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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
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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.

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Jim Vesely
Jim Vesely
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Lee Moriwaki
Lee Moriwaki
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Joni Balter
Joni Balter
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Eric Devericks
Eric Devericks
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Lance Dickie
Lance Dickie
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Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
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Kate Riley
Kate Riley
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Lynne Varner
Lynne Varner
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Ryan Blethen
Ryan Blethen
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December 21, 2005

The Common Good

A reader responds to "Anti-Discrimination, 2":

Your post implies that individual freedom is the highest virtue that can be promoted; all else is subservient. A person may be against discrimination, but freedom is the higher value, so discrimination should be allowed. While I think individual freedom is something that should be valued near the top of the list of virtues (and in most cases should be highest valued), there are many cases of where freedom should not be...

Some aspects of anti-discrimination fall under this. A business that discriminates by not hiring women eventually does worse because people shop there less (if they know about the policy) and it limits the pool of smart employees from which it draws. Theoretically it would be self-correcting over the long term. That's the micro-economic argument put forward in my economics course at least. However, in reality there's a lot of parity in the quality of the employee pool and businesses can hide their policies pretty effectively. It could take centuries to correct society-wide inequality. My personal opinion is that our gain from reducing inequality is greater than our loss of freedom in this case.

I don't think that anti-discrimination always trumps individual freedom. That means I don't have a nice, clean, pure philosophy like that of libertarianism. It's easier to measure something against the libertarian "freedom" yardstick than it is against the measure of "greatest good" because you get a lot more opinions on what constitutes good. But I think it's an eminently reasonable philosophy, even if it leaves intellectual room for a nanny-state that I don't like.

Philip Weiss, Bellevue

Respond here.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:40 PM

Anti-Discrimination, 2

On my previous post, Anti-Discrimination, I argued against the anti-discrimination laws on the grounds that a free person should have the freedom of association. If you don't want to deal with people you don't like, that should be your right, as long as you are willing to take the social and business consequences of your actions. I have received several emails interpreting this to mean that I'm in favor of bigotry. For example, one reader writes:

You opine that any person who disagrees with you in any way will destroy personal property which you seem to value far more than you esteem the freedom of the individual.

What freedom of the individual? If I want to rent out my house, and someone comes to me of a different religion, and I say, "I don't want to rent my house to a person of your religion" --or your race, or your sexual orientation--whose freedom has been violated? A taboo of modern American society has been violated--I grant you that. I will have done an unpopular thing. I may be criticized by my neighbors, and I may lose my friends. But it is my house, and if someone offers to rent it, I should have the freedom to say yes or no. A transaction requires the consent of both parties.

The anti-discrimination laws don't use this view of freedom. Consider the op-ed by Anne Levinson, (click here) in Wednesday's paper. She's a lesbian, and she's arguing in favor of adding gays and lesbians to the list of protected groups. She writes:

I and other lesbians and gay men wake up each day in this state and in this country of ours not having such basic universal rights as the right to employment and housing, the right to make medical-care decisions and have hospital visitation rights for our partners and children, and the right that every parent wishes for his or her child: the right to marry, have a family and be part of the fabric of the community.

The right to make medical-care decisions and to visit partners are rights to do things, like the right to speak, to worship, to travel, to vote and to buy and sell. I'm for those rights. But what is "the right to employment and housing"? You have the right to seek employment and to contract for housing. In my view, you do not have the right to demand that someone give you a job, or that someone sell you, rent you (or give you) a place to live.

On the front page today (click here) we ran a story about a company in Ohio that is threatening to fire employees who smoke, including those who smoke away from work. Smokers are not a protected group under the anti-discrimination laws, and this is legal. I think it should be legal. Whether it is nice, or fair, or good is another thing. I don't like the paternalism of it, the company's attempt to reach into the workers' private lives. I can imagine that being a bargaining issue with a union, if they have one. But just because we don't like what somebody does is not reason enough to make what they do illegal. In a free society you should have a right to be biased, bigoted, wrongheaded, and to manage your life in that way as long as you do not trample on the similar rights of someone else.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:43 AM

December 19, 2005


State Sen. Finkbeiner is in the spotlight regarding an anti-discrimination bill for homosexuals. For today's story, click here. It is too bad that this whole issue is framed as being pro-gay or anti-gay, because that is not the only way to look at it. I oppose protecting gays under anti-discrimination laws not because I oppose gays, but because I oppose anti-discrimination laws.

Basically, I think the only institution that should be forbidden by law to discriminate is the government, because the government represents us all. Ironically, the same liberals who want to ban discrimination by law insist that the government practice "affirmative action," which is a variety of the thing they want to ban unversally.

I think the government should be color-blind, religion-blind, gender-blind and sexual-orientation blind, by law, at least in most instances. (I'm not for women in the Marines, and I'm not arguing for single-sex bathrooms. But these are exceptions.). I think the private institutions should mainly not discriminate, but that it should be their decision. They should decide who to hire and fire. If a Mexican restaurant chain wants to hire all Mexicans, it should be its business, legally. If a gay bar wants to hire only gays, that should be allowed. We should all be free to criticize, or to boycott, that restaurant chain or that bar; but the decision should be its own. Most important, at an individual level, a person should be absolutely free to "discriminate" by race, sex, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or whatever. Freedom of association means freedom not to associate--for whatever reason you want. Speaking up for the freedom of association is not an endorsement of other people's reasons for not associating. It is simply an endorsement of their rights.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:37 PM

December 16, 2005

On the Take

Business Week Online reported today that another syndicated columnist was on the take. Unlike other recent syndicated columnist the White House was not paying Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. Bandow decided to really sully any journalistic principles he harbored and accepted money from indicted Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Business Week Online reports that Bandow took at least $2,000 for 12 to 24 columns touting Abramoff's clients. Bandow has resigned from the Cato Institute.

The poisonous mix of money, power, politics and press is on full display in this story. These threads are so tightly woven in Washington D.C. the players are tripping over themselves to advance agendas and protect egos that mean little to the American people. It is time the industry reevaluate its use of pundits and think-tankers, especially with reader trust so low. It is becoming clear that these Pundit Thinkers do not understand and/or do not care about journalistic ethics. When a newspaper allows a writer to abuse reader trust it becomes hard for readers to take newspapers seriously. As an industry we have been trying explain to readers what we do and why. This does not help. What is frustrating is that it is so easily avoidable. There is so much talent in the world of journalism. Tap into that, not some insulated pundit only capable of Washington Think without any regard for journalism's ethics.

This story also highlights how far lobbyists have penetrated every institution in Washington D.C. Armed with bottomless checkbooks from powerful clients lobbyists have their way with Congress, the White House and now the press. This lock the mighty have on our nation's politics is not new, but I fear it has become more ingrained. The Abramoff indictment will get some headlines, but will not change anything. I can't imagine a sea change of attitudes in Washington D.C. The lobbyists will keep at it armed with brief cases of cash, while newspaper credibility will suffer with every story about an abuse of reader trust.

I am curious what readers think. How damaging is it when a columnist gets caught taking payments for columns?

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 03:43 PM

A WASL for College, Maybe

A national study (click here) shows that only 40 percent of college graduates can read a complicated piece of text and figure out what it says.

College graduates! Maybe we need a WASL for college graduation.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:36 AM

Bluto 2

Sigma Phi Epsilon at Oregon State University had a similar experience to that of the Sig Eps at the University of Washington, who were profiled in The Seattle Times this week and in the news again yesterday, wrote Cam Saffer. Saffer, who is an OSU Sig Ep, said things changed in 2003 when his chapter entered into the Balanced Man program.

...the members decided on their own that we needed a change and the Balanced Man Program was that change. We held a membership review in 2003(which gave rise to the same type at UW) in which over 25 members were asked to leave. The fraternity began to change and now we are successful as ever and winning our awards (grades, intramurals, outstanding fraternity, etc) once again. The success of this UW fraternity is coming soon. They are headed almost in the same exact direction that my chapter has, just about 3-4 years behind.
I am writing to inform you that the Balanced Man Program is one that ensures growth. This is a four year development program targeted at personal growth from a young freshman into a leader to be successful in our fast-paced world. All the development programming-ballets, cooking lessons, etc is preparing us as young men to live in society and be prepared for a successful life.
I can honestly say that the amount of fun we have now, is as much, if not more than they had in the “Animal House” days. We still spend time with young ladies that we show respect to, and they respect us as gentlemen for our kind manners that most of us learned through the fraternity. This fraternity means so much to so many young people, and this new approach: The Balanced Man is setting tracks for a new era of social fraternities.

Mr. Saffer makes an interesting point. The Greek system does seem to be entering a new era. Fraternities of today remind me much more of when fraternities were founded in the 19th Century. As a pledge we had to learn about the history of the fraternity. The early fraternities were focused on academics, brotherhood, and preparing students for the future. There was definitely a gap between what we were taught and how we lived. The pendulum appears to be swinging away from a couple wild decades on Greek Row to a more cerebral approach to frat life. If Mr. Saffer’s e-mail is any indication this new/old approach is working and has not diminished the fraternity experience.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 10:31 AM

December 15, 2005

Wikipedia 2

Turns out the massive online encyclopedia Wikipedia is more accurate than I thought. An Associated Press story states that Nature, a journal, did a side-by-side comparison of scientific entries in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica and found almost no difference in the number of errors.

Earlier this week I questioned Wikipedia's model of having volunteers and users write entries. Wikipedia was embarrassed after a Tennessee man added to an entry that journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. was somehow involved in the assassinations of Robert and John Kennedy. The incident made me think about the future of newspapers and the push to have more readers involved beyond Letters to the Editor. I wrote:

Newspapers have seen the success of Wikipedia and tried to translate its reader-added content to Web pages. It has not worked well. The most notable debacle was at the Los Angeles Times. The editorial page put up a Wikitorial, where readers could change an editorial. It did not take long for the editors to lose control of the project. It was taken down after people started to post pornography.

As journalists we have to make difficult decisions about what makes it in the newspaper. Having the day-in day-out experience of translating information into thoughtful content is important. Too important to let somebody tamper with from his or her living room. Just ask Seigenthaler.

Technology that allows journalists to interact with readers is the future and a good thing. Newsgathering is a difficult task that has become more difficult in today's lighting society. Professional journalists are still going to be needed to gather and present information in a readable/listenable/watchable way. The Nature article does not change my mind. The potential for abuse is still very real for Wikipedia and for other content providers that give control to outside forces.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 02:56 PM

No More Gene McCarthys

The death of Eugene McCarthy reminds us of what this man did: he ran a political campaign that brought down a sitting president of his own party. The event occurred in the New Hampshire primary of 1968. McCarthy, a Democrat opposed to the war policy of Lyndon Johnson, did not win the primary, but he did so well that it convinced Johnson not to run. McCarthy "lost the battle but won the war."

A number of persons and things made that possible. That included the persons who wrote big checks to McCarthy, giving him money to put his messages on radio and TV, and the institutional rules that allowed the McCarthy campaign to accept big checks. John Samples of the Cato Institute writes (click here for his article) that McCarthy was able to do it only because there were no modern campaign-finance laws:

About one-third of McCarthy's total fundraising in 1968 came from just 50 large donors. David Hoeh, the organizer of McCarthy's New Hampshire campaign, recalled later that a single "financial angel" saved their media effort at a crucial point.

The laws limiting campaign donations to small amounts make it more difficult to challenge an incumbent. The law does not apply to candidates donating money to themselves--which is why we have a gaggle of rich senators, such as John Cornyn (D-N.J.). Our own Maria Cantwell, Democrat, made a pile in a dot-com and parlayed that money into a senate sat. The Republican who now runs against her, Mike McGavick, is also wealthy. I don't know how much he plans to pay for his own campaign. Under the campaign finance law you can still bankroll your own campaign. You can no longer bankroll someone else's campaign--which is a rule that protects incumbents. Of course it was written by incumbents, who knew what effect it would have.

Campaign-finance laws reduce the political choices of Americans. For example, in 1948 there were four candidates for president: Truman, the Democrat;Thurmond, the Dixiecrat; Dewey, the Republican; and Henry Wallace, the Progressive. Wallace had been vice-president under Roosevelt, and if the Democratic pols hadn't booted him from the ticket in 1944 because he was too left-wing (and a bit kooky), he would have been president when Roosevelt died in 1945. At the end of WWII, when the Soviets stopped being our glorious allies, Wallace wanted to give them the secret of the atom bomb. In 1948 he ran a campaign of friendship with the U.S.S.R. and no Cold War, and a socialistic policy at home. His candidacy was made possible by a $100,000 donation from Anita McCormick Blaine, heiress to the International Harvester fortune.

People in power always have money. Essentially, they can extort it, though few call it that. Challengers like Henry Wallace and Gene McCarthy are the ones that need private, ideologically motivated money. If they get it, sometimes they can do great things. McCarthy did, in a way that has since been made illegal.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:12 AM

December 14, 2005

Unlimited Government 2

Thomas Bonsell, author of The Un-Americans: Trashing of the United States Constitution in the American Press (available here) responds to my Dec. 12 post called "Unlimited Government":

I have to disagree with you about the centerpiece of conservatives doctrine being limited government. Conservatives have never believed in "limited government" only in small and ineffective government. Alexander
Hamilton explained the concept of "limited government" in Federalist No. 78: "By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such , for instance, that it should pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws and the like."

Nowhere did Hamilton on any other Founder propose that government be small and ineffective. Another specification for "limited government" being that it use only those powers the Constitution invests in that government (Article I, section 8, paragraph 18).

Conservatives wish government to legislate the reproductive process (anti-abortion laws), and our dying (opposition to Oregon's death with dignity law). Conservatives want government involvement in our spiritual lives (school prayer), our patriotism or lack of such (flag burning and the Pledge of Allegiance), love lives and marriages (homophobic laws), association (segregation laws), thought (anti-communism laws), assembly (anti-civil rights), movement (prohibiting crossing of state lines for abortions), morality, speech (notification laws for abortion), property confiscation (Reagan's zero tolerance on drugs), language (English-only drives), censorship and a WASP culture for everyone.

It should be noted that the Constitution doesn't give government power to legislate in any of these areas, but conservatives legislate anyway.

In areas in which government is empowered to act (taxing and spending for Social Security, regulation of commerce on the environment, worker safety or minimum wages, among many other areas) conservatives howl to the heavens in opposition.

My response:

Where in the Constitution is the federal government "empowered to act" by requiring that all privately employed Americans contribute to Social Security? Where is is empowered to set a national minimum wage? Or a national policy on worker safety? None of these is authorized by any of the powers in Article 1, Section 8, including the Commerce Clause, if you read it literally ("to regulate commerce... among the several states". ) As for your list of un-limited conservative laws--drug laws, anti-suicide laws, etc. --principled conservatives should object to them. And most don't. That was the point of that earlier post. It did not single out liberals for criticism.

Mr Bonsell thinks conservatives typically violate the Constitution but that the liberal project doesn't. But if you read the Constitution as written, you cannot fit the modern liberal project (universal day care, universal medicine, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.) in it. Compare Article 1, Section 8, with the blue pages in the phone book, marked "FEDERAL." Simply, the Founders' project to limit federal power by enumeration has failed, utterly and totally. It did not fail all at once, but if you had to choose a year it would be 1937. The only remaining limit on federal power is the list of specific prohibitions, such as the ex post facto clause, the First Amendment, the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth. (The 10th is dead.) These are tremendously important, and should be guarded zealously, but they are a second line of defense. They allow a much, much larger government than the first line of defense, which was Article 1, Section 8.

Respond here:

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:51 AM

December 13, 2005


The front-page story in The Seattle Times today about a University of Washington fraternity gone good got me thinking about my Greek experience and raised some questions. Can and should a fraternity take teenagers and let them go as balanced men? What about the fun?

A fraternity or sorority is a great way to make lasting relationships cemented around shared experiences. Fraternities are also great way to teach responsibility and community building. Teenagers and young adults find themselves suddenly responsible for balancing a house budget and keeping the place in a livable condition. Greek life also teaches college students how to interact with others in a more organized adult like setting. Peers not parents are now setting the limits. These strengths of Greek life are also its weaknesses. House budgets are abused, living quarters are filthy and the only limits are tolerance levels.

I saw a bit of both in my fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, at Washington State University. Which was good. Near the end of my time at Wazzu the fraternity tilted more toward the more dysfunctional. The house was shut down about four years after I graduated, but has since reopened.

Any time you have that many young people getting their first taste of freedom there are bound to be some problems. So why did my house and the old Sigma Phi Epsilon house described in the article fail? Does it have to do with how well parents have prepared their children for the world? Or a cycle that sees the fortunes of Greeks rise and fall? I can't answer that. I do know that a good purge is needed sometimes. I am sure that my old fraternity is doing much better financially and academically than when I was there. The new look Sig Ep is probably an upgrade, too. Are the houses as fun? Depends what one is looking for.

Fraternities should probably fall somewhere in between parent and a fun older cousin. Able to install the tools needed to be a responsible adult, while still having a good time before real life intrudes after graduation.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 04:35 PM

Those Trains

Neal Peirce argues (click here) that Amtrak should remain permanently on the federal dole. As is so common with arguments for subsidy, he asserts that we are all subsidized, so what's the worry. He writes:

The advocates of privatization also need to be reminded that it's not just Amtrak-- that America's highways, airports and seaports are all heavily subsidized. Airlines, and even the big auto manufacturers, come running to Washington for one form of aid or another.

Private cars are not subsidized. Highways are not subsidized really. The highways are built with the gas tax, which is paid by people who buy gasoline. That's a user fee, meaning a payment for use of a thing by the people using it. The more gas you buy the more road you pay for. As I understand, it's the same with airports: the expansion of Sea-Tac is paid for by landing fees there and by a federal fund that collects money from a tax on airline tickets. There is some cost shifting but airports are not built or maintained by taxing people who don't fly to benefit people who do fly.

With Amtrak, there is a huge subsidy--huge relative to the ridership--from people who don't take the train to people who take it. The reason is plain for anyone to see: Not enough people take the train to make it pay. Fifty years ago they did, but not anymore. Outside a few corridors, probably all of them in the East, passenger trains are not economic. They are not close to being economic. Nor, outside these handful of corridors, do they provide an appreciable percentage of passenger trips. They could stop tomorrow and 99 percent of the public wouldn't notice.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:36 PM

December 12, 2005


The future of what folks in the newspaper business like to call "content" and how it is consumed and disseminated is rapidly changing. Many newspaper readers find blogs and new endeavors like the Chicago Daily News, an online newspaper founded by a former Chicago Tribune reporter that will allow readers to help craft the daily report, refreshing.

Reader input and advice is wonderful. Reader dictated content worries me. The recent troubles with Wikipedia exemplify my worries. While not a newspaper it does provide content. An entry in the online encyclopedia, which is maintained by volunteers and can be edited by users, accused the former editor of the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn. of being involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The entry on John Seigenthaler Sr. was a prank. The prank was traced back to Brian Chase in Nashville who has since resigned from his job and apologized.

Seigenthaler does not plan to take any legal action. What if he did? Would Chase be held responsible or Wikipedia? Will this episode prove to erode trust in Wikipedia and other sites where users provide content? Or will the bottomless Web swallow the Seigenthaler prank?

Newspapers have seen the success of Wikipedia and tried to translate its reader-added content to Web pages. It has not worked well. The most notable debacle was at the Los Angeles Times. The editorial page put up a Wikitorial, where readers could change an editorial. It did not take long for the editors to lose control of the project. It was taken down after people started to post pornography.

As journalists we have to make difficult decisions about what makes it in the newspaper. Having the day-in day-out experience of translating information into thoughtful content is important. Too important to let somebody tamper with from his or her living room. Just ask Seigenthaler.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 01:11 PM

Unlimited Government

Conservatives have too often forgotten that the centerpiece of their doctrine is limited government. Here (click link) is a fine article by a conservative who still believes in it, and understands it. He gives several examples of totally unconstitutional practice--the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, the law allowing the FCC to set its own tax rates, the tobacco "settlement" and the suppression of medical marijuana by federal law--and writes:

The Constitution's own purposes, provisions, and architecture of government no longer attract our interest or give us much pause when they stand in the way of doing something that sounds good or is backed by an influential constituency. It is now invoked mostly in opportunistic ways to bulk up arguments about policies we support or oppose for other reasons.

That is exactly right. The Constitution is invoked formalistically, like playing the ace of spades. You use the Constitution when it's useful, and you ignore it at all other times. Even those who profess to care about the Constitution usually care only about one or two clauses in it, and assume the rest is taken care of.

To continue with DeMuth:

Many of us can remember when senators and representatives (usually curmudgeonly Midwesterners) would rise to object that proposed legislation, although perhaps desirable in its own terms, was simply beyond Congress's Constitutional powers. But today there is virtually no serious Constitutional deliberation in the Congress....

And look at what has happened at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. In the Republic's early days, Presidents used their veto power almost exclusively to strike down bills they regarded as violating the Constitution, not those they disagreed with on policy grounds... But in modern times the original practice has been turned completely on its head. In recent decades, Presidents have routinely--about once a month on average--signed bills into law while announcing that they regard some of their provisions as un-Constitutional (before 1945, this strange procedure occurred only about once a decade).

... So how can Presidents use their sole legislative power to enact laws they consider un-Constitutional, right out in broad daylight? I have raised this objection when working at the White House (in the Nixon and Reagan administrations), and must say that it was always regarded as quite silly.

Conservatives' blind spot is war; notice that DeMuth does not attack the Executive Branch for abrogating congressional war powers or blame war for bulking up the government. Some of those "curmudgeonly Midwesterners" who cared so much about the Constitution were antiwar nationalists like Gerald Nye (R-Neb) and Robert Taft (R-Ohio). War has been the biggest reason for the growth of government under George W. Bush, and AEI, the think tank DeMuth heads, has been a prominent perch of the neocons. Still, what DeMuth says about government and the Constitution domestically is quite true, and too often forgotten

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 07:02 AM

December 09, 2005


Normally I do not pay attention to the Grammys. The award ceremony and everything connected with it passes by like a thunderstorm in South America. Loud and bright I am sure, but far from my realm of being. The past two years have been different. Two great Seattle bands have been nominated. Last year it was Modest Mouse in the alternative category. In the same category this year it is Death Cab For Cutie. Good for them. Great bands that deserve the recognition. I will be pulling for Death Cab, but they do not have a good chance. The field is packed with heavy hitters such as Beck and The White Stripes.

Is Death Cab's presence going to drive me to my TV for the awards show? No way. With Mariah Carey dominating the Grammys with eight - no joke - eight nominations, the show is destined to be a high pitched bore. Because I never watch the Grammys I have no idea how or when Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year started going to the people that sold the most albums. But selling massive amounts of albums seems to be the qualifier for the big awards. Performers get the nod instead of musicians. My guess is that the huge conglomerates that control the music industry and have those good selling performers influence the nomination process. Music has become a homogenous brand like everything else in America. Focus group product X to death then unleash it on the public.

Any of the bands nominated in the alternative category, which also includes the awesome Arcade Fire and Franz Ferdinand, have made albums if not as good as but better than Carey, Paul McCartney Gwen Stefani, U2 and Kanye West, all nominated for Album of the Year.

It is telling that Death Cab and Modest Mouse got nominations after leaving the indy ranks. I am glad they made the jump to the big leagues. The world needs more Death Cab. It is just too bad good music is not awarded the industry's top prize.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 03:44 PM

December 08, 2005

Close Those Seattle Schools

Once again, the people in Seattle are told that they must close some public schools. The crucial figures were in a story early this year by Justin Mayo and Sanjay Bhatt. On average, elementary schools are 80 percent full and middle schools are 70 percent full. Simply, the district is keeping too many buildings open.

It is really a simple issue. There is only so much money. The money spent on keeping buildings open, and keeping them fixed up, cannot be spent on hiring more teachers to improve the class offerings, or to get the student-teacher ratio down. Money spent on excess buildings is wasted.

The superintendent Raj Manhas, came out with a plan last spring to close down some schools. The plan was almost universally denounced as ill-prepared, unfounded, etc. I didn't study the plan, so I don't know whether it was or not. But I recognize the rhetoric, and I know very well that any plan would be denounced as "ill founded" even if it was excellent. Neighbors defend their schools. Nobody wants the school in their neighborhood--especially if it is a good school--closed.

The parents' big argument was that Manhas's plan did not give schools any points for being educationally successful--that he was trying to shut down successful schools, that that made no sense.

Actually, it makes a lot of sense. If you are shutting down schools, what you are discontinuing is not students or teachers or instruction, but classrooms and hallways and gyms. It is not an educational decision at all; it is a facilities decision. The schools that ought to be considered first for shutdown are the ones in worst repair--the ones with rusty plumbing, leaky roofs, buckling linoleum. The old ones, not worth renovating. That some of these old ones have good teachers and successful students is totally irrelevant. Move the students and the teachers and they will be just as successful.

Shut down the schools, save the money, and spend it on education, not plumbing contractors and roofers.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:04 AM

December 05, 2005

Cars for India

"In India's New Money Culture, a Lust for Cars," is the headline in the International Herald Tribune. I was in India earlier this year, and noticed the new cars. India has a long, long way to go before approaching the United States; the article says it has only about 8 million cars for more than 1,000 million people. But it also says, "Indians are discovering in cars control and freedom, privacy and privilege, speed and status." Cars, the article says, are "the idols of a new individualism."

Yep. The people in India are not so different from us. They want cars. And all those American environmentalists who are horrified at the idea of 1 billion Indians being able to tootle around behind an internal combustion engine--it's coming. It won't happen all at once, but it will happen.

The dominant idea of American environmentalists is to make do with less. I understand that idea. There is a certain logic to it. But it is, fundamentally, a rich people's idea. The Indians are not going to make do with less. They will have more, and the rich peoples of the world will have to accommodate them--with petroleum and other things. And if the planet gets a little bit warmer on account of it, then maybe iit gets a little warmer. There may be a few things we can do to amerliorate that, but I don't think we can stop the Indians from buying cars.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:42 PM

December 02, 2005

For Passport Controls

A reader responds to the previous entry, in which I question the need for passports at the Canadian border:

Requiring passports at the border will undoubtably take a toll on cross border retail traffic and tourism. Nevertheless, imposing such requirements will cause no end of headaches for those seeking to enter this country to pursue the aims of militant Islam. And it is in the need to coordinate such details that conspirators are frequently caught, deterred or simply inconvenienced so that they cannot take advantage of opportunities. The ability to delay an opponent's movements is a good thing when fighting a war. The trade off seems reasonable to me. In addition, it will help fight the growing meth trafficing network operating between BC and Yakima.

Yes, there are possible benefits to it. One can imagine even greater supervision--a second passport control between Bellingham and Sedro-Woolley, for example, similar to what I experienced a couple of years ago on I-5 north of San Diego, which was an effort to pick up illegal Mexicans. The question is, how much do you give up for security? So often the justification is war, as it is for the reader above: "...a good thing when fighting a war." I am not so sure we are in a war, really, or that if we are, sort of, that war is necessary. Maybe that is the real difference between our views.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:41 AM


December 2005

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