September 2008

Good Read

Since everyone’s writing about politics these days, it was thoroughly refreshing when I stumbled across the print edition of a marvelous Nashville mommy blog.

Their police records (along with their bed sheets) are lily white. They think a ‘shake down’ is what you do at the end of Jazzercise class. And they’d sooner eat razor blades than a plate of homemade manicotti. But cross the Mommy Mafia and they’ll whack your social standing faster than you can utter the words ‘Cosa Nostra.’

The writing is excellent, the content hilarious.
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I’m tempted to write to her, advice-column style, about a little neighbor boy who’s been rather un-neighborly lately.  He’s not actually a little boy, but a boomerang kid, who showed up on my doorstep last week to report that my dog had pooped — not the term he used — in his grandmother’s yard.  Granted, we do have a leash law, and Dog is supposed to remain in my yard at all times… but, accidents happen.  You know, kids leave the door open, a storm throws the breaker powering the radio fence, or the battery in Dog’s collar goes dead.  It doesn’t happen often, and most of the time, someone will simply call to let me know where he is.

I appreciate that; I don’t want Dog to be hit by a car.

I’ve always shown the same consideration to our other neighbors.  There’s a golden retriever nearby who’s so afraid of thunderstorms that he’ll run through his own invisible fence, and get into my car.  Yes, the golden retriever can open my car doors.  There’s  another who found a way out of his traditional fence, and I just took him into the house until his owner got home… he’s not used to being out, and I didn’t want him to get lost or hurt, either.  I’m quite fond of animals, and often judge people by the way they treat animals — their own, as well as others’.

After complaining in person last week, the little neighbor boy called the dogcatcher the next morning, before I’d had a chance to buy new batteries and get back home with them.  Fortunately, by the time the dogcatcher got to my house to leave a notice on Tuesday, new batteries were installed and Dog was where he belongs.

See, if I had a Mommy Mafia like the one described in Suburban Turmoil, maybe one of them could arrange a job offer for this kid peddling magazine subscriptions in Timbuctu.  Or feed him fruit gummies with perservatives and high-fructose corn syrup.  Or something.

Roth found guilty

UT professor (emeritus) J. Reece Roth has been found guilty on 18 counts of violating the Arms Control Export Act.

I take no joy in this, as he was a technically gifted professor from whom my children will not have the opportunity to learn.  However, having grown up in a city where national security secrets are taken very seriously, I know that he exercised exceedingly poor judgment.  Although fully cognizant of the high proportion of foreign students in graduate school — especially in science, math, and engineering — I simply do not believe that he couldn’t find qualified US citizens among his grad students to do this work.

Maybe there was a little bit of ego involved.  Roth was an "honorary professor" at two Chinese universities, and was regarded as something of a plasma physics celebrity there.

In this country, we need to get far more serious about preparing our middle and high school students to pursue these challenging fields in college, so we can fill up the graduate programs with home-grown scientists and engineers.  I’m fully aware of the benefits of a diverse society, and that we need people educated in business, English lit, and all those other things… but right now, the odds are seriously against us in math and physical sciences.

Hopefully, this conviction will cause universities all over this nation — and especially at UT — to really take a hard look at work that has, or could have, national security implications.   That doesn’t mean don’t do it, but it means don’t involve foreign nationals in those projects.

And we’ve got to do a better job of preparing students to fill the void.

The Explorer Project

We celebrated Labor Day by laboring.

The new engine is finally — after about three months’ effort — in the Explorer.  Three months is a stretch, I guess, since we were out of town for half of July, and HWTFM has been out of town on business a few more times before and since… but it’s been three months since we started rebuilding Beta’s Explorer.

I’m pretty sure that professional mechanics have a better method than sitting perched between the windshield and the engine compartment, but that was the only way that I could see to ensure that we got the engine properly lined up with the transmission.

Delta documented the event.

In the many months that the vehicle has sat idle in our driveway, spiders have been attracted from miles around.  Lying on my back under the truck to align the bell housing bolts with the engine last night, I watched several spiders busily spinning, covering their egg sacs then toting them away into the darkness.

The spiders seem more prolific this year.  I wonder what weather sign that predicts for Fall and Winter?

My hope is that it predicts there will soon be one less vehicle taking up space in my driveway.

Oak Ridge District Elections

Since some folks decided that we need to study and perhaps revise the City Charter again (it was just done in 2004, and updated last month), I thought it would be worthwhile to really study the political history of Oak Ridge. 

First of all, what did districts look like in Oak Ridge?  Not surprisingly, they looked a lot like our current precinct structure… except that we had a couple extra precincts then that we don’t have now, and we’ve added a couple that we didn’t have back then.  "Elm Grove" is now part of Glenwood, "Linden" is split between Robertsville and West Hills, and Oak Hills is now its own precinct — the city’s largest.  Hendrix Creek is made up of neighborhoods that didn’t exist back then, as is Lawnville (Rarity Ridge).  Cedar Hill was later split between Glenwood and Pine Valley, I think.

If that’s as clear as mud, perhaps a map would help.

Council members were elected only in the districts they represented from 1959 to 1974.  From 1975 to 1986,  council members were nominated by district (required to live in the district), but were elected at-large by voters citywide.

A couple of things caught my attention from those years: in the earliest phase, some candidates were elected to make decisions affecting the whole city with only a minimum number of votes — one with as few as 117, and quite a few with less than 200.  In the second phase, where district representatives were elected at-large, sometimes the candidate who won his or her district did not win the confidence of voters throughout the city, and someone else was elected to represent that district.

Presently, we don’t have districts.  Candidates run at-large, and the top three or four vote getters (depending on which cycle of staggered terms we’re in) are elected.  All are elected at-large, all represent all citizens.  On a positive note, if I call one city council member and don’t feel like my concern was given fair consideration, I can pick up the phone and call another one.  And another.  We get to pick the one we like best, not necessarily the one who lives closest.

Obviously, I think the present system works best.  I don’t see how makng it easier to elect someone with fewer votes could possibly be a good thing for Oak Ridge.  But I do remain interested in why some people feel unrepresented, and exactly what they would like our representatives to do differently.

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