Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

A brief look back at 2010 as seen from our back yard.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


He'll be remembered for his economic theories, which I don't think were terribly successful--but I'll remember his brilliant portrayal of a variety of Gilbert & Sullivan characters in the Savoyards productions of my childhood.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Required Reading

Charles Blow on Britain's successful fight against child poverty.
If we can rise above the impulse to punish parents and focus on protecting children, we might replicate Britain’s success.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tax Cap Gun to Our Heads

Cuomo's proposed tax cap solves nothing, says the NYT in a smart editorial today.

If you think, as I do, that the problem most likely to hobble the US is the increasing disparity between rich and poor, you cannot love the tax cap, especially when it can be overridden by the voters. Rich districts will override; poor districts will sit at 2 percent no matter what. And 2 percent of an already insufficient amount is smaller than 2 or 3 or 5 percent of a really big amount, so the rich will get richer, and the poor will do what they always do (including producing high school graduates who can't even pass the Army entrance exam).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Required Reading

Larry David thanks everyone for the tax cut.
Life was good, and now it’s even better. Thank you, Republicans. And a special thank you to President Obama and the Democrats. I didn’t know you cared.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Bad Boyfriend

He told you he couldn't be faithful, but you chose to hear what you wanted to hear. Don't blame the guy for being something other than what you invented; he never lied to you.

Do you remember stories like this one back in 2008? Did you choose to listen to the right-wingers who defined him as a socialist-progressive-liberal, or did you take the time to read his own writings or look at his record or listen to his words?

Maybe you thought you could change him once you had him in your grip. When will you learn? That sh*t never works.

So now you want to break up with him. You regret falling for that voice, that smile, those eyes. You almost, maybe, possibly regret choosing him over some of your other options. Go ahead, dump him. Do you think you can do better? Have you seen what's out there? Are you ready to go through the whole courtship thing all over again?

Expect to stay partnerless for a long, long time. Years, even. And next time, try following your head and not your heart.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Dime a Dozen

This one resonates with most freelancers I know. I've been lucky (or choosy)--I now work only for companies that pay me within a month at the most--but I did write off a couple of thou owed to me by the notorious Inkwell, a company now in litigation with a fairly large group of freelancers in a class action suit. I suppose I could join the suit, but the thought makes me tired.

I have, a couple of years ago, gotten into a fight with a company that refused to accept my invoices because they have a (non-binding) line at the bottom that says "Please add 5% to bills not paid within 30 days." Apparently, using a line typical of plumbers and electricians is hurtful to publishers and their middlemen; I was told in no uncertain terms that my services were not needed and that the company, built from the bottom up by the speaker and her husband, "takes care of our freelancers." Much the way, I'm sure, that plantations once took care of their field hands.

The suggestion that freelance writers are a dime a dozen and that thousands are champing at the bit to take one's place on whatever measly project might be dangled in one's peripheral vision is an implication that publishers have perpetrated for years. When folks complain that American education isn't what it used to be, they might consider that you get what you pay for. If the best of us are turning down crap wages and refusing to work for companies that are nonchalant about on-time payment--as my listserve suggests that we are--the people writing many of the nation's textbooks are what's left--first-timers, untrained writers with no experience in the classroom, and hacks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Required Reading

Gail Collins on the sexism that haunts women who cry in public compared to, say, our new Speaker of the House, who's a veritable faucet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bill Gates Tells You How You're Doing

Great Schools is now working with the Gates Foundation to provide ever-so-much-moreso information on local schools. Here's Dryden High School, as an example. You can search for your own local school and see how it stacks up. It's a little misleading, since it appears to be quite up-to-date, but digging into the data shows that the test scores are from 2008-2009. Nevertheless, the "What Can I Do?" feature is nice, and the comparison of nations is inspiring/depressing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


The question of the day (and of many winter days): If Saturday night's expected freezing rain in Freeville turns to regular old rain by 9 AM Sunday, will it still be freezing rain till noon or later here on the mountain? And if so, should I grocery shop today?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Scofflaw Developers

The question of the day is: Should someone who's notoriously delinquent in paying property taxes be allowed to continue building developments? If, for the town, it's all about expanding the property tax base, yet the developer is regularly on the list of nonpayers or late payers, how is it a benefit to the town for the developer to continue building?

Whereas some local developers seem to make plans and build structures without the slightest flap, the Lucentes always seem to be in the paper. Either they're building on wetlands and fighting with the Town of Ithaca, or they're ignoring zoning restrictions and appearing before the Dryden ZBA. When I was 6, my family lived in Lucente Land, in the northeast Ithaca development my mother aptly christened "Tobacco Road" (Rocco Lucente named the streets after cigarettes, since the existing street, Muriel, reminded him of the cigar, despite being named for an earlier developer's daughter). When I was 9, we left and never looked back.

Rocco's still in the biz in Ithaca. His sons Christopher (for whom Christopher Circle is named) and Stephen are in the biz, too. Stephen often develops under his wife's name, perhaps to derive tax breaks for female-owned businesses. Now they are up against residents of the hamlet of Varna, waiting for a break from the ZBA. With all that they own, the Lucentes are not on the list of top ten taxpayers in Tompkins County. Could that be because they're always a skip away from foreclosure? There oughta be a law. Oh, yeah, there is one.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Commish

New York's Commissioner of Education is an interesting guy--a product of British education who, while at Boston U, roundly condemned the way we train teachers; a dean at Hunter College School of Education whose major innovation was the use of the Flip video cam to track and critique teachers' performance. Now he's in charge of the whole pie in NY, and his vision is broad and deep. I like what I've seen; it scares a lot of people, and that, to me, is a good thing.

Today I drove to see him in person at the Owego Treadway Inn, along with district supts, supts, principals, and a few board members from the region. I was glad to have given myself extra time--it took 1 1/2 hours to get there behind scared drivers in the mild blizzards and just 45 minutes to get back.

The Commish spoke about the Race to the Top changes, which affect curriculum, assessment, and accountability. By 2014, we should have all-new assessments that will be used statewide. With them will come (for the first time) a statewide curriculum, not mandatory (politically, that's probably unfeasible), but, he hopes, appealing enough to be broadly used, plus rubrics for teacher performance, ditto. This ties into NY's signing on to the national Common Core standards.

The inquiry teams we're putting in place at the local level are meant to be the liaisons between what's happening in Albany and the local classrooms. He thinks each team should have one or two curriculum folks, a tech & data person, and an assessments & accountability person.

Remarkably few people asked questions--I could have asked questions all day! When they did, most were the "how can we pay for all this" whine that most often comes out of administrators who just had to cut seven teachers to pay for yet another mandate from the state. There will be a huge gap (several million) in the budget for next year's Regents tests. On the table are three possibilities: 1) the legislature steps up and pays the bill as usual, which they claim they will not do; 2) State Ed cuts back the Regents to a bare minimum, just before we have to remake the tests to incorporate Common Core standards; and 3) State Ed charges districts $7-$8 per student for taking the test--which looks like a scurrilous surcharge to me, since, of course, we already pay for the creation, production, and administration of those tests.

I asked a question that's been bothering me--Steiner talks a great game (and I have been saying this for eons) about how the changes to national standards are completely necessary--we've fallen from second to fourteenth in worldwide education levels, we're the only developed nation NOT to have such standards, etc. However, we're burdened politically by something Finland and South Korea don't have--the myth of local control. So I asked how, given this, he would suggest we deal with explaining and supporting the changes at the community level. He agreed that the trickle-down of urgency had not yet happened, but that he was quite convinced that over the next ten years, middle-class families would find more and more that grown, jobless kids would move back in with mom and dad, as they're starting to do, and that this more than anything else would represent at the local level what happens if we DON'T implement change at the state and national levels.

In top schools, the Commish finds that the teachers all know how the kids are doing, and that they think collectively about "our child" rather than "my child"--as a school or district rather than as a discrete classroom. Top schools have master teachers in the classrooms of new teachers, sometimes every hour of every day (rich schools, obviously!) Too many teachers that he sees in his visits are teaching well below students' abilities (he mentioned an 11th grade geography class being pitched at a 6th grade level, but he thinks this is pervasive, and I'm sure that it is).

Lots more, not new stuff, but clarification of how things might work as they go forward. It's a daunting task, but this Commish seems to relish the work, which may or may not be enough to get us somewhere over the next few terrible years.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bernie Sanders Speaks Truth

Thanks to the many many people who sent this one: