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Spring 2001, Volume 18.3

READING THE WEST

read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.

 

A Private Matter?map showing that California, oregon, nevada, oklahoma, texas, and kansas have passed laws banning workplace discrimination based on genetic testing.

Can an employer fire you because your parents had cancer or arthritis? The answer to that question depends on where you live. In 1991, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to ban "genetic testing and discrimination in the workplace."

The map at right shows the six western states that have passed similar laws prohibiting hiring, firing, and/or setting the terms, conditions or privileges of employment on the basis of genetic discrimination.

State's with Genetic Nondiscrimination Employment Laws are shown in black

SOURCE: National Conference of State Legislatures, 10/30/00, http://www.ncsl.org.

 

Colorado School Safety

With another outbreak of school shootings, almost everyone is ready to propose a solution to the problem. Earlier this year, the Boulder Valley School District considered purchase of $840,000 in new
security cameras for schools in the district. At that time, the Boulder County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado argued against the expenditure saying the problem may not be as bad as the proposed solutions:

Although the public seems convinced that schools are considerably less safe than they used to be, this view is hardly accurate. On the contrary, schools are just about the safest place a child can be in a community. Consider these facts:

Between 1993 and 1996, the overall school crime rate declined, a trend that continues. In 1993 there were approximately 164 school-related crimes for every 1,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18. That number dropped to 128 in 1996. In 1976, some 6% of seniors reported taking a weapon to school; that figure had not changed significantly in 1996. The National School Safety Center maintains that school-associated deaths have generally decreased since the 1992-1993 school year. During 1997-1998, there were 42 student deaths. In 1998-1999, before Columbine, there were nine. Since there are about 52 million students in America's schools, the odds of dying a violent death in school was one in two million. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 1993 and 1997, reports of physical fights by students declined 14%, reports of students being injured in fights declined 20%, the number of students who self-reported carrying a weapon in the past 30 days declined 30%, and there was a 25% decline in students who had carried a gun to school in the previous 30 days.

The US Department of Education's 1998 Annual Report on School Safety indicated that violent crime is but a small part of overall school crime. In 1996, over 60% of crimes against students at school were acts of theft. During 1996-1997, 10% of public schools around the country reported at least one act of violent crime, while 47% reported at least one act of "less serious" or nonviolent crime, and 43% did not report any crime at all. In its Report on State Implementation of the Gun-Free Schools Act (August 1999), the US Department of Education revealed a 31% drop in expulsions as a result of a student possessing a firearm.

It is worth noting that students are safer at school than they are in their own communities, in cars, and even in their own homes. For instance, teens in 1996 were three times more likely to be victims of non-fatal serious crimes away from school than within school. And of the 7,000 children murdered in the 1992-1993 academic year, fewer than 1% died in a school-related violent crime.

But although school-associated deaths have been decreasing, the 1998 Annual School Safety Report indicates that the number of multiple-victim homicide events at schools has started to rise, from two in the 1992-1993 school year, to six in the 1997-1998. The total number of victims in these incidents increased as well, from four to sixteen.

In summary, it appears that schools are at least as safe as they were twenty years ago. Most of the crime that occurs in schools is of a non-violent nature, such as theft and vandalism it is hardly a new development among school children, and certainly not one that justifies high-tech surveillance systems.

SOURCE: Boulder, Colorado ACLU, "Safety in the Schools: Are we on the Right Track?", http://www.aclu-co.org/news/letters/paper_boulderschools.htm

 

Thoughts on Wilderness

Western governors are asking Congress to allow development of federally-owned, Western energy reserves. President Bush has indicated he would consider oil drilling in wilderness preserves. So what is the efficacy of wilderness?

It is ironic that Western society, with its materialistic, technological preoccupation, its present economy that is clearly unsustainable through its dependence on massive worldwide exploitation of nonrenewable resources, and its dissociation from nature, has also been the source of political activism to provide protection for remaining areas of the world's wilderness. The wilderness preservation movement has its roots in America, fostered by the biocentric writings of John Muir and Aldo Leopold, and more recently supported by advocates of deep ecology (Devall and Sessions, 1985). The concept of humans as part of nature, which has remained an integral component of non-Western cultures, is viewed as a threat to the environment by many Western wilderness advocates (Guha,1989). The act of offering legal protection for wilderness that is far removed from our everyday lives provides salve for our conscience, perhaps in recognition that we have lacked the will to initiate the major governmental and economic
restructuring necessary if we are to move toward sustainability of Western society.

SOURCE: "Wilderness: A Western Concept Alien to Arctic Cultures" by David R. Klein Information North, Vol. 20, No. 3, September, 1994

 

Lettuce and OSHA?

A January, 2001, safety newsletter from the Western Growers Association warns its members to "Beware of Cal/OSHA Citations For Alleged Field Sanitation Violations":

Western Growers Association has learned that Cal/OSHA inspectors are assessing "serious" citations for alleged violations of field sanitation standards that result in "base" fines of $18,000.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has cited various agricultural employers for alleged failures to provide potable drinking water, toilet facilities, hand washing soap and/or water. Often these "violations" are the result of vandals or thieves stealing the sanitation facilities' soap, toilet paper or water. DOSH is claiming that there is a substantial probability that serious physical harm or death will occur as a result of the employer's failure to provide these items (example: infections of the skin, liver, urinary tract and other bodily organs, dehydration and heat stress).

Not long ago, these violations resulted in fines as low as $150 if it was simply found that such facilities were provided but the employer failed to maintain the facilities by regular and routine maintenance. Eventually, the fines were increased to $750. In recent months the base fines have been increased to $18,000, which are usually reduced, at best, to $6,500 after providing credits for a good safety record by the employer.

"DOSH has been taking this aggressive approach despite the DOSH policy which provides that serious violations shall not be assessed if reasonable diligence is evident or proven by the employer," said Don Dressler, president of Western Growers Insurance Services.

WGA and other agricultural organizations have formed a task force to determine the following:

1. The true nature and extent of such alleged violations in the agricultural industry; 2. The impact that such alleged violations and assessed penalties will have on the agricultural industry; and 3. Discussion of strategy and reasonable standards in dealing with this issue from an administrative, legislative and judicial standpoint.

WGA will keep its members apprized of further developments. In the meantime, attorneys from Western Growers Law Group recommend continuous and careful maintenance of all field sanitation facilities by all employers.

"Meticulous record keeping regarding maintenance of such facilities should be implemented to prove reasonable diligence by the employer," Dressler explained. "Such record keeping will be vital for the employer to prove reasonable diligence and thus refute any alleged `serious' violation."

SOURCE: Western Growers Association, http://www.wga.com/old_pages/sa01292001.html

 

Bardic Introductions

by Shaun Griffin

It is difficult to use one artistic medium to criticize another. American composer Ned Rorem pointed out the challenge this way: "Critics of words use words. Critics of music use words." Nevada poet Shawn Griffin accepts the challenge head-on in a book he is writing. Griffin's book will contain critical introductions to American poets. The following two "bardic introductions" are representative:

David Lee

What I know of Dave Lee is this: the whole of his landscape remains, writhing like some wild animal, pushing and tearing at the bounds of traditional verse. Faces chiseled from the tedium of farm life, the regimen of routine bitten from a history of not knowing. Not the Western poet, not the classics scholar, not even the man who has given voice to so many poets in this bloody Great Basin, but the quiet champion of dusted hog farmers and News from Down to the Café. I watched him whittle those words for us, watched him find their origins and sing them to audiences in Denver, Reno and Vegas, a not unholy triumvirate. And saw him love a daughter's grief to its end. All this in a land inhospitable to a poet sprung from the soil of Joseph Smith.

Porcine is a word now, a vested watch that some would say started with Dave. His admirers, and they are many, swear by the stencils of his craft: there, fresh from the graveyard, or out the back of a hog shoot, come the soft prints looking, imagined for a culture tipping to the East. A modest offering, these few words are not what they seem. Rather, they are tools to slip the hide that binds us to our dreary lives.

Our challenge as poets is to listen, to take what we know and make it our own. These are original books born of wildfire. I held his selected poems and wondered how many lives would listen to its offering: such stories as these do not come easily. They ramble and dance and poke fun at most of what we know. Of all things, while gravely serious about craft, Dave Lee does not take himself seriously. His poems have a remarkable absence of ego, a quality Hayden Carruth has rarely found in modern poetry.

A reader wants to be entertained and in some way find their experience authenticated. A poet shies from such heights. The body of work Dave Lee has created leaves little doubt: he has succeeded in stripping prose of its style and scoring page after page with poems that finally appeal to readers. This, through the marriage of craft and a constant attention to the verbal qualities of its characters. Poetry as aural art form, distilled from the melancholy twangs of the southwest.

So few of us are redeemed for aspiring to such places, but Dave Lee has repeatedly marked the art form with his imprint. In fact, I think he has given it an altogether different space and time in which to breathe. He restored a measure of integrity to the poem, a quality of veracity that is missing from much contemporary poetry.

Dave spends most of the year on the road, in classrooms, giving readings, and speaking as Utah's Poet Laureate. This, to recover the lost audience for poetry. His best poems are sacred because they embrace the human and transmit our fealty with utter joy. They make no apology and mean to live beyond the well fed and the worn down. Sam Hamill, his publisher and ardent, if feisty supporter for the past 25 years, has contributed to this stubborn insistence on a poem grounded in the personal. Like James Laughlin before him, he has pushed Dave to make art that is larger than what we know: to credit the past with creation that stills what we want from this life. It must be small consolation to Dave that he is now seen as belonging to a tradition, when to my mind, it is the tradition that belongs to him.

David Lee's poetry appears in Weber Studies Volumes 5.1 and 13.1.

Gailmarie Pahmeier

Conscripted to feeling, we poets are, conscripted to feeling on the page: the housewife's loyal boredom, the trucker's tawdry anthem, the blue lace that first slides a woman's back. These are the scissors she opens their lives with: Gailmarie Pahmeier—part map-maker, part she-devil craning from the cab outside of Austin.

I know of no other woman writing in English today who can squeeze Patsy Cline, a Triple-A curve ball, and Shreveport shrimp into the same line and do it with sass. The sensual quality of her poetry is something of a kindness in this day of abject feminism. Her men are weak but they are real, and her women, especially Emma, teeming with fallen taste, are the stuff of truck-stop legend. In their eyes I see the wretched hands of work and familial obligation turning each to the slow pasture of disregard.

What moves me most about her characters is their insistent, rattled humanity. They will die with grease under their nails, hair in curlers, and bones poking from ribs. Not one will make their peace with this world, save the only peace we all have: a moment in the arms of another.

Her first books' original title—What Emma Loves: Muscle, Wood, and Leather, may have scripted these poems. But she chose The House on Breakaheart Road because it tells a story: you can't drive this highway without sinking deep into the lives of these women strung like clothes on the line.

I can taste these poems as they go down my gullet. Her reading of them will leave you wanting more. She makes cayenne and bread dough steam in your mouth and I wince the whine of cowboys bawling from the radio. Her flavor—cherry-red—startles me into believing the resin of small things: a girl's waist, a father's hand, a blister on the blue folds of darkness.

We come to poetry for many things, but redemption after all else. These poems seethe and suck at the worry and wetness of our lives. They make us slow down and burn some when she teases the sulfur up our noses.

It's the dark hope that anchors them, the steady, almost religious faith in blue jeans, broken cars B-flat rhythms and baseball. Her poems are the rigid strata that ride the margins and they ask me: Who do you believe? when I read them.

Untamed, uncanny and quiet still. If they argue it is for passion. And the woman wedged between father and lover, she who finally comes to seed on the melancholy porch swing.

Perhaps most remarkably, the echoes of her predecessors—Lisel Mueller, James Whitehead and John Clellon Holmes—are absent from these poems. She has, thankfully, struck out from her home in long ago Fayetteville. Save the curmudgeonly Miller Williams, I cannot name her origins.

Ultimately these poems cup a sliver of fear in our small hands—the failed glance of a lover, the cheap shot in a dirt-lot game, the breath smoking from men to women—and we wish we had the guts to ride off into the split-seam horizon with her feckless character, Emma.

Gailmarie Pahmeier's poetry appears in Weber Studies Volume 18.0.

 

SAT I in the Balance

State and national leaders are demanding that public schools be made accountable—with educational success to be measured by student performance on standardized tests. Recently the president of the University of California has sounded a cautionary note about the use of standardized tests. On February 18, 2001, Richard C. Atkinson delivered a major address to the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., in which he made the following observations about the SAT I examination:

Recently, I asked the Academic Senate of the University of California (UC) to consider two major changes in our admissions policies. First, I recommended that the University require only standardized tests that assess mastery of specific subject areas rather than undefined notions of "aptitude" or "intelligence." To facilitate this change, I recommended that we no longer require the SAT I for students applying to UC. This recommendation has significant implications for the University of California since we are one of the principal users of the SAT.

Second, I recommended that all campuses move away from admission processes that use narrowly defined quantitative formulas and instead adopt procedures that look at applicants in a comprehensive, holistic way. While this recommendation is intended to provide a fairer basis on which to make admission decisions, it would also help ensure that standardized tests do not have an undue influence but rather are used to illuminate the student's total record.

In the short term, these proposals will not result in earth-shaking changes in determining which students are admitted and which are rejected. In the long term, however, they will help strengthen high school curricula and pedagogy, create a stronger connection between what students accomplish in high school and their likelihood of being admitted to UC, and focus student attention on mastery of subject matter rather than test preparation. These changes will help all students, especially low-income and minority students, determine their own educational destinies. And they will lead to greater public confidence in the fairness of the University of California's admissions process.

Further, these changes will complement K-12 reform efforts that have been launched in California and around the nation to establish clear curricular guidelines, set high academic standards, and employ standardized
tests to assess student achievement.

Let me describe how I came to make these recommendations. For many years, I have worried about the use of the SAT but last year my concerns coalesced. I visited an upscale private school and observed a class of 12-year-old students studying verbal analogies in anticipation of the SAT. I learned that they spend hours each month—directly and indirectly—preparing for the SAT, studying long lists of verbal analogies such as "untruthful is to mendaciousness" as "circumspect is to caution." The time involved was not aimed at developing the students' reading and writing abilities but rather their test-taking skills. What I saw was disturbing, and prompted me to spend time taking sample SAT tests and reviewing the literature. I concluded what many others have concluded—that America's overemphasis on the SAT is compromising our educational system.

Let me make clear that I continue to be a strong supporter of standardized tests. I have high regard for the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which produces the SAT. Its staff knows how to develop and evaluate tests, and has an excellent record of administering tests and ensuring security. My concern is not with the ability of ETS to develop and administer standardized tests, but with the appropriateness of the SAT in college admissions.

Developed properly and used responsibly, standardized tests can help students gauge their progress and help the general public assess the effectiveness of schools. The problem is not the use of standardized tests to assess knowledge in well-defined subject areas. The problem is tests that do not have a demonstrable relationship to the student's program of study—a problem that is amplified when the tests are assumed to measure innate ability.

Many students spend a great deal of time preparing for the SAT. But students are not the only ones affected. Nobody is spared—not teachers, not parents, not admissions officers, not university presidents.

Teachers, knowing that they will be judged by the scores their students make, are under pressure to teach to the test. College admissions officers are under pressure to increase the SAT scores of each entering class. They know that their president, faculty, and alumni pay attention to how SAT scores affect their standing in college rankings, like those published by U.S. News & World Report. The stakes are so high that nobody is surprised when the Wall Street Journal reports that some universities manipulate—and indeed falsify—SAT scores in an effort to attain a higher ranking.

Knowing how important the SAT is in the admissions game, some parents go to great lengths to help their children get high scores. The Los Angeles
Times reported that a growing number of affluent parents shop around for a psychologist willing to certify that their child is learning disabled so he or she can qualify for extra time on the SAT.

Many parents who can afford the fees enroll their children in SAT preparation courses. Last year alone, an estimated 150,000 students paid over $100 million for coaching provided by the Princeton Review, Stanley Kaplan, and the like. Given attempts of some individuals and institutions to gain any advantage, fair or foul, is it any wonder that leaders of minority communities perceive the SAT to be unfair? These concerns are often dismissed as sour grapes, as special "ethnic pleading." The response by defenders of the SAT is, "Don't shoot the messenger." They argue that the lower performance of Blacks and Hispanics reflects the fact that Blacks and Hispanics tend to be clustered in poor schools, offering outdated curricula taught by ill-prepared teachers.

Minority perceptions about fairness cannot be so easily dismissed. Of course, minorities are concerned about the fact that, on average, their children score lower than white and Asian American students. The real basis of their concern, however, is that they have no way of knowing what the SAT measures and, therefore, have no basis for assessing its fairness or helping their children acquire the skills to do better.

Most troubling of all, SAT scores can have a profound effect on how students regard themselves. All of us have known students who excelled in high school, students who did everything expected of them and more, suddenly doubt their accomplishments, their abilities, and their basic worth because they scored poorly on the SAT.

Anyone involved in education should be concerned about how overemphasis on the SAT is distorting educational priorities and practices, how the test is perceived by many as unfair, and how it can have a devastating impact on the self-esteem and aspirations of young students.

However, while there is widespread agreement that overemphasis on the SAT harms American education, there is no consensus on what to do or where to start. In many ways, we are caught up in the educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race. We know that this overemphasis on test scores hurts all involved, especially students. But we also know that anyone or any institution opting out of the competition does so at considerable risk.

SOURCE: University of California, Office of the President, http://www.ucop.edu/ucophome/commserv/sat/speech.html

 

A Prune by Any Other Name

On November 29, 2000, the California Prune Board officially changed its name to the "California Dried Plum Board." The change coincided with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's granting permission to change the name "prune" to "dried plum" on fruit products marketed in this country.

The change seems unnecessary and confusing. Will there be such a thing as "dried plum juice"? The re-naming also arbitrarily abrogates centuries of language use.

On its official web site (http:// www.prunes.org), the "Plum Board" makes much of the fact that the Latin "prunum" became the English "plum" a long time ago. It is true that by the mid-1300s "plum" had become part of our language. What the Dried Plum people ignore is the fact that the word "prune," meaning the dried fruit of a plum tree, came into English usage at the same time if not earlier.

"Prune" is a venerable word applied to a tasty, nutritious and useful agricultural product. We are saddened by the efforts of private and public agencies to banish it from the language.

The following definition is taken verbatim from the Dried Plum Board's site:

Word History: Plum comes from Latin a prunum, a "plum." Prunum was borrowed into the Germanic languages at a very early date, before the Anglos and Saxons settled in Britain. The Old English form was pl?me [sic], which became plum in Modern English.

Thus, these orchards produce fruit with maximum flavor, ideal fruit size, fine texture, high sugar content, and smooth small pits—all characteristics inherent in high quality dried plums.

 

SOURCE: http://www.prunes.org/consumer/pgs_whatis.asp


OPINIONphoto of Sherwin Howard.

Goodly Apples, Rotten at the Heart
by Sherwin W. Howard

I wait by the bank of elevators at our local hospital. A bulletin board on the opposite wall is covered with notices. One stands out—lilac-colored, announcing a family therapy session. The topic is "forgiving family members," and near the bottom of the page is a quotation from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice intended, I assume, to encourage attendance at the workshop. "The quality of mercy…is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

A week or so later I hear one of the talking heads on cable television bemoan the litigious atmosphere in Washington. He provokes a smile from me and screen colleagues by rehearsing again the line from Henry VI, Part II, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

"Nothing comes from nothing." "This above all, to thine ownself be true." "True love never did run smooth."

William Shakespeare has been dead almost four centuries. His body is secured in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. But his words are scattered across the popular landscape, and I am uneasy with the litter.

I know that as an occasional drama teacher, I should be happy that people in wide-ranging circumstance still value language created so long ago. But my unease remains. The words too often are wrenched from their original context, and in the process have their meaning altered.

For example, the family therapy quotations comes from a pivotal trial in The Merchant of Venice. Portia, disguised as a lawyer, tries to save the life of her friend. Urging forgiveness, she argues: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes" (IV, i). The trial scene explores many nuances of justice and mercy, but what is most significant about Portia's speech is that her argument is unsuccessful. This may be a minor point, but I wonder if the planners of the family therapy session realized they were advertising a project by using a failed argument.

What's wrong with "killing all the lawyers"? An immediate question might be whether the Bard was serious in making such a proposal. Shakespeare's tragedies and history plays typically have humorous characters in them, and Henry VI, Part II has a wonderfully comic counterpoint to the serious action of the play. In Act IV, scene ii, Jack Cade, a clownish, bragging, cowardly rebel announces his plan to become king. Cade outlines how society will be after he assumes the throne: "I thank you, good people: [when I am king] there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord."

Dick, a bumbling butcher, supports Cade's proposal: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." To which Cade responds, "Nay, that I mean to do." Thus, in context, the plan to do away with lawyers is part of a rustic plan to enthrone a pretentious monarch. Somehow I doubt that was what the TV commentator wished to propose.

"Nothing can come of nothing" are words spoken by an aging, foolish King Lear (I, i) in harsh rebuke of Cordelia, the sole person in the play who genuinely loves and honors her father. For her concern, Cordelia is banished from the kingdom. And I ask myself, why should I heed any aphorism coined by such a man.

"This above all: to thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" (Hamlet, I, iii) is the flowery illogic of Polonius, a fawning, hypocritical and pompous adviser to the evil usurper who killed Hamlet's father.

I am aware that language changes. Phrases survive their original creators and often assume new meaning. The reason that Shakespearean context matters is that it still exists on stages and in films around the world. As long as the plays thrive, quoting phrases without regard to their dramatic context is intellectually embarrassing and sadly confusing.

As Antonio carefully explains in the Merchant of Venice (I, iii) a serious problem exists when we wrest text to fit our special purpose. Referring to the corrupt Shylock, Antonio says, "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart."

 

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