Monday, September 29, 2014

At The Other End Of The Barrel

Since the recent episodes of Cops Gone Commando the world, and by that we mean politicians, have focused an increased but insufficient amount of attention on the para-military "police" force they have created across the country. Naturally this forced the commanders of the Commando Cops to retaliate.

This includes some of our local Andy's and Barney's.

A neighboring city has taken up the "we're in an arms race" mantra. This harks back to the 1997 North Hollywood shootout where cops faced long gun and machine gun fire with .38 calibre handguns and the occasional shotgun. The official response seems to have been "I want a machine gun! Everybody else has one!" Of course this has a rather undesirable knock-on effect. Especially if you're of the belief that only the chosen ones should own guns and normal, free people in the U.S are certainly not "chosen." You see, there is a public reaction to firepower wielded by cops: if that's what a cop needs to protect me from the Bad Guys[TM] then that's what I need to protect myself from the same Bad Guys[TM]. Chicken-Egg. Vicious Circle. Take your pick. But when the cops start sporting AR-15's don't be all that surprised to find "ordinary people" doing the same thing.

But Dunwoody is best of all. Billy says Military Training is a great policing tool. OK... So would that be "tactics?" Like we see when our military forces are doing a sweep thru a village in Afghanistan? Coming soon to a neighborhood near you! Can't wait.

Then there is the military equipment. Our arsenal includes an Armored Personnel Carrier: such a big toy for our little boys. But Billy claims it is just a "ride" and not as "militarized" as what the real army has.That it just looks menacing. But isn't that exactly the same argument coming from the cold-dead-handers? The ones who say their AR-15's are not the military, fully automatic version. That they just look like a military weapon.

And that is where it get's funny.

Many of the folks who want you to hand in your gun are the same ones doing a Michael Dukakis in their tanks whilst sporting a uniform from the Idi Amin estate sale and now they're using the gun nut's argument to keep their toys.

You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Word Smatter

Let's start this piece on local government propaganda with the plain truth:
The City of Dunwoody is increasing your property taxes.
In it's official capacity as the City bidet, the Dunwoody fan rag headlined "Dunwoody to hold line on taxes" reporting that Mikey and Billy are proposing that property taxes should remain level. Really? And just what does THAT mean? Well, if you are a tax and spend politician it means that you are keeping the tax rate the same and reaping the windfall from rising property values. If you are a limited government conservative then you will propose a revenue-neutral budget and therefore lower the tax rate.

So which set of yahoos do we have running this city? You guessed it--the former. The local bidet does disclose, probably with great reluctance, that it is indeed the tax rate that is remaining the same. Of course this is indirectly justified by invoking the boogey man of  The Great Recession (that IS over isn't it? property values ARE rising aren't they?), comparing bad to worse (Dunwoody's tax increase compared to DeKalb's) and touting all the wonderful things they intend to buy on their spending spree.

This is the very essence of effective propaganda: a partial truth constructed to mislead and misdirect with the real truth buried in distractions and deflections. While amusingly reminiscent of Mister CEO touting HIS payment of OUR taxes (with our HOST taxes) we were sold on better. We were sold the myth of local government where our neighbors would run the City in an honest and open manner unlike anything we would ever see from Decatur. While we've certainly had quite a few disturbing revelations regarding DeKalb County, these kinds of antics at City Hall leave one wondering if the only difference is we haven't found out what is going on at Perimeter Center. Yet.

At the end of the day what they say and how they do it matters. Words matter. It is the difference between honest governance and just another bunch of unseemly, greedy politicians.

So let us now close with the plain and simple truth:
The City of Dunwoody is increasing your property taxes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post: Educator Speaks

Today's regular programming is interrupted by a pop-up post from a guest author. While you may read this and think "that's my kid they're dissin'" we assure you that any resemblance to any child, genius or idiot, is purely coincidental. Without further ado... 

I'm in the middle of a culture shock.

My previous institution was a very large public state school. 40,000-45,000 students. It was a decent school despite a decent party reputation. You'd have the gamut of students: jocks trying to stay academically eligible (which was sometimes a challenge…for them and for their instructors), Greeks bearing zero gifts, first-generation college students, and the brainiacs trying to save money going to the in-state school for undergrad (knowing full well their grad school would leave them up to their eyeballs in debt).

My current institution is less than 5% of the size of the last place. Private. "Highly selective". It has graduated dozens (in the plural) of Rhodes scholars. At the first faculty meeting, I learned the lower quartile of incoming freshmen "only" scored around a 1300 on the SAT math+verbal. One year of tuition, board and room is 20% more than my pre-tax annual salary. The student union has two grand pianos, but only one TV.

Which university, do you think, would create a more enjoyable teaching experience for a professor?

I was surprised by the answer.

There are a few problems in teaching students who lie in the intersection of "highly intelligent" and "very wealthy". In no particular order:
  • These students would not have been offered entrance if they weren't "complete packages". They are very sharp and very hard-working; they've traveled the world, speak multiple languages, play musical instruments or "sports" (the quotation mark is to indicate the athletes are more in the golf and lacrosse leagues than baseball and football). They were--without having to do more work than they were trained to do--the best at everything they ever attempted. And--by sheer numbers alone--that can no longer be the case. Put 2000 people used to being in the top five on one campus, and the nuts are off the buggy.

  • Some kids take this really well. By some, I mean about 20%. They adjust, learn to take constructive criticism, and have a cheery attitude. And given their natural intelligence and work ethic, that makes them ideal students. Seriously, you couldn't ask for more, and they are the students you rarely see at larger schools (again, just by sheer numbers). But then there are those who internalize every point deducted. They've been perfect their whole lives and now they aren't; they become depressed, stressed, and hyperactive. They are the reasons why every stall in every women's restroom on campus has a flier about bulimia. As an instructor, you feel guilty because you know that it's your assessment of their understanding that is making them "lose it" (for lack of a better term); however, you know that your assessment is correct and so you really just feel sad for these kids. I'm guessing about 30-35% of the student body's in this category. The last category, and also the majority, are those who interpret "I didn't get an A" as "it's not me, it's them." They're the combative ones. The ones that say "Just so you know, I'm an 'A' student" like it's a threat.  The ones that speak to you in ways that--if it were reciprocated--would get you fired in a heartbeat. The ones that make you pray their first spouse takes them to the cleaner because you don't know how to make a voodoo doll.

    At the larger schools, this problem isn't as pronounced. Perhaps it's because not all the students are type-A, A-students to begin with. But they seem more understanding of the fact that "Some of these classes will be hard. And I will not always be the top dog." This doesn't mean that the students don't want to do well. But it means they are more "realistic"; if they see they're performing at the class average, they recognize that that just means they are average. They may not like it, and they frequently will work their butts off to get a "B" or "B+", but they don't take it personally. And they don't take it out on the instructor. They realize, "Hey. I'm just not as good as some of the others at this."
  • Office hours. At the big state school, there may have been a University-approved minimum number of weekly office hours; however, I can guarantee you it wasn't enforced. Many professors were "by appointment only" and they never checked their emails. Or, they'd post office hours, but only show up if you had made an appointment prior. Consequently, if you actually were there, with your door open, during the times you said you'd be there, your students were like kids at Christmas. They would come whether they had just a quick question about one particular section, or major and fundamental questions about the entire course. They WANTED to see their instructor outside class. They were appreciative of ANY time--and they all would mark office hours of the professors they had in their calendars and/or their phones so they knew when to show up.

  • At the current institution, it doesn't matter how many office hours you have. But now, the reason is different. It doesn't matter because first it's significantly harder to get students to come at all. This again probably comes from the fact they're not used to needing help or asking for help, and they're embarrassed because they're clearly a disappointment to the whole world or because they're angry this school with all its money can't hire someone who realizes just how awesome they are. The other reason why the number of office hours doesn't matter is because the students who do come have zero respect for the schedules of their instructors. They will send emails "informing" their instructors that they are "on the way"--whether it's during office hour time or not. They will ask if it's OK to meet right before class, or right after class, or right after THEIR last class (no surprise, they never want to meet BEFORE their first class). And, of course, the INSTRUCTOR'S first/last class is never mentioned or suggested. And the institution recognizes this; my teaching mentor told me the best way to ensure my students respected my time was to work from home as much as possible. 

    The reasons for this again are many. First, the students again probably aren't used to needing help, so they don't realize that help is not always available. Next, they are probably used to instructors bending over backwards to spend any time with them BECAUSE they were the top students (and who wouldn't want to spend more time with their top students?). Again, as an instructor, you feel bad and want to accommodate; ANY academian has had a moment where she realizes she's not the top dog, that she's struggling. And it's a hard pill to swallow. You want to be available to your students; but you cannot pander to them. And letting them trample over your life and dictate your schedule is pandering.
  • Parents. In seven years of teaching at the large state school, you want to guess how many parents contacted me? Zero. In seven years. Hundreds to thousands of students and I heard from zero parents. My department head would probably hear from about a dozen a semester--which at the time I thought was insane. But again…24 a year out of 40-something thousand students? That's practically nothing.

  • The new faculty orientation at the current institution scared the crap out of me. Multiple talks were given on ways to deal with parents. We were told to expect to hear from about 10 parents a year. Maybe more or less, depending on your grade distribution. You would think, thanks to FERPA, this wouldn't be a discussion (or at least it would be short). Even if biologically and emotionally and financially we are talking about their child, legally we are talking about an 18+ year-old and therefore a legal adult. It is against the law for me to discuss the grades and specific academic performances of any of my students with their parents. There are no exceptions. It is the law. There are certain schools that offer a form students can sign so parents can call the REGISTRAR and get access to grade reports; however, as an instructor, you still can't really tell the parents much of anything.

    But try telling THEM that.

    To some extent (and to as much extent as someone who is childless and makes less than a year's tuition can have), I get it. You're paying a lot of money and you want to know why you're not seeing the "results" you'd like. But that's something you need to take up with your KID. If you really believe the school is worth the above-average cost, and if you think the school itself is above-average in academic rigor, then you should believe the school is capable of making above-average decisions in hiring. You shouldn't feel the need to question the intellectual authority of the faculty. And when you challenge a professor's assessment of your child's performance, that is exactly what you're doing. The professor has the PhD, not you. The professor has the published work and the years of college teaching experience, not you. You're 100% correct that you know your kid better as a human being; however, the professor's job is to judge your child's competency in ONE subject, not their worth as a human being. Go to the bathroom and read a flyer. This is like paying $60,000 for your child's wedding, and blaming the caterer for any ensuing marital problems. The money went to the child and was effectively a "gift". The child's the one you should be speaking to harshly, not the instructor.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Know Shit

A knock-on effect of the ethical challenges facing DeKalb County politicos has been a recent War of Word. And that word is: transparency.

One contender to the throne that until recently had been kept warm by Ms. Boyer is pledging an open checkbook register. OK. A sitting Councilman with a deserved reputation for informing citizens wherever possible felt compelled to re-iterate in a personal testimony. When ARE the next elections? A former City Councilman has suggested that if Dunwoody would only throw open the kimono the world would be delighted at how transparent this City really is. Really?

Perhaps not so much.

But to be fair there really isn't a great example for Dunwoody or it's citizens to learn by as opacity is the first tool all politicians use to manipulate whatever truths they are forced to concede. As a public service (as you well know, we at The Other Dunwoody are all about public service) let's look at things that would make Dunwoody an exemplar of transparency:

  • You MUST be proactive. This is not only the cornerstone of any transparent organization it is required to establish and maintain trust with stakeholders.  This must become such a part of the City's DNA that it would never need to respond to FOI request because the information is already in the public domain. 
  • You MUST be prompt. Data and documents must be published within 24 hours of trigger event (e.g., signing a contract) or acquisition of data or documents.
  • Publish data in machine readable form. Alternative publications are fine, but when data are involved machine readable is table stakes. 
  • Publish "easy data" quickly and frequently. Easy data are readily acquired or delivered, usually electronically and require no curation or redaction. An example would be call detail records on all City land lines and cell phones. And of course this includes "the checkbook."
  • Publish curated data on a routine basis but as frequently as possible. These are data that require some level of redaction with a good example being traffic citations where it may not be appropriate to publish some of the offender information.
  • Publication of triggered event information sets must be comprehensive. A triggered event is something like a successful contract negotiation at which point all related information (memo's, meeting agenda/minutes, call records, etc.) are published as a package even if those data and documents that may have already been published.
  • Routine internal operational reports must be published at regular intervals which at the very least should be 7 calendar days before City Council meetings. These reports should include internal staff reports as well as work-related correspondence with vendors. 
This level (which TOD considers a minimum level) of transparency is not supported by existing government processes and information infrastructure and will require some upgrades in both areas. IT needs to put in place systems that automate the acquisition, process and publication of data such as Call Detail Records and email metadata (SMTP headers). They will also be required to archive emails (if they do not already--no IRS email kerfuffles allowed) and to maintain strict version control of all City documents. Activities must be managed as cohesive units with data and documents collected and published in full at the appropriate milestones. For example, when a grant proposal is submitted that proposal and all documents leading up to it (emails, meeting minutes, status reports, Call records, draft proposals, etc.) are published to the public as a single module.  Similarly, negotiations with current or future vendors would result in publication of all related data and documents the minute the deal is sealed. 

Because we can already hear the folks at City Hall gagging and sputtering something about "we wouldn't even know where to begin" as a part of this particular public service effort we'll get the ball rolling with just a few of our favorite items that should be in the public domain:
  • The ever-popular "Check Register"
  • All Call Detail Records
  • Traffic Citations
  • All radar sign speed records (mobile and fixed signs)
  • Grant proposals and all related documents associated with each individual grant effort
  • All records on unsolicited grants (the Lenco Bearcat leaps to mind)
  • All data and records between the City and subordinate groups including the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Citizen Committees
  • All data and records within the aforementioned subordinate groups
  • All internal status reports (and there should be quite a few)
  • All records of cold-call solicitations (who accepted the call, how did the effort progress)--a perfect example is the negotiations with Tree Top Quest, a poster child for opacity
Some folks (most likely at City Hall) will complain that this is just too much work--too costly. But frankly that is a lie. The fact is that most of these data and documents are created and managed electronically and the cost to implement processes supporting transparency are quite small. But it does beg the question: if transparency is such an important thing that politicians will run on it or stand by it then isn't this small cost acceptable? Or maybe they'd just prefer that we don't know shit.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Expensive Words

It may have been a cut-and-paste by the ubiquitous Staff and it may have seemed expedient at the time but these words and their (ab)use is likely to cost Dunwoody taxpayers a pretty penny:
The purpose and intent of the City Council in establishing the R-100 (Single-family Residential) District is as follows:
(a) To provide for the protection of neighborhoods within the City where lots have a minimum area of fifteen thousand (15,000) square feet;
(b) To provide for infill development in neighborhoods having fifteen thousand (15,000) square foot lots in a manner compatible with existing development
(c) To assure that the uses and structures authorized in the R-100 (Single-family Residential) District are those uses and structures designed to serve the housing, recreational, educational, religious, and social needs of the neighborhood. 
This comes from the Dunwoody Zoning Ordinance and is the statement of purpose and intent for R-100 zoning which covers residential lots under one acre (by implication of the other R-x00 codes) but over 15,000 square feet. Generally in law a legislative statement of purpose and intent is used during court proceedings to clarify gaps or vagueness in situations where the letter of the actual law (or code as in this case) does not clearly apply or convey the legislative intent.

In the situation with the Dunwoody Club Forest decision which is political at best and wrong at the very least a judge will most likely be called on to assess whether the Dunwoody City Council followed their own intent.  They have not. Council have stated, in the code, that their intent is to provide for, not deny, infill development. The winners of the debate as it stands today invoke the "in a manner compatible with existing development" clause, but the reality is that two very nice homes on generous, over 15,000 square foot lots, is not incompatible with surrounding nice, but older homes on similarly sized lots.

And the judge may consider whether the Dunwoody City Council has been consistent. They have not. If their intended use of this clause is to prevent "incompatible development" what say they to the development going on right now at the pipe farm? These appear incompatible with existing development as all of the neighboring, existing developments are apartments. In this case "consistent development" would be apartments as had been planned before the real estate bubble burst but which are instead, thru direct City interference, being replaced with single family residences.  Not compatible. Not consistent. Not likely a judge will look the other way.

The fact is the Dunwoody City Council has (ab)used zoning language they approved to do what they want, when they want and in a punitive fashion. We should all be concerned about the costs of these actions. Not just in dollars, but in integrity.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Corrupting Farce

Much has been said of Boyer's recent career implosion but a common thread seems to be "the system itself is fundamentally broken" and that as it stands it is a powerful corrupting system that would defeat the best of us. A lot of folks believe this and further believe that Boyer's slide into the abyss is proof positive.

Clearly folks in daVille are not buying any of this. How say? Well, if you really did believe this would you take one of your finest, your most highly regarded local luminaries and push them through this ethical meat grinder? And if you did would you not expect the same putrid sausage we always get coming out the other end?

The only way to make any sense of this is to conclude either that quite a few folks do not believe the system is all corrupting or they have found the one candidate immune to the corrosive agents running thru DeKalb politics like ebola in Africa. THEY have found the Saint George fitted out to slay our dragons. Really? Isn't that pretty much what all supporters say of  THEIR candidate? And is it not true that without fail we have caught these white knights wallowing in their own mud?

You do not put a prime cut thru the sausage grinder and profit well from it. It seems like smart people (and we are smart, aren't we?) would fix the real problem instead of using this failed system to destroy our best and brightest.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Where's Waldo?

Can you tell this guy

 from this guy?

Don't feel bad.

Neither could these two guys.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Forced March To Citihood

A couple of thugs down at the Gold Dome have started flexing their muscle by giving an ultimatum to the Lakeside, Briarcliff and Tucker citihood teams:
Set your city borders by date certain or we will
We will skip over the arrogance of the ultimatum as arrogance is one of the main ingredients of any ultimatum and cut to the chase. Why is it considered a fait accompli that there must be any new city at all, or that any, even if desired by someone other than politicos, would be viable? Of course none of that matters as the powerful and politically connected will have their way no matter who must pay.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fitting Tribute To City Founders

We need one of these located at the entrance to City Hall as a fitting memorial to what got this City started* and remind everyone what they are about to encounter as they enter this Smart City Hall.

And as the region's upcoming City wannabes start their zombie-like drive to citihood the more normal citizens should ponder just what kind of people are about to control their lives.

* Notice the bird atop the back right neck and appreciate the symbolism.