July 2006

Note to Candidates

Before you plant a yard sign in an obviously residential area, you might want to check with the homeowner first… especially if one of your opponent’s signs is already present.

When I headed out to the store about 6:00 this morning, I found four (!) new Rodney Archer signs in my yard. Now Rodney seems like a nice young fella, but I’m a longtime fan of Patsy Stair and after meeting John, I think that his experience and knowledge (combined with Patsy’s support) will be an asset to the Trustee’s office.

That, and several of Archer’s votes on commission were not exactly to my liking. That has nothing to do with his qualifications for Trustee, but any candidate with a record of doing, saying, or voting for things that are anti-Oak Ridge will have a tougher time earning my support.

That’s just the way it is.

I’ll contact Rodney today and tell him where he can pick up his signs; after all, they are expensive, he needs them, and I bear him no malice. In fairness, that particular corner of my yard gets excellent exposure to traffic, and could be mistaken for a vacant lot because it is heavily wooded.

It’s not the first time this year it has happened, and it generally tends to be candidates who are new — at least to Oak Ridge. The signs may well have been put up by a volunteer, and he may not even know that it happened.

Still, a prudent policy for political signs would be to just not plant them except with permission.

Orientation, part ii

Today held another full day of being re-oriented at UT, but it was extremely productive, I thought.

The best talk by far was that by Tim Rogers, Vice-Chancellor of student affairs. He explained pretty succinctly the way that the “millennials” (the current freshmen’s generation) differ from their parents (“Baby Boomers” or “Gen X” — I fall somewhere in between), along with the three stages they go through.

These kids, he said, are much more techologically adept than their parents, and tend to work well in groups; teamwork comes naturally. Where they fall short is in having confidence in their one-on-one social skills: to introduce themselves to their professor, a prospective employer, or other adults with whom it would be beneficial to make a good first impression.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, he hit the nail on the head. Although my daughter can work independently, she prefers working in pairs or small groups. And, she is decidedly timid about approaching adults in authority outside the family.

The maturation process was described as the first half of the freshman year being one where they will want parental intervention for roommate issues, for an instructor they don’t like, for a grade they don’t think is fair. Rogers’ advice: listen patiently, and direct them to resolve their own problems through the channels provided at the University.

He also said that if they’re coming home every weekend, there’s probably a problem.

By Sophomore year, he told us to be prepared for them to swing to the opposite — wanting no advice, since they must know it all (having survived freshman year), and stumbling from time to time.

Junior year brings self reliance and responsibility, accompanied by apprehension and self doubt: am I living up to my parents’ expectations? Will anyone hire me? Am I really in the right major?

He didn’t say anything about Senior year, so I’m hoping that means they all turn out relatively normal.

The rest of the day held sessions on when fees are due, academic matters, student safety, and such. Unlike yesterday, it really was very informative.

Day 1 was a barrage of marketing ploys, from the UT Parents’ Association, advance Book reservations, the ALLSTAR card (like a debit card, but UT is the bank and keeps all the interest on the funds deposited) which is the only way to pay for doing laundry, printing or making copies, as well as purchasing incidentals and food at the many campus eateries outside the meal plan. I felt like I could have skipped the first day and just read some ads instead.

Am I ready to send my firstborn to the Big Orange? Sure.

The “New” Old School

Yesterday was an awakening of memories for me, as I attended freshman orientation at UT — this time, as a parent.

I was struck by how proudly the University touts their partnership with, or management of (depending on who was speaking) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and what fabulous research opportunities this affords their students — even undergraduates. The undergraduates part seemed like it might be a bit of a stretch, but the truth is that I don’t know. Maybe they’re counting Co-Op opportunities.

One could not miss, however, their new emphasis on globalism. In a session for parents of engineering majors, it was noted that foreign language is not required for a degree but that they strongly encourage it as an elective. One mother asked which language would be best, and I whispered to a friend next to me (jokingly, I hoped), “Mandarin.”

I know that I probably have a skewed perspective, having grown up in Oak Ridge in a family of engineers, then married into another family of engineers, but I have to admit feeling a bit of apprehension about the slightly competing interests of global commercialism and US national security.

Then this morning, the News Sentinel reports the following:

A retired University of Tennessee professor is under investigation of potentially violating a federal law barring the transfer of sensitive technology to other countries, according to interviews and documents obtained by the News Sentinel.

J. Reece Roth, 68, an electrical and computer engineering professor who still teaches and does research at UT, had his laptop computer seized by agents from the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Department of Commerce when he arrived in Knoxville from China on May 26.

I do not know whether Prof. Roth did anything wrong (intentionally or inadvertantly), or whether homeland security got overzealous in a big way. Neither one is good. Still, having a Chinese national working on the project, and having inquired about the possibility of including an Iranian grad student, doesn’t strike me as an idea worthy of a brilliant plasma engineering researcher.

Yes, it’s forward-thinking for the University to move students toward interacting with people from other parts of the world; there’s no question that the marketplace of goods and ideas has greatly expanded since I wandered around UT as a 17-year old, trying to find my schedule, books and classes without getting too lost. At the same time though, the security challenges we face have also shifted and broadened; instead of worrying only about the Russians, we now have to be concerned with a much larger spectrum of people who might want to learn more about our technologies in order to use them against us.

I’m sending my firstborn into the very department affected by this incident. Truthfully, I know she’ll be fine, and my biggest worries are that she will lose her student ID card (which now works like a meal card and debit card as well), get lost trying to find her classes, and the usual Freshman concerns.

My other observation from yesterday was that there’s a marketing genius hard at work inside the Big Orange, with all kinds of extra “stuff” for parents to buy — fundraising mechanisms disguised as services or necessities. That’s a whole other entry though, and I want to be fair and finish my part of orientation before drawing my conclusion.

Voter Service

Terry Frank says

I have to say that being disappointed in the League of Women Voters is nothing new.

I guess that’s not surprising, given the “you’re 100% with me or 100% against me” mentality that seems to have grown amongst the social conservatives segment of the Republican Party. By definition, any organization whose mission is to provide an unbiased format for debate is not 100% with (or against) anyone.

Terry refers to the Nashville League cancelling a candidate forum because Bob Corker declined to participate. Of course, reviews from the Knoxville forum indicate that it was a two-against-one slugfest, so it seems to me that this was a reasonable decision for a truly unbiased organization. In all honesty, I don’t know why Corker declined the invitation — whether he just didn’t want to go, or if there was a scheduling conflict. Somehow, I’m not inclined to jump to the conclusion that he “just didn’t want to,” given the editorial assessment from the link above:

If Bob Corker doesn’t win the nomination, it will be because of some other, unforeseen issue that arises before the Aug. 7 primary election. It won’t be because of the issues raised or the personal attacks that he deftly parried during the Knoxville debate, nor will he lose on the issues he has successfully made himself clear on throughout the early rounds of campaigning.

He’s just not a fraidy-cat kind of guy.

On a related note…
Locally, the League of Women Voters has conducted two candidate forums in preparation for the Anderson County general election. The first (and most lively) was on June 27, but there have been developments since that haven’t yet made it to the public eye.

The League, sensitive to the fact that candidates’ words can be taken out of context and misused, prohibits recording except by the press. All candidates sign an agreement not to do so, and one of the rules printed clearly in the event program reads as follows:

  • Tape and other material of the Candidates Forum is for the exclusive use of LWVOR and is not to be sold or reproduced without express consent of LWVOR.

In definance of this rule (which would seem to be a copyright violation), Energy Media managed to get hold of a recording, airing selected clips on a program which they pay Channel 12 to air. Since Energy Media is employed by local candidates as a campaign consultant, the program was decidedly biased, and the local League is furious.

The repercussions have already begun, as candidates have expressed concern about the incident. Without assurance that the League’s policies to ensure fairness will be followed, there is a very real risk that candidates will elect not to participate in the future.

That is bad for the League, and worse for the public. It’s my understanding that Channel 12 has pulled the taped program from future airings, and that they are likely to be much more diligent about the content of paid programming in the future.

It’s too much to hope for that Channel 12 will cancel the show, but I’ll hope anyway.

Sit with any group of local League members (who aren’t all women, by the way) for an informal chat, and you’ll find great diversity of opinion — many of them quite strong — all over the political spectrum. However, if you sit in on a Board meeting and watch the planning process for voter service efforts, you’ll find a group of people who check their individual preferences at the door for the sake of a truly unbiased process.

I never want to live in a place where there’s a requirement of total agreement on all things… there must be discourse for growth and improvement to flourish. More importantly, it sounds too much like the failed “iron curtain” politics of the past.

Frivolous Friday

These signs are a riot, given the criticism about the DA not spending any time in court, and not much in the office (see letters to the editor, Oak Ridge Observer, July 2).

What happens if a judge doesn’t show up?

Retirees in Arms

It’s been a couple of weeks since the pension plan meeting at Pellissippi State between DOE officials and contractor retirees, but the struggle isn’t over.

In fact, the candor displayed by the headquarters designee (see Munger’s column in the Sentinel today) may have invigorated those interested. For the uninitiated, the essence of the retirees’ complaint is that their pension amounts have remained stagnant for years, with no adjustment for cost of living.

Walter Hedge’s letter to the editor (also today) summed it up nicely:

An unbelievable statement from the BWXT Y-12 representative indicated that one of the problems with the pension plan is that the retirees are living too long – we apologize for that.

From the outside, one perception may be that these employees held good jobs — among the best in the region — and fared well. The reality, even more so in the last couple of decades, is that most contractor employees in professional fields like engineering would actually earn more in the private sector. The attraction was, and is, stability, decent benefits (though no longer that much better than the private sector, as was once the case), and for some, a sense of purpose.

Federal employees receive regular cost-of-living increases, as do retired congressmen and even social security recipients. Clearly, the Department is unable or unwilling to acknowledge their debt to the retirees and do the right thing, so the solution will be political.

Why should people who didn’t retire from, don’t work for, or have never worked for a DOE contractor care if the pensioners are treated fairly? Because these folks live in your community, and their purchasing and taxpaying power is directly related to the shrinking value of the pension they earned on salaries of ten, twenty, or more years ago. It impacts the viability of your local government, and places a heavier burden upon you.

Munger’s summation that the issue may likely be settled politically is correct, and you have an interest in supporting reasonable change.

Debating the Debate

Planning for a weekend in the woods last Thursday, I set my tv-gadget to record channel 12’s replay of last Tuesday’s League of Women Voters’ Forum between the candidates for DA, Chancellor, Judge, and Sheriff. However, in a monumental technological error, I set it to record on the wrong day (it should have been Friday), which yielded instead an hour of Chad McNabb on Inside Anderson County (the program, not the e-zine of the same name).

Thursday’s guest on the show was independent DA candidate Ann Coria, one of those whom Beauchamp is said to be advising. A few clips were played from the forum, and there seemed to be a little piling on of Coria and Hunt supporters against Dave Clark, the clear frontrunner in the race by most observers.

It was a weak piling on, in my opinion, but a three-way race can yield close margins: it’s the only way that Ramsey stayed in office 16 years ago, when just a sprinkling of votes separated the republican, the independent, and the then-democrat Ramsey. Without a third candidate, he would have been defeated by a two-to-one margin.

Coria is bright, experienced, and a solid citizen. Watching her respond on the program, however, yielded a couple of concerns: she does not seem to share the other candidates’ commitment to reducing the number of plea bargains (an issue due to Ramsey’s long-standing practice of plea-bargaining everything), and she seemed to give a couple of different answers to gun-control questions. Most disturbing to me was her statement that she did not plan staff changes in the DA’s office.

Since Ramsey hasn’t tried a single case in this county in decades, the assistant DA’s are an issue. I’ve experienced firsthand the frustration of plea-bargaining when ADA Sam Lee wanted to edit the theft of my vehicle down to “joyriding.”

Joyriding would have been appropriate had my prized mustang convertible, a Mother’s Day gift from a few months before, been returned to my driveway. When I had to go out and hunt it down — which I did — it’s THEFT.

In another case where a friend of mine was the victim of a notorious scam artist, Lee wanted to dismiss the case altogether, even though there was sufficient evidence to put the guy away. Fortunately, Judge McNees recognized the con man from his previous infractions, and declined to go along. Con man did time.

Thank God for good judges! Which is why, for those who don’t quite make the connection between why a bad DA would make for a worse judge, Jim Ramsey should not be elevated to the bench where he can dismiss cases at will, or impose his own strange brand of justice not only in criminal trials, but also in the sensitive family law and civil matters handled by the Chancery Court.

A few years ago, hubby served as a jury foreman in a case where the accused’s real crime was that he hosted a website that was critical of Jim Ramsey. He was guilty of the minor offense with which he was charged, but the real villains in the incident were never brought before the court at all.

Neutral, objective, and independent? That’s not what the record shows for Jim Ramsey. We need a competent and assertive District Attorney, along with a neutral, objective, and competent chancellor.

This August 3 election can bring real change to Anderson County. Think hard, and do your homework before voting.

Heat is On

The heat is on for one Anderson County Probation Director, who was angry enough about my two previous posts that he headlined me on his little e-zine (which I will neither name nor link, since he declined to name or link to this blog).

Sometimes the truth is hard to take; Alan Beauchamp seems to have broken out in a rash over it.

MushroomCloud has taken the discussion to the Oak Ridger Forums; not exactly what I would have expected, but this has been a season of surprises.
* * *

At right, Gamma enticed a flock of half-grown goslings to eat from her hand, and one allowed her to pet it. I love Summer!

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