Monday, September 30, 2013

Wizards, Curtains And Emperor's Clothes

A rather strange system of logic has taken hold in the Wold and it is exposed by the juxtaposition of why we should defend the status quo at City Hall yet take great exception to the status quo at DeKalb County Schools. 

The bumper-sticker thinking argues that a reaction to perceived problems should be proportional to the individual tax one pays for each circus event. To wit: since property taxes levied by the city are much, much smaller than that of the DeKalb County Schools then long before one gets their knickers in a tangle over anything in the City they should first direct their outrage at all things DCSS*. Only after that outrage is exhausted should one turn their attention inward towards all things wild and wonderful in our fair City.  There is no doubt this is a deflective tactic.

 But it stirs some ponderings.

First and foremost is the whole local control meme. Wasn't that exactly why we formed a city in the first place? So we could have efficacious control over a responsive government as a direct consequence of some principle of locality? Isn't that the same principle of locality that we'll use to justify a breakaway City School System? And since this local control makes all things more responsive addressing City issues should be easy and supportive of the City Schools justification.  There really should be no harm in pushing the Easy Button before we mount up and joust with the very large windmill down in Tucker. Right?

From another perspective all these two targets of ire really have in common is that they are represented by numbers printed on the same bit of paper. Herein lies befuddling complexities.

Some folks don't actually receive that bit of paper. Turns out that those poor undesirable slobs shacking up in apartments pay these taxes via rent without ever seeing the actual bill. That way they don't know they're not getting a homestead exemption and can't deduct property taxes from income taxes either. But in the fashion of the Wold let's classify them as takers not makers and move on.

There is also a certain appeal to worst first. It does seem to work well when paving roads and it resonates with the philosophy of don't sweat the little things. But there is a spot of a problem here. Those amongst us who actually bother to sweat anything (the unwritten end of the sweaty things comment is that all things are little) realize that when things are little only a drop of sweat suffices but when allowed to become monsters there is no workout session powerful enough to sweat a thing that big. And isn't that the second pole holding up the breakaway City Schools tent?

There is another problem with the worst first mantra and that is the rather arbitrarily restricted reading list. Why not pull out that 1040 or better yet your last paystub of the year? Look at them numbers. You know--the amount you're paying for state and federal taxes. Are you happy with the entertainment value those dollars are buying? Then go fix that and then we'll talk about DeKalb Schools but only after you address the problem with Social Security and Medicare which for some of us carry frighteningly large paystub prices as well.

However if one believes some things are tamable and others not then one might argue that now is exactly the time to expend a few drops of sweat getting City Hall pointed the right direction before it is totally out of control like the grunting sweat hog that is DCSS.

To even consider this a reasonable view one must first accept that City Hall might be wandering from the path of righteousness and there are those amongst us who will not tolerate that notion or those who speak of it. Thankfully we have DCSS to occupy their time whilst others sweat the little things.

* We'll stick with DCSS for DeKalb County School System even though the term appears to have been deprecated. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What Is Means

When politics crashed head on into facts during the Clinton administration the American public was challenged to parse statements ultimately devolving into a serious discussion of the meaning of the word "is".

But we've grown quite a bit since then. Now we no longer confront these kinds of issues head on preferring to accept political deceptions and deflections until confrontation is absolutely unavoidable. This is no more true in public education than in any other political arena. The upcoming challenge in language parsing is being brought to you by the stampede towards "Charter Clusters" in DeKalb and the language being redefined is "Local Control".

Now "Local Control" is near and dear to the hearts of all Dunwoodians as this was an important rallying cry in the citihood movement. It was also inseparable from "Taxation Without Representation" and when you ask yourself "Local Control Of What?" you inevitably arrive at one and only one answer: money. And such will be the case this time around.

For those not paying close attention the current Charter Cluster proposals distance themselves from central office policy, procedures and politics. Sounds good especially if you're of a mind to vilify DCSD central office. But in so doing the proposal also distances the Cluster from the will of the voter as the voter elects a board which hires and directs policy for a Superintendent from which these Clusters are severing all ties. Except the money.

Now when you hear "Local Control" in these Charter discussions you may be thinking this is a great thing as you'll now have a more direct say in the goings on at the public school in your neighborhood and more control over how resources are allocated and your money is spent. After all with the current system you may well find yourself in a distinct and powerless minority. Unfortunately the new system would degrade your position from "practically powerless" to "structurally removed from the equation altogether."

Perhaps a simple example would help. In a not so random selection let's look at a small but typical Dunwoody cul de sac with sixteen homes of fairly intact households representing two votes per home for a total of thirty two votes. Now due a combination of demographics and the restriction of votes to households with children who could attend the local school this is reduced to eight votes--one vote per child. This is a reduction of 75% in voting representation on that street--three quarters of the voting representation is lost simply due to the fact that the disenfranchised ONLY pay taxes. These folks still vote for school boards but let's keep in mind that the main goal of Charter Clusters is to separate themselves from district management and oversight. The money will flow in and 75% of the voters who now have some say (no matter how small) will soon have no say whatsoever.

If even minimally observant you will note that none of the Charter advocates will support the notion that those who they wish to strip of a voice should also be excused from paying. Somehow THAT is part of some lopsided social contract.

What you will hear are many justifications for this system and it will be touted as far superior as parents of school children will run the school or at least have a direct hand in running the school. Now imagine this: a principal, a counselor and a parent are having a discussion regarding that parent's child and that child's capabilities and preparedness for certain activities and materials. Your job (as a mental exercise) is to ponder the order you would rank these three individuals with regard to objectivity in this situation. Once complete you will have a better understanding of why more than one teacher has stated more learning would take place if all their students were from an orphanage.

Hopefully this helps as you ponder what Local Control means with the new Charter Clusters. The final definition is still a work in progress but one thing is certain: it will contain the word "cluster."

Monday, September 23, 2013

Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?

To every thing there is a season,
   and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and time to die;
   a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and time to heal;
   a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
   a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
   a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose:
   a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend and a time to sew;
   a time to keep silence and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
   a time of war, and a time of peace.
It must be rough being a Dunwoody politician or candidate these days what with being lambasted for "quiet periods" and berated for the legal fallout from "executive session leaks". How is an ordinary politician to know when to prattle on and on and when to have nice cup of STFU?

Some claim it is very simple. If you speak bullshit as the average politician is wont to do when addressing a group of potential voters or find yourself lobbying for a pet project then feel free to blow a mighty wind. On the other hand if you are about to be actual-factual about a matter in the works but yet to have properly lined the appropriate pockets then put a cork in it. This rather cynical view boils down to simple do's and don'ts for politicians to follow. If you know what you are about to say is a lie or at the very least misleading then by all means blather on. And on. If you know for certain that what you are about to say is true you should immediately excuse yourself. No questions asked and certainly none answered. If the truth of the matter is uncertain one must first attempt to verify the truth and should that be inconclusive err on the side of silence.

For those in the real world this is all very baffling--particularly the executive session kerfuffle. If you work for a publicly traded company you probably get the quarterly "quiet period" email directing you to remain silent about any knowledge you may have regarding the company prospects as quarterly reporting is imminent. If you're an executive or know an executive then you are aware that some information is simply not to be discussed with anyone. Not friends. Not close associates. Not spouses. Not even your dog.

The single largest inflection point in the modern America's discourse between politicians and the electorate is election day and upon that day begins the great and dramatic distancing of the elected politicians' actions and almost all of their previous statements. Is there any remaining member of the voting public that really believes to be honest and true anything emanating from a politician's mouth? The only remaining mystery is why some protest that the politicians are not speaking often or long enough. Baffling.

Perhaps Alison Krauss has it right when it comes to politicians: "you say it best when you say nothing at all."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

STEM Crisis: A Political Myth

If necessity is the mother of invention
Then I'd like to kill the guy who invented this
The numbers come together in some kind of third dimension
A regular algebraic bliss
Let's start with something simple, like one and one ain't three
And two plus two will never get you five
There are fractions in my subtraction and x don't equal y
But my homework is bound to multiply
Math suks math suks
I'd like to burn this textbook, I hate this stuff so much
Math suks math suks
Sometimes I think that I don't know that much
But math suks
I got so bored with my homework, I turned on the TV
The beauty contest winners were all smiling through their teeth
Then they asked the new Miss America
Hey babe can you add up all those bucks?
She looked puzzled, then just said "Math Suks"
Math suks math suks
You don't even have to spell it, all you have to do is yell it...
Math suks math suks
Sometimes I think that I don't know that much
But math suks
Geometry, trigonometry and if that don't tax your brain
There are numbers too big to be named
Numerical precision is a science with a mission
And I think it's gonna drive me insane
Parents fighting with their children and the Congress can't agree
Teachers and their students are all jousting constantly
Management and labour keep rattling old sabers
Quacking like those Peabody ducks
Math suks math suks
You don't even have to spell it, all you have to do is yell it...
Math suks math suks
Sometimes I think that I don't know that much
But math suks
If you've ever taught anything even closely resembling a STEM course then you have certainly heard a student excusing their ignorance with "Professor TOD, I just don't do math".  Students at every level say this for one reason only: it works. Society accepts it. Parents accept it: "my kid is the creative type--math isn't her forte". Hell, even teachers accept it. And that is what really suks.

Or is it?

It seems this common mythology surrounding acceptable innumeracy gives unjustified validity to the business drumbeat and chant of "we need more STEM for our high tech industry and America isn't delivering". Those in the field and especially those who've become unemployed as we continue the expansion of our H1-B visas have known for some time this simply does not ring true. And now they have the voice of Robert N. Charette a contributing editor to the IEEE Spectrum singing to their choir. In his recent article in the Spectrum Mr. Charette shows clearly how the numbers just don't add up. Especially not if you're the type of businessman who believes supply and demand are somehow related.

Mr. Charette points to the demand side showing that US business and industry is creating 277,000 STEM jobs per year. That's right--over one quarter of a million jobs per year. That's the demand. Sounds pretty good and if you're as innumerate as Mister Boofay you're probably thinking that IS a righteously large number way bigger than what our homegrown supply can meet.


The supply side figures don't support that supposition. Turns out we are producing 252,000 STEM bachelor degree holders per year. Still short of the demand by 20,000.  But wait! There's more. We pump out 80,000 Master's, 20,000 PhD's and 40,000 Associate's degree holders per year. Now we're over 120,000 over the demand. That's right. We have an almost 50% surplus PER YEAR over annual demand.

And yet industry moguls are whining about the lack of talent and while they are currently importing 50,000 H1B visa holders they demand more. Clearly this is intended to create a wage depressing oversupply and will inevitably contribute to the under and unemployed in STEM. And even if there were a short term supply issue the US is blessed with 11,400,000 STEM degree holders who currently work outside the STEM fields---that does not count the unemployed. Yet that number alone represents a forty year supply of STEM workers in an environment where we are already generating about 50% more STEM graduates than the current demand.

So...if your twoddler giggles when she plays with her toes or smiles at the ceiling fan or even prefers the taste of the blue crayons to the green then just smile and let it go. She may grow up to have the same understanding of numbers as a squirrel (zero, one, infinity: no nuts, my nut, look at all them nuts) but as it turns out that's OK.

Maybe that is what really suks.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bloody Mike

The temptation at times like this is to channel your inner Thug Kitchen but that would be only a pale imitation of a living classic. Since this is about a libation let the inspiration be Straight--No Chaser if only because the punny name sounds as cool as the music.

It has been a longstanding mystery in TOD why folks take a perfectly good drink and spoil it either by adding booze to a good drink or worse yet pouring water or something worse into perfectly fine spirits. Michaeleen O'Flynn had it right.

Today's libation is a "manly" derivative of a Shirley Temple literally and figuratively beefed up. Booze is optional and frankly not recommended. Mise en place seem more than it really is but most items are those required for any good Bloody Mary (IE: not from a mix):

  • V8 (low sodium preferred)
  • Horseradish
  • Worcestershire Sauce (is there any other than Lea & Perrin?)
  • Tabasco sauce though any preferred hot sauce can deliver the heat
Beefing up the Bloody Mike brings these to the party:
  • Beef Stock (avoid bouillon or high salt products)
  • Beef-sicle swizzle stick (a small kabob of steak tips, charred on the outside, bloody raw on the inside)
Assembly could hardly be simpler:
  1. add a skosh of horseradish to a glass with adequate ice
  2. one splash of tabasco
  3. two splashes of worcestershire
  4. two shots beef stock, stir to mix base ingredients
  5. top up with V8, stir to mix
  6. fresh ground pepper to taste
  7. top off with that beef-sicle swizzle stick--no umbrellas here

And...Bob's your uncle!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is This You?

When "the City's staff" engage in a coordinated, concerted effort to drive from Dunwoody those citizens they find unacceptable, is this you?

Or what about the kind of fidelity to honest government wherein a City Manager claims public review sessions were held yet the City Clerk responds to an open records request with "no record of any meeting". Is this you?

Or perhaps the commitment to public safety displayed by an apparent policy of shoot-to-kill for traffic offenses. Is this you?

Then there is the questionable ethics of a five million dollar pot-sweetener land deal using City taxpayer funds. Is this you?

Or the corporate welfare that manifested itself as a sweetheart deal between the City acting as a land developer and a nearly bankrupt home builder to ensure the builder's financial well being. Is this you?

And the botched closed-door "executive" sessions resulting in over a hundred thousand dollars of useless expenses which also cost the City Attorney his job and convinced a sitting member of Council to decline a bid for re-election. Is this you?

The shameless grubbing for grants that transformed a one hundred fifty thousand dollar site-appropriate nature trail into a million dollar interstate lane without any public vetting. Is this you?

Incessant "scope creep" that some are now calling intentional? Is this you?

The zealous militarization of a yet-to-be-proven competent police force that already shows a propensity for selectively harsh enforcement and (ab)use of deadly force. Is this you?

Or the constant hiding behind anonymizing labels and titles when there is legitimate need to address controversy yet leaping to the forefront to take credit or grab a pay raise. Is this you?

When you elect a Council and Mayor who sit by and watch these deplorable actions taken in their name or worse yet applaud them then THIS IS YOU.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

City Of Farmhouse, Georgia

It's been five years since the incorporation of the City of Dunwoody and coincident with the re-write of the city charter a movement to spin-off a new city is gaining steam. This city which is tentatively named the "City of Farmhouse" would encompass the area shown in the map below.

As an experiment in local control the City of Dunwoody has convinced many citizens that more is better. As in "more local". Hyper-localism is a new model for urban government but is one that has taken hold throughout the Pacific Northwest and has been readily embraced by local Farmhousers and cyclists alike.

The proposal for this new city is expected to be submitted in the next legislative session with a referendum vote in the following year. Proponents have already formed the two obligatory non-profits with one to "educate about" and the other to "advocate for" the new city. A proposed "viability" report was recently submitted to the Carl Vinson Institute in an envelope that also contained thirty thousand dollars and it is expected that this report will be issued on CVI letterhead shortly.

There has been some concern from those who will remain in the City of Dunwoody regarding the departure of Perimeter Center and the associated tax base but this is virtually identical to the complaints expressed by DeKalb when Dunwoody was first formed and this argument is expected to carry as much weight now as it did then. There have also been complaints that this move dilutes minority vote by carving out an almost exclusively non-minority city but others point out that this has a non-dilutive effect on the remaining City of Dunwoody and will in fact increase minority concentration there.

This new City will be up and running in less than three years but to get there everyone's help is needed. There will be several "virtual town hall" meetings via interactive webcast and Parks, Police and Roads Tasks forces are already spinning up.

Exciting times. Become an agent of change!

Monday, September 9, 2013

What Problem Are You Trying To Solve

Back at the little cabin in the woods where TOD goes to sharpen knives, clean guns and partake of poteen there have been many conversations about "what are they doing and why are they doing it". These are almost always philosophical  debates around the mysterious goings on of movers and shakers hereabouts excepting one rather pointless debate about the relative merits of Wicked Edge and Edge Pro systems and while that was called a draw other discussions always veered into the muddy ditch of ambiguity. Inspired by the clarity of thought only poteen can bring and immune to blessings of short term memory loss so often found at the bottom of a bottle of that most potent of potables an epiphany descended. When trying to determine a plausible answer to the aforementioned question it was revealed that you counter-intuitively need the answer to another question:
What problem are they trying to solve?
This may not seem particularly clarifying unless you understand a few TOD-Truisms[tm]. First is that here in TOD-land "where there is no solution there is no problem" which may seem to intertwine the definition of problem and solution. It does not. It simply means that encountering an unpleasant circumstance or a suboptimality does not a problem make. It may make a situation. It may make a conundrum. Not a problem. For a problem demands solution and this means that a problem has a finite lifetime ending its existence as a problem when the solution is identified and implemented. Of course this makes problems (and by implication solutions) abhorrent to politicians and the bureaucracies they so adore since implemented solutions and hence solved problems undermine the very reason for their existence.

Now you're beginning to understand City Hall, Decatur, the Gold Dome and why they are all so much alike.

Understanding the problem/solution relationship goes a long way towards understanding "what are they doing and why are they doing it". If you apply this filter to political rah-rah sessions, stump speeches and most of the documents finding their way from "The Staff" thru "The City Manager" to the City Council you'll waste a lot less time figuring out what is really going on. Inevitably the real problem they are trying to solve revolves around their own acquisition of power and money which has little relation to their vaguely stated "cover problem". This clarity of understanding won't make you happier but you'll have a lot more time to be miserable. Hence the poteen.

There is another important truism wrapped up in the problem-solution circle of life: if you have the solution, you own the problem. That's a whole other problem.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Beat Goes On, The Beat Goes On

Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La da da de de, la da da de da...
In a concerted effort to ensure that the melanin endowed know upon which side of the city limits they belong our Boys In Blue (or at least one) has offered an object lesson to one of Dunwoody's small business owners with a traffic stop for equipment violations that escalated into a failed drug bust. So just how does a non-moving violation of such substance that it is later dismissed become a street art performance of a scene from the movie "Crash"?

It's hard to say. What the officer should have done is finish the paperwork on the non-moving violation and send the man on his way. Sadly this is not what happened.

One version claims that the officer looked at the guy and immediately concluded that he's a drug offender and asked to search his vehicle--a request that was denied. This resulted in what is said to be an illegal detention until an "indicate on cue" dog* was fielded by a neighboring police force and successfully sniffed out an empty cashew container.**

Perhaps that's true. Perhaps this officer is the product of the harsh life he faces in keeping Dunwoody's mean streets clean. In an effort to limit perceived damage to the reputation of the force some now say he's a 'roid-ragin' rogue and his home should be checked for HGH and the like. Of course that would require a SWAT team since we know he's armed. But perhaps he's no singular rogue cop.

Others say this is just part of the Department's concerted effort to troll for seizable assets. Today's lengthy and laborious process for contesting a seizure means that almost all property taken is effectively taken permanently and without reasonable due process. If cops want it then it's theirs. All they need to do is find a spliff. Doesn't really matter how it got there.

Still others claim this is just another face of the racial purification effort ongoing in The Wold. Simple case of DWB***---a most serious offense in and to Dunwoody. Given that the "offense" occurred so close to the current target of other City purification efforts there might be substance to this assertion. Catch 'em coming in and show 'em the way out.

Of course this officer's Brothers In Blue stand firmly behind him and have exonerated him of any wrong doing. No surprises there. The unwilling party in this street side improv drama is less than pleased and has filed suit claiming his rights were violated---an assertion with which the proverbial "Reasonable Man" would probably agree. If it goes to court we'll find out how effective the Police Departments tactics are at aiding and abetting City Hall's racial cleansing agenda.
Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce
Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss
The cars keep a going faster all the time
Bums still cry, "Hey buddy, have you got a dime?"
And the beat goes on, yes, the beat goes on
And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on
The beat goes on and the beat goes on
The beat goes...

*They're not really "drug dogs" anymore, if ever they were.
**There is damn little a dog won't do for cashew.
***Black or brown, it doesn't matter.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Pogrom Marches On

Two of the apartment complexes originally slated for eradication in Dunwoody's failed Parks Pogrom have filed a federal fair housing suit against the City accusing the City (thru it's much lauded "staff") of harassment and discrimination. One might dismiss this as a desperate legal tactic by businesses attempting to preserve their right to unfettered profitable operation. One would be mistaken.

Or so says Dunwoody's own Municipal Court Judge  Rick Powell who swatted down nearly one hundred citations because the City failed to follow procedure and give proper notification. Is this mere arrogance with the City holding itself above its own procedures? Is it indeed harassment and discrimination that is a natural fall back position for a City determined to push those people out when more direct measures failed?

Or is it selective enforcement?

If this is selective enforcement then all the Citizens of Dunwoody and not just those renters along the PIB need to be very concerned. Selective enforcement such as picking off speeders on Chamblee Dunwoody often falls into the category of "worst first" due to limited resources. Like all other operational necessities even these situations must be closely monitored. Situations like the Chicken Ban have our City Staff instituting a policy of "enforce upon complaint" offering code enforcement as a big stick with which to beat your neighbor. More importantly it is well down the slippery slope of "we'll punish who we want when we want and to whatever degree we want".

When City Staff use selective enforcement to advance their own agenda and an unvetted, unsavory agenda at that then it is past time for our elected officials to step up, step in and put a stop to this. And we need to make sure they do. First because it is wrong--plain and simple. And if that isn't enough consider what you'll do and what recourse you'll have when they come after you.