Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bear, Redux

Despite being chased away by our three dogs at 9:30, the bear was back at ten, pounding the empty seed can, exploring where the turkeys had been, wandering across the yard to knock over the chickens' water cans and scratch the shed door in frustration (he opened it the other night), sniffing at the composter (apparently bear-proof), and otherwise owning the yard. Paul tiptoed downstairs and turned the light on, to see a head "ten times the size of Alex's" staring in at him. Now we think this is a second bear. The camera goes back up tonight.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Paul's Weekend

The earlier sap turned amber; the later sap is molasses-colored. He boiled it in the garage on two turkey fryers and finished it inside. Yum.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Required Reading

Gail Collins on why keeping the minority party weak and meaningless leads to bad karma.
Until 2008, Democrats were the perpetual minority party in the Senate. And what kind of people do you think run for a job that involves collecting a paycheck and staring at the ceiling? A handful of sterling characters bent on change and a large bunch of slugs who spend their entire legislative careers trying to raise enough money to build a new softball field or a Cucumber Museum back in the home district.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Evolution Revolution

Both PZ and Mark sent me this, so I guess I ought to post it.
In an evenly split vote, the State Board of Education on Thursday upheld teaching evolution as accepted mainstream science.

But social conservatives on the board, using a series of amendments tailored to particular school subjects, succeeded in requiring teachers to evaluate critically a variety of scientific principles like cell formation and the Big Bang.
Since Texas remains the largest single purchaser of textbooks in bulk, this is an influential decision in terms of how language is used in science texts. My feeling is that Texas is becoming less relevant over time, and that the current economic situation precludes printing up special Texas editions or buying textbooks on a short, three-year turnover schedule. We'll see.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A New Year, a New Bear

He looks smaller than last year's. Paul will try to get better pix tonight. Weirdly, the camera also captured a coyote wandering around.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

He's Baaaack!

A Loooong Meeting

Our budget meeting Monday went till nearly midnight. We were talking about people's jobs, so the public forum response was both vehement and heartfelt. Luckily, the DES PTA fortified us beforehand with a nice lasagna dinner. Nevertheless, we were drooping toward the end. People always seem to believe they can read things into our body language, but sometimes it's just plain exhaustion.

Monday, March 23, 2009

NYSSBA Pulse Poll

NYS School Board Association sent out one of their periodic pulse polls, and the results are interesting. With about 55 respondents so far, 53 to 47% support merit pay for improved performance, 78 to 22% support a longer school year, and 75 to 25% support national standards. I'm in the majority on each point. I'll check back later to see whether results have changed.

LATER: With over 500 responding, it's 50-50 for merit pay, 69-31 for a longer school year, and 66-34 for national standards.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Required Reading

He misuses the word "hopefully," but otherwise Tom Friedman has something important to say about grownups and politics.
There don’t seem to be any adults at the top — nobody acting larger than the moment, nobody being impelled by anything deeper than the last news cycle.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Future Shock

I woke up to NPR this morning with the same disoriented, teeth-grinding feeling I've had waking up these past several months, but today I put a finger on what ails me. Thirty-nine years ago, sociologist Alvin Toffler defined it: future shock. It's a personal perception of too much change too quickly, and I've got it bad.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our Partisan Villages

It's hard to believe the canard that village elections aren't partisan--that people vote for people, not parties, in those small communities--when you note that Dryden village has had an entirely Republican board for several years now, and Groton has since time immemorial. That did not change for Dryden last night, despite a fantastic, hardworking Democratic team with big ideas about how to fix the village. It did change for Groton--the first Democratic trustee in memory was elected to a two-year term.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Facebook, the Movie

The recent TIME article on "Why Facebook is for Old Fogies" amused me, but only a little. The nice things about Facebook are that I can track what's happening with my first cousins once removed, and I can play vicious games of faux Scrabble with Kris instead of hustling for work. The insidious thing about Facebook is the fact that it's a giant timewasting black hole that makes you feel moderately connected to complete strangers when you actually know nothing about them. Facebook has a new look that is slightly even more confusing than its old look. It has new groups, including the hideous "Six Degrees of Separation," in which strings of conversations can take place among strangers, who are even invited to guess or predict information about each other in ways that take Facebook out of the "safe" mode of Internet chat and well into the "creepy" mode. You don't have to be "friends" to converse on these groups. Although I can still (mostly) track O's conversations on her wall, I can't always know what's happening in these side columns. I do know that people guessed her age as 20 and commented that she looked like a young Mary Tyler Moore and a cuter Winona Ryder. Since she's not 20, she had to Google each of those references.

During the Depression, people went to the movies to lose themselves in fictive fantasy. Today, you don't need to leave the house. Now that's Depressing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Required Reading

Frank Rich on the (no doubt temporary) death of the culture wars. The comparison to the end of Prohibition is fascinating. In times of serious distress, Americans especially dislike intrusion into their private lives.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Grease Is the Word

Loved our HS's production of Grease last night--great sets, fabulous dancing, and the Fuchs kids tore it up with their singing, as usual (we'll miss them after they graduate). Some of the sound mixing wasn't working, though--I think Danny Zuko's mike was kaput for at least part of the show. But it was a full house on a Thursday, and we had a great time.

In budget discussions, it's often the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I'm happy to note that now that the district has a strategic plan, we can use it to shield ourselves from some of the most out-there requests. If it doesn't promote the plan, it's not a priority, and that's all there is to say.

I've been back-and-forthing with BOCES this week, trying to get them to clarify their budget, which for reasons of state regs is produced in an apples-to-oranges mishmosh of projected, budgeted, and actual costs designed to keep anyone from knowing what's really being spent.

Our next meeting, the 23rd, is likely to be our liveliest, as we'll discuss staffing and program. When I say "lively," I mean "raised voices and fisticuffs." Not really, but it will be contentious.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

OM"G," It's "Perfect"

Many thanks to Mary Ann for pointing me toward this wonderful blog.

Justice for All

Madoff pleads guilty and faces 150 years in prison. Demjanjuk is charged with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder. That's a pretty good day.

Maybe it's not quite kosher to compare the two, but too many people assume Madoff just bilked the rich. Simon has said that his former fourth-grade math teacher lost $781K in this Ponzi debacle. And even Holocaust survivors fell victim to his schemes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stimulate This!

Okay. What's the dumbest thing you can do with one-time money? If you answered, "Spend it on personnel," you get an A+. If you get a windfall in 2009 and use it toward three new positions, what happens in 2011 when that money dries up? Either you add substantially to your outflow of cash (and your local share of taxes, if you're a school district), or you fire those new people.

That is what school districts nationwide face now that the stimulus package has been determined to involve "job creation." Chuck Schumer is all over the planet crowing about how districts can avoid layoffs thanks to the generosity of the United States Congress.

So what everyone will have to do is to get creative--move money around, use the stimulus money to patch the roof and the roof money to hire (or more likely retain) a handful of teachers or aides. It's a shell game, and not a very intelligent one. It fails entirely to address the fact that some of the mess we're in comes from being overstaffed in lean times with falling populations.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Health Care 2009

This week's TIME has an alarming cover story about the author's brother and his discovery, after being diagnosed with life-threatening kidney disease, that he was seriously underinsured.

At Paul's recent doctor visit, he asked for a PSA test and was denied because he's not yet 50; this despite the fact that everyone, male or female, on his mother's side of the family perished from one kind of cancer or another.

A recent study by Swedish doctors indicates that PSA testing before 50 is an effective early warning system. However, our government still cautions that PSA testing is dangerous because its propensity for false positives can mean unnecessary radiation and surgical treatment.

It seems pretty clear that preventive testing of this sort is not good for the insurance industry, or they'd be falling all over themselves offering it to 20-somethings.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Sap Is Running

Or so we hope. Paul identified some maples along the driveway and tapped them yesterday. We'll see what we produce. We haven't done this for five years or more, but we used to get quite a decent outflow, enough to give away syrup to friends while keeping lots for ourselves. We're just doing a token tapping this year. If it works, we'll do it for real next year.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction

I always enjoyed his earlier books (The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War), although his later ones seem formulaic and tedious to me. Now it seems that Frederick Forsyth has got himself stuck in the middle of a real African coup. It seems rather far to go just to ensure a bestseller.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Village Politics

I'm happy to note that the Dryden Dems have a full slate running for village positions this year. We don't live in the village, but it has certainly seemed to me that the recent administration hasn't had much of a plan. There are many empty storefronts and a water & sewer project that has been in the planning stages for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars without a shovel lifted.

Election Day is, oddly, on a Wednesday, which may suppress the already minuscule village vote, but I hope that folks will at least take a look at these three before pulling the lever. This could mean a real change in the way Dryden Village is administered--a new age of openness, judicious financial planning, and intermunicipal cooperation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Future of Publishing

I'm back from four days in the eastern part of the state, where I dropped O at her National Young Leaders State Conference in Tarrytown, spent a night on City Island, met PZ in the Bronx and traveled north two hours to his house in East Chatham, and returned the next day for lunch on the Upper West Side with S and C, two editors I've known for nearly 30 years apiece. Now I'm battling the Cold of the Century, but I wanted to get down in print some of our chat about publishing before I forget it.

First, a little background. C and I started at McGraw-Hill back when it was in the McGraw-Hill building on Sixth Avenue. He was a lowly copyeditor, and I was a lowlier assistant editor on grammar and phonics books. After time away at a variety of houses, he's back at MH, now located above Penn Station, where he runs a division that sells to the trades rather than to schools. I work for him on about a project per year.

C would be unable to make his numbers nowadays did he not sell so many books to China. Booksellers in China purchase, for example, six times more TOEFL (teaching of English as a foreign language) books than do booksellers in the U.S. C is busily thinking of new ways to sell books--through agencies and organizations rather than through bookstores, which he feels are rapidly falling by the wayside. Look for Borders to be the next to fold, says C. (I'm saddened by that--I like them so much more than I like Barnes & Noble.)

I met S when she was my direct supervisor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, back when it was in the HBJ building on Third Avenue. She followed HBJ and then HB down to Orlando (C did, too) but later moved to the midwest to work for the company that once published Dick & Jane (but which has been renamed so many times that I won't bother to name it here). Now she's back in NYC, heading up the NYC branch of a company that is based out of Chennai, India, one of India's two high-tech hubs. We've all been used to having our materials printed and bound in India; that's been standard for the past five years at least. This, however, is something new.

The question everyone faces is: What is the future of print/paper? The symptoms we find most troubling include the decision of the Christian Science Monitor and others to print only weekend editions; the choice of certain small colleges only to provide textbooks digitally; the massive layoffs at TIME or Houghton or HarperCollins. That last is most troubling for me: When people leave inhouse jobs, they naturally look for freelance jobs. I figure the stable of potential freelance writers/editors has grown by 150% in the last three months alone.

S has been told by some of her bosses that all textbooks will be digital by 2010, but she sees no way that can happen logistically. C says that the new testing market is in Saudi Arabia--they have tons of money but want Americans to write their tests (I assume in English, to be translated, but who knows).

The picture above shows Gabe, age nearly 6 months, enjoying a book. He can chew it, fold back its pages, hold it upside down. When he reaches school age, will he learn to read on a Kindle? Stay tuned.