen the textbooks, but I assume they tread rather lightly on the subject of Japanese cruelty. But everywhere textbooks are written or approved by the government, and project a view to achieving the government’s aims. Do China’s textbooks give an accurate picture of Mao Zedong, and the oppression and famine he caused with his Anti-Rightist Campaign, his Great Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution? I bet not.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:18 PM


April 19, 2005

Democrat cars

I was traveling and missed it, but the New York Times had a fun story on April Fool's Day drawing correlations between people’s politics and the cars they drive. Most interesting is the statement that Subaru has become the signature left-wing nameplate, eclipsing Volvo, which has gone upscale and become too bourgeois for some in the blue-state set. Twenty years ago I wrote a column that referred to “Volvo liberals,” and was amused when one Seattle reader wrote and asked me what I meant. That term is now outdated.

The signature right-wing vehicle, according to this story, is the large American-branded pickup. American nameplates generally (except Pontiac) are bought by Republicans.

My readers may be surprised—I have several times been accused of driving an SUV—but I drive a Saab, which according to this article is “a Democratic car.” I knew it was, but I thought maybe it was because it is made in Sweden, lodestone of the welfare state. That’s not it, apparently. The Saab, one of its marketing sources says, is “an upscale car an affluent Democrat can drive without feeling guiltily ostentatious while also reveling in a different sort of status symbol.”

Maybe I should sell it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:58 PM


April 05, 2005

No control

The April 1st story, "Schaivo's death steps up push for end-of-life legislation" quoted Tom Delay blaming his failure to get the feeding tube reinserted on, "an arrogant, out-of-control judiciary that thumbed its nose at Congress".

I think it's really the other way around... an out-of-control Congress thumbing its nose at the judiciary.

Jamie Holter
Shoreline

Posted by kkim at 04:34 PM




Marketplace

November 2005

S M T W T F S
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30