Thursday, February 25, 2010

So many books, so little time

Some cliches are just so true. I have an ever increasing stack of books to read. Some are on the nightstand awaiting their turn, some are scheduled for book club, and some are just on my radar and I'd like to pick them up. So, here is my current reading list:

Reading: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

On the stack:

On my reading list:
Every time I finish a book, it seems two end up on my stack. Maybe one of these days I'll catch up, but new books come out every day.... 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Project for an engineer

Ok, so it may be totally off the wall and impractical, but the other day, as I was driving, I thought about snow removal techniques used in various cities. There was an interesting AP article the other day about how some cities handle snow (sorry, couldn't find it on the AP site). New York's method of melting the snow made me think.

Is there a simple solution? What about heated streets and sidewalks? Some houses use radiant heating, plus the sidewalks on campus tend to be clear where the steam tunnels run, which gave me the idea. Could streets and sidewalks be installed in such a way as to allow radiant heating somehow?

Think of the possibilities! Turn on the heat as snow starts and streets could be kept clear as the water runs into drainage systems. With monitoring, the heat could be turned off and on as needed with minimal expense in terms of staffing. And the monitoring could come from a few city employees and/or police and/or cc monitoring. If done with electricity, you'd still have to pay some electricity usage, but that would probably be less than manpower, gas, salt, etc. Steam tunnels could be effective in some areas, with the steam used to heat buildings, etc. I admit, installing a system would probably be very costly, but could it save money in the long run? Both for a city in not having to plow streets and possibly pay overtime to drivers or police and for citizens by having fewer accidents and keeping roads open so businesses could stay open.

So, I'm no engineer, but if someone is and wants to comment either why this is a great idea or why it would never work, I'd love to 'hear' some feedback. Maybe someone already thought of this and it just wouldn't work.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sad time for schools and a call to action

I went to the school board meeting last night even though I don't have kids in school yet. I have a lot to say about what is going on and will probably ramble, but here goes. I know this will be long, but if this is something that interests you, I hope it will be worthwhile.

Background: Over the last few years, our not beloved governor and the legislature decided to cap property taxes. They also took over the general funds that provide our schools with most of their operating money. They changed tax funding so schools are now funded through income and sales taxes (which are not stable sources of revenue) rather than property taxes (which are pretty stable). Now the legislature has passed a bill that is going on the November ballot which, if approved, would put the property tax caps in the state Constitution (a really bad idea, even if you like the caps, which I don't; that's a poor use of the Constitution).

Due to some arcane school funding formula, our school system only receives $5298/pupil. That sounds like a lot until you see the bigger picture. We are 240/293 school districts in the state in terms of funding. The average is $5810/pupil - we're below average. The highest is $13314/pupil and the lowest is $4950/pupil. Seriously? How is that fair? How can some schools get 3 times as much money per pupil than others? Why is the high more than double the average? Why don't all our students merit the same spending? Are some worth more than others?

Because of all the above and the current state of the economy (income and sales tax revenues are down), our local school system needs to cut at least $4.5 million from the budget. And the proposed cuts, revealed last Friday, cut deep.

A more comprehensive listing can be found here if you have a Herald Times subscription. But here are a few highlights.

  • Administrator salary freeze
  • Eliminate elementary and middle school library and media specialists
  • Eliminate middle school foreign language
  • Eliminate middle school Family and Consumer Science
  • Eliminate the healthy school coordinator position
  • Eliminate summer school
  • Drain school pools in summer
  • Move Aurora Alternative High School into one of the larger high schools
  • Close the Teen Learning Center
  • Eliminate/reduce some assistant coaches
  • Eliminate Bradford Woods and Honey Creek School
  • Eliminate 6 elementary assistant principles
I could keep listing things, but it's just too depressing. So on to some of the items discussed last night and some of my commentary.

The school board meeting started at 7 p.m. After a few brief items, the board voted themselves a 10% reduction in stipend for the year. It was a nice lead-in to the big item. While a drop in the bucket, at least they tried to lead by example.

The main item on the agenda was the proposed cuts. There were several hand-outs as we walked in, which detail the budget and cuts along with a financial fact sheet. The board opened this section by each making comments about the reductions. They were all upset about having to make these decisions. One member talked about how he has been trying to get the board to put a referendum on the ballot since the state took over general funds and cut property taxes because he anticipated this. Only one member actually has kids in the school system and she was practically in tears. I think they made it clear that this was the worst thing they had ever had to do as members of the school board. 

Let's be clear. Everyone there - school board, staff, parents, etc -  knows cuts have to be made. Everyone 

is devastated. As one person commented in the public comments, it's like trying to decide what limb to cut off. There is no fat in the budget to cut. We're down to cutting meat.

Some of the big items on the chopping block that brought a lot of comments from the public were eliminating library and media specialists, combining Aurora into another school, eliminating whole programs in general.

Cutting all the librarians (I know, library and media specialists, but it's quicker to type librarians, so consider it shorthand) seems so short-sighted. School systems are under enormous pressure to have enough students pass standardized tests, which have a huge literacy component. Creating a student body that doesn't know how to critically evaluate information, etc, means they are less likely to pass ISTEP, which means the schools could end up in trouble, get less funding, end up on the watch list for not making AYP. Several speakers last night cited studies that show schools with good librarians have students that score higher on those tests. Also, how can you expect students to be prepared to high school and college if they have no idea how to do research, how to evaluate information, how to properly cite works? This is information that the elementary level teachers depend on the librarians to help with. There has to be a middle ground, such as having roving librarians who rotate through maybe 5 schools, one day a week at each.

Cutting middle school foreign language and FCS is not a good idea given that there are state requirements for what students need to have. FCS is one of 2 programs currently offered that qualify for a component that students are required to have 2 of. (I don't remember all the details, but the board members looked a little uncomfortable when that was brought up.) With the number of credit hours in various disciplines required for honors diplomas and just to get into a state supported school (don't get me started on that!) like IU, cutting middle school foreign language will put our students at a disadvantage. Just as an example, IU requires 3 years of foreign language for entering students.

Eliminating the healthy school coordinator is just plain stupid. That position is currently (through at least next year) entirely funded by grants. Eliminating the position means that that person would take another position in the district based on her seniority, displacing a lower-paid staff member, actually costing the district ~$30,000. They looked pretty surprised when she brought that up and mentioned that she has brought about $2 million in grant funding into the system.

Consolidating Aurora into one of the other schools is also counter-productive. These are students who would have and often had dropped out because they didn't fit into either the North or South high schools. If they are moved back into one of those buildings, it is entirely likely that those students will drop out again, which hurts the bottom line. School systems get penalized for low graduation rates plus funding is based on the number of pupils. Fewer pupils means less funding.

I could go on, but here's the gist of what I said when I spoke at around 11 p.m. last night:

I don't have students in the schools because my oldest is only 3, but I am terrified by what the schools will be like in another 3 years since they are already talking about more cuts next year. A lot of the proposed cuts seem counterproductive in that they will actually lead to less funding. The quality of the schools is also important. If all these cuts are made, more parents will consider alternatives like St. Charles or home schooling, which would lead to even less funding. I'd like to see, along with talk of cuts, some proactive solutions from the board. I didn't ask for property tax cuts. If they get a referendum on the ballot, I'll vote for it. Would fundraising help? I'll donate money. But some guidance and leadership is needed.

I think I was the only one there without a direct tie to the schools who spoke. Several speakers mentioned a referendum, including a challenge to not waste time and get it on the May ballot, fund raising, etc. Writing to our legislators, the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction were all highly encouraged to hopefully stop this from happening again next year.

So, to end, here are some resources that I hope people will use.

  • To contact your school board member: here is the list/contact info.
  • To contact Mitch Daniels: 317-232-4567 or Office of the Governor, Statehouse, Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797 or by email form here.
  • To contact Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett: 317-232-6665, Superintendent, Indiana Department of Education, 151 W Ohio St, Indianapolis, IN 46204, by email tbennett @
  • To contact your legislators:
    • Vi Simpson (District 40) 800-382-9467, 200 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204, or electronically.
    • Matt Pierce (District 61) 800-382-9842, 200 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 64204, or H61 @
    • Peggy Welch (District 60) 800-382-9842, 200 W Washington St, Indianapolist, IN 46204, or online.
  • To write a letter to the editor of the HT: online form.

Monday, February 8, 2010

They're playing our song

I entered a contest on the local (Bedford) oldies station, WQRK Super Oldies, called That's Our Song. The contest involved telling them what you and your significant other's song is and why. Last week and this week, they pick a daily winner who receives a gift certificate for a dozen roses from a local florist and is entered in the grand prize drawing for this Friday. And they read your submission and play your song.

And I won today! While it's exciting to win, I thought the story of our song was kind of fun so here goes.

Our song is "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate. When we met, I was living in the Chicago suburbs and Chris lived here in Bloomington. Living 4 hours apart, it was unlikely we would ever meet.... except we have a mutual friend who lives in West Lafayette. And we both went to her New Year's Eve party.

We dated long distance until we got married, so we spent a lot of time emailing and IMing. Yes, there were phone calls, but that's expensive. So while sitting at the computer, I would inevitably start humming "You Sexy Thing". While it works on the level of the title, there is a line in the song "I believe in miracles since you came along" which really sums things up for us.

So, that's the story of our slightly unusual song, which was played at our wedding. Now we just need to see if it wins us the grand prize (not sure what that is, but I'm sure it will be good.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowy drive

I'm from the Chicago area so a little snow doesn't bother me. But Friday night's drive home in the snow? That was a little tense.

I drove the boys to Urbana to spend the weekend with Grandma and Grandpa. When we started out after lunch, the roads weren't bad at all. The snow in Bloomington had changed back to rain and we didn't encounter snow on the road until we were north of Martinsville. While the roads were snowy, they weren't in bad shape and we were only going about 5 mph under the posted speed limit most of the way. There was a stretch on I-74 where snow was blowing across the road from fields so we slowed to 55 (from a speed limit of 70), but over all, it was really reasonable.

Then the sun went down, the snow built up a little and I guess Indiana decided I-74 didn't require plowing. The 35 miles through Illinois weren't too bad, similar to on the way up. I could tell when I hit the border because the roads were snow covered other than where tires had made paths. It was still driveable, but slow. The trick was to get behind a semi because their 18 wheels carve a pretty nice path through the snow. Once again, 50-55 mph was still moving and not unreasonable. Most people seemed to be driving cautiously.

Then I got to Crawfordsville. Two or three cars got off on the exit. I was in the right lane a little ways back. A semi and an SUV were in the left lane ahead of me. Suddenly a car came from the exit perpendicular to the highway, across both lanes directly in front of the truck. I'm pretty sure the truck hit the car because the car went spinning back across both lanes. I was busy trying to avoid becoming part of the accident, so I and the few other cars that were there kept moving. The semi and another that was behind me pulled over. Driving conditions at that point were pretty bad. The only thing I can figure was that the car that got hit realized it was the wrong exit and tried to pull back onto the road, hit snow and spun into the path of the truck.

The speed of traffic for the next few miles was about 35-40 as I took deep breaths and shook off the image. Not long after I got my stomach and heart back down where they belonged (rather than in my throat) and when traffic in general had gained the confidence to speed up to about 45-50, there was a semi off in the ditch... with it's trailer blocking the right lane.

The drive on I-74 was hairy. I saw 2 or 3 plows in the other direction on those 35 miles in Illinois. I didn't see a single one in Indiana until I was on 465 around Indy. No wonder the road was a mess! It got better once I was on 465 where they seemed to actually be doing something about the snow. And once on SR 37 it got a little better. The real difference came just north of Martinsville where both lanes were suddenly pretty clear. Salt! Plows! What a difference! The last 25 miles or so were really not bad, about like the roads had been when we headed out.

All in all, I left with the boys at 1:15. We arrived in Urbana around 4:45, 3.5 hours later. We did make one rest stop, so an extra half hour considering the weather and the stop isn't bad. I left at 5:40 (it took time to move car seats, plus I had a quick sandwich before hitting the road again.) I got home at 9:35, almost 4 hours later. My back was sore from being tense that long. But we made it safely - the boys to Grandma and Grandpa's and me back home.

Chris and I had a great time yesterday. We spent the afternoon at The Irish Lion where Starrynight Productions had a reading and critique of 2 screenplays (Chris's and Cindy's). Then we spent an enjoyable evening with friends eating pizza and a giant birthday cookie and playing a great game of Battlestar Galactica: The Boardgame. It was exactly what we wanted to do for our birthdays. And the 4+ hours for the reading would not have been possible with the boys in tow.

Now it's time for us to go get dressed to drive to Urbana to pick up the boys.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I'm actually happy that Scott Brown was sworn in as Massachusetts Senator today. It has nothing to do with party affiliation as I consider myself an Independent.

No, I may be in the minority, but the reason I am happy is because I don't think either party should have a filibuster-proof super-majority. Whichever party is in power should have to listen to the other party. There should be some consensus required to pass legislation. The last decade or so has seen party politics take an ugly turn to the point where politicians would rather vote against something just to throw a wrench in the other party's legislation than try to work out a compromise.

Like in a marriage, members of a legislative body need to compromise and give a little to gain a lot. While back room deals and pork bribes weigh down bills and laws, having to listen to the other guy should create better laws because more than one side is being considered.

Just remember, if you are mad because the Democrats lost their super-majority, next time the Republicans get 60 votes, they can do whatever they want. Turnabout is fair play and isn't it better to play nice to begin with? As we all should have learned as children, if you are nice when you are on top, you are less likely to be beaten up when you fall. Violent revolutions tend to overthrow repressive regimes, not permissive ones.

Really, there are good and bad arguments on both sides of the aisle. Maybe this will force them to cut the chaff so the wheat can rise to the top.

Just my opinion

Ok, a few things I just don't get:

Politicians get elected on a platform of spending money on schools, educating children, children are our future, invest in education, school reform, etc, etc, etc. As soon as they are in office, they cut school funding. For an interesting study on the topic of education spending and future savings (prisons, crime prevention) read this. Spending on education reduces crime, meaning less spending on prisons, plus generally leads to less spending on welfare.

The military complains that it is tough to recruit, yet they manufacture reasons to keep people out with policies like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which have no bearing on a person's ability to perform the job.

I'm reading the current issue of National Geographic, the cover story of which is about the FLDS. Now, I don't agree with plural marriage and certainly don't understand why someone would do it (I don't share well, that way), but why the witch hunts? It seems as long as something is between consenting adults, can we stay out of people's bedrooms? And let me just state for the record that I get the objections and court cases in regards to teenage girls being forced to marry middle-aged men. There are already laws about that without getting into whether she's a first wife or a fifth wife. And cases where someone marries multiple times where the spouses don't know? That's not consenting.

In conjunction with the above, why do some heterosexual couples feel their marriages are somehow threatened or lessened by people unlike them getting married? But I've already covered this topic recently, so I'll let my previous post speak for itself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A guest post

A friend of ours, Nicole, wrote a really good essay about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military. I asked if I could share it here and so, with her permission, here it is:

Don't Ask, Don't Tell 
I get nervous on stairs; my heart races dangerously when I feel
someone walking too closely behind me; I'm out of shape and
prone more to dialogue than action. I am no soldier.

I don't have the resolve to put on armor to face not only an 
enemy's bullet, but a citizen's disdain. If that citizen is the 
one on foreign soil, I imagine it's frustrating and confusing; 
if that citizen is one of your countrymen, I imagine it's 
enraging and heart wrenching. My deepest hope is that 
the latter is infrequent because though I may be your 
ideological opposite, I am grateful for your ability and 
willingness to act on behalf of those who will not and cannot.

Just as I am no soldier, I cannot envision a soldier's life. Intense 
training against imaginary opponents leading to life-threatening deployment against real threats. Pepper that with a lot of down 
time where your military company becomes family and your 
ability to get along with and trust your colleagues could mean 
the difference between life and death. When times are quiet, 
you're left to prepare and live in conditions that are, at best, 
not like home and, at worst, hostile and primitive. I imagine 
the lag time is when you build bonds and seek out soldiers 
whose personalities, ideologies and training you trust most 
to keep close and watch your back.

However, there are those in the company, just as with any 
situation, whose behaviors and skills you don't respect as much. 
But, barring anything truly egregious, you move forward because 
you put trust into the training you were given and a soldier's ability 
to put aside differences in times of war. As bullets fly, I assume 
you will fight with and for that soldier as wholeheartedly as your 
best buddy. And then, once that battle is won and your nerves 
restore, you align yourself again with your closest allies to heal 
and de-stress but, possibly, look to that other soldier and his ability 
to serve and survive with more respect.

Again, I'm no soldier and I will never fully understand the 
bonds created and the necessity for company cohesion that 
exists when lives are at stake. But I think civilians look to 
soldiers to uphold a certain sense of decorum and dignity 
just as we would a civil servant like a police officer or 
firefighter. And maybe that's unfair; maybe we should 
acknowledge that soldiers are often young and venturing 
beyond their parent's doorstep for the first time. Maybe we 
should forgive their brashness as a mere symptom of the 
toughness it takes to be in combat. And I get that, I do; I think 
that it takes a certain machismo (both in men and women) 
to risk your own life for such an intangible thing as 'freedom'. 
I think it would take someone or something pushing me to my 
limits for me to take up arms against another person, but even 
with my beliefs I do believe war is sometimes necessary. But 
these men and women enter the service with free will and, 
mostly, under conditions of stateside peace. I respect them 
for that.

I respect each and every one of them for that; black and white, 
male and female, younger and older, Christian and Muslim, 
gay and straight. Each and every one of them has left their 
homes and their families in search of careers, stability, honor, 
service and love of country. But, we are currently at a crossroads 
within our military with Obama's promise to repeal Don't Ask, 
Don't Tell and there are those that fear this decision will change 
the entire makeup of the U.S. military. To them I want to ask...
and very much.

I want to understand how they think a person's sexuality affects 
their pride in their country; if anything, a gay citizen might be 
forgiven by many for having lost respect in the U.S. as a beacon 
of freedom and hope. But the gay soldier is still willing to 
serve a country that does not always serve him.

I want to understand how they believe a person's sexual 
orientation itself could cause commotion in the barracks; if 
anything, it is the miseducation and fear-mongering surrounding homosexuality that would lead to incidents rather than the 
gay soldier's actions. I've read today comparisons between
homosexuality and pedophilia; I've read today that the 
straight soldiers should fear gay men in the shower; I've read 
today that if gay men are allowed to share quarters with 
straight men then they should just mix the genders because 
it'd be like having a woman in there anyway.

When you read such things, it's so disturbing and deflating to 
all the supposed progress our community has made in the 
past few decades. In 2010, we're still comparing two adults 
engaging in consensual sex or enjoying loving relationships 
to an adult preying on children. In 2010, there is still a 
pervasive idea that gay men are attracted to each and every
man or that lesbian women will be after you merely because 
you're a woman. There is no furthered understanding that our
preferences are not tied to gender, but that gender is tied to 
our preferences.

And in 2010, there is an undercurrent of belief that homosexuals 
are hedonistic and immoral people who have no self-control 
over their sexual impulses. As if any soldier, gay or straight, 
trained to use high- powered weaponry to defend his country 
couldn't keep control over his hard-on. Every soldier faces 
the most extreme factions on foreign soil; they are our defenders, 
but also our diplomats and I expect them to act with a sense of 
understanding that they are the symbol of our nation to people 
that have potentially heard nothing good. I expect that of our
soldiers and if, under those circumstances they can remain 
calm and rational, I definitely expect the same should a gay 
soldier offer to take them out for dinner.

When women were finally allowed to serve in combat, some 
of these same arguments were given. The male soldiers wouldn't 
be able to stay focused if female pheromones were in the air; 
that the masculine bonding that occurs when women aren't present 
would be disrupted and lives would be lost; that the women 
wouldn't be safe on long deployments and how could the men 
be expected to control their impulses.

And, granted, there have been too many instances of sexual 
assault in the military and gender biases are still prevalent but, 
overall, the integration has been successful for one reason: 
there are bigger issues at hand than libido and your own 
personal ideology. I think, implemented carefully, the repeal 
of DADT will be a positive change for our military for the
same reason. And should any soldier not hold themselves to 
that expected sense of decorum and dignity, gay or straight, 
may they incur the legal and civil punishment given by a 
court of law. When you're called to serve, you are chosen 
for your ability to complete a mission. You are called because 
you have the appropriate weapons training or linguistic education 
or science background and, should the world work how it is 
supposed to, the most talented in these areas will be chosen 
for those skills alone.

But, of course, the process will be slow. Soldiers acknowledge, 
and take pride, that military foundations are built on tradition 
and conservative values. There are codes of conduct that 
exist in the books and ones that remain unspoken but adhered 
to as if written in blood. It will take brave soldiers to step 
forward and lead the way for the gay and lesbian soldiers
that wait for calmer seas; it will take top Brass, , both active 
and retired, stepping forward and claiming their sexuality; it 
will take strong straight allies who educate and advocate on 
behalf of their gay brothers and sisters in arms. It will take years.

For those that feel the 'gay agenda' is being pushed down their 
throats, I ask you to step outside your own beliefs for a short 
period and look up heterosexual privilege. Just like white 
privilege or male privilege, it explores the unspoken advantages 
that a majority enjoys without even considering them to be 
advantages. You've heard so many in other civil rights discussions; 
the ability to walk down the street at night without being fearful 
(male privilege), the ability to walk through a department store 
without being watched more closely (white privilege) and the
ability to talk about your partner in your workplace (heterosexual

I'm far from the most P.C. person you'll ever meet; I have my 
biases and discriminations that I feed and I fight but when 
pushed I always come back to the thought "even if that person 
really wasn't being discriminated against, they 'felt' they were 
and that has to have a huge impact on their psyche". That's just 
my way of keeping myself in check when I want to rail against 
someone's call of misogyny or racism or homophobia (yes, I
get mad about this one too). But, step outside yourself and try 
to feel, truly feel, what it would feel like to be judged for 
something over which you have no control (and I'm not getting 
into 'choice' discussions here re: homosexuality).

Now, try to imagine what that would feel like with bullets 
whizzing by and 'freedom' on the line.