Monthly Archives: September 2006

Leslie Griffith: The Career

A loyal reader who is also following the end of Leslie Griffith’s career at KTVU went to the station’s website to read its biography of the apparently erstwhile news anchor. It’s the standard stuff, recounting the impressive list of honors and awards bestowed upon her (sample: She “won a 2006 Telly Award for investigative reporting for ‘Horrors Under the Big Top,’ an expose focusing on the poor treatment of elephants by Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus”). But that’s not all. Our loyal reader was even more impressed by another achievement:

“Griffith’s outstanding work at KTVU Channel 2 News has netted her more than two dozen Emmy nominations and nine Emmy trophies, most recently for her 2003 news series, Lost Children of Romania.’ for which she spent two weeks following more than 100,000 homeless children through the sewers of Bucharest.”

Must have been a tough couple of weeks down there with all those kids.

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Berkeley: Democracy Under Fire

YesonaYesona2

A sign and personal note to the world in a neighbor’s yard. Not sure what prompted the note, since anti-tax vandals have been in short supply in these parts. And since the area is full of these “Yes on A” signs–they generally appear to go unmolested–and it seems strange that anyone would single this one resident for political harassment.

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The Case of the Missing Anchor

[11/17/06 update: It’s official–Leslie Griffith is gone for good from KTVU.]

[10/8/06 update: The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross weighed in on Leslie Griffith’s absence. KTVU’s general manager said she’s on leave at least until October 27; in late September, he was saying he expected her back early in October.]

I didn’t catch the top of the KTVU “10 O’Clock News” Thursday night, but the show undoubtedly opened with one of the anchors saying something like, “Leslie Griffith has the night off.” It’s not news when a TV co-anchor takes a vacation day, but what’s odd is that Leslie Griffith, who’s appeared opposite Dennis Richmond for eight and a half years, has had the night off, from both the 10 o’clock show and the 5 p.m. newscast, for six weeks running. Griffith’s departure wouldn’t be shocking; from my perhaps unforgiving viewpoint she’s been giving empty, off-key performances for years and just doesn’t appear suited to the straight-ahead news operation KTVU fancies itself to be.

But if Griffith is out, why doesn’t the station say so?

The reason: Griffith is not out. She’s just not on the air. And there’s no telling when she’ll be back. According to a KTVU staffer, “Management is saying, ‘Leslie is on extended leave, and we look forward to her return.’ ” The staffer added that Griffith “has been gone on her own accord. She has not been forced out.”

[Update: Another source says that while rumors swirl at the station about whether Griffith will return or not, more attention is focused on the upcoming launch of “The 10 O’Clock News” in HDTV. That’s scheduled to happen October 9.]

(Even though most of the local papers seem to have taken a pass on this story–I guess there’s a war on or something–the Contra Costa Times’s TV writer has taken notice: “Where’s Leslie Griffith?“)

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Your Civics IQ

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute cooked up a 60-question quiz it says proves U.S. college students are a bunch of dolts and ignoramuses when it comes to knowing basic American history and civics. You can’t take the full quiz, apparently, but there’s a five-question sample version online. Go take it. Then report back: How did you do? (Grading scale is as follows:

5 of 5 correct: You’re Ben Franklin, coolest, smartest American ever and inventor of the $100 bill.

4 of 5: You’re James Madison, main man of the Constitution who let the Brits burn the White House.

3 of 5: You’re Al Gore: Way smart, inventor of Internet and “Love Story” model, but haunted by failure.

2 of 5: You’re Warren G. Harding, and your biggest accomplishment is dying in office.

1 of 5: You’re George W. Bush, and you have never liked quizzes.

0 of 5: You’re just you, and we love you for it.

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Flunk Me? Flunk You!

The San Francisco Chronicle bore tidings yesterday of the deepening dummification of America: “Top-flight colleges fail civics, study says.”

The meat of the story is this: An organization you’ve likely never heard of, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, surveyed 14,000 U.S. college students at 50 campuses on their “civic literacy.” The study found 1) that the kids’ level of knowledge of basic facts (such as the century in which the Jamestown colony was founded) is abysmal and 2) that seniors at many colleges, and notably a lot of high-falutin liberal humanist ones like Yale, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, appear to know less about these key civics issues than first-year students at the same colleges. This is alarming. You can tell, because the institute’s report on the survey (which was actually conducted by the University of Connecticut’s department of public policy) is titled “The Coming Crisis in Citizenship.”

It sounds like a great story, and the Chron spun it just the way the institute did. But in their rush to relate the latest evidence of the end of civilization, the Chron seems to have missed a few details about the report and the people who put it out.

First, the reported numbers about performance at the individual colleges are virtually meaningless because the survey authors offer no campus-by-campus margins of error for their samples. The measure the report uses to rank the 50 schools is the difference in scores between freshmen and seniors at the colleges. So, the top-ranked school, what the Chron calls “unpretentious Rhodes College in Memphis,” gets the No. 1 position because its freshmen scored 50.6 percent on the test and its seniors got 62.2 percent; the 11.6 percent change was the highest among the 50 schools; in the survey’s estimation, they got smarter. By contrast, seniors at Johns Hopkins scored 7.3 percent lower than freshmen did; they got stupider.

We’ll overlook the study’s unsupported assertion that curriculum choices at Rhodes and Johns Hopkins and everywhere else are responsible for the change in scores. What we need to know to put the stats in perspective is the plus or minus: the percentage either way that the sample at each campus might vary because of factors like chance or undetected bias in the survey ample. The margin of error probably wouldn’t make the scores at Rhodes and Hopkins go away because the difference in performance is relatively large. But the margin of error would be very important in samples that showed a smaller spread. It happens that the frosh-senior score differential at 31 of the 50 schools was 3 percent or less. Now let’s say the margin of error at each of those campuses was plus or minus 3 percent, the same you get in many political opinion polls. If that’s the case–and we don’t know for sure, since the margin of error is unreported–then the finding about freshman-senior performance at those 31 schools can be summarized in a word: inconclusive. The same word might apply, then, to the entire exercise.

The second problem with taking the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s report and parroting it is the organization’s very public political agenda. It’s in business for one reason: to promote what it deems to be traditional American and Western values and to contest the influence of those (liberals and other academic heretics) who might practice novel approaches to the study of history, political science, economics and other fields. Check the institute’s advice for students choosing colleges. Among the factors the organization says ought to be weighed is “political atmosphere.” Among the red flags students ought to look out for are “speech codes operating under the guise of sexual harassment codes” and classes that might reinterpret traditional views of American culture and history: “A class titled ‘American Revolution’ may neglect the causes of the Revolution, the search for constitutional order, or the sacrifices of the founding generation. Some professors will instead teach the entire period through the lenses of race, class, and gender and claim that the Founders worked only to ensure their own well-being. Such efforts to de-legitimize the Revolution are increasingly common among historians.”

Third, on the face of it, there’s just something odd in the results. The way the survey is spun, a bunch of private, Christian colleges (six of the top nine schools in the study have religious affiliations, including “unpretentious” No. 1 Rhodes) are made to appear paragons of learning. The self-satisfied godless elitists, represented by the likes of the University of Chicago, Yale, MIT, Duke, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins and the universities of Michigan, Virginia, and California, are dens of rampant civic ignorance.

You don’t have to look hard to see how the results have been skewed. Scores at the bottom 20 schools are generally much higher for both freshmen and seniors than scores for the top 10 schools. That’s possible because the measure of success is score “improvement.” So schools whose first-year students chalked up moron-level scores–“‘Pocahontas was’ … uh … ‘D) chief justice and president’!?” — almost can’t help but put something new in the kids’ heads over the course of four years (maybe not that much, though; the average score for the top 10 schools’ freshmen was 37.2 percent; for their seniors, 44.6 percent). The bottom 20 schools, whose first-year students scored much higher (58.7 percent on average) faced more of a challenge in raising student scores and in 16 of 20 cases the survey suggests senior scores were lower. Still, the bottom-20 seniors scored 57.5 percent on average.

Last, there’s the report’s principal conceit: That America’s universities are failing to teach students the basics of civic literacy, and that the trivial increase in student knowledge between the first and final years of college demonstrates that. To do that, it makes an apple-and-oranges comparison between first-year college students and seniors.

Yes, it’s true that students scored low on the institute’s quiz. That’s sad, I imagine, but not shocking. We can go back year after year, decade after decade, to the dawn of the Baby Boom and perhaps beyond to find evidence that America’s kids are ignorant of everything but music, booze, drugs, driving, and sex. At this point, it’s a wonder that anyone knows anything about history, geography, science or math.

The fact is, the report’s conclusion is nearly impossible to assess. On one hand, the survey reports scores for freshmen and seniors who happen to attend the same school at the same time, not the improvement or decline of individual students or even individual graduating classes. On the other hand, only a sample of six quiz questions has been made public. Thus, it’s hard to know about which key points of the glorious panorama of American free-range democracy today’s kids are clueless, whether the quiz is loaded with arcane twaddle only a doctoral candidate could love, or whether today’s students are any more in the dark about civics than the generations that spawned them.

And as to the “crisis” in civic knowledge: It would be nice if everyone could talk about our history and institutions in an informed way. Instead of putting all the burden on colleges and students, though, why don’t we get respected public figures–the president, say–to make it part of their job to educate us all on sacred principles like the separation of powers, the value of a free and independent press, the importance of prohibiting unreasonable searches, and the need for open and honest dealing in government. Our officials might start a website with all these crucial lessons for us. Or they could even try to teach by example.

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Last Chance 1,000 and Something

First, the basics for those who might be interested in the story but not so interested that they’d entertain the notion of getting on a bicycle themselves for three or four days and pedaling from long before dawn to well after dark: The Colorado Last Chance RandonĂ©e is a 1,200-kilometer ride from the Boulder, Colorado, area to north-central Kansas and back; the event has a 90-hour limit, meaning you have to finish the 750 miles in six hours less than four days to have your result recognized by the people who recognize such things. What that boils down to is the necessity to ride 200 miles a day, on average, day after day after day after day. And you do it because? Because it’s a challenge to get it done and I’m not doing other challenging things like — well, you can fill in the blank.

As I explained earlier, I was riding the event in a two-part formal: a 1,000-kilometer (623-mile) portion that would allow me to qualify for a long-distance cycling award, and a finishing 200-kilometer portion. For whatever reason, my left Achilles tendon became very painful about 40 miles from the end of the 1,000; I managed to finish that, but didn’t do the final 200. I finished riding Friday, September 15; I went to the Last Chance dinner in greater Boulder on Saturday, the 16th; I flew home to Berkeley on Sunday, the 17th; on Saturday, the 23rd, I took my bike out of its case and put it back together and went for a ride, wanting to see how the Achilles is doing. Still hurts. It might be a while before I do another long ride. We’ll see.

Anyway, here (follow the link) is the rest of the Last Chance story, all however-many episodes.



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September 5

The last day no Americans were killed in Iraq: September 5 (according to the authoritative monthly report at Iraq Coalition Casualties).

The last day no Iraqis were killed in the war? I wonder how far back you have to go for that. March 18, 2003?

Another number from the casualties site: Earlier this month, the number of U.S. troops wounded in the war hit 20,000.

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What the People Want

I’ve mentioned several times in the past that I’m working (part time, now) on a project called The Personal Bee. It’s an attempt to come up with a way of collecting and presenting RSS feeds from news sites and blogs, then giving folks (“beekeepers” — or editors) a way of repackaging the feeds and creating their own news editions (or “Bees”). There’s a lot of other functionality built in that makes the service potentially very cool: a comment feature, a way to email stories to friends, and a tool so that you can write and add your own copy to the edition. At this point, I don’t believe you’ll find anything on The Personal Bee that you can’t find, in some form, someplace else. I think what distinguishes the site/service — beyond the Bee metaphor, upon which I can hold forth at length — is the range of functionality available at one place.

Without getting into the founders’ hopes and dreams about who might use the Bee and what for, I’ll just say it’s got some serious news thinking behind it. Given that highfalutin background, it’s fascinating to see in what the early Bee audience is actually interested. We’ve got more than 130 public editions, everything ranging from venture capital to new media to the Iraq war to baseball and videogames. So which editions are most popular? The top ten include five that sound like they’re good for you — venture capital, Web 2.0, a left-right opinion collection, a tech news roundup, and “headline news” — and five that are pure fluff: YouTube (by far the most visited), reality TV, “Survivor” (the TV show), indie music, and general movie stuff.

The edition that focuses on Iraq? It’s about the 100th most popular.

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Picture Story

Here’a a Flickr photo album I just put together of last week’s ride: Colorado Last Chance Randonnee. It begins to give a flavor of the thing. More (words, if not pictures) to come.

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Done Riding

Lastchance

For now, I mean.

My ride actually ended Friday evening. I was doing the 1,200 kilometers as a two-part event: 1,000 kilometers — 623 miles in plain American English — followed by 200 kilometers (125 miles or so). The reason that option is offered is that people unbalanced enough to want to try this kind of thing in the first place will take recognition for their efforts where they can find it; and one place they can find it is the Audax Club Parisien, the group that sponsors Paris-Brest-Paris and sanctions all the qualifying events for PBP all over the world. ACP has an award called the Randonneur 5000 medal that’s bestowed upon riders who have done a specified series of events within a 4-year time frame: PBP, a 1,000-kilometer brevet, a full brevet series (a 200, 300, 400 and 600) during a single year, and a 24-hour ride called a Fleche Velochio that covers at ledast 360 kilometers; the total of all that and other qualifying rides done in the four-year qualifying period needs to total 5,000 kilometers or more. Arcane enough? So: Clubs put on 1,000s, or offer a 1,000-200 option during their 1,200s, to accommodate riders trying for the Randonneur 5000 award. In my case, I’d done all the other rides but the 1,000, so completing that will get me the medal once I jump through the paperwork hoops set up to make sure you’re really serious about getting it.

So, my ride ended Friday, not Saturday, when the 1,200 officially ended, and here’s why: About 40 miles before reaching the 1,000-kilometer mark of the ride, my left Achilles tendon began to hurt. By then, just about everything else was hurting to some extent, too. But this pain gradually made it harder for me to pedal. I made it to a checkpoint 20 miles short of the 1,000 mark and iced down my heel, then started to ride again. The pain was worse. I knew I could make 1,000, but I was getting slower and slower. My riding partner for most of the event went on, since she had a deadline of her own to make. At one point, I had to get off the bike and walk it to the top of one of the hills on the route, then coast down the other side. But at 5:15 in the afternoon, I made it to the little crossroads of Last Chance, Colorado, the designated finish for the 1,000.

I tried using my cellphone to call in to the next checkpoint, a motel about 35 miles away, to see if it was possible to get a ride out. I couldn’t get through, so I continued west. A couple of hours later, one of the ride support people showed up in a pickup to give me a ride into town. But I’d covered another 15 miles in my slow, soft-pedaling fashion, had been enjoying the site of a big line of thunderstorms moving across the route about 10 miles ahead, and had started to feel like I could ride into the checkpoint. The support guy, Ben, said to go ahead and try, and he would just hang out until I decided to bail or go for it. I covered another 5 miles. I flatted the front tire after hitting a rock on a fast descent. I changed the tube and went on, but the leg problem was getting worse. So at about 7:30 or so, and still about 15 miles from the checkpoint, I “abandoned.”

Got the 1,000 covered, though, and that’s what I came for. Glad to have it done. More on this coming after I fly back to the Bay Area this afternoon.

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