January 2008

Open Government

Most of you who know me, and some who don’t, know that I’ve advocated for five years that our school board packets be made available online. City Council has done so for some time now, and it’s not that hard to do. There is some redacted information (unapproved board minutes are one example), but now the public can see the same information that Board members have prior to each meeting.

Starting now, it’s there.

I have long believed that we would have more support and confidence from the public, if everyone could see the same information that we have when making decisions. Without question, it will spur additional questions and input, but that’s a good thing. If five minds are better than one, perhaps 27,000 are better than five.

I certainly do not expect that everyone in town is going to put the same time into understanding school governance that the five of us do, but it is your school system, and you have every right to be informed. That, and I do believe that if the public were more informed, we would also find them more supportive of our efforts.

Happy reading!

On Ice

I’ve been asked any number of times in the past couple of months, "WHO is responsible for my child’s safety?"

My answer:  "you are."  And I exercised that authority this morning.

As my younger two children boarded the bus at 6:50, it was sleeting pretty hard (not necessarily a road hazard, but worthy of further investigation) and turned on the TV.  A couple of school systems were closed or delayed, but those were north and east of us — the usual systems that close when no one else does.  Still, I left the news on, since I’d noted yesterday evening that the ground was frozen in my front yard… it’s been very cold the last couple of nights.

Beta wasn’t ready yet, but as the news came on that DOE had closed Bethel Valley Road due to black ice, I told her to just hang out for an extra hour and give it time to warm up a little.  I e-mailed a note to her first period teacher, and wrote a note for her to check in at the office.

It was subsequently announced that buses in Oak Ridge would run 1.25 hours late, but that was after the middle and high school run had already occurred.  I just learned a moment ago — literally, in the middle of the last sentence — that all after-school activities at Robertsville have been cancelled.

Good call.  This ice sort of took everyone by surprise, because the weather-guessers had predicted rising temperatures.  Even now, today’s forecast high is 42, but it’s only 34 as of 1:52 p.m.

The last thing I remember the weather guy saying this morning is "there’s NO chance of this stuff re-freezing for the afternoon commute," whereupon I clarified to Beta that we’d just received the best odds of bad weather one can get.

I’m out of bread, but I have what I need to bake some.  I think that’s just what I’ll do.

Stay home, be safe, and focus on what’s most important for tonight.

Politiconomics

The January 19 issue of the Frontline Weekly Newsletter points out a dangerous undercurrent of the year’s political tide: tinkering with the federal reserve for political gain.

In summary, the appointment of President Bush’s two nominees for the Federal Reserve Board are being held up by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT. Dodd has also announced that he will not allow confirmation of a third member, Randy Krozner (whose expertise is in mortgage markets) when his term ends.

Why would Dodd do this? He has made it clear that he is not happy with Fed policy, as has his counterpart in the House, Barney Frank; so some of this is just personal pique. They want the Fed to respond to their political goals. But some of it is clearly partisan. If there is a Democratic president, they would be able to immediately nominate three new governors, and would not have to reconfirm Ben Bernanke as chairman, which means he would leave and the new president would appoint the chairman.

Dodd clearly wants a say in this, and wants a Fed that will pay attention to his politically driven needs. This would mean the Fed would be short-staffed for at least another 18 months, which is not a good thing. The Fed does more than just hold eight meetings and set monetary policy. They have real work that needs to get done.

Whoever the new president is, they will get to nominate who they like as governor terms come to an end. But to act as Dodd is currently doing threatens the independence of the Fed, which is a critical part of the economic world. You can criticize the Fed and their policies, and I often do, but every right-thinking person agrees that Fed policy should not be set in Congress and subject to political whim. The last time we had a Fed chairman who let politics suggest policy was William Miller under Jimmy Carter, and that did not turn out well.

Politics is a merry mess, as evidenced by any day’s viewing of the continuous news channels in this election year. However, the security and prosperity of this country is far too important to be used as a pawn by those who wish to promote their own (or their own party’s) political future.

I remember the economy of the Carter years, and the prospect of a politicized Federal Reserve is a frightening one.

Affairs in Order

Courtesy of my little sister, via e-mail:

 

A woman went to her doctor. The doctor, after an examination, sighed and said, ‘I’ve some bad news. You have cancer, and you’d best put your affairs in order.’

The woman was shocked, but managed to compose herself and walk into the waiting room where her daughter had been waiting. ‘Well daughter, we women celebrate when things are good, and we celebrate when things don’t go so well. In this case, things aren’t well. I have cancer. Let’s head to the club and have a martini.’

After 3 or 4 martinis, the two were feeling a little less somber. There were some laughs and more martinis. They were eventually approached by some of the woman’s old friends, who were curious as to what the two were celebrating. The woman told her friends they were drinking to her impending end. ‘I’ve been diagnosed with AIDS.’ The friends were aghast and gave the woman their condolences.

After the friends left, the woman’s daughter leaned over and whispered, ‘Momma, I thought you said you were dying of cancer, and you just told your friends you were dying of AIDS.’

The woman said, ‘I don’t want any of those b*****s sleeping with your father after I’m gone.’

That’s ‘Putting our Affairs In Order’

A Loss for Education

Tennessee will suffer a significant loss on Feb. 1, when Commissioner of Education Lana Seivers leaves that post to take a job in Mississippi.

Word on the street is that Deputy Commissioner Tim Webb is her likely replacement.

Working through the first five years of No Child Left Behind and other challenges, Commissioner Seivers has guided our state through steady improvements — in accountability, in funding, in a variety of ways.

Lana served previously as the Superintendent of Clinton City Schools, and at one point, was Principal of Oak Ridge’s Linden Elementary.  She has been open and accessible to those of us who approached her about improving education, and she will be missed.

Bizarre

I’ve occasionally pondered the plight of adopted children, who may or may not wonder about their birth families.  Never — not once — had I ever thought about this possibility.

*  *  *
On an unrelated note, I realize I haven’t done so well with my New Year’s resolution to write more often, and of greater substance.  However, with the beginning of the legislative session and the school budget process picking up steam, I expect to do better soon.

Higher Expectations

The Sentinel carries a story this morning about increased graduation requirements on the horizon for Tennessee students, as I’ve written about previously. A fourth year of math, a year of either chemistry or physics, an extra semester of PE and a personal finance course will all be required for today’s 7th graders to graduate.

I think the higher math and science requirements are a good thing, but do have some concern about further increasing the schedule compression — requirements are added, but nothing is taken away. The result is that students are allowed fewer and fewer elective options; it will likely be impossible at that point for a student to take four years of foreign language (two are usually required for college admittance) AND four years of band, orchestra, or art.
* * *

Not all electives are "cush" classes. Smitten with physics as a junior, Alpha used her remaining electives to take AP Chemistry, Calculus, and AP Physics C as a senior. That led to an engineering scholarship for her freshman year at UT, and due to her grades (boosted by the foundation she’d built in high school), she was awarded a second, more generous scholarship this year.

When UT moved the Computer Science program into the College of Engineering at the beginning of this year, she switched from Electrical Engineering to Computer Science. I still laugh when I remember how apprehensive she was about that first required programming course — C++ — but by the end of the semester, she’d fallen in love with it.

As the program’s move between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Engineering school was rather abrupt, they hadn’t yet had time to set all the non-CS course requirements, leaving students in this year’s catalog with maximum latitude in elective offerings. Alpha loaded up on math classes, considering that she might be able to double major in both computer science and math. Not a bad foundation for grad school, which is already in her plan.

This week, she learned that she’s been accepted into the Math Honors program, which carries additional scholarship funds, as well as a paid summer research experience. MathMan (my future son-in-law) is also a Math Honors major, and his research from last summer at Texas A&M is scheduled for publication.

Alpha figures that a math degree would be helpful in the field of theoretical computer science. I’m both proud and amazed.

* * *
Not all students are destined for the hallowed halls of geekdom, I know. However, I agree with the findings of the American Diploma Project that students today need similar skills to go straight to work as they would need to go straight to college. Higher standards are necessary and good. That doesn’t mean that every kid will or should take on the same courses that Alpha chose, but at least a basic course in the physical sciences would benefit everyone, and continuing to study math throughout high school simply ensures that they don’t forget everything before they graduate.

Yet, some requirements have got to ease, or there will be no opportunity for students to either pick up additional academic electives, or continue their studies in language or fine arts. Although Alpha has determined her career path to be something other than fine arts, she makes time in her rigorous schedule to continue her viola studies with private lessons. It serves as a release from the demands of her books and lectures. If not for her four years in the high school orchestra, would that even be a viable option?

The new standards are welcome, but as requirements are added, something must be taken away.

Iowa

Wow — Iowa brought some semi-surprises.

I wasn’t so much shocked as disappointed in the Republican results; Iowa is known to have a strong evangelical Christian base, and therefore, voted with the Baptist preacher. What did really surprise me was their endorsement of Obama. The media are calling it a "desire for change," which gave the young, relative newcomer the nod.

New Hampshire will be a new day. Historically, the state has been more concerned with fiscal than social issues, so I’m guessing that the results will be somewhat different.

*  *  *

However, I found a neat electoral map with each state’s electoral votes and primary dates.  Enjoy.

Primary Colors – a first look

Waking up at 3 a.m., I used the expanse of free time to begin some serious research on the presidential candidates.  Our primary is only about 35 days away, and it’s been years since I waited this late in the process to begin my analysis of the choices. 

The issues that I feel are most urgent are our energy policies, strong but smart national defense, education, and intelligent fiscal policy.  The social conservatives tend to disown me because I really don’t see abortion or marriage definitions as the issues that have the greatest impact on our well-being as a nation, or things that the federal government ought to be distracted by.

Immigration policy is on everyone’s list, but that’s a post of its own for another day.

Energy Policy
Fred Thompson says "America must rise to the challenge and take the steps necessary to become more energy independent before this becomes a crisis."  In my mind though, it’s already a crisis — every time some towel-headed fool blows himself up, gas prices jump a dime.  That increases the cost of getting kids to school, of groceries (which must be delivered to the stores), of virtually everything we do.  Although he states a commitment to promoting alternative fuels and other energy sources, the word "nuclear" or other details are glaringly absent.

Mitt Romney rightly ties energy independence to national security, and specifies detailed research areas for which he would promote federal investment:

  • Basic research in key technologies like improved energy storage
  • Bringing clean energy technology to market through commercialization of large-scale renewables and advanced nuclear technologies
  • Improved smart-grid technology for power distribution
  • Clean, efficient uses of existing fossil fuels, e.g. clean coal, coal-to-liquids, carbon sequestration

Mike Huckabee also makes the correlation between energy dependence and terrorism and lists a few technologies (nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass) that he wants to support, but what shook me was this:

The first thing I will do as President is send Congress my comprehensive plan for energy independence. I’ll use the bully pulpit to inform you about the plan and ask for your support. I’ll use the bully conference table to meet with members of Congress until I have the votes.

Please don’t tell me "I have a plan…" unless you’re prepared to tell me, here and now, what that plan is.  First of all, I question whether there really is a plan (versus a plan to make a plan, which is much different than actually having one), and secondly, I’m afraid to vote for a man with a plan if I don’t know what the plan is.  What if I don’t like it?

On this issue, Romney gets the edge, although I still feel that Fred would still have some connections at ORNL from his Senate days that would help out.

Whew — kids are up and making their morning demands, so the next batch will wait for another post.

Fresh Start

On the first day of the new year, I feel satisfied — though I haven’t accomplished any extraordinary feats beyond getting the living room cleaned up and vacuumed before the start of the Outback Bowl, and getting the Christmas tree un-decorated and taken outside to be planted.  I made minor repairs to a couple of oft-used quilts, worked a bit more on a scarf I started knitting on our way home from Michigan, and put on a pot of homemade soup for supper.

The real challenge comes in the next 12 hours: can I get my children, now with their days and nights quite backward, in bed and awake on time to be ready for school tomorrow?  Delta slept until 3 p.m. today… it’s going to be tough.

I’ve given little thought to resolutions this year, but there are a few.  I want to keep house better (not my strong suit); to write more often, and to write more about relevant issues.  Lastly, I want to encourage others, because without the people who have done the same for me over a number of years, I would be a decidedly lesser person.

Get to bed early, because tomorrow starts the longest stretch of the year without a break.