May 30, 2008

Developing Story Ideas: Mel Blanc 100th Anniversary

Feature story ideas can come from anywhere.

Just one idea:
How about the changes in cartoons from when we (the profs) were young to today. And the hook: The 100th anniversary of the birth of Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and dozens of other characters in the Warner Brothers universe.

Here is the Histry Channel bio on Blanc:

Tha-tha-tha-that's all folks.

May 15, 2008

Researchers: written English language will weather LOL storm

From ars technica

By Jacqui Cheng
Published: May 14, 2008 - 08:40PM CT

Concerned parents and disgusted Internet elitists often criticize teenagers for their use of abbreviated speech and shorthand online, frequently arguing that it is ruining their language skills. It turns out that's not the case, however, according to new research from the University of Toronto to be published in the spring 2008 issue of American Speech. In fact, not only is "IM speak" not destroying anyone's language skills, it is actually being characterized as "an expansive new linguistic renaissance."

Researchers Sali Tagliamonte and Derek Denis studied over a million words from IM communications and compared it to more than 250,000 spoken words of those between the ages of 15 and 20. The two found that, while written and spoken speech share some similarities, IM communications actually leaned toward the formal side. Teens were more likely to say "She was like, 'oh no you didn't!'" when speaking to one another, but write "She said, 'oh yes I did!'" when IMing. (And then I was like "nuh uh!")

Rest of story:

Related Story: txt msg hrting englsh skllz? u b the jdge

May 12, 2008

An angle on food shortages students can understand

From Boing Boing

Over at, a piece by David Kravets on one odd effect of the (i can't believe I'm typing this) global food shortages -- artisanal beer brewers are reformulating recipes to reduce the amount of increasingly costly hops:

At Pacific Coast Brewing here, brewer Donald Gortemiller is reworking his recipes and altering his brewing styles like never before.

Gortemiller isn't acting on a spurt of creativity. He's coping with a worldwide shortage of hops -- the spice of beer. The dry cones of a particular flowering vine, hops are what give your favorite brew its flavor and aroma. Prices of the commodity are skyrocketing as hop supplies have plummeted, forcing smaller brewmasters around the United States to begin quietly tweaking their recipes, in ways that are easily discerned by serious imbibers.

The shortage -- caused by a dwindling number of hop growers worldwide, and exacerbated by a Yakima, Washington, warehouse fire -- has forced Gortemiller to use fewer and different hops than before, changing the flavor of his beer. He's also resorted to beer hacks, like "dry hopping," in which the hops are added late to the mix, consuming fewer hops and yielding a more consistent flavor.

"When hops were $2 a pound, compared to $20 or $30 a pound now, it didn't matter. We'd throw them into the boil at various times," Gortemiller says. "That was an inaccurate way of doing things. We're modifying recipes and using about 20 percent less hops." href="">Link. (photo by Jim Merithew,; thanks, Wayneco)

Update: BB commenter Pipenta has a solution:

Those big breweries that are making crap beer anyway can substitute other, um, natural substances for the hops.

For Bud and Bud Lite, bull terrier piddle should do the trick. For Heineken, a pole cat tincture is just the ticket.

In neither case, will any animals be harmed. For the first, all that is required is a convenient drain installed alongside a fireplug. And the Heineken folks just need to open a spa for skunks and change out the hot tub water on a daily basis.

May 8, 2008

Gown, Town and Globe to Converge May 22 at JC

During my News Editing class (COMM 352) I tried to get my students to think about the links between the campus, the local community, the nation and the world.

The obvious connection is the diverse nature of the GMU community and the diversity in Fairfax County that comes from immigration.

Too often the issue of immigration is only touched on as a link in a few individual situations. Well not the link is much stronger.

The Virginia State Immigration Commission will meet to discuss the impact of immigration on the commonwealth at a meeting to be held in the Johnson Center May 22.

If only this was being held during the term. I would have required all my students to attend and report on it.


Immigration commission to meet in Fairfax

Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger
Published: May 8, 2008

The Virginia Commission on Immigration needs to figure out the effects immigration has on the commonwealth.

To do that, the commission will hold five community meetings across the state in coming months to get the public's input on the issue, said Matt Gross of the Virginia Department of Social Services.

The first of the meetings will be May 22 at the Johnson Center Cinema at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Gross said.

People who wish to offer three-minute comments can sign up at 1 p.m. for the 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. sessions.

Gross said the commission expects good attendance at the meetings. "We are trying to stress that we ask people to keep their comments to three minutes," Gross said.

The commission is tasked with studying, reporting and making recommendations on the costs and benefits immigration issues have on local education, health care, law enforcement, services and economies across the state.

"They really just want to hear what the public has to say and get a flavor for how the regions might vary," Gross said of the commissioners.

Gross said the commission will be examining all facets of immigration, unlike the Illegal Immigration Task Force which recently looked at illegal immigration and crime.

"This commission will be looking at everything else," Gross said.

"Really a large part of the immigrant population is here legally," he said. "They still create new challenges that the commonwealth has to face regardless of their legal status. We would like to focus on immigration as a whole."

Written comments can be sent to or mailed to Virginia Commission on Immigration, c/o Matt Gross, 7 North Eighth St., 6th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219 by Sept. 30.

The other meetings will be in Roanoke in June, Norfolk in July, Harrisonburg in August and Richmond in September.

Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, is co-chair the commission which was created by legislation introduced by Del. Robert G. "Bob" Marshall, R-Prince William.

State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, is the chairman of the commission.

For more information visit

Keith Walker can be reached at 703-369-6751.

May 6, 2008

A death, history and a learning opportunity.

Mildred Loving died yesterday.

She and her husband were the focal point of a Supreme Court case that tossed the last of the segregation laws -- a ban on inter-racial marriages.

The Washington Post front page story on the death of Mildred Loving summarizes the fight she and her husband had to be allowed to live together in the Virginia of the 1960s.

The problem -- for the state -- was that she was black and he was white.

A couple of points for our students:
  1. The Post used -- but not to its fullest extent -- simple information from the Census Bureau about the number of interracial marriages. (4.3 million nationwide.) I would have been interested to know how many were in Virginia. (BTW, the number is of 2.7 million households in Virginia, 37,000 are self-identified as two or more races as head of households. Again, from the US Census Bureau.
  2. The ease nature of interracial dating we see with today's young people is something that is new -- the general acceptance in society -- to our society. The changes in the law took place just a generation ago. And that change came from the Supreme Court. (As did the right to privacy and a woman's choice to terminate a pregnancy.) I use these points regularly to show the importance of following what the Supreme Court does, even though it is the least accessible of the three branches of government.

For those who want to delve more deeply into the Loving case, I recommend you start with the actual Supreme Court hearing. You can listen to the MP3 proceedings. I revisit this case often just to listen to the arguments made on both sides and the questions from the justices.

The URL to hear the case is

May 5, 2008

Numbers about mothers...

Story ideas for the future.

Mother's Day: May 11, 2008

The driving force behind Mother's Day was Anna Jarvis, who organized observances in Grafton, W.Va., and Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. As the annual celebration became popular around the country, Jarvis asked members of Congress to set aside a day to honor mothers. She finally succeeded in 1914, when Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day.

How Many Mothers
82.8 million
Estimated number of mothers in the United States in 2004.
Source: Survey of Income and Program Participation unpublished tabulations

Percentage of 15- to 44-year-olds who are mothers.
Source: Fertility of American Women

Percentage of women 40 to 44 who are mothers. In 1976, 90 percent of women in that age group were mothers.
Source: Fertility of American Women
How Many Children

The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2006 the first time since 1971 that the nation's TFR was at replacement level, which is the birth rate required to replace the population.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

Number of births in 2006 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Utah, which led the nation. At the other end of the spectrum was Vermont, with a rate of 52.2 births.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics
Among the 37.8 million mothers living with children younger than 18, the percentage who lived with their biological children only. In addition, 3 percent lived with stepchildren, 2 percent with adopted children and less than 1 percent with foster children.
Source: Living Arrangements of Children: 2004
Moms Who've Recently Given Birth

4.3 million
Number of births in the United States in 2006. Of this number, 435,427 were to teens 15 to 19, and 112,432 to mothers 40 or older.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

Average age of women in 2005 when they gave birth for the first time. This is up 3.8 years since 1970.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

Percentage of births that were the mother's first in 2006. Another 32 percent were the second-born; 17 percent, third; and 11 percent, fourth or more.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

Number of births in 2005 that did not occur in hospitals.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

1 in 31
The likelihood of a woman delivering twins in 2005. Her chances of delivering triplets and higher order multiple births was approximately 1 in 618.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics

The month with the highest number of births, with 369,316 taking place that month in 2005.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics
The day of the week with the highest number of births, with an average of
13,169 taking place on Tuesdays during 2005.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics
Jacob and Emily
The most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively, in 2006.
Source: Social Security Administration
Mothers Remembered
Number of florist establishments nationwide in 2005. The 101,861 employees in floral shops across our nation will be especially busy preparing, selling and delivering floral arrangements for Mothers Day.
Source: County Business Patterns: 2005
The flowers bought for mom have a good chance of having been grown in California. Among the 15 surveyed states, California was the leading provider of cut flowers in 2006, accounting for 77 percent of domestic flower production ($316 million out of $411 million) in those states.
Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service
Number of employees of the 120 greeting-card publishing establishments in 2005.
Source: County Business Patterns: 2005

The number of cosmetics, beauty supplies and perfume stores nationwide in 2005. Perfume is one of the most popular gifts given on Mother's Day.
Source: County Business Patterns: 2005
Number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2005 -- the place to purchase necklaces, earrings and other timeless pieces for mom.
Source: County Business Patterns: 2005
Working Moms (and Moms-to-Be)

5.6 million
Number of stay-at-home moms in 2006.
Source: Americas Families and Living Arrangements: 2006
Among mothers with infants in 2004, the percentage in the labor force, down from a record high of 59 percent in 1998.
Source: Fertility of American Women
Number of child care centers across the country in 2005. These include more than 73,000 centers employing more than 800,000 workers and another 678,000 self-employed people or other businesses without paid employees. Many mothers turn to these centers to help juggle motherhood and careers.
Source: County Business Patterns: 2005 and Nonemployer Statistics
Percentage of women who gave birth for the first time between 2001 and 2003 and worked during their pregnancy. This compares with 44 percent who gave birth for the first time between 1961 and 1965.
Source: Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns: 1961-2003
The percentage of first-time mothers who worked one month or less before giving birth in the early part of this decade. This compares with percent who did so between 1961 and 1965.
Source: Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns: 1961-2003
The percentage of first-time mothers in the early part of this decade who were working by the sixth month after they gave birth. In the early 1960s, the corresponding percentage was 14 percent.
Source: Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns: 1961-2003
The percentage of mothers who went back to work within a year of their child's birth who returned to the same employer. Seven in 10 of these women returned to jobs at the same pay, skill level and hours worked per week.
Source: Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns: 1961-2003
Single Moms

10.4 million
The number of single mothers living with children younger than 18, up from
3.4 million in 1970.
Source: America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2006

6.1 million
Number of custodial mothers entitled to child support in 2005.
Source: Custodial Mothers and Fathers and their Child Support
Meals with Mommy
54% and 79%
Percentages of children younger than 6 who eat breakfast and dinner, respectively, with their mother every day. The corresponding percentages who eat with their father were 41 percent and 66 percent.
Source: A Childs Day

Editor's note: The preceding data were collected from a variety of sources and may be subject to sampling variability and other sources of error.

Facts for Features are customarily released about two months before an observance in order to accommodate magazine production timelines. Questions or comments should be directed to the Census Bureaus Public Information Office: telephone: 301-763-3030; fax: 301-763-3762; or

Foreign Workers in the US: A growing issue

While Foreign Workers Continue to Move into the US Job Market, Few Companies Are Effectively Dealing with Language Limitations

More Companies Would Provide English Language Training if it Would Increase Productivity

A Report From The Conference Board

Further information: Chris Woock (212) 339-0415

May 5, 2008. . . As foreign-born workers make up a larger share of the U.S. workforce, more employers will be dealing with language limitations. But a new survey by The Conference Board finds that a majority of employers are doing very little to overcome this challenge.
“The future for many U.S. based companies appears flush with potential employees lacking English language skills,” says Chris Woock, author of the report. “Whether and how companies choose to accommodate these workers could have significant impacts on the sustainability of success. Latest evidence suggests companies could do well to recruit and hire the best available talent, irrespective of their language limitations, and invest in language training.”

Foreign-born Americans comprise more than 10 percent of the population, and roughly 15 percent of the labor force, and half of net labor force increases. More than 50 percent of foreign-born workers are from Latin America. One-quarter are from Asia. Assuming current immigration levels continue, immigrants will account for about half of the growth in America’s working age population between now and 2015, and will account for most of the growth through 2025.

U.S. Census data show that fewer than one in four Mexican-born immigrants speak English well, while only about 40 percent of other Hispanic, Asian, and European (non English-speaking countries) immigrants speak English. With nearly half of all non-English speaking immigrants to the U.S. self-reporting as unable to speak English well, language is proving to be a major barrier to upward mobility.

Lack of Proficient English Limits Promotion Opportunities

A survey by The Conference Board of senior HR, training and development executives finds that 66 percent of companies do not provide English language skills in their training programs. Among this group, more than half said this is because they “have not found a need to warrant such training,” even though more than 80 percent report employing English deficient employees. Some of these companies have found alternative means for accommodating such employees. For example, one in five report using bilingual supervisors.

Companies that don’t provide training say they would include English language skills in their training programs if it would result in increased productivity. More than half said that performance gains would drive their inclusion, with 27 percent choosing increased productivity, and 27 percent identifying employee engagement.

In a recent Conference Board report, Are They Really Ready to Work, a majority of employers (more than 60 percent) report that “English language” skills are very important for new workforce entrants to be successful. Most studies find a strong, positive relationship between English proficiency and earnings. To the extent that wages can be used to measure productivity, improving language proficiency could result in significant productivity increases. Studies show that immigrant workers who report speaking English “well” or “very well” earn between 5 and 15 percent more than those who report speaking English “not well” or “not at all.”
A lack of English proficiency can also limit promotion opportunities. Companies that provide English language training report that 25 percent of their immigrant workforce have English language skills that would limit their promotion opportunities.

Company Profiles

The Conference Board report looks at how two companies are dealing with this issue. At a large manufacturer with more than $5 billion in annual sales and approximately 30,000 employees, language programs have been part of its training options for over a decade. The current language training program runs for nine weeks, and improves not only language proficiency but interpersonal communications as well. Executives from the company believe the program has a positive impact on the bottom line through increased productivity, safety and enhanced employee satisfaction.

At Ernst & Young, a global professional services firm with 130,000 people in 140 countries, the focus of language training is for two groups. For their operations in English speaking countries, employees seeking language assistance are generally looking for accent reduction, cultural assimilation or increased business vocabulary. In non-English speaking countries, becoming proficient in English opens up opportunities for more rapid advancement and assignment to more prestigious and complex projects.

Speaking with Authority: The Case for Teaching English Language Proficiency on the Job
Executive Action No. 270, The Conference Board

About The Conference Board
Non-partisan and not-for-profit, The Conference Board is one of the world’s
leading business membership and research organizations. The Conference Board
produces The Consumer Confidence Index and the Leading Economic Indicators for
the U.S. and other major nations. These barometers can have a major impact on
the financial markets. The Conference Board also produces a wide range of
authoritative reports on corporate governance and ethics, human resources and
diversity, executive compensation, outsourcing, profiting from a mature
workforce, and corporate citizenship. Our conference and council programs bring
together more than 12,000 senior executives each year to share insights and
learn from each other. Visit The Conference Board website at

May 1, 2008

Blogging and ethics

No sooner does the DC chapter finish a program on blogs and ethics than Jeffery Goldberg raises the same issue at