This one’s on me.

Little gets my grammar snobbery mojo going like a misplaced apostrophe. I even started a Facebook page dedicated to apostrabuse. It went nowhere, but you get my point.

On Saturday I was working and was asked if we could post video showing a guy walking into Gyros, Etc. and taking the restaurant’s tip jar. We did it, but in the process of putting the thing up I put in an apostrophe in the title in a place it should never go. The proof is above. I blame myself. As penance, I’m posting the video here, too, along with a link to the story. If you know the guy, call Bremerton Police.

Busting through Asperger’s limits

Before doing this story on a student at North Kitsap High School, I had met parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Diana and I watched Parenthood for a while and I had met children who had been diagnosed with some form of autism. I’m not sure, though, that I had ever carried on a conversation with someone who actually had Asperger’s.

I’m glad that every once in a while we get to do a story on someone who is breaking through limitations. It’s not that there are not still some, but there is every reason to believe Justin can have a completely satisfying life.

The political race of the year in Washington

Washington (the state) will have three legislative races this November. Two of them will be in districts that could very well have a Republican running against Republican in the final race. Not here.

The 26th Legislative District Senate race here will likely have in November the appointed incumbent Democrat, who performed reasonably well in Olympia this last session, running against a Republican who has run in five different campaigns and won every one. Two of them were for county commissioner. The last three put her in the state House of Representatives.

Democrats have a three-seat majority in the state Senate, but two Democrats bolted (without changing party affiliation) to create a one-seat majority, so the political split in that chamber is close. A loss by the Democrats of that one seat would still leave more Democrats than Republicans in the chamber, but Republicans would have a bigger de facto majority.

The bottom line is this is an important race here, and it’s the only one either party has to focus on.

I started our coverage by doing a story looking at the success rate of appointed incumbents and looking specifically at where they have failed. I’m kind of proud of this story, because it took significant research and work with a spreadsheet to find recent political history from which to draw parallels. It makes me excited to dive into this race even further as time marches to November.

Bad lighting, but a sweet homecoming.

The story is pretty cool, but this might be the worst video I’ve ever done. Really it was only about the lighting. Had the lights been up that shot of Ali Templeton leaping to her father would have been money.

It’s a story about another surprise military homecoming. Since 2002, probably, we’ve seen these early reunions a million times. I acknowledge as much in the story. And it doesn’t seem to get old for the ones involved.

“Children clutched their arms around the shoulders and necks of their dads, showing what eight months apart looks like when it’s over.”

To those who never made it home

I’ve been struggling today to come up with or find a single phrase or sentiment that would adequately express my thoughts about Memorial Day this year. Many of my friends did quite well with that. It has worked for me in the past. This year nothing was singing for me. So at the risk of being labeled an ingrate, I remained silent.

Then a friend, someone who served in the military, wrote about how this day is to honor not all veterans, but those who never made it home.

And then I saw a clip from an HBO drama in which a (fake) news guy tells a college assembly this isn’t the greatest country on Earth. My thought was, “Shame on me if he’s right.” The show seems unrealistic to me, because after dropping an F-bomb to that college audience and asserting we’re not No. 1, he keeps his job. In the real America he’d be handed his exit papers moments after he was coerced into making an apology.

That clip, coupled with my friend’s take, took me to my real thoughts about Memorial Day, and the best ways I can express thanks to those who never made it home.

For one, I can be grateful I never had to join the military to be in public service. This country hasn’t drafted people in 40 years. I live in a military community and I’ve met many people who seem wired for that kind of work, but there are others who are in there because one day they looked around and saw no better option to get them out of the lives they to which they felt otherwise destined. I had other options and I took them. I bought things on credit when it probably wasn’t wise and I took jobs I knew I wasn’t suited for. I learned from those mistakes and major part I owe some of that learning to those who never came home.

Second, I will resist jingoistic nationalism that declares, “We’re No. 1!” as if that declaration alone makes it so. I wave a flag today in gratitude, not to shove it in the face of people who can see my yard from Canada. Other nations have taken up the same cause of liberty, probably through our nation’s example, and have created free nations as well. Some, perish the thought, may be doing freedom better than we are. But they should remind us that our status as a great country takes work, and sacrifice, a concern for the rights of the individual and for the rights of the whole.

Third, as a citizen I will not assume that everyone who works for the government is some shiftless, lazy bureaucrat with little or no job skills. At the same time, I will demand that those government workers take care with the tax money I and other Americans provide to do what we ask. That includes the military.

Fourth, I can stop resenting those who want the same things I have. Whether they live in foreign nations or emigrate to mine, their commitment to this ideal makes the world better. Freedom isn’t really freedom if it’s limited to those who are born with it.

Fifth, I will vote in November. And during the process I will set aside the lies and the labels and pick someone for president who I believe is best able to handle that responsibility. The same goes for Congress, my state and my county. I will dismiss all commercial sound bites and shouting points and instead study for myself the resumes and the records of the candidates. People can outspend me in an effort to sway my vote, but my vote is my responsibility.

Sixth, I will take days like today and grill burgers on the barbecue and picnic with my family. I’ll watch baseball and dispute the umpire. I’ll complain about what’s not on Netflix. You died to give me that right, too.

Finally, just because I probably won’t end up dying for my country does not mean I cannot still lay down my life for it. I can work every day to make this country worthy of that ultimate sacrifice so many gave. I can be skeptical without being cynical. I can question my own ideas of what’s right for this country and make different choices if I need to do. I have the freedom to be wrong about things and to change my mind.

To those who didn’t make it home, I’m working hard to be worthy of your sacrifice. I’m trying to raise children who will one day make huge mistakes and have big successes, and to through it all be grateful for that chance. I know I can probably never repay you for what you did, but thanks to you I have that freedom, too.

Volver a Lota, Chile

For years I’ve been dreaming of a way to return to Chile, where I was serving as a missionary 30 years ago.

At this time in the experience I was in Lota, a coal mining town along the coast. It was the place I started in Chile, where I experienced a major case of culture shock. It took me about a month to be completely OK with where I was.

Thirty years ago today I was four months into my stay in Lota and had another two months to go before getting transferred. The bigger news, though, came in April 1982, when I would find out that my mission had been shortened from two years to 18 months, news I didn’t exactly dislike. I loved being in Chile, but the idea that I could come home sooner through no fault of my own appealed to me as well.

I am making plans to return. The details of how I will get there I will reveal within a few months. I have a project in the works, one that will take me not only to Lota, but to Talca, Talcahuano and Arauco, other cities I called home for a few months.

The following video is from Lota. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s somewhat sad to me that it doesn’t look that much different. That is pretty much why I’m going back.

Job Wanted: American Economic Overseer

I have no real economics training. I haven’t handled my own personal budgets very well. In the past I was a flake about paying my bills. I’m less of one now, significantly, but old habits die hard. I borrow more than I should. I don’t save enough and I haven’t done what it takes to make what I want.

All that said, I think I would be the perfect guy to fix the American economy. If anyone’s hiring for that job, consider me an applicant.

Having already outlined some of my negatives, allow me to suggest some of the positives and my ideas.

First off, I won’t ask for an exorbitant salary. I want $75,000 annually, adjusted for inflation and for where I live. It was easy for me to arrive at that salary. I just want to be happy. Generally, I am quite content and grateful for my life. But I make less than the $75,000 I am requesting, and sometimes I feel the financial stress that would lead me to do outrageous things like moving to Phoenix. I mean, who does that willingly? I jest. Some like it hot, and it’s not just the low home prices that make Arizona attractive. But I digress.

The $75,000 figure comes from a blog piece on a site called “You are Not so Smart” (Oh, yes I am and I will remind you to shut up.) I read called “The Overjustification Effect” in which the writers wax on about how getting paid for what I love has a down side. It also refers to research done by Princeton professors Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman on the emotional value of money and how much it takes to be happy. It’s $75,000. You need that much to buy what you need and to get things you may not need but would like to have. The big thing the authors point out is that making more than $75,000 doesn’t make you happier. I know at least one of my friends makes way, way more than $75,000 a year and really wants it to stay that way. I wish him well. I wouldn’t turn down more than $75k, but let’s agree to start there.

Second: I don’t hate my fellow Americans, but I don’t trust all of them. I think there is a lot wrong that is largely the result of people only looking after their own self interests, but we’re basically a good people. I don’t hate health-care reform, tort reform, the Tea Party or the Occupy movement. I generally don’t hate politicians, or those who have purchased them. Some may be really bad people, but I live with the hope that most are at least trying to do the right things. I do think our current economic situation is more the fault of people who make an insane amount of money creating stupid bets on Wall Street, but I also think we are all accountable for ourselves and the state of the nation. That I borrow too much not only puts me at risk, in another sense it undermines our national economic security. I think I should be free to make some mistakes, but not so free to ruin it for everyone else. I think regulation is a good thing, generally, and would push for real reform, whatever that is. Have you seen any yet?

Third: I wouldn’t be beholden to anyone, not even the person signing my paycheck. I know that if I were to get fired, just having this position would get me a book deal later that would more than make up for my lost income. Therefore, I win either way, unless what I suggest makes the economy lose. In that case, I would quit, then write a book blaming everyone else.

Fourth: My first act would be to remove all the financial incentives politicians have to resist change or foster change that benefits themselves and their friends. Well, in fact, I couldn’t do any of this on my own. I would have to influence the politicians to do it themselves. I would use the bully pulpit: television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and every next media phenomenon that arises.

Fifth: My next act would be to work on Wall Street rules and entitlements. We can probably get that finished in about 70 years.

That’s a start. Any employer interested in discussing this with me further can contact me at steven@thenarrativearts.com.

Struck by the News

Eight years ago when the Sept. 11 attacks happened it was news that consumed our work as reporters for that week and beyond. Even a couple of weeks later a fellow reporter wondered aloud when he would write the first story that wouldn’t include at least one sentence saying something akin to “since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

For obvious reasons the Haiti earthquake, while devastating and still generating news, didn’t dominate our hearts the way the attacks did. For me professionally it had the most minor of impacts. I happened to be on my regular cops duty the day after the quake, which meant being responsible for any late news coming in. Another reporter had written about Molly Hightower, a 22-year-old former resident of the area whose parents still lived in town. Molly was in Haiti for a year working with disabled orphans.

Molly’s parents were available to the media, following the sage advice that the best way to keep someone concerned about your family member is to keep talking about it. For me I just shared a few e-mails with Molly’s dad Mike. Because I was in the loop that one night, during which I did not have anything to add to the existing story, I continued to receive the media e-mails the Hightowers sent. I was touched by their gratitude. Often it is true, and perhaps with good reason, that families in this kind of situation resent our intrusion. I sent a note right before deadline Wednesday night. “Any news?” Mike Hightower responded that there wasn’t. It wasn’t surprising. They weren’t expecting to hear anything at least until the next day.

On Thursday there were a couple of e-mails saying who would be speaking for the family. Then there was a link to a news story that gave room for some hope that Molly would be found alive.

When I read the e-mails Friday morning, there was this:

“We received the call we did not want, Molly’s body has been recovered.
Thank you for the prayers you all offered and the respect you have shown my family.”

I never knew Molly and only knew her father through the e-mails. Still, the news hurt. Another co-worker, Chris Henry, had written about Molly on the South Kitsap blog and I think accurately described her.

“I did not find a saint. Just an upbeat 22-year-old with a taste for Starbuck’s and Taco Bell, a love of children and a deep well of compassion.”

Over the hours that I had anything to do with this story, I found a video Molly made showing off the kids she was working with. If I were to answer why the news hurt like it did, I’d say, “The video got my hopes up.”


Taking a Bold Stance Against Hitler

Does this picture mean I shouldn’t embrace children anymore?

After Thanksgiving dinner in 1990 I boarded plane to Denver to work a weekend conference of a company whose employ I’ve long regretted. The incident I recall isn’t one of those that I would put in a list of reasons why the company failed, but maybe I should.

The company sent people tickets to a business seminar and promised a free gift of accounting software and some basic business and motivational books. I had been with the company a year and obviously had never read the books, because when a guest at one of the events pointed out a quote, I had to admit I’d never seen it. I don’t remember the quote, but I do remember the author — Adolf Hitler.

Most people would agree that an American motivational book should not include a quote by Hitler, no matter how true it might be. What I do recall about the comment was had it been said by someone else who wasn’t one of history’s greatest murderers, it would have fit just fine.

Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that anti-health-care reform protesters had swastikas on their signs. While she has been denounced as a liar by some, I thought I had seen pictures of it and in looking around the Web tonight, I verified that I had.

On one level, though, so what? Liberals did it to Bush, too. You can’t judge all health care opponents for what a few crazies do.

What if they’re not crazy? The yellers on the left likened Bush to Hitler in reference to totalinarianism, which you might argue is valid. With Obama the yellers on the right might be referring to Germany’s socialism under the Nazis, which many argue is valid.

In a National Review column Andrew McCarthy argues that likening health care reform to the Nazis is appropriate, because the Nazis were socialists and that extended to health care. “The wisdom vel non of policies adopted during over a decade of Nazi socialism cannot be off the table simply because, in the end, the Nazis were monsters,” he wrote.

Well, actually, I disagree with McCarthy. For me it goes back to Godwin’s Law specifically and more generally the “slippery slope” argument we often hear. We won’t legalize something we might approve of because it could lead to us legalizing something we don’t. I hate that argument. You draw a line and you leave it there. In the 1970s we decided 18-year-olds should be able to vote. Have we since decided it should be OK for kids old enough to drive? We let 21-year-olds drink alcohol. We draw lines all the time. Sometimes we move them, but it’s not usually just because we moved them closer years before.

Besides, and this is where it gets dicey for me, it would be foolish to assume that even the most vile, evil, ungodly person in the world was capable of doing nothing good or worth emulating. I’m not saying we should emulate Hitler’s hospitals. But even an article on an Anti-Defamation League site points out that Nazi scientists may have been the first to discover that tobacco is bad for the body.

Here are things Hitler reportedly said. I can’t verify that he really said these things, but I saw it on a Web site, so it must be true. Tell me which ones you disagree with.

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”

“How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”

“The man who has no sense of history, is like a man who has no ears or eyes”

“The day of individual happiness has passed”

“I love you Mommy”

I have no proof he said the last one, but Hitler was close to his mother, so it’s not inconceivable that he did. And I think the first one was actually his propaganda guy, but Hitler surely embraced the idea even if he didn’t say the actual quote.

Regardless, my main point is that you don’t use Hitler to support your case or to dismiss someone else’s. Health writer Tinker Ready agrees.

Where McCarthy might have a point that sells is when he writes of “a trajectory of socialism,” but again I feel he’s relying on the slippery slope model:

“There is a trajectory of socialism, regardless of the good intentions of many socialists. As he framed it, you take things such as health care, things that are traditionally understood as within the ambit of individual liberty and free choice; you move such things into the ambit of state responsibility as the welfare state emerges and grows, on the theory that it is government’s responsibility to provide for everyone’s needs (by redistributing resources); as more things are moved from private to public control, the state by definition becomes totalitarian; and, inexorably, the totalitarian state gets bad leaders and the society comes to reflect the policy choices of those leaders.”

This suggests that elements of our government are not socialist already. When did government decide it was a good idea to take roads out of the ambit of individual liberty and into state responsibility? How about wars and parks? Dictators and capitalists have both employed slavery. Do we rid ourselves of both? Are all the countries that have adopted some form of socialized medical system on an inevitable path to having their own versions of Hitler?

In the same ADL article mentioned earlier, Penn State history of science professor Robert N. Proctor draws the line pointing where German science failed:

“There is nothing inherently evil about physicians working and cooperating with their government. The moral failure of the German medical profession was its willingness to collaborate with the Nazi state, its willingness to serve Nazi values. There is nothing wrong with physicians working to preserve the health of a larger community; that, after all, is the essence of responsible public health. What differentiated National Socialist public health from genuine public health in a reasonably civilized society was the exclusive nature of what the Nazis considered “the community.” Nazi values excluded Jews and others deemed racially or genetically unfit from the völkisch community. It bears repeating: Most German physicians in the Reich failed to challenge the rotten substance of Nazi values, the murderous directions of Nazi initiatives.”

Opponents and supporters of health care both have solid arguments to make for their cases. Maybe the public option will end up being a Trojan Horse for universal coverage. Maybe insurance companies are driving medical costs up. Maybe Medicare’s doing it. Those are all worth discussing. But as soon as you bring up “Nazi” or “Hitler,” you’ve lost me.