Thursday, December 31, 2009


Only 60 percent of the posts I managed in 2008 (blame Facebook); a big change from occasionally meaningful school board work to entirely pointless BOCES board work; an as-yet-unknown new boss for Paul; new instruction in voice and sax for Olivia. . . A new president who seems at times oddly distant and detached; a pathetic Congress and an even worse state legislature; friends who've lost jobs while I've plodded along and survived pretty well; new book contracts for DZ; the as-yet-unknown fate of PZ's Afghan program; the last Lutwak of our generation engaged to be married. . . It's been a year of ups and downs. Thank goodness for family and friends, and may 2010 be affirmative, propitious, redemptive.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Trip

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Practice Time

O's working her new instrument in Jazz Band now, so Paul has leased an alto to keep her company.

Required Reading

Krugman on how we must change Senate rules to get things done:
Remember, the Constitution sets up the Senate as a body with majority — not supermajority — rule. So the rule of 60 can be changed. A Congressional Research Service report from 2005, when a Republican majority was threatening to abolish the filibuster so it could push through Bush judicial nominees, suggests several ways this could happen — for example, through a majority vote changing Senate rules on the first day of a new session.
Under the current Republican minority, filibusters now affect 70 percent of proposed legislation. It's just nuts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Required Reading

Gail Collins on what might happen if we scuttle health care because we're getting a terrible bill.
“People always think there will be another day,” said Jack Duncan, who was counsel for the subcommittee that handled [a vetoed 1971 bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them] in the House. “Well, there might be another day, but not in my lifetime.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unemployment at a Glance

Thanks to Kris for this. Tompkins County is the only red blob in NYS in 2009.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grade 13

Kris sent me an article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed (only available to subscribers, so I won't link to it) about the advent of Grade 13 at colleges.
The promise of No Child Left Behind is manifesting in the shaky proficiencies demonstrated by today's college freshmen. According to the 2009 ACT College Readiness Report, only 23 percent of high-school graduates have the requisite skills to earn at least a C in entry-level college courses in the four general areas of English, mathematics, science, and reading. That means 77 percent of all graduating seniors have serious deficiencies in one or more areas.
The authors blame NCLB, which I think is a post hoc fallacy. There are many, many reasons for this decline, a big one being that we send a lot more kids to college than we ever did before. (Another reason, and I don't have time to expand upon it today, is that the American Dream, which once meant "Through hard work and determination, anyone can succeed," is now defined as "The aspiration of young Americans to live better than their parents did." There's a big difference there.)

Care to hazard a guess as to how many community college kids need remediation? How about Ivy Leaguers? What do you do? The Chronicle writers complain that failing too many kids leads to job insecurity.
Pressure to retain students does no one any good if they pass college humanities courses without being able to write even a five-paragraph essay.
Are we actually graduating kids from college who are semi-illiterate? How does THAT help us compete in a global economy?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Required Reading

Happy Hanukkah! In his column today, David Brooks reminds us that the whitewashed version of history is not nearly as interesting as the unvarnished truth.
It commemorates an event in which the good guys did horrible things, the bad guys did good things and in which everybody is flummoxed by insoluble conflicts that remain with us today. It’s a holiday that accurately reflects how politics is, how history is, how life is.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And More Ambivalence

I'm equally ambivalent about our governor. It doesn't help that I met him back in the days when he swore he had no desire to be governor, which made him the ideal lieutenant governor. He seemed to be genuinely a good guy, even if he did come from the dysfunctional State Senate. And then the governor blew up, and the rest is history. Now Paterson couldn't get a favorable rating on "Dancing with the Stars," and people are lining up to come talk to us about why they'll be great attorney generals once AG Cuomo knocks him out of the race.

I know I should be pissed that Paterson is threatening to cut the budget himself and to take money away from schools and municipalities midyear, but there's a part of me, the part that's still warm and fuzzy about him, that says that he's right--if the state doesn't face its budget woes today, we can all watch it circle the drain before too many tomorrows go by. What part of that doesn't the legislature get? Oh, yeah--the part about getting re-elected in 2010.

I'm not ambivalent about Cuomo, although he's become a better speaker over the past year. I liked his father. That's pretty much it.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Ah, Pearl Harbor. Those were the days. No White House dithering, no talking heads dissecting every strategy, real or potential.

I'd even fast forward a bit to my youth, when every choice seemed black or white, right or wrong. Today what keeps me up at night is my ambivalence, even about issues everyone around me seems to have already decided. Here are just a few.

Afghanistan. I'd say pull out tomorrow were it not for the fact that the only people I know who've spent any time there believe with all their hearts that the Taliban make the Nazis look like Eagle Scouts. I know the history; I remember when we backed the side that we now are fighting. I've also read bin Laden's son's book and am fairly convinced that al Qaeda's work in the U.S. isn't finished.

Marcellus Shale. We leased gas rights on a small part of our property back before anyone in CNY had heard the word "frack." We did a fair bit of research at the time, but of course back then, you didn't have self-declared experts crawling out of the woodwork to talk about radiation poisoning, earthquakes, and faucets bursting into flames. Not long ago, I would have stood firm against anything an oil or gas company wanted to do, even if it were to build magnet schools for impoverished orphans in the Southern Tier. But there's a part of me that believes that anything beats reliance on oil and that farmers deserve to profit from land that no longer benefits them in any other way. Of course, the only way I can ever retire is if I win the lottery or a well comes in, so greed enters the equation, too, as does the fact that our progressive county is woefully NIMBY when it comes to alternative energy in less invasive forms. I've heard all the arguments. I haven't signed any petitions, pro or con. I can honestly say that when our lease comes up next year, I don't know what we'll do.

House Health Care Is any health care bill better than no health care bill? I would have said yes six months ago; now, I'm not so sure. It seems possible that the current bills will increase rather than decrease health care costs, and they will almost certainly dial back abortion rights. Do we just let this die? Do we fight to the bitter end no matter what we get?

Clearly, I myself am dithering. The good news is that I can now run for state or federal office, since I've proved I don't stand for anything or have any real opinions.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Required Reading

Winter of our discontent, indeed. You know when the usually chipper TIME magazine is calling this a crappy decade that things are truly bad. Now Gail Collins weighs in on the pileup of bad news.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Required Reading

Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, on the parallels between two terrorists, 150 years apart.