Tuesday, June 29, 2004

penultimate

I was thinking about this word, and searching for a use other than its definition of “next to last,” when it occurred to me that the word has a great Arthurian flair. “Sign the contract,” quoth Sir Lancelot, “but use not the Pen Ultimate unless thou are worthy.”

Monday, June 28, 2004

insipid worship

The worship team at our old church used to lead us through the song, "I Can Sing of Your Love Forever." Lyrically, the first verse is not that bad, although it is too me-focused for my tastes:

Over the mountains and the sea
Your river flows with love for me.
I'm happy to be in the truth
And I will daily lift my hands
For I will always sing of
When your love came down.

I can sing of your love forever.
I can sing of your love forever.
I can sing of your love forever.
I can sing of your love forever.


The chief fault of the song is that it really does seem like you'll be singing of his love forever. The band usually played the chorus over and over again, and as you'll notice, there's not much variety to the lyric sheet at that point. Natasha decided at some point to spruce it up by singing, "But I can't sing this song forever."

Another of the popular songwriters whose work we sang in worship was Scott Underwood. Underwood seemed to have the notion that God was schizophrenic and would have an identity crisis if we didn't remind him who he was. Note the stunningly insightful chorus:

You are God of the heavens and God of the earth
You are God of our Saviour's virgin birth
You were God on the cross and God over hell
You were God before man and God when he fell

You
You are
You are God
You are God, God, God
You
You are
You are God
You are God, God, God


Underwood seems to love pointless repetition, as evidenced by this other gem we used to sing:

You are my shepherd, I have no needs
You lead me by peaceful streams
And you refresh my life
You hold my hand and You guide my steps
I could walk through the valley of death
And I won't be afraid
Because you are in control
You are in control
You are in control
You are in control


It's good to acknowledge that God is in control of the situation, but why do we have to repeat it four times in a chorus that is going to be repeated at least four times itself before the worship leader realizes that we're starting to depict God as a control freak with his booted foot pressing down on our heads?

Still, the all-time most meaningless praise-and-worship song I've ever encountered is this one:

Every move I make, I make in you
You make me move, Jesus
Every breath I take, I breathe in you
Every step I take, I take in you
You are my way, Jesus
Every breath I take, I breathe in you.
Waves of mercy, waves of grace
Everywhere I look, I see your face
Your love has captured me
Oh my God this love
How can it be?


It has a great, catchy melody, but I've never yet found a single person who can tell me what the song means. I like a good mix. The music has to be nice, but I want to be able to worship God with my mind as well. I have a hard time doing that with a lot of the praise choruses in circulation at the moment.

Okay. I feel better now.

Praise choruses are a reaction to the reliance our parents' generation had on the hymns to the exclusion of much else. Played on an organ as though they were a dirge, hymns exercise the mind but not the body. Praise music, with its much catchier tempos and updated instrumentation, allows us to worship with our bodies, but not as often our minds.

When I first became a Christian almost 17 years ago -- it'll be 17 sometime this July -- I took to praise music and CCM like a duck to water. It was alive, vibrant and everything the music at my parents' church wasn't.

I'm a little older now, and I want more balance. I still get bored to tears by the music at church when I attend with my parents, or when I attend with my grandmother-in-law, because it's so lifeless. And when it's just a catchy melody mixed with empty words, I can still only get halfway into it. Both my body and my spirit long for perfect worship and unity with God, so I long for even an imperfect fusion of the approaches to worship.

Give it 20 or 30 years, and I figure the bulk of the junk we sing today will have filtered out by then. Of course, we'll have new junk to contend with, but that's how it usually works.

'where's god when it hurts?'

Today I finally finished Philip Yancey's book, "Where's God When it Hurts?" It's a fantastic treatise on pain and suffering that remains refreshingly orthodox without settling for any of the pat answers we so often like to give people when they're hurting.

Yancey starts out by talking about the nature and benefit of pain, by looking at some leper colonies and what happens to people when their nervous system fails to convey pain messages. (I always had understood leprosy to be a condition that causes the flesh to rot and decay, but that's inaccurate. Leprosy deadens sensation so that the pain receptors no longer work. The damage to flesh comes from not noticing injuries and having them treated.)

He drew a compelling parallel between biological pain and the more exquisite forms of suffering we know. Pain is the body's way of saying that something is wrong; the suffering of the soul is the world's way of screaming that something is wrong and not working as it was designed to.

From there Yancey explores the traditional answers we have for pain; that God is using it to punish us for sin, to teach us something; that God is incapable of or unwilling to stop our pain, or that he just doesn't care; and so on.

It's interesting. Yancey never really attempts to justify the horrorific suffering we sometimes experience -- the death of a child, genocide, grief, paralysis, prolonged or terminal illness -- but he does steadily march toward the Incarnation and the point at which Christ identified with our pain so thoroughly that he cried out in despair that God had abandoned him.

He also makes the interesting statement I hadn't considered before, or at least not in that light, that suffering brings out what is already in us. A marriage where husband and wife lean on each other for support will be made even stronger by suffering, but one where that is not the case is more likely to strain under the load. Paul writes that suffering produces character; character, perseverance; and perseverance, hope. And hope will not be disappointed.

His conclusion is not that we're wrong to be upset, or even to scream and shout and demand an explanation why we're suffering, just that we're wrong to think that God is oblivious to what we're going through, because every suffering we endure, he's already endured with us and for us throughout the Incarnation and especially on the Cross.

For me, that's comforting, because it's nice to remember that God is a foster father who has lost his children at times, and so he understands that grief that overwhelms me sometimes from out of the blue. He was a man who lost his father, as I one day will lose mine, and I don't doubt Jesus groaned beneath the weight of the responsibility that dropped upon him before he was ready to carry it.

The penultimate chapter was about the CHristian response to pain -- not just our own pain, but the pain of others. Paul wrote about he wept over the losses of other believers, and how he burned inwardly when he knew of fellow Christians who were led into sin. The challenge for us as the Body of Christ is to feel the pain in the body's toes and fingers even though they're thousands of miles away, being tortured in the Sudan, Saudi Arabia or China. It's to feel the grief Indigo goes through with her situation at home, or to share the anguish of Respectfully Brian P., Victoria, Greg and Don, and all the rest of us losers who set sail upon the H.M.S. Naked Glittery Squirrel.

And of course, not just to feel their pain (to borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton), but to share it and carry it for them. I pray every day that I can carry the pain inflicted on my son and on Evangeline by what DYFS did, and although I don't doubt that's what keeps the wounds fresh for me, I also don't doubt that it helps them, just as I'm sure it's helped Indigo, Cats, Greg and the others here whom I've prayed for.

The last chapter was about the Resurrection, because that's where it all suffering ends. If there is pain in heaven, at least it will be pain without grief and without tears, and it will be pain more wonderful than any joy we've known on earth.

It was a great book. I hope I've whetted your appetite to read it.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

guerilla gardening gone wrong

Earlier this spring I planted a packet of morning glory seeds with the goal of planting them at various places around the yard. There's also a no-parking sign by the street that is kind of dull to look at, so I was thinking how neat it would look to have a morning glory tendril winding around the signpost and bursting into bloom.

So yesterday evening I'm planting it, when my neighbor comes down the street, sees me working by the post, and asks if someone knocked the sign over, as has happened before.

I explained what I was doing, and he said, "Um, Dave, you know this is my yard, right?"

I was mortified. It's about seven feet past the property line, so there's really no way not to think the sign isn't on his property. I don't know what I was thinking. It just flat-out didn't occur to me that I was digging a hole or planting a flower in someone else's yard.

I apologized profusely, and he was really cool about it. He even suggested other neighbors' yards where I could plant morning glories, suggested some work I could do in his back yard, and joked that he might come over to my yard and remove a few bushes that he doesn't like.

If there is an election held this year for Stupidest Neighbor on the Block, I think I would win hands down.

Friday, June 25, 2004

lloyd webber, adapted

Evangeline watched "Jesus Christ Superstar" again yesterday, and gave me regular updates on what was happening. "Daddy! There's a bus with a cross on it!" "Daddy! People just appeared out of nowhere!"

Afterward, I was walking through the room when she tried to wrap something around my leg, and started to sing, "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. Grab Daddy's leg for Jesus Christ."

I can only hope she sang that at vacation Bible school today.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

information too public

I believe in open records, and I believe in putting public information in the hands of the public.

I also believe it's possible to have too much of a good thing. That's what's happening now with the Quakertown School District salaries, which the school board is printing next week in its agenda, and which The Clark Eagle has printed in the pages of the newspaper you're now holding.

The push to publish these salaries began last month, when school board newcomer Tim Louis first requested it. In the two months since he joined the board, Lewis has been fairly aggressive about taking the board in the direction he wants it to go, and he's voiced a lot of rhetoric about making Quakertown into a "blue ribbon" school district and having "open communication" with the public, without ever really saying what he means by that.

Last month, Louis took the rhetoric a step further and, in the name of openness, pushed for a vote to publish the salaries of every school district employee in the board's June business meeting agenda.

Legally, the board has the right to do it, and so does anybody else who wants to, including the newspaper. Unlike with a corporation such as Merck and Co., the salaries of district employees are a matter of public record. Essentially anyone can walk in off the street and ask for this information, and the school district has to provide it "as soon as possible," according to Alexander McGimpsey, an attorney for the Iowa Press Association.

That right is guaranteed by Executive Order 11, issued by former Gov. Brendan Byrne, and it extends to the names, titles and positions of school employees, copies of their contracts, their salaries and how much money they actually get paid.

It extends beyond the schools too. According to the state sunshine law, you can get the same information about the municipal employees who pick up your garbage every week, and about the nice young police officer who gave you a ticket when you were rushing to your daughter's dance recital.

So the information is public, and the school board is within its rights to put the salary information in the agenda, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why in God's name they would want to do it.

The information is public - but that doesn't mean the school board needs to rent airtime on a radio station to advertise it, and it certainly doesn't mean the newspaper has an obligation to print it.

There's useful data to glean from the salary information - median salaries, how the district compares to neighboring districts and statewide - but printing everything? How does publishing the names, positions and salaries of more than 200 people meet a newspaper's goal of advancing the public good?

I liken this to the genies in "Arabian Nights" - it's much easier to let the confounded thing out of the bottle than it is to get it back in. In the meantime while it's loose, it's impossible to contain.

And this genie is going to cause a lot of problems now that it's loose, not the least of which will be resentment.

Teachers and other school employees, even though they acknowledge that their salaries are public information, are going to resent having the information being made so public. Longtime district employees are going to resent discovering that they make less than colleagues who have been with the district a shorter time. And everyone's going to resent the board for starting the whole thing.

Then there will be the comparisons. Parents and their children will compare the salaries of teachers they don't like to the salaries of teachers they do. Other taxpayers are going to compare what they earn to what the district pays its employees. You can bet your boots there's going to be some anger about unpopular educators who make more than the person doing the checking.

What's worse is the timing. Even though Louis has said time and again that this isn't about teacher salaries, the district is in the middle of negotiations with the union. I know how I'd take it if I were a negotiator working for the union.

I'm mystified by the perceived need for the salaries to be published in the first place. If this really is about openness, it's an unnecessary move, because the district's track record has been above reproach in my experience.

I've worked in this business for eight years, and I've never encountered a school district administration more open with the public than this one. When I asked Superintendent of Schools Paul Ortenzio for a copy of the salary list, I had a copy before I left the room. Other times I've called him on the phone with a half-hour's worth of questions about a board policy or action, and he's always been patient and forthcoming with an answer to whatever I've asked him. The same is true for other members of the administration I've dealt with. In terms of openness, there isn't much room for improvement.

Ironically, since the whole issue came up last month, a host of people, including Louis, have called me and begged me not to print the salary information in the newspaper.

It's not my decision, but to be honest, I'm not sure where they're coming from. If you start kicking stones down the mountainside, you shouldn't be surprised when it starts an avalanche.

And an avalanche is coming. It doesn't take a genius to see that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

God's politics

A friend of mine writes:

I agree that both parties are evil (to some extent) with some good people in them. But I believe God has a sense of priority, and ranks the death of innocent human beings in the millions over rich grinding poor (which has happened forever and ever and will continue till the end of time) or the destruction of the environment. A human is worth more than many sparrows, neh? And so I think He will allow the Dems to get their butts kicked until they get it together on this issue.


Alas, I believe he is laboring under a false supposition that these things exist in isolation of one another. History has shown that when left to itself, industry is not naturally inclined to clean up after itself, and will leave a mess of horrifying proportions in the earth and in the water, viz. Love Canal, the PE&G problems celebrated in "Erinn Brokovich," God only knows how many Superfund sites in New Jersey, and so on.

These aren't environmental issues that have little impact on humanity; they're environmental issues that have a direct impact on us and on our children. Serious birth defects -- including fatal ones -- can be linked quite often to what big business has done to the environment and then left alone.

The issue I have with the GOP on this score is that it's more willing to let big business off the hook environmentally and to relax the pollution standards than the Democratic Party. (Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto Accord, his decision to relax standards for arsenic in drinking water, to lessen emission and mileage standards for gas-burning vehicles, the willingness of his administration to pursue an energy policy relying on coal-burning plants, yada yada yada.)

And yes, the poor you will have always, but take a look sometime at the amount of Scripture devoted to addressing injustice, the oppression of aliens and strangers in our midst, the exploitation of the worker, and the cruelty of the oppressor who hoards wealth for self-indulgence. It's a vast amount of Scripture. It's hardly right to wash our hands of the biblical mandate to care for the needy just because they'll always be around.

As to what sins are the biggest affront to God ... well, I'm not going to dispute that abortion is one of the greatest horrors of modern America, and I'll say for the record that I am flat-out opposed to abortion in just about any circumstance. (The chief exception that comes to mind would be when the mother's life is in danger.) I've felt that way ever since I understood the issue.

Using a stand on abortion as a litmus test for political power, though, seems really absurd. That would suggest that God was asleep at the wheel when the Democrats had a majority hold on the COngress during the Reagan years, or that he was busy elsewhere when Clinton soundly beat the elder Bush at the polls. And perhaps he was confused in letting Christie Whitman be governor for eight years in New Jersey, when she's a pro-choice Republican. (Not to mention that Jim McGreevey, a pro-choice Democrat, is our current governor, and he beat out Brett Schundler, a pro-life Republican.)

I try to be careful about saying where God stands politically, because when you get down to it, he doesn't really take sides. That would make him subordinate to an ideology. The best we can hope for is that we're on his side, which is something I don't think either party can really make a reasonable claim to be.

At best, the parties can claim that God has raised them up for some purpose, much as he raised up the Chaldeans, Assyrians, ROmans or any other empire in the past. And then he cast them aside and judged them when he was through.

May God show us mercy when it comes time for that.

Friday, June 11, 2004

toxic zeitgeist

Something to consider as we head toward the presidential election:

Barring some kind of paradigm-changing, cataclysmic event, [pollster John] Zogby sees the election and its outcome in almost apocalyptic terms.

"Welcome to the Armageddon election," Zogby says. "I've never seen anything like it. We're partisan and polarized and in two warring camps."

Zogby likened this year's election to the watershed election of 1800, which saw President John Adams lose to his vice president, Thomas Jefferson. That election was so divisive - Adams was demonized as a "royalist," while Jefferson was reviled as "an atheist and a whoremaster" - that Americans would call the presidency of James Madison, who succeeded Jefferson, the "Era of Good Feelings."

Today, after years of growing polarization, the next president - whether Bush or Kerry - will face another historic opportunity to reach out to the other side and attempt to begin a period of healing, if not "good feelings." But at this point it is difficult to see the losing side accepting such an olive branch.

But at some point we must find accommodation as a nation - even unity. I am as certain of this one thing as John Zogby is of the outcome of the election.

If we remain divided, we will fall. And hard.

Read the entire article


This divide has been bothering me for years.

I suspect that much of the current political zeitgeist is due to Bush's narrow win in Florida in 2000; much else of it has to do with the attempt to impeach Clinton in his second term. Many liberals still dispute the legitimacy of Bush's victory and resent the SUpreme Court for stepping in and ruling in such a way that Bush was able to take Florida, just as many conservatives still revile Clinton for his peccadilloes.

I'm not convinced yet that Kerry can claim the election -- so far, he has been unable to get a message across or even to appear as charismatic -- but the growing sentiment against Bush may be all that he needs to win.

We'll have to see what happens, but I do hope that the talking heads in both the GOP and the Democratic Party will be able to treat one another with at least the modicum of respect that's due them as human beings. I don't recall much nastiness in the Reagan races.

Actually, I like the way Reagan deflected what could have been some nasty and personal mudslinging, like when Mondale's camp tried to make an issue of his age. It was during a debate; one of the panelists asked Reagan if age should be considered an issue. He responded with aplomb, "I see no reason my opponent's youth and inexperience should be held against him."

My memory surely is enflowercated -- neat word, huh? -- by how young I was at the time, but I don't recall anything in the Reagan campaigns like the loathesome and racist Willie Horton ads Atwater's team threw against Dukakis, or the negative tone of George H.W. Bush's re-election campaign.

In any event, my point still remains -- and it's one I don't doubt others will agree with -- the negative, personal and extremist language of the pols has to stop. It's divisive, it leaves voters out feeling disenfranchised, discourages meaningful participation in a democracy ... and it's probably going to be even worse this year since neither major candidate is particularly inspiring to the general public, however they may appeal to the core costituents of their own parties.

Hopefully Kerry and Bush and their campaign managers will take high road this time around, instead of the win-at-all-costs road, and we'll be able to survive this election with our wits and nation intact.

And while I'm at it, I'd like a pony ...

your bias is showing

A couple weeks ago, the supervisor of Public Works in Quakertown died unexecptedly. To replace him, the mayor tapped his father. It's an appointed position that pays about $8,000 and no one really disputes that his father is qualified for the post.

But you know the media. We have to a big deal out of everything, and so we ran an editorial criticizing the impending appointment as inappropriate because a family appointment like that -- not even the mayor's in-law, but his father for crying out loud -- at the very least has the appearance of nepotism.

The mayor called me up and reamed me out for about half an hour. It's okay; that's an occupational hazard.

In the latest development, I found out today that the buzz around town is that the Quakertown Democratic Party has bought me off. (The Eagle generally has been regarded as the Republican paper for years.)

Hee hee hee. I find the notion of being in the pocket of a political party to be a thoroughly amusing one, and will be insufferably pleased with myself for at least a week. As I told the Democratic chairwoman, as long as both parties hate me, I can feel good about myself.

(As a side note, I wish that I would get something while I'm in all these pockets, but I don't seem to be having much luck.)

The irony is that I'd say if anyone has grounds to accuse me of brias, it's the Democratic Party. The GOP usually gets more coverage in The Eagle because Quakertown is a Republican community, and the GOP holds all the elected positions in the township (and most of the school board). It's a given that whoever in power is going to get more favorable press, quantitywise, by virtue of being the party in power doing things.

I'm short on righteous indignation anyway. I find it more amusing than insulting to be accused of stuff that's so far outside my character. It's like when a parent in my second year of teaching accused me of giving his son bad grades because he's black, or when I was accused by someone in Hillsborough of being racist. All I can do is laugh because it's such an absurd notion.

And laughter usually does more to deflate critics than anger would, anyway.

triumphs and setbacks

I'm torn between the feeling of tremendous accomplishment and tremendous disappointment this year where the yard and the garden are concerned.

I'm pretty sure I've stated on the forum before that I'm committed to the organic philosophy where my garden and yard are concerned. In short: no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Everything is done the way God designed nature to do it itself.

First is the good news that makes me feel like I've accomplished something. We've come a long way. The guy who owned this house before me didn't share the organic philosophy. He sprayed weedkiller and pesticides everywhere, and bombed the yard with Miracle Gro and other chemical fertilizers. When we moved in, there was a token layer of top soil, the earth was compacted and painful to walk on in your bare feet, and there was virtually no grass. There were entire chunks of the yard where literally nothing was growing, and when I dug the ground with a shovel, I never found a single earthworm. (You kind of need them for healthy soil.)

Today, through the efforts of reseeding the lawn piece by piece and fertilizing with compost (plus some Milorganite, an organic fertilizer produced by the city of Milwaukee from its sewage), we have a lustrous green lawn in the back yard. You can walk on it and treat your toes to a trip across a spongy green carpet. There are flowers blooming everywhere, and some of the parts of the yard that never supported anything are bursting with life. (The back quarter of our yard is an area I haven't planted anything in at all. I'm giving it a sabbath rest and letting it regenerate on its own. All I do is pull up maple seedlings since I don't want it turning into woods.)

Every time I dig into the earth with a shovel, I find earthworms. They're everywhere again. We had a flea problem last year that I eradicated with beneficial nematodes, an organism that also kills lawn grubs and termite colonies without harming people, pets or the lawn. I actually want to get some more of them to make sure the termites we had in the back corner of our yard really are all gone.

Plus I see lots of ladybugs. Ladybugs, to the uninitiated, are one of the nicest insects God ever created. They eat other insects that we consider pests, such as aphids and ants. A garden with ladybugs is a garden that has a happy gardener.

Best of all, my daughters enjoy gardening with me. Now 4½ years old, Eowyn helped me plant sunflowers, corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, morning glories and ornamental maize this spring before she got bored and went inside. She also has helped me turn the soil, stir the compost and dig holes where I don't want them. Ruth, being only 19 months old, has not been quite as big a help, but she's enjoyed digging holes, planting some sunflowers in the wrong spot, and pretending the turn the earth with the spade fork.

Overall, it's a good situation, and I couldn't be happier.

Except for one thing: There's a good chance our soil has some hazardous contaminants, including lead. A gardener down the street had his soil tested and found that it is so contaminated it is unsafe for children to play in, let alone to grow food in.

Things were looking so up, and now potentially to have some idiot rob us of some of the triumphs of gardening is just ... well, it really stinks.

We were fortunate in that we were able to rent a garden plot not far from the house for only $10 a year, and in time to plant some vegetables. The plot's even bigger than what I was able to squeeze out of our yard, but it's not as convenient as going out into the yard to pick lettuce, tomatoes or beans right before a meal. It's also a site that has never been farmed before, so the soil has less organic material than the garden I've been using for the last four years -- and therefore will not grow the food as effortlessly as I was hoping to get this year.

I'm sure that eventually life will clean our yard of any impurities and make it safe to grow food in -- if in fact it is contaminated, which we haven't established for certain yet -- but that probably won't be in my lifetime. Certainly not while we own the house.

too much public information

As you probably know, I work for a community newspaper. This differs from a larger metro daily or other major daily newspaper in that our focus is limited to one community. Quakertown is about five square miles, and anything that happens beyond those borders is of no interest to us unless it impacts directly on the township in some way.

As a result, the stuff that we report on matters to the community, and our readers can get quite passionate about the paper since it's "theirs." A good community paper shapes not only terms of the debate but the debate itself. Done right, the paper reflects the character of the community and defines the community. What we write about and don't write about is a big deal.

Last month, Tim Louis, one of the new members on the board of education, decided to go beyond his rhetoric about how he wants to make the school board have "open communications" and to turn the schools into "blue ribbon schools." He decided it would be a good idea to publish the salaries of the every school district employee in the agenda to the school board's June business meeting.

Now these salaries are public information, at least in Iowa. Under an executive order by former Gov. Brendan Byrne, incorporated into the state's 2002 Open Public Records Act, select personnel information of public employees must be released upon request -- including salaries, W-4s, contracts and in some cases (if not all) their resumes as well.

Personally, I think Louis is crazy for wanting to do this. The information is public -- but that doesn't mean the school board needs to rent a billboard to advertise it. Salaries are personal information, and even though teachers sign off on that privacy when they sign a contract with a public school, there still is an aura of confidentiality around this information that should be respected. The district should release it when asked to, but I don't feel they should be actively distributing it.

The part that really bites is one of the owners of the newspaper wants us to beat the district to the punch. Yes, that's right -- we're about to publish this information in the newspaper with our next edition. I've already received calls from four different people alarmed over rumors that I've requested the salary information and received it. (Both rumors are true.)

I don't see a need for us to print the information either. There's useful data I can glean from the salary information -- median salaries, how the district compares to neighboring districts and statewide -- but I don't see a need for us to print all 200-some salaries, which include the details for everyone from the superintendent down to the maintenance workers and secretaries.

But printing all of it? That's just crazy. We're going to be stirring the pot tremendously with this one. Students and parents alike are going to compare the salaries of good teachers and bad, they're going to compare what district employees make to what residents in the community make, and I don't doubt this is going to be a major point of contention with the teacher's union. Did I mention the district is in the middle of negotiations with the union?

The amusing part to this is that Louis is one of the people who called me, begging me not to print the salary information in the paper. What did he expect? This never would have occurred to the owner if Louis hadn't suggested it in the first place. He kicked the first stone down the hillside, and now he's aghast that there's going to be an avalanche. What's that Jesus said about counting the cost before you start building a tower?

So anyway, here I am entering all the information into an Excel spreadsheet so we can print it on Page Three of the paper next week, with an accompanying story to give it some context. I was talking with the superintendent about it when he gave me the list and I said, "They're going to kill me when this hits the paper." He sympathizes -- he knows I'm not the one driving this -- but he agrees with me. This has been done before, and he's never seen it work out pleasantly either.

The double irony to this is that today I wrote the first draft of an editorial explaining why it's so important that we publish these salaries in the newspaper. (The editorial will be reviewed and probably altered somewhat by the higher-ups on the editorial board.) Tomorrow, I'm writing a column saying what a stupid idea I think the whole thing is. The two will run side by side.

What happens in Quakertown isn't generally of interest outside its borders -- but the issue of Public Right to Know vs. Public Need to Know is something that should be of interest to anyone involved in the news business, including people whose only involvement is to read them.

Usually as journalists we equate the two, or even insist that the public right to know information can supercede classifications that ordinarily would place it outside the domain of "right to know." The most obvious example of that would be the Pentagon Papers published by the Washington Post under Katharine Graham.

My feeling is that sometimes the public need to know isn't there, and that we can do more harm than we do good in publishing the information. And unlike the salaries of teachers in the Quakertown School District, that is an issue of national relevance, at least in the news business.

delaware water gap

We went camping in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., for Memorial Day weekend with family. Had a great time too, despite the difficulty of sleeping on rock-hard ground in temperatures that were dipping into the 40s at night.

Saturday night in fact I awoke at 1:30 a.m. and ended up sitting by the fire the rest of the night with my older brother Herb, who also had woken up and was unable to get back to sleep. Nice bonding time between us, which is nice, since the two of us normally don't get much time together and have fairly different views on life. (He got a real kick out of it when he made us fried eggs and I got yolk in my hair.)

One of the highlights of the trip occurred Saturday afternoon. Herb, who is an avid fisherman, had brought about four or five fishing rods for himself, his two children and the other kids to take down to the pond and have a go at fishing with.

Herb spent a while getting the rods prepped, cast them out into the water and then let the kids have a go "fishing with them." Not surprisingly, within about 10 minutes, all the kids had lost interest and went off exploring with one relative or another, or were just finding other ways to entertain themselves.

All the kids except one.

Yes, Rachel had decided it was a lot of fun to pick up one of the fishing poles and move it back and forth gently. About 20 minutes into the trip, something started pulling on her line. Herb grabbed the pole and brought it in, and wouldn't you know, Rachel -- 1½-year-old Rachel -- had caught a bluegill. None of the other kids caught anything, even though their interest was suddenly renewed a thousandfold.

Incredible, isn't it? Here I am, 33, and my 19-month-old daughter has caught more fish than me.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

scumbag, i never knew you

I just discovered that "scumbag" is a slang word for a used condom. I had no idea.

It makes sense, though, once you're aware of it. I mean, it never occurred to me, but it seems kind of obvious.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

le petite francaise

My daughter not only in teaching herself to read and write, she is now teaching herself French.

Several months ago, I was playing games with her and changed the langauge options on one of her favorite Disney films. She found that fascinating, and started asking me how to say one thing or another in French. (I had to substitute Creole, since I don't parlez Francaise myself.)

Wouldn't you know that for the past two days, she's asked me to play "Beauty in the Beast" in French for her? She even calls it "La Belle et Le Bete," and I swear I heard her singing along with some of the songs -- in French.

Mon Dieu! Elle est une prodigie, ne c'est pas?