Monday, January 31, 2011

MORNING HEADLINES: Cops, Egypt and a bomb hoax

Posted By on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Police Crash — Last night, a police car hit a pedestrian while responding to a call. Paramedics arrived but the man died early Monday morning. The names of the pedestrian and the officer have not been released. (SR)

Parking Fines — Tonight the Spokane City Council will vote on whether to raise parking meter fines from $15 to $25, a measure that Council President Joe Shogan supports. If it passes, it is estimated to raise another $400,000 in revenue per year from parking tickets. (SR)

Mass Foreign Policy Summit — After the uprising in Tunisia and protests in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding an unprecedented mass meeting of almost all the 260 U.S. ambassadors. Beginning today, the ambassadors will discuss U.S. foreign policy for 2011. (AP)

Bomb Hoax — Another bomb scare turns out to be a fake. The suspicious package found near the Kootenai County Jail was investigated by the bomb squad and visitors had to be evacuated for several hours. The bomb was actually a cell phone and battery attached to a road flare. (KXLY)

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review of *The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee*

Posted on Sat, Jan 29, 2011 at 11:58 PM

at the Civic’s Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre through Feb. 20

N-E-A-R-L-Y F-L-A-W-L-E-S-S

You know how some nights in the theater feel like magic? The energy’s up, the cast is well practiced, the audience is full of anticipation. There’s a sense of playfulness. The space is right — suited to the kind of show that’s being presented.

Those last two are important — because when you’re presenting a musical with adults pretending to be kids, as Spokane Civic Theatre currently is in its production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — the playfulness needs to be up-close and sincerely played.

Just as it is here. Magic.

Director Kathie Doyle-Lipe has guided a talented cast through a surprisingly uproarious, unexpectedly touching show that’s danced and sung and skip-to-my-lou slobbered over and loved like a shaggy dog.

It’s like a really fun recess, only choreographed. And it doesn’t have all that much to do with spelling (though a nerdy acquaintance with the dictionary helps). What’s really at stake is our insecurities and anxieties.

You know how it felt to be called up to the microphone and please, God, please-please-please let me not screw up? That’s Spelling Bee. But with the delightful addition of a snarky vice principal and a pink pig of a finger-puppet.

But let’s go to the play-by-play, shall we? ---

7:32 pm -- Curtain speech from artistic director Yvonne Johnson, and you could just sense the pride in the whole operation: a successful farce upstairs, this show about to take a bow, Nunsense and Metamorphoses waiting in the upstairs and downstairs wings, nearly every show nearly selling out. Johnson had a justified sense of pride in how the Civic is operating, and the audience was clearly responding. Cards on the table: Yvonne and I disagree in several areas. But I will write here what I would have told her tonight if we had bumped into one another: We may have our disagreements, but we can agree on this: It is a very fine thing that the Green Bay Packers are in the Super Bowl. And one thing more: The Civic has been churning out a whole string of hit shows, and it is largely to her credit. 


7:34 pm  --  For the overture, ”Flight of the Bumblebee” in an amped-up version. Cute signs festoon David Baker’s gym-floor-and-bleachers set: “Bully-Free Zone,” “Listen and Silent share the same letters.”


7:36 -- As our spellers are introduced, the costumes of Jan Wanless et al. earn applause — especially the quilt-pajama bottoms, tie-dye shirt, bicycle helmet and baseball cape with pink piggy face of the wacky hippie kid, Leaf Coneybear (Mark Pleasant). Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere (Molly Ovens) sports snakes of carrot hair over a dark, no-nonsense suit.


7:38 -- Audience laughter is almost overwhelming the performances. Part of the fun is watching the spellers’ ongoing quirks of characterization, like William Barfee (Lance Babbitt) marking out his meditation area “with invisible tape,” and Logainne’s lisp and twitching fingers, and her obedient (and politically correct) signing (for the hearing-impaired) during the Pledge of Allegiance.


7:42 -- Two of the plucked-from-the-audience “volunteer” spellers, plopped down on the bleachers’ front row, look miserable. But this show takes on real energy in the kind of space it was designed for — that is, in a black box as opposed to a 1,200-seat auditorium with proscenium stage. 


7:46 -- While only keyboard and percussion are credited in the program, I thought I saw other personnel in the musician’s area — at any rate, someone is playing what sounds like some really nice clarinet during “My Favorite Moment of the Bee,” which is sung with engaging game-show-hostess feeling by Maureen Kumakura as Rona Lisa Peretti. Pleasant — who is the real crowd-pleaser in this show, obviously a high-energy master comedian — gets laughs during the flashback sequence about how he came in third at his local bee (but still managed to qualify for the county-wide competition) by, briefly, characterizing the two unseen Jewish kids who had to go instead to their bar mitzvah. Funny stuff.


7:49 -- Pleasant’s flashback is suddenly interrupted by his going into a trance and correctly spelling one word after another.


7:50 --  Tonal shift when Lacey Bohnet (as Olive Ostovsky, the one with no self-esteem, because her parents neglect her emotionally) steps to the mic. (She insists on reserving a chair for her dad, who will never show up.) Up close like this, you can sense the nervous energy onstage. Sometimes the songs (like “The Rules”) get too expository, too mundane. Spelling Bee is going to be the Civic’s entry in the statewide community-theater competition (right here at the Civic, March 11-13), and when Doyle-Lipe looks to cut this down to an hour, she’s going to need to need to speed up some of the expository stuff (without losing it) and shorten the second act’s more serious passages. But more on that later....


7:51 -- As the vice principal, Greg Pschirrer deals out the snark and the skepticism. Some of the biggest laughs come on the sentences and definitions that he reads to the spellers. Bohnet sells Olive’s love of wordplay and the dictionary, almost caressing it, and then you realize — she loves order so much because her inner life is so disordered. A nice touch.


7:54 -- “Jihad.” “Can you use that in a sentence, please?” “Billy, jump behind this wall, I think I see a jihad coming.” 


7:56 -- First guest speller eliminated, and “The Goodbye Song.” Surprising how much you find yourself pulling for the spellers (both actors and civilians), and how much you cringe at the sound of the elimination bell: Spelling Bee isn’t just fluff. It tugs at the anxieties we all feel. And Babbitt sounds like he really _is_ missing one nostril.


7:58  -- Beth Carey, prim in a schoolgirl uniform, marches up to the mic and confidently spells “phylactery” (Jewish prayer-book necklace), for which the sentence is: “Johnny, put down that phylactery — we’re Episcopalian.”

One of the volunteer spellers gets introduced with a line like, “Sally gets her haircuts from her third-grade brother,” and her hair _does_ look unkempt and chopped off, and the woman looks pissed. Which of course makes it all the funnier. 


8:01 --  Nancy Vancil provides great piano throbs, propelling Boy Scout Chip Tolentino (David A. McElroy II) into the start of “Pandemonium,” the show’s best (or at least most raucous) number. Doyle-Lipe deserves credit for choreographinc chaos here: McElroy jumping on Pschirrer’s back, Michael Hynes (as Mitch Mahoney, the comfort counselor) actually waving the flag threateningly,  audience spellers clinging to the bleachers as they’re swirled in circles, the whole gang doing a wild ring-around-the-posey dance, Rona Lisa’s chair being circled around in imitation. When the bleachers end their dizzying ride (diagonally stage right, later to be shifted to diagonally stage left -- a good directing decision for varying the sight lines), the spellers’ backpacks and water bottles still sway, momentarily neglected. It’s a small touch that emphasizes just how playful and energetic these “kids” are. The spelling competition resumes, and Pschirrer is back to smiling his passive-aggressive smile.


8:06 -- Flashback to Logainne’s over-demanding, fussy gay fathers: a good example of how doubling works, intensifying the humor. We’ve gotten accustomed to Pleasant as the carefree hippie boy and Hynes as the badass ex-con, so to see them, in just an eyeblink of a scene, as bitchy-urbane (and much more concerned with themselves than with their daughter) makes for a funny but also meaningful contrast. We’re in it, we get it, we’re out of it. Lots of well-observed moments like this by all the actors. It’s going to be difficult for Kathie to cut this one down to just an hour.


8:08 --  Flute licks (?) and keyboard runs during Leaf’s “I’m Not That Smart.” In his big number, Pleasant shines: he feels stupid (but he’ll get over it), he makes love to the mic, he goes all bass-voiced when he reveals his pink-pig finger-puppet, then swaggers comically when he goes into his habitual trance and actually gets a word right: “I _might_ be smart.”


8:11 -- Comic bit with short Olive and tall mic, representing her lack of self-confidence. Soon after, second audience speller eliminated (sexual double-entendre on “ho” and “dong”).


8:16 -- “Magic Foot.” Babbitt waddles-dances and does dance-hall leaps and kicks that don’t exactly attain great heights. It’s hilarious. The three adults do jazz squares. Everyone’s celebrating Barfee’s “miraculous” ability.


8:20 -- Two in spotlights for the “Magic Foot Playoff.” Baker’s lighting design pays off here and in some of the oobie-doobie dream-sequence effects. 


8:22 --  Chip gets caught with his unfortunate erection in the bleachers. McElroy has great onstage energy, moves like a dancer, sings well, does nervousness well: His disbelieving “Whaaa...?” on being given an impossible spelling word is priceless.


8:24 --  I was skeptical of Hynes’ casting as the uncomforting comfort counselor: Mike has a chipper, all-American vibe that’d be hard to surmount, I thought, in a gruff biker dude. But in “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor, Mike’s goody-goody side pays off in genuine concern for these kids: he’s tattooed and tough on the outside, in other words, but shows us that he can empathize, too (which sets up what we discover about his future in the epilogue). I’d still prefer more savage grumpiness and genuine menace in the role, but Hynes carries off an effective blend of kind and scary.


8:26 -- In short order, dismissal of the first of our six actor-spellers and the fourth and last of the audience-spellers. (On opening night, it was Bad Hair Lady. To her credit, she eventually started smiling and joining in the fun, while still maintaining a sour puss — which, she seemed to intuit ... 


8:31 -- ... during her sung-and-danced goodbye sequence, makes comedy all the funnier. A good sport.) After Pschirrer pulled out the briefcase with the Really Hard Words and eliminated her, she was pulled into the dance and heard to mutter, “This is a nightmare.”

The side-jokes are against racists, against politically correct liberals, against Obamacare -- both sides of the political spectrum get skewered.


8:33 --  Hynes’s Mitch Mahoney has a crush on the last speller, gets on his knees and woos her. Hynes, who knows how to serenade a woman, uses the Good Angel side of his personality effectively here.

Snack break: Barfee worries that the snack might upset his peanut allergies — so the V.P. throws a some food right in his crotch.


8:34 -- Chip, reduced to selling concessions, tosses treats into the audience. After trading with my seatmate, I got a Spiderman candy!

Filed under “Sign that the show is probably going pretty well”: I glance over at Doyle-Lipe in the second row, who’s stuffing her face with candy, laughing, mock-grimacing over one joke or another, obviously enjoying herself. 

Quick check on actors staying in character: Up on the top row of the bleachers, Pleasant is absently staring up into the rafters; Ovens is studying the fine print on her water bottle. Just like kids.


8:36 -- McElroy belts out “erection!” Again, he’s got the audience on his side — they all do. The intimate space invigorates the entire show.


8:38 -- Olive and William meet awkward. Perhaps a bit overplayed: Let Rachel Sheinkin’s book do the work here. Little boys express disgust with the little girls with whom they’re smitten.


8:40 -- Diction was off on Logainne’s song with her two dads. Dynamics with the band need work here as well: The music drowned out the lyrics here (and not only here). Earlier, there were a few bobbles when actors didn’t know how big the laughs would be. Cutting this show to an hour and re-locating it upstairs will present puzzles, obviously. Inside a black box, lyrics music audience noise and laughter = some blurring of lines.


8:42 -- Rapid-fire spelling, followed by slo-mo. Silly, childlike fun, and fun to watch, enhanced by Baker’s lighting.


8:44 -- Leaf hears the bells. Perfect eliciting of audience reaction: genuine sadness that he’s leaving us, followed by joy over how irrepressible Pleasant’s performance is, showing us what it means to be the opposite of a sore loser.


8:47 -- Marcy Park (Beth Carey) in “I Speak Six Languages.” This is a tough one, because the song, with its rapid patter and extended physical demands, seems almost unperformable. Carey, while good, is faced by a lot of physical demands. In an intimate theater, you can see her cheeks get flushed and the sweat on her brow. Marcy’s supposed to be this unflappable Superwoman who can demonstrate talent in three sports, not to mention all the languages, plus an affinity for Mozart — all while cavorting all over the stage and maintaining superior breath control and projection. It’s a huge challenge, and Carey does well in most but not all of it. 


8:50 --  Big finish with the karate chop. 


8:51 --  Marcy’s vision of Jesus. I love how the show mocks itself, when Our Saviour informs us that the results of some crummy spelling bee “are not the kind of thing that I usually care much about.”


8:52 --  Marcy’s big decision (and how she goes out of the bee) was well handled. 


8:53 -- Ominous keyboard drones for the multiple definitions on her last word.


8:55 -- Bohnet and Pschirrer create a touching moment with “chimerical,” the lead-in to “The I Love You Song” — the point being that Olive’s fantasy of loving parents is just that, a fantasy. 


8:57 -- Problems with both beginning and end of this song. After the wild abandon of Act One, the second act frequently gets more serious. Tonal shifts, given audience expectations, can be difficult. Marcy’s decision, while serious, was treated happily: self-defeating in the short term but self-improving over the long haul. But Olive’s dream sequence is nearly tragic. Audiences may withhold their sympathy, expecting matters to turn comic or snarky at any moment. As the fantasy parents, Kumakura and Hynes blend their voices with Bohnet wonderfully, chillingly — a great moment near the end — but this is the number which signals what’s going on least well in this production, and clearly, in cutting down for competition, the decision’s going to have to be made to delete the second “I Love You” chorus, at a minimum. The number seems overlong. This was the point when I started wondering about the decision not to take an intermission. Lovely, sad flute licks, though, as the trio was singing.


9:03 -- Barfee gets “crepuscule,” which was the show’s original title.


9:06 --  Logainne goes out. The book works too hard at extending characterizations here (or something). The first half seems effortless: We’re laughing, then there are sad parts, now we’re being asked to learn more about the characters’ lives _and_ laugh at them some more. It’s too much, and a bit disorienting for the audience. I love how PCSB wants to make us both laugh and cry, I really do — but first, trust how affecting the basic situation is (we’re pulling for the spellers and are saddened by their setbacks, with no elaboration needed), and second, beware the shifting audience-expectation signals as we move from serious to silly scenes. 


9:07 -- Down to the final two spellers, and another tonal shift. Kumakura _does_ make her third Rona moment bigger; Pschirrer ogles her. 


9:08 -- When Barfee gets angry over the spilled Coke, Babbitt is being restrained, looks over his shoulder, and a menacing cloud passes over his face: the look of a bully, and in a no-bully zone. Well done.


9:11 -- Babbitt and Bohnet dance a pas de deux, with Barfee’s jetees getting virtually no clearance off the floor and Olive giving him the love-longing eye.

There’s always something almost funny/touching about the klutzy guy who tries to and almost can but really can’t dance. Babbitt’s hilarious here.


9:14 -- We have a winner! (who rips the trophy out of the presenter’s hands). Good sense of triumph here with swirling lights. High-fives all around, and nice to see the rest of the spellers rejoin onstage.


9:16 -- Mini-bio’s: what happens to them in future. Very satisfying. 


9:20 -- Finale, making this, by my watch, a 106-minute show. Ad libs with audience spellers slowed it down? Forty-six minutes to cut? Yikes. 


In conclusion: A shout-out to Molly Ovens, who was so good in the title role of Miss Jean Brodie at EWU and unrecognizably different as Logainne in this show. That’s good acting, folks. And to Mark Pleasant for his alarming/comic “fall” from the top of the bleachers, which I apparently skipped over in that portion of my notes which I could actually read -- it was done so realistically and so unexpectedly, that the audience belly-laughed louder because they went on a little comic journey from genuine concern (is he hurt?) to surprise and relief (it’s just Leaf being a kid).

The nine Civic performers are in most cases better — or else, in nearly all cases, as good as — their counterparts in last June’s CdA Summer Theater production (a banner from which hangs on the stage right wall, above the audience, exemplifying the spirit of cooperation that has arisen lately among the area’s theaters). It’s an exceptionally strong-voiced cast, without a weak link — and if you take that kind of strength of performance and add the intimate-theater factor, the result is a fun and enjoyable show that’s going to appeal to a wide variety of folks. 

What to cut? Reprises. Choruses. Two of the audience spellers. And the Marcy-Olive-Logainne seriousness in the second half is a minefield. 

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Backstage with *Spelling Bee* cast members

Posted on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 6:58 PM

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee opens tonight at the Civic's Studio Theater. Here are Q&A interviews (conducted by e-mail and lightly edited) with two cast members: first, Lance Babbitt as William Barfee (he of the "Magic Foot") and then, Maureen Kumakura as Rona Lisa Peretti (the spelling bee hostess in this musical -- currently a real-estate agent, but still wrapped up in her fond memories of past spelling bee victories).

Inlander: So what's your story? Give us the bio, Lance.

Lance Babbitt: I grew up in Idaho and did CdA Summer Theater from the ages of 12 to 18. (This was when the theater was in what is now Lake City Playhouse.) That was a great experience — 70 shows in rep, can't be beat. I went to college in Pullman — Go, Cougs! — and I had the best teacher in Paul Wadleigh.  Then, after moving back here a few years ago, I was ready to dip my toe again in the local theater scene. And the Civic has been very welcoming.

---
What specifically are you doing to make Barfee other than a stereotypical nerd?
I work very hard to make him well rounded. I think he has become a bully — because of being bullied! He really connects with no one at first — he just wants to spell, because that is his comfort zone

Any choreography on the Magic Foot? In other words, are you really "spelling," or just sort of waving your feet around?
I do spell the word HASENPFEFFER. Not sure any experts on penmanship would approve — but yes, I do spell!

For musical numbers like "Magic Foot" and "Pandemonium," tell me about how you're performing/dancing/delivering that number differently now than you would have supposed going into rehearsals. That is, how has the rehearsal shaped your performance?
"Magic Foot" took shape rather quickly, though with lots of fine tuning. But Kathie [Doyle-Lipe, the director] really got it — [she understood] what Barfee would do. "Pandemonium" has evolved a lot. Kathie staged it very early, because of the sheer stamina the number takes. We have gotten more comfortable with it as time has gone on. My personal thought is that we have become more and more childlike as the number has evolved.

Late in the rehearsal process, shows are often ready and "just need an audience." Is that doubly or triply true for this show, or not?
Very, very true...we have been lucky to have people come in and _spell_ with us. But the energy that this show has and requires ... needs an audience!

What specific moments in the show present a temptation to be too silly? too sentimental?  Or are there none like that?
I think the whole show could easily wander down those paths. But we have worked really hard to make these kids real, albeit funny.   

Bee_Show.jpg

Inlander: The audience-participation spellers vary every night. Do the sarcastic introductions also vary? How much improv are you and Greg Pschirrer (as the vice principal) prepared to do?

Maureen Kumakura: Greg and I are prepared to improv as much as necessary. We've come up with a number of comments for people that can be customized to different individuals based on what they're wearing, etc. The show has to move pretty quickly, so sometimes there just isn't time to come up with something brand-new for each contestant, but we will be doing our best to keep it fresh and make sure it varies from night to night.

Does Rona Lisa see herself in Olive Ostrovsky? How and why? Does that imply that Rona Lisa's parents also neglected her?
I do not personally feel that Rona had the same sad childhood as Olive; I see their connection as one based more on the love of language and spelling. I suspect Rona probably toted her dictionary around as a child just as Olive does and often considered it one of her best friends in the world. Rona relates to the love and affection for the bee that she also sees in Olive - they share the same passion. I think there is almost something a little parental that kicks in with Rona when she starts to realize just how unfortunate Olive's situation is. I don't think Rona really understands how bad it is until she takes the phone call from Olive's dad in the middle of the bee. In that moment, she is faced with something totally foreign to her - a parent who seems to care very little for his child or for the amazing accomplishment she has achieved.  That anyone could have such little interest in their child — or the spelling bee, for that matter — is, in Rona's eyes, almost unfathomable. 

How much of this show, in your opinion, is about accepting other people's flaws and insecurities?
I think acceptance is a tremendously strong theme throughout this show. As each child is introduced, it becomes clear that each one is unique, from they way they look and dress to the different reasons as to how they all got there and why they want or have to win. Each of them have their own struggles and issues to work through, but they discover that they are connected by this one common thing that has brought them together.
Even the adults in the show learn to accept some of their own and each others' issues and see the goodness that is lurking underneath sometimes tough and/or misunderstood exteriors.  The good thing is, this is mostly done mostly through humor — it's not as psychoanalytically intense as I've made it sound.

Is "My Favorite Moment of the Bee" also your favorite song in the show? How will you vary it from first use through the two reprises?
Actually, I prefer the "I Love You Song," which, although incredibly sad, is just a really beautiful composition.
Rona's moments are funny, because they resemble when someone is introducing their favorite movie to someone who's never seen it before and every few minutes, she's exclaiming, "Oh, this is my favorite part... no, wait, _this_ is my favorite!"
With Rona, I believe her favorite moment comes at the end - the eventual crowning of the spelling bee champion - but she honestly just loves everything about the entire process.  Each time she sings "My Favorite Moment" tends to be bigger. There is a build that happens with each one as her excitement grows, but the final moment is noticeably bigger than the other two ... I hope.

For the show in general, what's the most complicated musical or dance number? And the most enjoyable?
The most complicated group number has to be second half of "Magic Foot," when the entire cast joins William Barfee in praising the wonders of his miraculous spelling foot. There's a spectacular lift at the end that definitely took a little bit longer to perfect than most of the other numbers — but when we nail it, it's worth all the effort.
The most enjoyable number would have to be "Pandemonium." It's a great high-energy song in which we all get to go a little crazy. And we get to involve unsuspecting audience members in the chaos, too!
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Redistricting commission goes nuclear with an Eastern Washingtonian

Posted on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 1:52 PM

What does analytical chemistry have to do with nonpartisan politics?

Ask Lura Powell, who was elected today to be the chair of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, which is in charge of figuring where the state's newest congressional district will be located. Powell, who is from Richland, was selected by the commission's other four members.

Powell has served as the director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, among other things.  She has lived in Washington for 11 years. 

Washington will get a new district, and new U.S. representative, thanks to the latest Census numbers, which saw the state's population grow to 6.7 million people, or by about 14 percent. Eight other states will also gain congressional members, but Washington is only one of two states that appointed committee members to figure where the new district will go.

In an earlier interview with The Inlander, state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said the state is in the best position to draw lines that favor neither of the two major political parties. Democrats and Republicans appointed two members each to the board, who then voted unanimously for Powell's chairmanship.

And she wants the process to stay as apolitical as possible. "I'm not a political junkie," Powell said in a statement. 

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MORNING HEADLINES: Poor Idaho, no Google in Egypt

Posted on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Broke Ass Mountain State — Forget potatoes, Idaho, get some cash. State leaders say they could face a deficit five times larger than anticipated in 2012. But they won't ask the feds for any handouts, no sir. In true Western fashion, Gov. Butch Otter will instead take his six-shooter and hold up Washington State for its gold and jewels. (KREM)

Rat poison — Following the brouhaha yesterday — with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich criticizing the Spokesman for mischaracterizing his quotes on what was inside the Backpack Bomb, and KXLY's Jeff Humphrey giving Knezovich a bullhorn to repeat his criticisms — a bit of agreement. Humphrey now reports that there was rat poison in the explosive device. He heard it on CNN. (KXLY)

Garbage get-together postponed! — The so-called solid waste summit has fallen to pieces and now Spokane Mayor Mary Verner wants the whole shebang put off, saying the county isn't being cooperative. Regionalism 0, Rats and Seagulls 1. (SR) 

Egypt shuts down internet — For real. Who needs to surf the Web when you can surf the Nile? (Atlantic Wire) 

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gonzaga Law overrated by the masses

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 4:51 PM

gonzaga_spike.jpeg.jpg

Sorry Spike, you're not actually number 1 ...

Here's a riddle for you: What do you get when you crowdsource law school rankings? A highly suspect list.

Now, what do you get when you compare that list against the US News peer poll — wherein schools are rated by professors and law professionals and people who have a good chance of knowing what they're talking about?

Schadenfreude.

When you put the numbers side-by-side, our very own Gonzaga School of Law is the 6th most over-rated law school in America. Ranked 87th-best by the hoi polloi, their peers put them closer to 108th.

Almost as over-rated as their men's basketball team was at the beginning of the season.

Still, it raises the question: if people — like, say potential employers — think your school is better than it actually is, isn't that a good thing?

In somewhat related news:

Now that they're a lackluster 13-7 and 3rd out of 8 in the less-than-stellar West Coast Conference, the cheerleading squad has seemingly taken it upon themselves to revive fan interest.

What have we here? Oh my goodness. Spike. You've been naughty.

Gonzaga.jpg


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TRAILER THURSDAY — Re-re-release Edition

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 3:05 PM

All hail the arrival (and return) of Oscar-nominated flicks! And also Airplane on its 30th anniversary. 

BLUE VALENTINE 
The marriage in director Derek Cianfrance’s drama is a car wreck that you just can’t take your eyes off of. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling fall in love, get married and have a child. Then the whole world goes to hell. Their story bounces back and forth from budding romance to destruction and explores the mysterious process of love turning into hate. Their marriage doesn’t offer concrete answers — maybe there aren’t any — but it paints a compelling portrait of real life getting in the way of love. (CF) Rated R | SHOWTIMES

THE COMPANY MEN
Apparently in America we give our lives to our jobs. This film examines what happens when our lives are no longer defined by those jobs. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are men of our current moment. Affleck’s and Cooper’s lives are turned upside down by corporate layoffs; Jones is a boss wrestling with the other side of it. Kevin Costner offers a foil to these men as a house builder with pride in his craft. His hands are callused from carpentry tools rather than golf clubs. (CF) Rated R | SHOWTIMES

[thumb up] THE MECHANIC
This remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson/Jan-Michael Vincent film about a hit man and the young guy he takes under his wing does what a remake is supposed to do: It turns a mediocre film into a good one. The veteran contract killer is now played by Jason Statham, and his uppity charge is played by Ben Foster. Quite violent, but with a bit of a philosophical soul. (ES) Rated R | SHOWTIMES

[DVD ] THE RITE
It’s just another possessed-by-Satan movie. (Yawn.) But this time, as the Exorcist-in-Chief, we got Hannibal Lecter — so watch out, Beelzebub! When a young cleric — who has doubts about this whole priesthood thing, anyway — flies to Rome for exorcism boot camp, it turns out that his demon-defyin’ drill sergeant is none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins himself. Lucifer gonna get his liver eaten with a nice Chianti! (ES) Rated PG-13 | SHOWTIMES

[gem] 127 HOURS
Aron Ralston (James Franco) likes extreme sports and enjoys being alone. So it’s no surprise that one of his favorite activities is exploring rocks and caves out in the Utah wilderness. Unfortunately that’s a bad place to be alone when you fall into a deep crevasse, are practically immobilized, and your supplies are dwindling. Danny Boyle’s cameras go down there with him, chronicle his survival techniques, trip out into some inner fantasies, and celebrate the human spirit. Great performance, inventive film. (ES) Rated R | SHOWTIMES

AIRPLANE!
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking,” and Roger Stack, in full macho mode, pulling off his sunglasses to reveal … another pair of sunglasses underneath — surely, Shirley, Airplane! is one of those movies that’s funny as Roger Murdock is tall, even in secondhand retellings. (MB) at AMC 20 only, Sat 1/29 12:30 pm, Tues 2/1 7 pm

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MORNING HEADLINES: Ozzie battles Spokesman and the Middle East rumbles

Posted on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Did not. Did so — Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was critical of a Spokesman-Review story that ran on the front page Wednesday, which quoted him as saying rat poison was a potential component in the explosive device placed downtown on Martin Luther King Day. He said his comments were mischaracterized. The paper's editors disagreed, but ran a front-page non-correction today. (SR)

Keep dreamin' — A medical school in Spokane did not make the governor's new construction list, dashing the hopes of people who want Spokane to be a real city. (SR)  

Deer Park: Home of weed and whiskey — KREM's keeping the marijuana-in-liquor-stores story alive with a segment on a Deer Park liquor store that totally wants to sell reefer. "It's a drug. Both of them [marijuana and liquor] are and they should not be on a shelf in a grocery store, it should be a controlled situation," Linda Thrasher, owner of Deer Park Liquor and Wine, told the station. (KREM)

Peace in the Middle East? — Or are the protests happening (or that happened recently) in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Lebanon the precursor to religious radicals hijacking a country? What should the U.S. do? Support democratic ideals or corrupt allies? The anticipation is killing me. (NYT, WSJ) 

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

INJUSTICE PROJECT: Welton exonerated

Posted on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 4:48 PM

Jeff Welton, a detective in the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, was exonerated today for a 2006 traffic stop in which he was accused of using excessive force.

Welton, who was written about in a July Inlander cover story called "Strong Arm of the Law," pulled over Daniel Strange and then used a Taser on Strange. Strange had filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the county for Welton's actions.

A unanimous jury agreed with Welton that the force he used during the confrontation was acceptable.

For our story, we requested “all complaints, records of internal investigations and any disciplinary actions” against Welton and received a stack of 832 pages. Our count — admittedly imperfect due to the amount of redacted information in the records — revealed some 30 complaints against Welton, and he never received any disciplinary actions for any of them.

When Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich later disputed the number of complaints against Welton, he argued that he could only uncover five "investigations" of Welton. Complaints many times never turn into an investigation, which is what the story looked in to.

Read the Spokesman's coverage of today's jury decision here

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Redbands in the whitewater

Posted on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 3:07 PM

redband.jpg
Development of a proposed whitewater kayak park in the Spokane River just below downtown may become more complicated, as a fisheries survey to be published in March has found the site to be one of the most robust spawning areas for native redband trout.

Tim Vore, environmental specialist for Avista, last spring identified several redband spawning nests, known as redds, in the reach of river between the Monroe Street and Nine Mile dams. The survey was conducted for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as part of Avista’s dam relicensing agreements with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The north bank on the first curve of the river below Monroe Street, just downstream from the Sandifur Bridge, was the most active spawning area when surveyed last spring, Vore says.

The proposed whitewater park, “as I understand it, is literally under and downstream of the Sandifur Bridge,” Vore says.

Steve Faust, director of Friends of the Falls, which is seeking to construct a whitewater recreation park in the High Bridge Park area, says clear information about the location of spawning gravels and where the native wild trout actually spawn is welcome.

“We are glad to have the data. It’s data we would need to look at how building the features would affect the hydraulics of the river, and whether that is good or bad or indifferent [to fish],” he says.

“It doesn’t preclude [the park] being built, but it is a challenge. It’s a big challege,” says Mike Aho, a supervisor with Spokane Parks and Recreation, which will be doing an environmental impact study with Friends of the Falls.

The spawning areas will loom large, Faust says. It is certain to come up in the permitting process, he says.

“We don’t know if the spawning areas would impact [the park] as currently proposed. We’re not sure if it’s possible to design a project that doesn’t really impact this spawning area.

“We are just starting to deal with this information and we’re not sure what flexibility we have,” Faust says. Significant portions of the project’s grant funding is tied to the High Bridge location, he says.

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