May 31, 2008

Lessons in Democracy

The long and dramatic history of Nepal's monarchy has drawn to a close. The recent events in that country are a spectacular example not only of democracy, but of common sense.

And what a relief, after so much power struggling between the monarchy and the government, the movement for establishment of a socialist republic by the Communist Party of Nepal, and a 10-year-long civil war.

King Gyanendra (who came to the throne after a tragic palace massacre that might have been conceived by Wagner were it not so horribly true), attempted to crush the Maoist movement by assuming full power and imposing martial law.

This, however, only stirred up public pro-democracy sentiment. A series of strikes, boycotts, and protests in 2006 led to the re-instatement of Nepal's Parliament, which appointed Girija Prasad Koirala prime minister, a post he still holds.

Then the democratic ball really got rolling. The power of the king was cut by parliament in 2006, and the bill to declare the country a federal republic was ratified this week by the Constituent Assembly.

Gyanendra is king no more; his palaces will become museums. Unlike some world leaders, past and present, Gyanendra so far seems to be handling the matter with equanimity.

Nearby, in Bhutan, an even more remarkable shift toward democracy is occurring: This one instigated by the king himself. For the last decade, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck has been transferring power to a council of cabinet ministers. In 2006, he stepped down, allowing his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, to take the throne, now largely a ceremonial station. Earlier this year, Jigme the younger encouraged his people vote for a parliament that will further limit the authority of the monarchy.

It seems to me that Jigme the Elder and Gyanendra ought to make a visit to Zimbabwe, and give Robert Mugabe some schooling in democratic principles and the power of graceful acquiescence.

May 26, 2008

In memoriam

What could I possibly say about Memorial Day that hasn't already been said better by someone else?

Others have already pointed out how grateful we must be to those who died in the service of their country.

Others have already said that one's position on the present war (or, indeed, any other) should not preclude one from honoring the fallen.

Others have already written about the shamefulness that a day set aside for mourning has become just another excuse for picnics and white sales.

So what I can offer you, on this day that's supposed to be solemn but rarely is?

Only this:

In addition to information about the history of the holiday, this site offers a call to action: Move the holiday back to its traditional day of May 30.

Sen. Daniel Inouye has introduced a bill to this effect in every Congress since 1989. Of course, he meets with opposition—or at best apathy—because people are unwilling to give up their three-day weekends.

"Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic."
General Orders No.11, May 5, 1868, by order of Gen. John A. Logan, Headquarters, Grand Army Of The Republic.

May 16, 2008

From Russia With Loathe

If you thought Nigerian fee-fraud scammers were brazen, get this:

"Someone you call a friend wants you Dead by all means, and the person have spent a lot of money on this … As someone has paid us to kill you. Get back to me now if you are ready to pay some fees to spare your life, $30,000 is all you need to spend …"

This one comes not from Nigeria but, apparently, Russia. Some samples of the text's variants are on the wonderful Scam-o-Rama, and a more detailed report is at

The About article includes this note:

"The FBI encourages recipients of the scam message to file a report online at the Internet Crime Complaint Center."

Of course, you should never reply to such scams.

But if you do, you can catalog your adventures in that dangerous realm at The Scam Baiter.

May 15, 2008

All over but the shouting

A big thank you to Orange County School Board members Joie W Cadle, Anne Geiger, Kathleen "Kat" Gordon, and Daryl Flynn, who voted for moving high school start times later. To those who didn't, and to those parents who have already started the campaign to rescind this vote, I have to say: This was the right decision. Deal with it.

That, as previously noted, teenagers do better in school when they don't have to awaken at five o'clock in the morning is actually secondary.

The primary concern here is that the district has to trim $70 million dollars out of its budget. Ideally, that money should come from places other than classrooms and libraries.

That administrators figured out how to save $2.3 million in this budget year alone (and more in years to come) just by changing the bus schedule is a brilliant piece of accounting, and they ought to be praised for it, not criticized.

If anyone is really fired up about maintaining the status quo, I suggest they figure out where the district can get $70 million—or even a measly $2.3 million—when the citizens of this state keep voting themselves property tax cuts.

Psst…Floridians…yeah, I'm talking to you…schools are funded by property taxes. But you knew that. Didn't you?

May 12, 2008

Don't ask

Today — and not for the first time — a businessperson asked something like, "If I buy an ad, will it guarantee my press release gets in the paper?"




Questions like this really get my blood boiling. Let me make two things perfectly clear: First, asking this question is an insult to the integrity of a newsperson.

Second, if the answer is yes, you are dealing with a news organization that has no integrity.

With this second point, you understand, I acknowledge that not all news organizations have the same ethical standards. But what rankles—as it does with any group—is when all are painted with the same brush.

To imply that all newspeople lack integrity is precisely as prejudiced as to imply that all women are bad drivers or all men are too stubborn to ask for directions or … well, pick your subgroup and the stereotypical insult most commonly hurled at it.

I would say "all generalizations are wrong," but you see the inherent problem …

May 9, 2008

It's about time... more ways than one.

Superintendent Ronald Blocker of Orange County Public Schools is recommending that the district swap the start times of middle schools (which currently start at 9:30 a.m.) with high schools (which currently start at 7:20 a.m.)

And, you might well ask, why don't all the schools start at the same time?

Because that would require more buses. As it is now, the same bus that takes the elementary students to school turns around and then makes a second trip to gather the middle schoolers and take them to school.

Mind you, some teachers and parents have spent years clamoring for a later high school start time. Multiple studies have shown that teenagers do not perform well in the mornings. They need more sleep than younger children, and on a different cycle.

Of course, such a change couldn't be made only because it would be good for students.

No, it took $124 a barrel oil and a massive state budget cut for the district to consider a change.

And what a sensible change it is, too. Here's a quote from the district's report on the subject:

"The current schedule prohibits a significant number of buses from making three trips each morning and afternoon. Some only make two trips. Why? Because high school zones are so big they cannot complete their routes and be at bus stops in time to pick up elementary students. The flip allows all buses to run three trips."

The district's full report is available here.

So because the buses will be used more efficiently, the district can cover the same ground with fewer vehicles, saving several million dollars a year.

There are those who have concerns about after-school athletics and jobs. But the No. 1 objective of the school district is to educate students. Therefore a move that will improve classroom performance and save money must be given priority over extracurricular activities. Anything else would be both fiscally and educationally irresponsible.

I realize not all parents in the district will agree with me. Regardless of your opinion, please share it with your school board member. The board will vote on this matter May 13. Board members, with links to their e-mail addresses, are listed here.

May 1, 2008

Please join the rest of us in the 21st century

About a year and a half ago, at my day job, I railed against companies that snail-mail press releases.

Don't waste money mailing dead trees

The amount of dead-tree matter landing in my inbox has diminished significantly, yet I still received the occasional paper press release.

Most PR professionals understand that media outlets want e-mail, not bits of paper, to work with. But many companies don't hire PR professionals; they ask a secretary or some other person who doesn't understand the media to send out a press release.

I often get phone calls from these folks, because they don't know what a press release is, exactly, or what it should contain. The ones who call are a step ahead of the ones who don't, because they at least learn the e-mail lesson.

The ones who don't send me a piece of paper that winds up in a file that's not part of my e-queue, and so halve their chances of exposure.

So here's a shout-out to all you non-PR-professionals who get yanked into PR duty because there's no one else at your company to do it: E-mail. Plain text. Really.