Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Amusing End-of-the-Year Stuff

PZ sends along this NYT quiz (the quotes section is interactive; the quiz itself is way too much for me) and a link to the Top 10 RightBlogger stories that is a pleasant reminder of what we might have lost, had we not won.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Losing the News

The Ithaca Journal has downsized once again, and the only local bit of news yesterday was a piece on the SPCA. In a fit of pique, Paul has declared that we must cancel our subscription. After all, we read the bulk of the paper online anyway, and if we want national news, we read the online Times.

Of course, I feel terrible. After all, it's the loss of subscribers that has led the IJ to such a pass in the first place. Not only that, but this will mean the first time in my adult life that I haven't read a real-life newspaper once a day. Paul points out that it's not as though we're supporting a local institution anymore; the paper is printed in Binghamton, and only four reporters remain on staff. As far as I can tell, the office downtown is just a big classified ad department.

Paul thinks the paper should just use freelancers and close up the office entirely, functioning more the way the local weeklies do. I'm just very sad about the whole thing. Plus I'll miss the comics and Jumble.

I think I'll put Alex Jones's new book on my reading list.

Required Reading

I'm still puzzling over Krugman's op-ed from yesterday and have decided I don't understand economics well enough to have an opinion about it. But I welcome the opinions of others.

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Site

Former assemblyman Marty Luster has resurrected Tompkins County's progressive news site, so I'm adding it to my right-hand column.


Harold Pinter, always interesting, often annoying. My favorite Pinter experience: Seeing "Old Friends" on a whim, alone, at London's Royal Theatre Haymarket. It must have been 1985, because Liv Ullman was playing Anna. Michael Gambon played Deeley, but back then, I had no idea who he was. He was better than she was. It wasn't the best Pinter I've seen, but it was the most fun--back in the days where you could just stroll up to a theater of an evening, buy a ticket for under $10, and sit in the back of a 1720 theater with those cute little opera glasses provided for each seat.

LATER: Of course Mark is right. "Old Times."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Affording the Ivies

I don't know whether it's entirely connected to the economy, but I've been struck by the announcements I've received recently from fellow Cornell alums whose children have gotten into college. Bates, Lehigh, Connecticut College--nice schools, but what can it mean that of all of my CU crowd, only one has sent a child here? Could it be that our Ivy League education didn't prepare us for the earning power we'd need to send our children to the school we attended?

CU's bursar's website states that current undergrad tuition is $36,300 in endowed colleges vs. $20,160 for NY residents attending state colleges. That does not count fees, housing, dining, etc.

O, of course, insists that she WILL attend Cornell. That gives us five years to figure out how that might happen. Tuition seems to be rising at around 4-5% annually, meaning that we'll be looking at around $48,000+ per year by the time she matriculates.

Meanwhile, it seems to be a no-brainer that everyone who holds a mortgage should refinance now that interest rates have dropped so far--not as far as the federal rate would lead you to expect, but certainly enough in our case to save tens of thousands over the life of the loan.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Paul in the IJ

Paul has a letter in the IJ today about the closing of Reynolds Game Farm, the last pheasant breeding station in NYS.

Required Reading

I don't usually blog other blogs, but Bob Ostertag's column on "Why Gay Marriage Is the Wrong Issue" is, as Mark suggested, fascinating and really smart. Mark knew Bob when he was an experimental musician in NYC. I met him a few times then--he had played in a trio with my then-boyfriend. Bob left for Central America in the early 1980s and never looked back. Now he's a prof in CA and blogs for the Huff Post.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Storm Warning

The interactive weather map shows snow in our area, but there's nothing happening out the window. Paul is about to leave for Buffalo, where, weather permitting, he and friend Mark H will watch the Sabres play and eat potfuls of wings at Anchor Bar. O had to get up, crankily, because we didn't hear until after 6:30 AM that school was closed. Now she's off for two full weeks plus today. Plenty of time to nurse her recently broken finger back to health. As for me, it's a work day as usual, at least until we lose connectivity or power. They're saying eight inches, which usually translates to a foot up here on the mountain.

LATER: About an inch an hour since 10 AM. Not too dreadful, though steady. Paul made it to Buffalo, where there's already about a foot.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Barn, Still a Work in Progress

Paul put up the very heavy doors and is finishing the second one piece by piece. The truck and tractor are snugly inside. The chickens will move in spring.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Governor's Budget, Part 2

First impressions: It seems surprisingly fair, except for the part where he fails to increase taxes on the wealthiest NYers. Across the board, lots of people have to give up lots of stuff. State employees have to retire later. Everyone loses. And that is, in this climate, a good thing.


It will never happen. Already, lobbyists are storming the citadel, bearing gloom and doom scenarios--your dying grandma dumped on the faded front lawn of a closed nursing facility! your brainless nephew stuck in a class of 35 with nothing but chalk and a filmstrip projector!

He gave the legislature an extra month. Let's hope they use it wisely instead of wringing their hands and playing favorites.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Governor's Budget, Part 1

Arne Duncan for Education

Why I like him: He gets the unfairness of school funding.
Why I don't like him: The teachers' unions, for the most part, do.
Why I like him: He wants the feds to fund NCLB.
Why I don't like him: He never worked in a school.
Why I like him: He seems genuinely creative.
Why I don't like him: He's too fond of charter schools.

So I'll adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shoe Leather Diplomacy

Krushchev, at least, just pounded the table. Now we have shoes being thrown at the President. My question: Shouldn't the Secret Service have been right in there, taking a heel for the President? At least by the time shoe #2 was hurled? What the hell are we paying them for?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Downside of Winter

Yesterday, O and I ventured out on a county-wide Snow Day to Cortland for prescription glasses and then back home through Dryden, picking up dinner at A-1 on the way. Then we got stuck in the driveway. In truth, nothing was terribly bad out there except for the icy sheen on the newly paved section of our driveway. We ended up hauling dinner up on foot in the dark. I miss all-wheel drive.

Friday, December 12, 2008

U.S. News Ranks Schools

Both Paul's and my alma maters won a silver medal. Zoe's and SAZ's rated gold. O's didn't make the list. I guess we have to work at forcing our AP students to take the damn test (or get the rest of our results above statistical predictions for our socioeconomic classification). Go here to search by state.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Skoolz Out

Mike sent along this Albany article on the feasability of reducing the school week from 5 days to 4 to save money. It's something we're all talking about, but the minuses right now seem to outweigh the pluses. Transportation costs are significant to the state but not to the individual districts--we get substantial state aid for transportation. We still have to heat and light the schools if there are sports activities or other community events happening over the long weekends. As for personnel costs, the only savings I can see would be for cafeteria workers and bus drivers, which would require contract revisions, and we couldn't very likely just chop their benefits when we cut back their hours. The minuses include the very real question of what working families would do with their children on Fridays. Not that our educational system is just one big babysitter. But it is.

I'd rather get rid of BOCES (billions saved instantly!) and run school year round. But BOCES has managed to sell itself to the state as a bastion of consolidated services and cost containment as opposed to the bloated, self-perpetuating bureaucracy it has devolved into, so I don't think my plan will pass muster.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Politics of Water

In my 2009 book on the Assads, I wrote: "In the Middle East as the century progresses, the politics of water will become as important as the politics of oil." That's not exactly earth shattering news, but this week it surfaced in TIME in a fairly depressing story that looks at Nevada and Australia, among other places where population is overshooting potable water. If you think peak oil is an issue, wait till we hit peak water.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chicago Politics, Redux

Oh, this is just lovely. The IL gov has been arrested for trying to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. When even Daley Jr. is all morally indignant, you know you've hit bottom.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Who Will Lead Education?

As David Brooks suggests today, it's a matter of reform vs. status quo, and the latter just isn't tenable. Reform nowadays, for better or for worse, means union-bashing. That's why potential candidate Joel Klein is so feared and why people like the wacky but fascinating Michelle Rhee are so despised. It's not a popular position for a Democrat to take, but I will say it here anyway: I don't think America's teachers' unions are helping America's schools.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Required Reading

Professor Charles Seife on the recount in MN and how it won't really determine the winner.
In an ordinary race, errors this tiny wouldn’t be a problem. But the Coleman-Franken race is so close that this error rate is more than double the margin between the two camps. And that’s just taking into account the precincts where there are no challenges. Throw in the weirdo ballots with lizard people, stray marks and indecipherable dots, and the error rate grows even more. Throw in the missing ballots, and the situation is hopeless. In truth, the counting errors dwarf the tiny numerical difference in votes between the two candidates.
Professor Seife argues that to be fair, the election must be determined by the flip of a coin, which is in fact allowable in MN law. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Cabinet Thus Far

A quick synopsis:
VP: Joe Biden. Current job: U.S. Senator. Replaces: Dick Cheney.
State: Hillary Clinton. Current job: U.S. Senator. Replaces: Condoleezza Rice.
Defense: Robert Gates. Current job: Defense. Replaces: self.
Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano. Current job: AZ Gov. Replaces: Michael Chertoff.
Commerce: Bill Richardson. Current job: NM Gov. Replaces: Carlos Gutierrez.
Treasury: Tim Geithner. Current job: President of US Fed. Replaces: Henry Paulson.
Attorney General: Eric Holder. Current job: Obama advisor. Replaces: Michael Mukasey.

Still to come: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, HUD, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Veterans Affairs.

Not cabinet level but still important:
NSA: Jim Jones. Current job: Retired general. Replaces: Stephen Hadley
UN Ambassador: Susan Rice. Current job: Obama advisor. Replaces: Zalmay Khalilzad

Still to come: Drug Czar, EPA, OMB, US Trade Rep.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Our Thanksgiving

. . .was all about games, especially pool--and food, of course--lobster and clams from Marblehead, bagels and pistachios from Brooklyn, turkeys from Clark's in Dryden. It wasn't really sepia-toned, but it was pretty gray. And it was a little bit about Sadie chewing on or carrying around various people's belongings.