Friday, August 31, 2007

Tompkins Rates an F

Our county earned a failing grade in economic development, although apparently the study didn't take into account our commuting workers. But our state's population is still growing faster than that of North Dakota!

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Working on zero sleep, thanks to a sick dog. Alex and Roxie got into a bag of kibble a week ago, and ate maybe 2-3 pounds before being discovered. Alex was a little ill that night but seemed fine afterward, until maybe Monday, when she started panting excessively. By Tuesday, it was out of control, and last night, nobody slept. I honestly thought she was in congestive heart failure. This morning, I took her to the vet, and $835 later, they diagnosed her with a stomachache. She is packed with kibble from guggle to zatch; they showed me the x-ray and sonogram. I think they should have framed them in gold for the amount they charged.

So I sleepwalked through work today, and through about 45 emails about local politics, and even through tonight's campaign meeting for our Town Justice candidate. Paul's due home from CO tonight around 11. I think we'll all be dead to the world by then, even the panting dog, who seems much better after her day at the spa.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bizarro World

SmileyCentral.comSometimes BOE meetings make me feel as though I'm wandering through Bizarro World, in which everyone but me shares an opinion, and everything I opine is groan-inducingly negative. The shared opinion, which is expressed quite clearly in Tony Hall's op ed in TW, which was handed out by our Elementary Principal last night, is that Everything Is Fine; in fact, things are Better Than They've Ever Been. I don't see it. If it's not quantifiable, I don't believe it. A vague and peppy feeling that morale is high just doesn't cut it with me. Morale is often high when a contract is signed that favors the people whose morale was low. My daughter's education is just about borderline acceptable, and that hasn't changed in six years.

Some of it is Bubble Effect, similar to the Bush Administration's problem. The other BOE members aren't talking to the same people I'm talking to. They don't have friends who are leaving the district because it doesn't meet their children's needs, or neighbors who are worried about allowing their child to start kindergarten in the district. They haven't had bad run-ins with the principals, as some of my acquaintances have. And although I can guarantee that every one of them is more religious than I am, most have managed to turn a blind eye to issues involving character--issues that I'd love to ignore, too, but on which I get phone calls from constituents. I guess they don't get those phone calls.

I am, despite my agnosticism about the district's direction, eternally grateful to our sup't for getting the ball rolling on Pre-K. It's been seven years since I tried.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The CHIPs Are Down

Bob Herbert opines about this in the NYT today, but Gene Sperling's column may be better. Herbert quotes our governor:
“It’s stunning,” said New York’s Gov. Eliot Spitzer. “He says he’s going to veto health care for kids because it’s too expensive at the same time that these continuing resolutions for the war, where we don’t even know what the cost is, are going through unabated. This is insanity.

“Everybody agrees this is the right thing to do except the Bush administration.”

Monday, August 27, 2007


The gas man came today and hooked up a gigantic, A-bomb-looking propane tank where we once had two little ones. Then he hooked that to the copper pipe Paul and I snaked through the house and out the other side to our new generator. When Paul comes back, he'll figure out which of our electric needs should be hooked up to the generator itself. Then when a big storm happens, I can still work, and we can still have hot water, at least for a few days. (The storm here hit all around us but did not knock out our power, rather miraculously. On the other hand, this could be like the year we finally bought the snowplow and never once needed to use it.)

Suddenly Busy

I finally signed my massive, five-month contract and am once again under the gun, this time for Prentice Hall. I am inundated with paper and files, which is why I had to hear about Gonzalez from Carrie by phone.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I'm Less Do-Nothing Than You Are

I thought this chart in the NYT was enlightening--for those of us who were wondering whether this Congress wasn't just as bad as before the Democratic majority.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Living Locally

I don't usually link to other blogs; the list in the right column should suffice. But Simon today talks about the reasons to be concerned with local issues/politics in a way that resonates.

Lunching with Skorton

Yesterday a few administrators, a handful of Board members from other districts, and I met at BOCES to hear from President Skorton of CU about partnering possibilities. As I suspected, these had little to do with paying Dryden in lieu of taxes for the $20 million in tax-exempt land they hold in our town. However, CU has some ideas involving Cooperative Extension and rural economies that may be useful in the future. The man himself is quite pleasant, quiet, with a wry sense of humor. He brought with him Cal Walker, his new outreach guy (from Village at Ithaca), and Gary Stewart, formerly of the Ithaca Journal, now an Assistant for Community Relations.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dryden by the Numbers

Simon sent this from the census, which I don't think he'll mind if I post. It's fascinating to see how close to the American norm Dryden is in nearly all things except racial diversity--and education.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ready, Set, Run

The local political season is heating up. Usually, you can't count on any activity prior to Labor Day. But this week, I attended a meeting for the Town Justice candidate last night and have my fifth or so for a Town of Ithaca Supervisor candidate tonight (there's a primary, so that's why that one's so busy). So far today, I've revised a palmcard, apologized to a radio host, emailed two organizations about setting up a meet-and-greet, and started a draft of a speech. Good thing I'm underemployed this month.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Power and Sex

There are a million stories about inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. There are a million policies about peer sexual harassment in schools. What seems not to have been studied is the male administrator/female teacher relationship. It seems to be accepted in a way that the male boss/female worker relationship in other workplaces is not. Why should that be so?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Blog in TW

Tony Hall quotes me and references the blog, to my surprise, in his article on administrators in this week's Tompkins Weekly. Caveat: TW changes their current issue weekly, so this link will not work next week--or will link you to a totally unrelated story.

New Teachers

SmileyCentral.comI represented the Board at New Teacher Orientation today, which I like to do. All those fresh faces! All that energy! It was a smallish group this year, maybe 20 in all. And every one a woman. Right now, O is upstairs in the middle school, helping her social studies teacher set up her room. Free labor, yes, but it will help O feel more confident on Day 1.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Paul's Sunday

Salsa, with at least five different kinds of hot peppers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Good Line

I also like this line from Frank Rich's column today:
Far from looking like America, the G.O.P. caucus, like the party's presidential field, could pass for a Rotary Club, circa 1954.

The Warriors' POV

PZ says I should blog this article from the NYT, by a group of soldiers on the ground, one of whom was shot in the head before it was published. Their conclusion:
Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence.
I think the notion of an "American-centered view" of the conflict is probably exactly what's wrong with the story we're getting from people in charge. This is a new kind of conflict, and once again, we're too inert to adjust.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dramatic Weather

From today's Ithaca Journal:
Around 7:10 p.m. trees and power lines blew down across Taughannock Boulevard near the Hangar Theatre, blocking traffic in both directions and sending Ithaca police and firefighters to the scene. That was the most severe damage IFD saw in that period, VanBenschoten said. Because of downed wires, the Hangar was asked to cancel its 8 p.m. performance of “All the Great Books (Abridged).”
Actually, we were there. The performance was not cancelled. We watched nearly the whole first act without sound cues or lighting cues. When the lights finally cut out altogether, we watched by flashlight, and nobody left or enjoyed it less. At long last, Lisa and Kevin interrupted a fight scene to say that the fire department required our departure. We're allowed to return to see the show again before it closes, but all three of us agreed it couldn't possibly be better than the seat-of-the-pants, half-improvised show we saw.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Maybe the school board president was kept informed, but I didn't find out about this until Crawford was a finalist, about a month ago. But I suspect Andy is just being polite.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I told our Board president my philosophy: If you don't write your story, someone else will write it for you. He was convinced, and the news is finally out in the media.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Bad

In three years on the BOE, I missed one meeting when I was rushed to the hospital. Last night, I attended Executive Session but then cut out to have dinner with O because I didn't find anyone to watch her till midnight. I don't know what that says about my level of commitment this time around--or the fun I'm having being back on the Board. . . .

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Help Wanted

Dryden's superintendent of schools is departing for Hamburg, NY, after a three-year tenure here. He's telling the staff this morning, so I feel comfortable blogging about it today.

Since a superintendent search was not how I'd planned to spend my one year back on the board, I'm hustling to find research on superintendent tenure and what it means. In this BOCES district, only Ithaca and Newfield have superintendents who have been at their jobs longer than the national average. Lansing can't seem to keep any administrators. Groton's had troubles, too. Tburg had a long-time superintendent leave and seems to be retaining the replacement. An AASA study in 2007 found that the average length of tenure for a superintendent was five to six years; it went down precipitously in urban schools. Women stay longer than men by about a year or so. This is a pretty good review of the literature. It suggests that the frequent citing of two to three years as an average tenure is "media hype."

I found this correlation between academic achievement and superintendent longevity of interest (from Waters & Marzano, in The School Administrator, March 2007):
Our meta-analysis produced an additional finding that initially was not a focus of our study. Two studies that we examined reported correlations between superintendent tenure and student academic achievement. Together, the weighted average correlation from these two studies was a statistically significant .19, which suggests the longevity of the superintendent has a positive effect on the average academic achievement of students in the district. These positive effects appear to manifest themselves as early as two years into a superintendent's tenure.

The positive correlation between the length of superintendent service and student achievement affirms the value of leadership stability and of a superintendent remaining in a district long enough to see the positive impact of his or her leadership on student learning and achievement. Of equal significance is the implication of this finding for school boards as they frequently determine the length of superintendent tenure in their districts.

In his 2005 book Crash Course, Chris Whittle contrasts CEO stability in major corporations with superintendent stability in large urban school districts. Over the last 20 years, Kansas City, Mo., has had 14 superintendents, yielding an average tenure of 1.4 years. Washington, D.C., has had nine superintendents over that time for an average tenure of 2.2 years. During the same time frame, General Electric was run by two CEOs. Federal Express, Microsoft and Dell had one chief executive each.

Whittle, who founded the Edison Schools, asserts that CEO stability at the corporations accounts for a large measure of their success. He argues that the instability of superintendent leadership accounts for much of the low student achievement found in too many school districts. If the stability of superintendents were to approximate the stability of CEO leadership, he claims, school districts likely would experience greater success, assuming superintendents focus on the right priorities and skillfully fulfill their responsibilities. The bonus finding in this truly supports Whittle's conclusion.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In Which John Goes for a Walk and Is Joined by a Chicken

One Came In Sixth, and Then There Were Eight

Tommy Thompson has gone away, and thus has left my column on the right. Carrie suggests that this opens the way for Fred to enter the race without the last-name confusion that would otherwise have ensued.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Required Reading

Nora Ephron in the NYT on the hazards of memory loss. We've all been there.

Saturday, August 11, 2007



The wildflowers Paul used to seed the hillside are in their glory right now, making me wish I had a better camera with which to document them. I'm not good at identifying wildflowers; click on these to see my guesses (where I've made 'em). Any help will be gratefully received.

Leo Lutwak Memorial Tree Bears Fruit

Friday, August 10, 2007

Required Reading

Krugman in the NYT on the "very scary things" that are panicking the markets right now.
What’s been happening in financial markets over the past few days is something that truly scares monetary economists: liquidity has dried up. That is, markets in stuff that is normally traded all the time — in particular, financial instruments backed by home mortgages — have shut down because there are no buyers.

This could turn out to be nothing more than a brief scare. At worst, however, it could cause a chain reaction of debt defaults.... And here’s the truly scary thing about liquidity crises: it’s very hard for policy makers to do anything about them.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Reading List

The Mission Song is the second of le Carre's African novels, the first being The Constant Gardener. In this one, the action takes place entirely in England and on an unnamed island off Denmark, but the Congo is the nexus of everything that happens. No one writes better about the threats from outside--and inside!--to the unholy mess that is Africa today. Actually, few write better, period.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

In the Garden

Roxie checks out the tomatoes, and O snaps a great picture of a black and yellow argiope, showing its unique stabilimentum and a portion of its two-foot web.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

How They Voted

Arcuri and Hinchey voted NO. So did Schumer and Clinton. Take a good look at the list. Webb, Bayh, Feinstein, Inouye, Hagel, Mikulski, McCaskill--we've got you in our sights.

Required Reading

Today's NYT editorial on the complete caving of the House and Senate Democrats to the Bush White House's fearmongering:
It was appalling to watch over the last few days as Congress — now led by Democrats — caved in to yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights. Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security.

There was plenty of bad behavior. Republicans marched in mindless lockstep with the president. There was double-dealing by the White House. The director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, crossed the line from being a steward of this nation’s security to acting as a White House political operative.

But mostly, the spectacle left us wondering what the Democrats — especially their feckless Senate leaders — plan to do with their majority in Congress if they are too scared of Republican campaign ads to use it to protect the Constitution and restrain an out-of-control president.
More than anything else that has happened in the past six years, this stupidity will be what sends right-minded Dems racing for the exits and re-registering as independents.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Required Reading

Paul Krugman in the NYT on the lack of substance in most of our presidential candidates. After stating baldly that "The entire G.O.P. field. . . fails the substance test," he goes on to say:
There is, by contrast, a lot of substance on the Democratic side, with John Edwards forcing the pace. Most notably, in February, Mr. Edwards transformed the whole health care debate with a plan that offers a politically and fiscally plausible path to universal health insurance.

Whatever the fate of the Edwards candidacy, Mr. Edwards will deserve a lot of the credit if and when we do get universal care in this country.

Mr. Edwards has also offered a detailed, sensible plan for tax reform, and some serious antipoverty initiatives.

Four months after the Edwards health care plan was announced, Barack Obama followed with a broadly similar but somewhat less comprehensive plan. Like Mr. Edwards, Mr. Obama has also announced a serious plan to fight poverty.

Hillary Clinton, however, has been evasive. She conveys the impression that there’s not much difference between her policy positions and those of the other candidates ­ but she’s offered few specifics.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Italian-American Festival

Hot, dusty, greasy, noisy--it's a rite of summer on the south shore of Seneca Lake, where their park, unlike ours, is actually usable and relatively clean. We've now gone twice, which makes it coincidence. Once more, and it's a tradition.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

The Simpsons Movie. I laughed louder than the four stoned teenagers in the row across from O and me. Completely embarrassed my ten-year-old (who was laughing, too).

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bad Dems

James Risen in the NYT writes:
Democratic leaders have expressed a new willingness to work with the White House to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it easier for the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some purely foreign telephone calls and e-mail. Such a step now requires court approval.
This appears to be the Patriot Act all over again, with Dems falling over each other trying to be the toughest guy on terrorism in the whole wide Senate. Hideous to behold.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today was Grandma Jan's 75th birthday. She was born in Chicago at the height of the Depression. O and I drove out to visit with her and SAZ and spend a couple of hours soaking in Waneta Lake. It meant cooling down to about 78 degrees from the 102 that registered on the thermometers in Watkins and Ithaca.

Dryden Cafeteria

My conservative pal Cliff Norte has a letter to the editor today, complaining about the fact that the BOE failed to raise lunch prices to help combat the deficit. I voted to raise 'em, because I think it's nuts not to take every opportunity to increase revenue when you're in the hole to the tune of $200K+. However, the majority of the board decided to wait another year to see whether recent changes in the lunch program would affect the bottom line. Something about the addition of tasty and healthful wraps to the menu causing kids who would otherwise sneak off campus and go to McDonalds to cough up the $ for an in-school lunch. Good luck with that, I say.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


It's August.
And boy, do we have rabbits.