Sunday, September 30, 2007

Required Reading

Thomas Friedman on how 9/11 has made us stupid. I agree with every word.
We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy.
I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Our Workshop

We expected maybe 8 people, and I had handouts for 15. We well exceeded that, with representation from everywhere but Lansing and several town chairs in attendance. I led a lively discussion of what they're up against in the various towns, and we dumped way too much information on everyone, possibly discouraging most. Still, I think it's something we ought to be doing more often instead of letting candidates sink or swim on their own. Next time we'll be a bit more organized, but on the whole, it was a worthwhile effort.

Required Reading

Gail Collins in today's NYT (now linkable!) on what drives us so crazy about Hillary Clinton:
It is possible to be so careful that you drive everybody crazy, make them so itchy for adventure, for a noble mission instead of a winnable hand of poker, that they’ll be willing to undo all your hard work just to juice things up.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wrong Ball

I can't explain exactly why, but I feel this video clip has a lot to say about the game of politics as it's played today.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Workshops, Required and Not

SmileyCentral.comNYS now requires six hours of fiscal oversight training for school board members. This is the latest thing: mandating training for voluntary board members of all kinds. Paul thinks requiring anything of volunteers is just plain wrong. But how can I resist six hours at the Horseheads Holiday Inn, learning about revenue sources; disposition of funds; accounting practices; and fraud, waste, and abuse? I'm going at the last possible date, December 1.

Meanwhile, Irene, Carrie, and I are doing our own, optional workshop for candidates tonight at GIAC.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


In case you thought No Child Left Behind was a rousing success, even the Education Department has a hard time touting these statistics. The slight lessening of the gap between black and white students, as Paul pointed out this morning, may simply mean that white students are doing worse. And it seems that Secretary Margaret Spellings can neither read NOR do math.

SmileyCentral.comBut the good news is that we still cannot discriminate against the Boy Scouts. And military recruiters may have access to your local high school campus. This part of NCLB, at least, is working.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Financing Schools

I'm always willing to look at new ways to finance education in NYS. This proposal from a GOP state senator on Long Island makes new teachers state employees, removing their salaries, pensions, and health costs from the district budget. I guess attrition through retirement then eases those costs away from the local and back to the state. The suggestion that districts would be capable of banding together as a bargaining unit is scary, though, and would certainly tend to ensure that the rich get richer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Those Pesky Unfunded Mandates

SmileyCentral.comI'm sure it comes from being married to a true fiscal conservative, but I've lost patience with pols who blame unfunded mandates for everything. Granted, I was loudest among them the last time I was on the BOE. But now I hear our assemblywoman blame the feds and our local pols blame the state, and it just makes me tired. Maybe we really cannot afford everything we want, as rich as NYS is. Maybe we don't really even want everything we seem to want. Maybe it's time to consider frugality--at least consider it, if only to set a good example for the electorate, who are rapidly spending themselves into a downward spiral of debt. That's the real race to the bottom, it seems to me. When debt is meaningless to our officials, why should it mean anything to the rest of us? It's just paper.

Until China calls our marker.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Debate Tuesday

SmileyCentral.comNo, not another boring presidential get-together--this time it's local. The League of Women Voters has agreed to sponsor at least one meet-the-candidates event in Dryden this election season. This one's at the Dryden Fire Dept (Neptune Hose) on North Street, Tuesday, 9/25, at 7 PM. It will include candidates for town supervisor, town board, and town justice. I can't go--I've got school biz to do. But please, if you live in Dryden, plan to attend, and come with questions.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


There's been a flurry of attention to this new proposal to dissolve Tioga County and merge it with three surrounding counties, including our own. Simon has blogged about it on the Albany Project. The governor seems to find consolidation a reasonable answer to high property taxes, albeit one that doesn't face down the issue of how we fund our schools. Simon has always taken the tack that smaller is better. I have always been more concerned about duplication of services and waste, which I think are rampant.

In our area, there's been talk for some time about merging the Town and City of Ithaca. I don't think that will happen. There's been talk for longer about merging the Newfield Schools with Ithaca Schools. I doubt that will happen, although it's slightly more likely. Odessa-Montour is an example of a 20th-century merger that seems to have turned out okay. Here in Dryden, we weren't even able to merge two small primary schools with the larger elementary school--the community outrage was too great. The arguments against merger seem to come down to fear of losing whatever made the small municipality unique--expressed in a response to the Binghamton article above as fear of having low-cost housing imposed on rural areas.

As someone who lives in Tompkins County's Town of Dryden with a mailing address of Freeville (though I'm closer to Caroline than to either village and listed Slaterville Springs's fire department on my insurance policy) and with Ithaca City School District within easy walking distance, I'm adrift in a sea of municipalities and admit to having only the slightest allegiance to most. I pay local taxes only to three: the town, the county, and the school district. The last tax is by far the greatest, and it's not clear that merging villages with towns or counties with counties would alleviate that.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Required Reading

Krugman on health care hopes and the sudden, refreshing feeling that we might get universal coverage in the next administration. Which doesn't solve the issue of health care costs, but it's a step in the right direction.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

State of the State

Groton and Dryden Dems met last night for a nice Q&A with our Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, who spoke with passion about her feeling that the state has enough money to pay for everything we want--insuring all children, fulfilling the requirements of the CFE lawsuit--if only the feds properly pay their fair share (and the governor agrees to raise income taxes). Barbara's chief beef with the governor, whom she otherwise seems to support, is that he promised not to raise taxes in his first year, which she feels was politically safe but ultimately unwise. Her feeling about unfunded mandates in schools is not that we shouldn't have the mandates (she says we've saved around 25 lives with those defibrillators) but that the state should fund them all.

I may sit down with Paul and put together a list of stupid mandates. Barbara may think they're all worthwhile, but I am quite sure the time lost in incorporating many of them is worth more than what the state would pay were they properly funded.

It's interesting that Senate Republicans are now talking about eliminating the property tax just as often as Dems are. And the GOP in Dryden appears to have a single issue: sustainability. What is the world coming to?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The New Mr. Toad

Paul dug this little guy up accidentally yesterday and plopped him in with John, who is very excited to have a friend and keeps trying to taste him. So far Mr. Toad is agile enough to keep from being hurt. He may need to go back outside, though. A few years ago we did manage to keep a much larger toad over the winter in John's terrarium, and they got along very well.
LATER: As his chirped pleas grew more frantic, and John started snapping his jaws, I had to let Mr. Toad go in the vegetable garden. Turtles have been known to eat toads, and this seemed too cruel.

Herb Wins

Herb Engman won in a landslide, indicating that his message of shared leadership resonated with someone, or that people wanted something new, or that his campaign was fiercer (they called maybe 500 people yesterday). About 25% of the voters turned out.

The most interesting news I received today is that Times Select is no more. They've decided that being able to link to their stories and editorials is more important than having a select service.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

United We Sub

Now the subs at Ithaca are unionizing. The question is, what does that do to the rest of the districts, who often choose subs out of the same BOCES pool? Can people sub as union workers in Ithaca and as nonunion workers in Groton? Will the benefits they work for in Ithaca have to be duplicated by other districts? It's hard enough to find subs as it is. I foresee a g*dawful mess.

Health Plan Comparison

SmileyCentral.comThis seems to be a fairly clear comparison of the health care plans proposed by Edwards, Clinton, and Obama. Paul thinks Clinton's is identical to Massachusetts's plan. It seems awfully close. Should Romney sue for patent infringement? I'm guessing Clinton's cost estimate is closest to the truth. David Brooks has a good article in the NYT today about it for those with Times Select.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Every Day Is Citizenship Day

As Mary Ann notes, today the Dryden MS celebrated "Citizenship Day," now correctly known as "Constitution and Citizenship Day," since the signing of the Constitution took place on September 17. According to O, this meant standing outside and watching the flag being raised as a bugle played. It also seemed to involve Boy Scouts, but that part wasn't too clear. And before running off to soccer, she had to quiz me "for extra credit" about what citizenship meant to me. I did not find out before she dashed out whether they studied the Constitution today as is legally required. What a funny holiday.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tune Out

If "turn on, tune in, drop out" was the cry of the counterculture in 1968, surely "tune out" is the cry of the general population today. O showed me a YouTube of funny 911 calls in which a woman called in to complain about a guy hitting another guy in a movie she was watching. Today, Frank Rich, who is rapidly proving to be the writer best able to conflate pop culture with American history, writes:
Even if military "victory" were achievable in Iraq, America could not win a war abandoned by its own citizens. The evaporation of that support was ratified by voters last November. For that, they were rewarded with the "surge." Now their mood has turned darker. Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted weeklong visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, "24" lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's.

You can't blame the public for changing the channel. People realize that the president's real "plan for victory" is to let his successor clean up the mess. They don't want to see American troops dying for that cause, but what can be done?
It's our new inability to distinguish reality from reality TV that leads us to call for help in a fictional crisis and ignore a real one.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Canon Wars

PZ sends this article on the canon wars, wars I've been intimately involved in since I entered the world of textbook publishing more than 25 years ago. I agreed to cowrite a snappy quiz book called Test Your Cultural Literacy only if I were allowed to write an introduction that explained both sides of the controversy--granted, an introduction no one ever read, but it made me feel better--and if I could then go on to write Test Your Countercultural Literacy, whose introduction went into detail on the relationship between cultural literacy and ideological hegemony--again, an introduction no one read, and now a book that's o/p--although it was a blast to write. But I, too, am concerned that we're throwing out the baby with the bathwater, that maybe Toni Morrison isn't--well, hell--all that great. And I'm certainly worried that our kids coming out of high school have little or no foundation for the study of literature or history in college. But maybe it doesn't matter, because we want them all to be scientists and mathematicians now. Anyway, food for thought.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Now They Tell Me

The Ithaca Journal has this as breaking news today:
Northbound traffic is at a stand (sic) on Route 13 in Dryden due to road construction. Expect delays.

Dryden Dems

I have the link over on the right, but I wanted to highlight the new Dryden Democrats' website, which Patrick Reynolds wove magically from some suggestions and text from me. I think it's pretty cool, and so are our candidates this year. To a person, they represent the best of representative democracy, and the two who are already in government work like no one I've ever seen at the local level. They'll all be going door-to-door in the next couple of months, and I hope Drydenites listen with an open mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Traffic's Messy, Too Driving into four-corners Dryden this afternoon was like giving up hours of my life. Road crews sans radios kept everyone waiting in all directions. I can't imagine how backed up Route 13 coming from Cortland must have been. I tried all kinds of back-street maneuvers to avoid the mess, but I kept getting stuck. Finally, completely discouraged, I went all the way to Varna for the milk I needed.

Democracy Is Messy

Ithaca Democrats will vote in a Town Supervisor Primary on Tuesday. Since the two candidates are pretty close on the issues, the race has come down to a difference in management style that in some ways mirrors the difference between professional v. political described yesterday. Town Board members believe that the Supervisor, Cathy Valentino, has increasingly become autocratic. She is, self-appointed, the only spokesperson for the Town; she works tirelessly and unilaterally behind the scenes and presents issues tied up with a ribbon as faits accompli. Her opponent, Herb Engman, prefers a system of committees--composed both of citizens and of board members--that will chew over issues and advise the board. Obviously, Cathy's way is more efficient. Herb's way is messy, time-consuming, democratic.

I described school board governance to our county chair once, and she commented that it seemed awfully undemocratic. When I look into how school boards evolved that way, it seems to come down to one guy--John Carver. He is a writer and lecturer on what he terms "policy governance"--copyrighted!--which is essentially the professional model writ large and applied to all kinds of organizations that are not corporate, including school boards. He speaks often of the tension between rubberstamping and micromanaging, and I agree that there's a balance to be found there. But his emphasis is on speaking with one voice.

My board training with NYSSBA never once spoke about representation. It spoke about unity, consensus (which I do believe is a sensible goal), leadership. While the NYSSBA lists these roles for a school board member:
Representative - of the entire community
Steward - of the district’s resources
Leader - of the district
Advocate - for public education;
only Steward and Leader are stressed through board training. I think that's because Representative is difficult to incorporate without breaking out of the consensus mold--or becoming an individual rather than part of a whole. I've read several articles (almost all by former superintendents!) that complain about board members who politicize board meetings. Mostly they're talking about city boards that have real campaigns for board seats, I think, but in some cases they seem to be concerned that the Representative piece of the job is getting in the way of the other, more professional, less messy roles.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Political v. Professional Models

I've been thinking a lot about school board governance, which seems to me to fall into two models--the political, in which individual Board members are linked to their constituents, and the professional, in which the Board as a whole is affiliated with the administration of the school. I've only served on the latter,* although clearly, philosophically, I tend toward the former. I think Ithaca's Board is a local example of the former, although perhaps there's a tension there, and some parts of the Board lean one way, while others lean the other. Some people view the contentious nature of Ithaca's Board as meaning the Board is dysfunctional. I think, instead, that the Ithaca Board is highly functional and quite effective, and that their public disagreements tend to encourage community participation, which is desirable, not harmful, at least in the long run.

The questions that arise for me are these:
1) Is participatory and/or representative democracy part of the picture? Should it be?
2) Can a professionally-oriented board ever be truly objective? (This is especially important when it comes to contract issues, I suppose.)
3) What does "effective" mean when you're looking at board governance?
I'll be thinking and writing a lot more about this in the days to come.

* I think the fact that we were a professionally-oriented Board made the divisions that occurred during the small-schools debate far more damaging than they would have been otherwise. In essence, the Board fell apart for a few years because the issue could not be addressed using the existing model.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Less Spirit with That Spiritual

O came home all excited, saying, "You're gonna be mad, cuz we sang a religious song in chorus." It turned out to be something involving Moses and Egypt. So we had a teachable moment about my interpretation of the separation of church and state and how certain things--music, history of religion--are a part of the culture and therefore a valid part of the curriculum, and it's only when the line is crossed toward exclusion or proselytizing that I take issue. (I've made lots of friends complaining about the insane emphasis on certain holidays in schools.) But she was disappointed, because I think she'd pictured me marching into school and b*tchslapping the choral director.

Then she wondered why her social studies teacher had laughed at her. The teacher had pointed to a map "somewhere east of the Mediterranean" and asked the class why they supposed we started our study of history there, and my little darling piped up, "Because of the war." Seems that the correct answer had to do with "it's like Meso-america, but with a P" (Mesopotamia) and the Cradle of Civilization and obscure, tired stuff like that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The First Tree

Seen through this morning's fog, here is the maple that is always first to turn--weeks before the others, though it seems perfectly healthy otherwise. It turns a beautiful pale red very quickly, moving from top to bottom, and dumps its leaves onto the driveway. It's about 90% finished.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Last Fair

We attended the Ellis Hollow Fair, which we've always considered the Last Fair of Summer (this year, the Freeville Harvest Festival is actually later, but we probably won't go). Paul has gone every year since his family moved here in 1963. O won a cake in the cakewalk, we bought every bird feeder they had at the White Elephant Sale, and I purchased a raffle ticket for the quilt, as always. I was interested to find this site dedicated to the quilts of Ellis Hollow. I have yet to win any of them--but aren't they spectacular?

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Along with C. S. Lewis, she was my favorite children's author, although she always insisted she didn't have an age in mind when she wrote. Funny how I was drawn as a child to Christian mystics. Genius.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Turtles R Us

Chuck sent me the new cover for the reprint of my MAT book. I don't think they knew that turtles were my totem, but I love it that the answer is "turtle." But what's with the splashy colors? Very un-McGraw-Hill.

Required Reading

I was fascinated by this article in TIME, in part because it's an unusual call to action by a news magazine, in part because public service is dear to my heart, and in part because I worry about what happens when a rise in public service is juxtaposed with a decline in people's trust in government.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Required Reading

Gail Collins in the NYT today on the "Do-Over Theory" as it applies to Senator Craig and others
who believe you can change the unchangeable if you just:

a) Think positive

b) Hire a better lawyer

c) Check into rehab

d) Quote Ronald Reagan


I'm past wondering what kind of a world we live in where presidential candidates announce their intentions on entertainment shows. Anyway, Fred's in, and the question is: From whom will he steal votes? My guess: Romney, giving the hateful Rudy a little jumpstart.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Back to School

Our baby guinea fowl, at about five months of age, suddenly developed the raucous guinea fowl voices after five months of being mute or at best peeping sweetly. Last night, they alerted us to fox in the vicinity, loudly, at 3 AM. That made getting up at 6 for back-to-school all the more difficult. It was dark! and cold! And that pack is heavy!

Monday, September 3, 2007

State Fair

Where we spent last night:

Surge? What Surge?

Paul Krugman reminds us this morning that we're all falling for a "snow job in the desert." Despite what the generals and even the media would have us believe,
"So far, every month of 2007 has seen more U.S. military fatalities than the same month in 2006."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Who's In and Who's Out

The expectation is that this week, John McCain will disappear from my list at the right to be replaced by Fred Thompson, actor, ex-Senator, and Republican counsel during the Watergate hearings. Rumor has it that Sen. Thompson takes his SUV to within blocks of his appearances and then switches to a pickup truck. As the Washington Post points out, he's working with a personal trainer to stem that Alfred Branch girth he sports on Law & Order. America's gonna love this guy.