One of the benefits of writing for the Tucson Weekly is working with and getting to know a new group of interns every semester. Last year, working with UA journalism senior Noelle Haro-Gomez was, well, like working with family. I've gotten to know other amazing interns over the years and watched them go on to do amazing work for us and other publications. However, Haro-Gomez is one of those students who is an amazing hard worker in and out of the classroom, and that's why it's easy to share her GoFundMe campaign with you right now.
Haro-Gomez was recently accepted to take part in the VII Student Program in Cambodia this summer. Led by VII photojournalists Gary Knight and Anastasia Taylor-Lind, the program will provide Haro-Gomez with an amazing experience that will undoubtedly shape her life and work to come. Getting accepted is amazing and she should be proud, but paying for this experience is another challenge altogether.
Day after day, education stories I want to write about stack up on my computer desktop. So many stories, so little time! To take care of the overload, I've decided to write the occasional Ed Shorts post with snapshots of what interests me in the world of education, including links to let you explore further if you wish. Without further ado:
• Hupp, robocalls and vouchers take hits. Huppenthal made such a big mistake lending his voice and the authority of his office to a robocall declaring "That’s right, you may be able to send your child to private school for free,” he felt the need to apologize, twice. That wasn't enough to quell the anti-robocall, anti-voucher outrage. The Arizona School Administrators Association had an op ed published in multiple papers condemning our two voucher programs. In the Republic, columnist Laurie Roberts asked, "Why does the Arizona Legislature hate public schools," and E.J. Montini suggested that, if we're giving away taxpayer dollars for vouchers, why not just hand out government money to lots of people to spend as they wish? Our local treasure, Fitz, wrote a series of "Vultures vs. Vouchers" comparisons on his blog, then published one as a cartoon.
• Funding fights. AZ public schools and the legislature are still at odds about how much money should be added to school funding to make up for years of the state illegally denying schools cost-of-living increases. Not surprisingly, the schools want more and the lege wants to give less. Hupp says, let's end all this squabbling, but doesn't propose a solution to the standoff.
How badly did Ed Supe John Huppenthal screw up when he made a robocall urging parents to yank their kids out of public schools and put them in private schools "for free" (meaning, on the taxpayers' dime)? Badly enough he issued a public apology at the State Board of Ed meeting and sent a letter of apology to Arizona Superintendents. Well, kind of an apology.
"I have profound regrets over the articulation of my message and the false perceptions it generated about the nature of my commitment to public education."
One segment in this month's Tucson Cable Access show, "Education: The Rest Of The Story," which I host with Ann-Eve Pedersen, is my take on Hupp's qualifications to be the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
How do you make the perfect Vietnamese banh mi sandwich? That’s a question Linh Nguyen, owner of the new food truck Vina Baguette, is uniquely qualified to answer.
“Well, 50 percent is the baguette you use. I get mine from La Baguette on Pantano,” Nguyen said today. “And you have to marinate the meat for at least a day and you have to cook it slow for at least two hours."
"Every single item has to be blended together — the daikon, the pickled carrots, the cucumbers, everything. It seems simple, but it’s very technical.”
Nguyen is from Vietnam, arriving in Tucson back in 1986 and graduating from Rincon High School. He went on to work at a variety of jobs, most recently managing Miss Saigon Bar and Grill in Tucson. He also did a stint at Vietnamese restaurant Ha Long Bay out on Broadway Boulevard.
“Then one day about a year ago I bought a truck and figured that everywhere in the United States they were talking about banh mi, so I figured let’s start a food truck and cruise around Tucson."
The truck hit the streets at the end of February and has been popping up on corners around town ever since.
Vina Baguette serves a number of banh mi variations — which in its most elemental form is a bun stuffed with some kind of meat, pickled vegetables, hot peppers, cilantro and a mayonnaise-based spread.
He currently has versions made with pork, chicken and bo luc lac, seasoned beef cooked in a wok and known for its flavorful payload. For vegetarians, there's a lemon-grass tofu version on the menu.
On the beverage front, think boba milk tea, green tea and iced Vietnamese coffee.
I'm not entirely sure how I stumbled upon them, but for the last few months, I've been following the Toronto group Choir! Choir! Choir! on Youtube and Soundcloud. The concept is pretty simple: people get together and sing indie-friendly songs together. The group has covered songs by Haim (above), Erasure, Robyn, Big Star, Daft Punk and many, many more and it looks like they have a heck of a time doing it.
In fact, Toronto's Globe and Mail ran a guest column today about the joys of choir singing that included a reference to Choir! Choir! Choir!:
My friend Lenni Jabour, an accomplished songwriter herself, sings every Tuesday in a choir gloriously named Choir! Choir! Choir! It’s in the west end of Toronto, and they rehearse in a bar where choristers drink mojitos and sing genius choral arrangements of pop songs like Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Organizers video each rehearsal and post it on YouTube so participants can share it with friends. According to Lenni, it’s a bit like participating in an impromptu concert every week. More importantly, it makes her deliriously happy. “We’re always encouraged to sing as children, and then you grow up and, unless you go to church, when do you sing?” she says.
Singing in a choir is a transcendent experience — and there aren’t many of those in life. It instills gratitude and bliss without the contortions of yoga or hangovers of alcohol. Singing doesn’t just make us feel better — it makes us better people. By singing in a group, we choose to recede for a moment from selfish concerns and pursue harmony with those around us.
While I probably should not be invited to sing publicly under any context, there is something really beautiful and communal about singing with other people and the way a multitude of voices come together. As the author above alludes to, it just doesn't happen too often for adults, which seems sort of sad.
So, why doesn't Tucson have this sort of thing? Seems like a nice bit of interpersonal connection in our generally disconnected world. Someone make this happen, people!
On Sen. Al Melvin’s (R-Tucson) legislative bio, there is a sentence that directs readers to www.votealmelvin.com in order to contact him.
That website is a violation of campaign ethics according to Sen. Steve Gallardo (D-Phoenix).
“It’s definitely illegal for him to utilize the state website to promote his gubernatorial campaign so it should definitely be taken down,” Gallardo said.
Gallardo plans to take the violation to Senate President Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) so that the ethics committee can review the issue and determine if sanctions need to be taken against Melvin.
Melvin has announced his campaign for governor of the state and if one were to go to the website, a prompt asking for a five dollar donation pops up immediately.
“I think it is not fair for the other candidates that are running for governor when you have a state paid, taxpayer paid website and you’re using it to promote your candidacy for governor,” Gallardo said.
Constantine Querard, Melvin’s campaign manager doesn’t think that the link is a big deal.
“It’s not a link it’s another way of reaching somebody if the business is non-legislative,” Querard said, “There’s no advocacy or using state resources to campaign or that certain aspect. It’s been there for six years and no one’s ever cared and quite frankly it’s operated by the senate staff.”
It's been awhile since RAW Tucson hosted an event here in town (the last one I see was in November at Club Congress and the organization's website for says our location is currently "coming soon"), but for awhile, every time there was a RAW event, someone in the arts community would ask me what I thought of it. I never could really answer, because it didn't make a lot of sense to me. Why would anyone pay $300 (or sell tickets to make up that charge) to be a part of a one-night-only show that promises to launch your career/build exposure/all the other bullshit people say to artists to take their money?
Well, alt-weekly Cincinnati City Beat looked into RAW's business practices this week and - perhaps not surprisingly - they find the business model is more like Herbalife than an arts organization:
RAW’s claim to have empowered more than 15,000 artists last year suggests the company is looking at millions of dollars in annual revenue, and the income likely doesn’t end there. RAW’s ever-growing audience opens the door for sponsorships of its awards series and classified advertisements on its website, plus additional door and drink sales at dozens of events around the world every month.
If RAW’s revenue potential isn’t enough to pique one’s interest in this emerging international company, its similarities to multi-level marketing operations (MLM) might be. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission frequently sues operators of large-scale pyramid schemes for violating federal securities laws through MLM programs. The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t take kindly to them, either.
Ayla Benjamin, who ran RAW’s Cincinnati chapter for seven months in 2012 through local marketing firm Spotlight 360, compares RAW to Mary Kay and Pure Romance — multi-level marketing firms that allow “consultants” to run their own small businesses using the company’s name and products.
“There are people who decide to get involved with those companies and they are very successful,” Benjamin says.
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy details six pyramid scheme warning signs, including “no genuine product or service” and “emphasis on recruiting.”
“In an MLM program, you typically get paid for products or services that you and the distributors in your ‘downline’ (i.e., participants you recruit and their recruits) sell to others,” according to the SEC.
[RAW founder Heidi] Luerra flatly denies that RAW is a scam.
“My response to anyone that assumes we are a scam or a pyramid scheme is simply that we’re not,” Luerra wrote to CityBeat. “I believe that there is misinformation and miseducation occurring by individuals who simply have an opinion — and in fact were once very enthusiastic about participating in RAW.”
The entire article is worth a read, but another troubling section regards an attempt by RAW to silence their critics:
Luerra asked her directors to email any “stoked-on-RAW artists” who might be willing to write positive testimonials on key sites where each director was supposed to open RAW accounts, including Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and various community government websites. She later updated the staff in a page titled “Stupid Blogs Update,” which detailed plans to employ a search engine optimization (SEO) company to bump positive feedback above stories criticizing the company.
The plan was in full force by last May, when Luerra sent the staff an email introducing “Operation: Dumbo Drop.”
“Welcome to your first edition of our super secret mission, Operation: Dumbo Drop (not to be confused with the Disney movie),” she wrote. “In relation to the blogs we told you about we’re taking some strides to get this off the front page of our Google search. We just met with an SEO specialist and will hopefully be able to bring in the big dawgs soon. In the meantime (since we have a small army involved with RAW), we can really make some headway on our own.”
CityBeat asked Luerra in an email why she started the SEO campaign, and once again she prefaced the response in a litigious tone: “Note: This again references company information that was disseminated illegally and said parties are now in breach of contract.”
She then answered the question: “The SEO campaign was created to simply help others understand who we are and what we do without being clouded by misguided and misinformed individuals.”
In addition to detailing Operation: Dumbo Drop and the “mucho margaritas” Luerra and the gang planned to consume during a corporate retreat at the Samba Vallarta Resort in Mexico from Jan. 21-25, the documents detailed ticket sale totals for hundreds of events between February and December of 2013. RAW sold more than 30,000 tickets in April and May alone, with Nashville, Phoenix, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Dallas, Austin, Texas, Hartford, Conn., Omaha, Neb., and Riverside, Calif., breaking their own records during the two-month period. Thirty-thousand tickets should have brought in somewhere between $450,000 and $500,000, depending on how many were sold at a higher price at the door.
Things would be simpler in RAW’s world if every location operated as smoothly as Phoenix, where a single event on Oct. 17 sold 852 tickets, totaling $12,915. Because a subcontractor ran the Phoenix chapter, RAW took back $3,300 in upfront costs and a $2,000 franchise fee, leaving $7,615 for showcase director Laura Fischer.
I contacted current Tucson RAW host Chezale Rodriguez-Wells via Facebook message who said that she's waiting to hear from RAW higher-ups about the future of the organization in Tucson.
The annual Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival features fourteen renowned musicians, including the Miro String Quartet and… More