Friday, November 30, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

SmileyCentral.comEvery once in a while, a client will send me a file I can't open. Ignoring the warnings from my system, I usually try at least once to open it in another program. If that doesn't work, I request that they send it to me in a different form. Yesterday, I received an email from the school that had an attachment with an unfamiliar suffix. As usual, I tried once to open it. What a mistake. It wrapped itself around every program on the computer, replacing every shortcut I had with itself. This was neither a worm nor a virus; just a basic program I didn't happen to have, but my computer was extremely interested in helping me open it, to the extent that it tried, literally, everything.

So now I still have every program I've loaded, but I can't get to any of them except through extraordinary backdoor means.

Paul has never seen this before. After sitting and staring at it for a while, he thinks he may have a solution that doesn't involve dumping and rebuilding the hard drive, but it's gonna take all weekend.

I have learned a valuable lesson, pretty much at the cost of my sanity.

And because these things come in threes, yesterday we had no heat, and today my car won't start.

Required Reading

Krugman on how Obama's health plan is timid and how his arguments for it are basically right-wing. Fierce!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Required Reading

Gail Collins on the absolutely horrible decision Republicans have to make among a bunch of wackos. I suspect most will stay home--the voters, that is, not the wackos. As tough as our decision is on the other side, at least we have a sprinkling of candidates I can honestly see holding the office.

I have now officially stopped watching the debates. I used to tune in briefly, but now I spin right by. Too painful.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday Travel

Assuming it snows, here's where we're staying for our winter ski vacation pre-Christmas: the aptly named Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, NY. We'll share with Bill & Lela and the kids. We may host DZ/PZ and families in Freeville after the holiday. PZ and Lisa, of course, are off to Kabul Friday for two fun-filled weeks. What could be more festive than a Taliban-flavored Hanukkah?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Living Seasonally

In the 13 years I lived in NYC, I barely noted the passage of seasons in my everyday life. I put on boots when it snowed; I took my winter coat to the dry cleaner's in springtime. Nowadays, I'm tied to the seasons. I know winter's coming because I have to bring in wood every day and keep the fire stoked. Paul put up the clothesline of bird feeders across the side lawn; I got my snow tires put on. The chickens aren't laying as often. Turkeys march across the back yard every morning. I dug up and replanted the wayward bulbs from down the driveway so they'd get in before the ground got hard. I ordered the 750+ gallons of oil we needed to refill the multiple tanks in the basement. Paul drove the lawn tractor around to our garage on Goodband Road and got the patio furniture ready to go. We're stocked with staples, and our generator works. As I write, it's just starting to snow. I guess we're ready. . . .

Ghost Buck

Seen through the mist. . . he only has one antler. Did he lose the other to a fight? Snag it on a tree? He appears regularly at the top of the mountain, posing like Bambi's dad, only smaller. He's probably a couple of years old.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Required Reading

SmileyCentral.comPaul Krugman, explaining why I feel so poor. We, of course, already paid for a winter's worth of heating oil--it looks pretty serious when you see it in one bill. It now costs over $40 to fill up the Subaru, and the truck has to sit in the driveway while we shop at Tops to get their 10 cents a gallon rebate. (Since I'm pretty convinced that Tops costs more than Wegman's as a rule, this is probably a wash.) And although we don't buy meat most weeks (we buy half a pig and half a cow and raise Cornish hens biannually), my weekly grocery bill has increased by about 10 percent this year. Meanwhile, I haven't been able to raise my rates in maybe a decade, and DZ can attest to the fact that rates have often declined precipitously.

So I'm working more to earn less, and spending more at the same time. Kinda sucks.


He was one of only two socialist mayors in the country. For years, he had football tix for CU right behind (in front of?) the Big Zs. He was a big personality who was far to the left even of the city he served. As Carrie said this morning, he always fought the good fight, right up till the end.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Czech and Swedish Friends

I've been getting an inordinate number of Swedish and Czech hits, all of them searching "Kaz Wow." The best I can figure is that they're looking for a character named Kaz'rogal in the game World of Warfare, AKA "WoW." Judging by the number of hits I've received, it's pretty popular. And of course, this post will up the number for a while. . . .

Say What?

This editorial by a former school psychologist was in the IJ yesterday. Although usually I'm happy to comment on their Story Chat, this one required more thought than most, and not just because it's written in the most convoluted and cryptic style imaginable.

The writer claims that there are only three reasons a child fails to learn, none of which are the child's failure at all. One is because the instructions she receives from a teacher are "poorly shaped." The second is because the task she is given by a teacher is not adequately reinforced, which appears to mean "rewarded" rather than "retaught." The third is because the instructions she receives from a teacher are ambiguous.

Although I believe the writer when he says that we're too quick to diagnose kids with ADHD and even to assume some kids can't learn, I think this attempt to remove all blame from (for example) the home environment, or immaturity, or incompatible learning styles, or any of a thousand other possible causes, is vapid and dangerous mumbo-jumbo.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Post-Holiday Languor

There's a lot to be said for having a quiet holiday at home. I barely had to cook, so I napped in front of the Packers-Lions game. And boy do we have leftovers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Voodoo Economics?

The NY Senate Dems propose to reduce the enormous state deficit by (gasp) cutting spending and reducing state jobs. Needless to say, this radical proposal was met with derision.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Giving thanks for their freedom, and the fact that it's deer season, not turkey season, a small flock parades past the peacock cage.

Lansing Scores Supt

As we begin our own search in Dryden, I'm interested to see how other local districts fare. Lansing hired a Dr. Grimm, lately of Greece. He's been through a couple of very large and wealthy districts but has not been a superintendent before. However, he has been a senior administrator, has 9 years administrative experience, and has a doctorate. People are already commenting that he's moved around too much. It's a delicate balance--if you stay in one place, you don't get the varied experience you may need. If you move around, you look flighty. It took Lansing three months to go through the process. I wish Dr. Grimm luck.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Campaign Fallout Continues

The ugly 2007 campaign is not entirely over in Dryden. Cheryl Nelson posts a pleasant diatribe on Simon's blog, and over at the IJ, a vet continues the neverending Pledge of Allegiance flap. On the other hand, Dave Makar and I had a nice chat with John Bailey at the Chili Cookoff, proving that civility is possible, even after a divisive season.

Note to Cheryl: After losing a nasty school board race in 2003, I was quoted on the front page of the IJ saying, "In a democracy, the people get the representation they deserve." Although I do believe it, it probably wasn't the nicest thing to say, and even my friends saw it as sour grapes. Perhaps it's better to be silent at times like these.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Required Reading

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on a surprising statistic involving class differences in African-Americans pegged to historical land ownership.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Arcuri and Chili

I went to Dryden Town Hall this afternoon for Congressman Arcuri's "Congress in Your Corner" Q & A. It was not an unfriendly crowd, although his handlers seemed to think that it was. Lots of praise for his voting record, lots of questions about Iran and impeachment, a smattering on health care and his support for Hillary, and I asked about grants for alternative energy for middle class citizens, and another guy asked about CAFE standards. He talked a bit about immigration, in light of his refusal to support Spitzer's plan to license illegals. I would say that his answers did not entirely appease the audience. The majority of the folks there clearly wanted him to lead on impeachment, which he is just as clearly not going to do. The most interesting parts of the discussion as far as I'm concerned revolved around whether his job is to represent his constituents or to lead and whether the president's job is to keep us safe or to safeguard the Constitution.

Afterward, Dave Makar and I skipped over to the Community Cafe, which was holding a grand chili cookoff with apple pie on the side. I voted for my favorite chili out of eight, which was not easy to do (I picked the very first one I tried, which may say something about the importance of ballot order), and we schmoozed pleasantly with Drydenites of all political flavors.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

No Rifles, Please

SmileyCentral.comSo far, despite neighboring counties' acceptance, Tompkins County doesn't allow the use of rifles in deer season; hunters are restricted to shotguns and bows. I hope it stays that way. As O comes up our quarter-mile driveway after school, the sound of shotguns aimed at targets is all around, as locals pattern in their guns. With a shotgun, you can pretty much see where your bullet will land. With a rifle, if you miss your target or prey, the bullet can continue for hundreds of yards.

The first couple of days of deer season, I'll probably drive O down and up. If rifles come to the county, I'll keep the dogs inside. There won't be a minute of the season where I'll feel entirely safe.

Swift Kids for Truth

The best part is how many Ben Smith forum writers thought these were real attack ads. Here's my favorite.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


PZ writes that a U Mass acquaintance of his died this month in his Grand Canyon home of pneumonic plague. A rare and not-nice way to die, and not the danger you expect when you study cougars.

What If You Held a Meeting, and Nobody Came?

Today's Journal remarks that only one person attended the County's last budget hearing. He/she can join us in McLean, where the only people in last night's audience were invited there for recognition and left shortly thereafter. And there was much good news to report, but no one to hear or publicize it. I don't think anyone can object if I give the highlights:
1) We're well on the way at last to mapping the entire curriculum.
2) For the most part, we're keeping class sizes where they should be.
3) Our adaptive PE program is a great success.
4) We have the basic tenets of a strategic plan.
5) We are revising our policy manual to update and correlate it to new laws.

I hate to b*tch, but it does sometimes feel like all of us are working in a vacuum.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nature, Here and Abroad

The dogs and I just chased a hawk away from the chickens; it was down on the ground, running around a tree after a chicken nearly half again its size. The peacocks and guinea hens cheered us on, loudly.

Meanwhile, PZ was on NPR this morning, talking a bit about his adventures in Afghanistan.

Required Reading

Jay Gallagher, on how we all talk endlessly about property taxes but apparently don't really care enough to do anything about them.
DiNapoli's report pointed out that one reason school costs are escalating faster than hikes in the overall cost of living is because the price tag of fringe benefits for teachers and other school employees shot up an average of 12.2 percent a year from 2000 to 2005.

But who wants to force those workers to pay more for these benefits — chiefly health insurance and pensions — as many workers in the private sector have been forced to do?

Certainly not school boards, apparently, who have OK'd hundreds of contracts in the past seven years that don't address the issue.

And apparently not voters, who for the most part don't even vote in school elections. Those who do pass school budgets and select school board members who negotiate and approve the contracts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Working the 20th Century Way

I know I'm not keeping to my daily blogging schedule, but I am overwhelmed by a job for a Major Publisher Who Shall Remain Nameless, a job that has inundated me with paper and is killing me with Too Much Information. Fifty-page guidelines! Two sets of them, much of the information contradictory! Not to mention weekly revisions of guidelines! Tearsheets a la 1980! Piles and piles and piles of paper, and Fed Ex boxes lining every wall of the office! All for a pretty meaningless revision of a perfectly good series.

If anyone cares to attend, there's a BOE meeting tomorrow at Cassavant School (McLean) at 7:15. I'd link to the agenda, but it's not on the website yet.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Just yesterday, I noticed his 2007 novel on the shelves of the library and wondered, "Just how old is this guy anyway? 80 something?" Well, he was 84 when I asked, but now he's dead.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the one worth reading. Maybe the only one, but I never got too far into the oeuvre. Although he's been mythologized as the voice of an era, I'm not sure he ever spoke for anyone other than himself. Nevertheless, he had an eye for what we cared about in mid-to-late-twentieth-century America, and that makes him worth remembering.

Darth Vader in Dutchess County

Phil sends along this angry missive to the Poughkeepsie Journal, which amused me:
Subject: Dick Cheney's Traffic Jam

To the Editor:

I was surprised (but skeptical) when law enforcement officials predicted no significant traffic delays would result from Vice President Cheney’s recent visit, but I was mystified when they later reported that none had occurred. Apparently, the closure of the Taconic Parkway, north and south of Route 55, for twenty-five minutes during the Monday morning rush doesn’t qualify as a delay or an inconvenience. I beg to differ: I delivered my son to school fifteen minutes late and, judging from the active cell phones I saw in nearby cars, it appeared that many drivers were calling in to postpone or reschedule appointments at work. Had the state police announced the full extent of road closures in advance, motorists could have found alternate routes. This failure of notification is regrettable in itself, but it seems both absurd and disingenuous to pretend that an extensive backup on the county’s largest north/south artery simply didn’t occur. One has come to expect such denials of reality from the Bush/Cheney administration, but surely the state police need not share in such fictions. If, in the future, Mr. Cheney wants to stalk farm-raised pheasants (native to China, not North America) on an enclosed game preserve in Dutchess County, one can only hope that he will do so on a weekend. At present, two wars, skyrocketing energy costs, a falling dollar, and a deadlocked Congress seem insufficiently compelling to keep him in Washington during the work week.


I'm always curious about what kinds of searches take people to this blog. Lately, I've had a handful of hits from Turkey and Pakistan (Islamabad and Karachi), all searching for "Dryden style." I have to think that's a reference to the British poet, in which case the style would be as he himself described, "plain and natural, yet majestic." Although he set one play in India, I don't think of him as much of an Orientalist, and I don't know why Turkey and Pakistan are so interested. Or perhaps they really are looking for fashion advice from a small upstate town.

Snow in the Boondocks

SmileyCentral.comAlthough we've had a smattering, today was the first day where we woke up to a white lawn. It's gone now except in the corners of the yard.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tune In, Drop Out, Turn On

O came home from the bus stop the other day puzzling about the fact that a neighbor didn't know whether he planned to go to college. Turns out, O didn't know that was an option. So we had a nice talk about how what people know colors what they think their options are; if none of your relatives have gone to college, you don't necessarily think it's an option for you. If all of your relatives have gone to/taught in college, you don't even consider not going yourself. She is just beginning to tune in to class as it affects the people she knows.

At the NYSSBA Convention, graduation rate, or drop-out rate, was the topic of the day. With the state possibly considering raising the age from 16 to 18 (nice intentions, but potentially devastating results), Paul's been thinking about this a lot, too--looking especially for a way to turn on disaffected students. It's absolutely evident that the usual preK-12 path is not for everyone, whether you're Robert, who was too smart for high school and dropped out to go to Simon's Rock, or Bob, who was too bored in high school and dropped out to work at his uncle's garage. So we need some alternatives, and I am convinced that GED programs are not the alternatives we need--GED diplomas are not equivalent to high school diplomas either in material learned OR in earning power.

One of the sessions I went to at NYSSBA was by a former teacher at a wealthy North Shore school, where they had a graduation rate of 87% (equivalent to ours in Dryden, and better than many) but wanted to do better. By pulling two students out of BOCES and back into the school, they paid for a program through which this teacher absolutely dedicated herself to retaining the 20 students most likely to drop out. She meets with them daily, talks to parents weekly, goes on home visits if kids are absent, follows up on homework and other assignments, holds group talk sessions, and so on. In the first couple of years, the graduation rate zoomed to 99%. She is sure that dropping out stems from poor relationships, not from problems with academics.

One of the many problems with graduation rates is that no two districts seem to calculate them the same way. You would think with all of the matrices forced onto districts by the state, this would be one area where we were consistent.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Required Reading

Gail Collins on the strange bedfellows of 2007: Pat and Rudy. And this well-written article in TIME, which dissects the way we subsidize farms, in the process rewarding the causes of obesity, ensuring the death of small U.S. farms, and making poor African farmers even poorer.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Last night came as a complete shock to me, showing why I must never bet money on political races. The Democrats scored a perfect six out of six in Town Supervisor races in Tompkins County, returning Don Barber in Caroline and Ric Dietrich in Danby, and electing Frank Podufalski in Enfield, Scott Pinney in Lansing, Herb Engman in Ithaca, and our own Mary Ann Sumner in Dryden. If that's not enough, we won both town council seats: Dave Makar returns, and Joe Solomon starts his term in January.

Mike Lane said, and I concur, that 2006 represented a sea-change, and that the national disgust is trickling down to the towns. I think the towns will benefit, as most of them look toward controlled development, retention of open space, improved communication with constituents, and greening the towns through wind ordinances and other initiatives.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Politics of Fear

"Vote for Democrats, and they'll take your flag away."

And Cheryl Nelson's son had some choice, unprintable, threatening words for Simon when he made them move from in front of our signs at 366/13.

What they don't seem to understand is how this behavior will radicalize their opposition. People who have been cross-voters won't be doing much of that anymore. And peaceful moderates will leave the fray, allowing real partisanship to thrive.

Bad idea in a small town.

Vote Today

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Vote Tomorrow

Here are the polling places in Dryden, complete with map.

For a better rundown on our candidates than I could provide, see Simon's blog for today's date.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Reading List

Paul and I are, coincidentally, both reading about Iraq. He's reading this biography of the Victorian woman who was deeply involved in the creation of the modern Iraq and founded the Baghdad Museum, tragically looted during the escapades that I'm reading about. The "One-Percent Doctrine" refers to Cheney's statement that if there's even a one-percent chance that a threat is real, we need to respond as though it's a certainty. Lots of new-to-me information, especially about torture.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Small-Town Politics Stink Bigtime

I'm writing this as the three girls giggle in the basement. We went to the "Bee Movie," which they loved and I thought was unfunny. Then we ate at O's favorite, Ho Ho Buffet, which she pronounces to rhyme with Yo-Yo Tuffet. Paul is off at CU hockey, and I'm catching up on the bazillion emails for the day.

Anyone who reads this knows my fondness for small-town politics, the politics that most affect us where we live. I've been deeply involved since I moved back to town 16 years ago, and win or lose, it's always been fun.

Not this year, though.

I ran into Tom Hatfield at Clark's. He's the former GOP chair in Dryden. I amused him greatly by telling him how much we Dryden Democrats missed him. He's out of GOP-land now, having formed his own third party a couple of years ago (to escape the national scene? or the radical religious right in town?), and he's concentrating now on business rather than politics. He and I were on the same side of some school issues, and he's always been both upfront and respectful with me, as I hope I have with him.

I think the fallout from this year's ugly campaign will linger with us much the way the fallout from the ugly small-schools debate did a few years ago. We're just picking up the pieces from that one, and in fact, there are many residual issues that remain. If some of the key personalities hadn't left town, I despair of where we might be today. (It interests me that a couple of the key personalities in both cases bubbled up from the same spiritual cauldron. I'll have to think about that.)

During the few brief weeks of this year's local campaign, I have felt personally threatened, my beliefs and concerns challenged, my love for this town where I'm bringing up my daughter severely compromised. And I wasn't even running for office.

I can't imagine how we're going to field local candidates when they know that they might be lied about, bullied, and disrespected in a public forum. I can't imagine wanting to search for candidates that meet the narrow-minded sector's qualifications: Christian, white, homegrown, placid, unthinking.

I wrote directly to the GOP candidates and their chair to say "Shame on you." They did not understand. They took offense. They said uncivil things about me to my neighbors and friends. Now I'll repeat it more publicly. Shame on you for bringing out the evil in your friends, for making it less possible for people to run for office, for acting with malice toward good and honest candidates who only wanted to make things better (indeed, some already have). The fact that you think you've run an above-board campaign shows only how skewed your "Christian" values truly are.

I Pay Attention, And I Vote.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Required Reading

Krugman again on the baffling lameness of our media, in this case focusing on Giuliani's lies about health care.
Memo to editors: If a candidate says something completely false, it’s not “in dispute.” It’s not the case that “Democrats say” they’re not advocating British-style socialized medicine; they aren’t.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Red-Letter Day

SmileyCentral.comNovember 1 is an important day in our family history. Fifty-five years ago today, the Big Zs tied the knot in Chicago, Illinois, she in a wheelchair and a pillbox hat, he looking dapper and very very young. Forty-four years after that, at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, their granddaughter was born.