Friday, December 31, 2004

I am not a fan of meetings. In my former life, as an administrator, meetings were a staple. They took two different forms; the first were staff meetings. These were small, mostly consisting of colleagues in the department. They could be useful (not usually) or a waste of time (meaning just boring, although occasionally tense and even, at rare times, a little exciting).

The second type of meeting is known as the conference. This type generally involves travel, and includes lunch, which is often the only perk, but can be a decent one. Long conferences involve other social time (with a cash bar, public funds are well spent on plane tickets and taxi rides but not on booze), and of course dinner, which is never any good and the price is too high - sitting through a keynote speaker.

I've used this description enough in the years of my freedom (by this I mean I now don't have to attend conferences) that it is almost tired - but it still remains apt. Five years ago I vowed never again to sit through another spring mix with raspberry vinaigrette and pasty chicken a la Marriot accompanied by a presentation on the styles of learning or transition to college or the nuances of Regents' standards or online learning transforming the galaxy or the sensuality of math. Sorry folks, cell phones ringing ain't a learning style, freshman will always party too much, even Commissioner Mills couldn't explain those nuances, transformation is no match for the academic galaxy, and math is not sexy.

Anyway, now that I am adjunct, forget conferences, I don't even have to go to department meetings. I get invited about once per semester, always to the last one, which includes a free lunch, and a minor speech that consists mostly of "thanks." Anyway, when food is involved, my price is fairly low. And, I usually feel pretty charitable at the semester's end, and this being the fall semester, festive over the holidays besides.

So, I went. The chair invited me to share on two subjects, (1) upcoming spring enrollment and (2) the program I took on last spring. So, (1) resulted in lots of faculty praise, especially from the not-yet-tenured; (2) resulted in me giving a brief history, interrupted when I got to the part about the graduate assistants who work on the two undergraduate courses with the question: "where do they come from?" followed by my explanation...and then a long tirade (not really related to my answer) from this German (not German-American) recently tenured faculty member about how indefensible, low quality and just generally awful the courses are. It was probably not intended as personal criticism for my efforts, but due to his less than warm and fuzzy demeanor (OK, that's an understatement, it was downright offensive, and if I was a man it almost would've warranted a punch...make that if I was a man without a PhD) it sure did seem like it...and it resulted in my feeling that I was on the defensive, even if I am an unwilling, and so weak, defender. My situation was not helped by the fact that I was in day two of a head cold, and I am an awful patient.

Of course his outburst sparked much discomfort at the table: the chair was nervous and embarrassed; the young faculty members sat frozen, staring at me with sympathetic eyes; one or two others were doodling in notepads, perhaps bored, or anyway they seemed not to be paying much attention; another parolee from my former place of employment and the retired former superintendent of schools turned faculty member were visibly irritated. The stage had been set; a discussion followed about the awful courses, and the concerns of the faculty. A few questions were directed at me, which I clumsily answered. That was the only time I had any chance to get to what I had intended to be the bulk of my remarks, about the good things in the courses, and the changes I have made since assuming this disaster (um, challenge). Sadly, I don't think I did a good job of explaining any of that.

Suddenly, my former dissertation chair came awake - up until this point, he had been among the bored, though not doodling - and said, in that testy way he sometimes exhibits, "I motion that we make a resolution [or some such word] to recommend to the Dean that she create a committee to investigate the program and these courses" and then the German guy snapped "I second."

I was floored, and the reaction at the table was electric. In administration, such outbursts are less common, unless the audience is tiny. Years ago, I saw a program on PBS during a fund drive. It was by a funny motivational speaker named Loretta LaRouche. She was describing uptight people; she said they have to hold a quarter in their butts at all times, so this is why they are so stiff and cannot express genuine emotion. That seems like a good description of what happens at administrator meetings. It isn't OK to get mad, or laugh too much, or be openly sad, or uninhibited, but my guess is that irrational behavior is the normal atmosphere of faculty meetings - though I don't know really. It is a new role for me, and this is only about the fifth time I have attended. But judging from the "literature," college faculty behave this way. (I am remembering, years ago I made a presentation at a high school meeting, where the reaction was similar. A few sentences into my remarks, a wild-haired guy jumped up and yelled, "I object to having to attend this meeting" and after several minutes of various people shouting, over half the attendees stormed out. Maybe it's me?)

I knew I had to do something, or lose it. I leaned forward and summoned as much assertiveness as I am able, without slipping into rage mode, and said "you can do whatever you want, but it wasn't my intention to spark the department to take some action on this - I was just sharing information - but I report to the Dean's office on this, and I feel I have to brief the associate dean on what happens here. I do not want to create the impression that I came to this meeting to complain about problems in the courses that somehow caused you to make this recommendation."

The desired result was better than I expected. A professor who is shared with another department said, "does anyone want to object to the motion?" and the fellow parolee said, yes, he did, followed by the former super. My former dissertation chair withdrew the motion, and instead they decided that the department chair would (reluctantly on his part, I think, though he was mostly taking notes and not saying a lot) recommend it for the agenda of a chair's meeting instead.

At this point, I had changed into my alter ego, from professional circumspect best to irreverent, borderline sarcastic. That was probably ill-advised, but it is my biggest reason for liking being a nearly invisible adjunct - unlike all others present, I am free, I do not play the game, I already cashed in, and I don't have to sit through these meetings once a month.

Afterwards, the German guy made a point of walking with me to the luncheon. I thought maybe - fantastically - unbelievably - he was going to apologize, though, being married to a watered-down 3/4 German-American I should have known that was wishful thinking. He was pleasant enough, in his cold way. I figured maybe he was going to at least bring it up in some way. But, he did not. Instead he peppered me with things about my other class. Later I realized it was under the ruse of being interested in online classes, but I suspect his real interest is somehow calling into question my competence.

At the luncheon, I sat with the other parolee, two new faculty members, the secretary who runs the department, and a professor who has now retired. Strangely, the retiree immediately asked me about the program I took over, and I responded, briefly, but much more in the way I had hoped to in the departmental meeting. The conversation centered around the campus presidential search, latkas (they were on the menu), the retiree's upcoming trip to somewhere exotic, one of the youngster's law student boyfriend, and the secretary's athletically amazing daughter (now a high school senior and college-bound soccer champ). But there was a bit of palpable tension surrounding me.

I left to go sew up one of the low quality, indefensible, just plain awful classes - it was about to be over for the semester, and on the way I resolved to blow both the meeting and the luncheon off at the end of next semester.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The latest on the Home Depot bird poisoning outrage. Oh, and surprise, surprise - they did not answer my letter on the subject.

Speaking of answering letters...I received only four responses to my letter about another outrage, although of a very different sort - the Large Parcel. That would be two emails: one from the sole "no voting" school board member, one from a "no voting" county legislator, one very brief paper letter from a state senator, and a phone call from a state agency (referred by the governor's office).

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Grades are all - finally! - submitted. I even responded to the 50 angry emails.

Yes, the students missed the deadline. I had the grades for one class on Thursday - for the other yesterday (I was told they were ready last Monday, but no one bothered to email me the files, and I had to go to campus and retrieve them from a computer) but I took off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then I needed some time to check them over.

By the way, my Christmas was great!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Well, I entered the grades for five classes in the online system. I would be officially done for the fall semester, except that two of the graduate assistants, each one for a different class, have not sent me spreadsheets with their evaluations. The deadline is 12 noon, although I can still enter the grades in the system later than that, but I have to call the registrar for them to be posted. Since both of the GAs are now teaching school during the day, and it is pretty clear that is the priority and the obligation to me is not, I am not optimistic that I will get anything until this evening. I am not prone to panic, but I am pretty irritated. I want to be finished and enjoy the holiday too! I hope I get something from them before the grades become accessible to students, and I am the recipient of 50 angry email messages.

Some brighter news, I received an email that a post I wrote about plagiarism may be printed in the letters section of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I didn't mean to let so long slip by between posts. My cold is better. My discomfort over my last day of the semester on campus has faded. I may get a short story out of that episode. I am beginning to see daylight on end of semester grading; it is a good thing, because they are due at noon on Wednesday! (And rest assured I will be done at exactly 11:59.)

I had many things to write about, but was focused on evaluating students, and arranging enough space in the house so we could get a Christmas tree, which we did, on Sunday. A beautiful fresh cut Scotch pine. I tipped the two cute little boy scouts $1 each for their handiwork, and they skipped off, shouting, "we got a tip! We got a tip!"

It snowed a bit yesterday. Rudy is, as always, thrilled, that nine-year-old puppy of mine. Sophie and Edna are considerably less thrilled; the former because she has no hair! And the latter because cats hate getting wet. Now it's cold, cold, cold here.

One story I wanted to comment on that I heard on the news several days ago was that one of the local Home Depot stores hired Orkin to put out poisoned bird seed to kill the many birds that are always flying around those stores because some customer complained. I love those birds! They are the only good thing about Home Depot, they sure beat dodging forklifts.

Why do people hate birds? Case in point: the most obnoxious, stuck-up, conceited, plastic, shallow, fake girl in my high school class listed "birds" in the yearbook as something she hated. Why do I clearly remember this 25 years later? Because it happens to be one of the captions they chose to re-print on the program of the reunion last summer. And, in the three times I saw her since high school (10th reunion, 20th, 25th), she has only increased in being obnoxious, stuck-up, conceited, plastic, shallow, and fake. If she hates birds, then logic dictates that I must love them.

Next example. Every year, there are newspaper articles about some obnoxious, stuck-up, conceited, plastic, shallow, fake town, neighborhood or facility (like the race track or a golf course) with interviews of people who are complaining about crows, Canada geese or pigeons. Why can't people leave the birds alone? A murder (isn't that a delightfully descriptive word) of crows often flies around and perches in the trees in Castleton. The racket is reminiscent of the Hitchcock movie! I am fascinated when they arrive, and I rush outside to see (and hear) them. Canada geese are a common sight in Samsonville; sometimes in the spring they have adorable goslings trailing behind. How carefully the parents watch them! And I have always appreciated the pigeons in Albany, those scavenging city birds so many people think are disgusting. I wonder as I watch them, how would they like to be transplanted to Samsonville? But they wouldn't much care for it, I'm sure, as there are no McDonald's french fries to score. In Samsonville, our nuisance bird is probably the barn swallow. They build nests everywhere, and have batches of five or six that do make a mess. But still I love them, feel joy at watching those hungry little beaks, keeping the parents so busy.

About the awful Home Depot report. This isn't an isolated incident. My first wish: May a bird crap on that customer's head, repeatedly, every time he or she goes outside. My second wish: A massive boycott of Home Depot. There are so many reasons to do this, but the bird atrocity is the best yet. May the whole chain burn slowly in big box he-l.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


I have a cold (picked up either from Bob [who came down with one last week] or at Cherry Hill, where I volunteered on Sunday. There were 189 visitors!).

I also had a very unpleasant day yesterday...professionally, although not student-wise.

Friday, December 03, 2004

It turns out that the student from the latest plagiarism case has a serious genetic disorder. However, she is not registered with Disability Services, apparently because she does not want to be labeled. I have a feeling that the student has had her symptoms managed in a medical way, but perhaps not received psychological counseling or academic assistance prior to this.

After reviewing her work, the judicial affairs rep (a great guy, btw) asked her how she has managed to get to her senior year, and write acceptable papers for her history courses [her major], and she reported that she has not had to do very much writing before this!

After meeting the student and consulting with her parents, the judicial affairs guy does not believe she intentionally plagiarized, although he said it clearly is a plagiarism case, and that if I decided to have the university pursue it, she most likely would be suspended. He shared with her parents my evaluations of the student's assignments, as well as her status in the class (missing almost all of the work, so that she is failing regardless of the plagiarism), and they agreed that is the grade she has earned, and they have no intention of disputing it.

I told the judicial affairs officer that under the circumstances, I have no objection at all to withdrawing my referral to them, but that I am concerned that the student is not getting the academic or emotional support she needs. He agreed with my perspective, and he is going to tell the student and her family that she has failed the course, but the plagiarism charge will be withdrawn, provided she registers with Disability Services. He is going to discuss the case with that office, and follow up to be sure that the student and/or her parents do this.

Strange how things work out. I feel bad for the student - the nature of her condition is heartbreaking. But I also feel that I did the right thing, both in terms of upholding academic standards, and in detecting a student who is in need of intervention, and immediate help. And, both the department chair and the associate dean agree.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Yesterday, the associate dean came to see me. The latest cheating student contacted him. She did not attempt to see me, and she also did not attend class. Then, last night, she sent me another email. There was no message, just a duplicate of something she had already submitted, her third written assignment. There were no changes, it also did not meet course expectations, and it included instances of plagiarism from at least two websites.

This morning, I received an email from her father, who apparently is an attorney (it was from AOL, but he had an e-signature with his title). He was seeking to meet with me tomorrow. I did not respond, but instead called the Judicial Affairs officer. We discussed the circumstances at length, and I decided to refer the case to his office. He explained that due to confidentiality, I cannot discuss the situation with her parents if she is not present, without written consent from the student. So I emailed the father and told him that I had referred the case to Judicial Affairs, and that the student should contact them directly.

I sent Judicial Affairs copies of all of the work, with my evaluations, copies of the various assignment guidelines, as well as links to the websites from which she cut and pasted the well-written parts. I went through my grading spreadsheet, and determined that she has missed 6 (of 23) classes, including yesterday's. She never handed in a journal, and she has not met expectations on any of the three written assignments. I won't be evaluating the groups until the end of the semester, but although she has been in class for many of the group activities, as far as I can tell, she has not been an active participant. (I use partial peer evaluation to determine group grades as well as a brief essay and my observations of student and group participation in class. Students hand in the written materials at the last class.) She has made no posts in the online discussion board (students are required to post 14 times throughout the semester).

Judicial Affairs understands that she is failing the course, even without the plagiarism. Although it is now a university matter, he said one possible outcome may be that he convinces her (and her father) to not dispute the failing grade, because otherwise, the result may be that she is disciplined with suspension in addition to course failure.

I am relieved it is now out of my hands. Too bad it has taken so much of my time, during the very busy end of semester.

Monday, November 29, 2004

I caught another student plagiarizing today. This time, it was two assignments, which were mostly copied verbatim from websites. The student threw in a couple of atrociously-written sentences to join the cutting and pasting of beautifully-written, distinctive text from the Internet.

Remind me again why I like teaching?

Monday, November 22, 2004

What a week.

#1. 12 noon. Plagiarism girl (I'd write "woman" or even "womyn" but she has a lot of learnin' to do to earn the title) cries in my office when I tell her it is not as she perceives – a choice between me failing her or letting her get away with cheating by arranging for a “W” after the deadline for dropping, or extra work and an “I”…it is a question of failing her, or failing her and sending her to Judicial Affairs. I have never seen such tears, not even at a loved one’s funeral. And they were not accompanied by sobs or sniffling – but seemed more on cue…theatrical even? Or am I the meanest person on the planet? That is how I felt, afterwards.

Background for #2: an graduate student (let's call him "M") is teaching one section of the same class I teach. The chair is not 100% comfortable with the idea, because he is not a doctoral student, and he has a rep for being a little difficult. But, there are no other qualified candidates.

So, M is doing it, with supervision. Mostly mine, because the word "No" is not part of my usual vocabulary. (Actually my role is more informal, so I do not have the opportunity to wish I said No.) A few weeks ago M asked me if I have AV material. I do, a pretty extensive library, actually. (All personal copies, as I know better than to ask for departmental reimbursement.) I lend him a set of 3 PBS videos. Tell him I am showing episode 3 on 11/16, so I must have it back in time. Explain that I am doing a class exercise based around the model school in the program, and the video is timed so that the next class activity is built around it. Remind him our paths only cross twice per week. Wait ½ hour with my bags packed to retrieve them after evening class on Tuesday 11/9 because he didn't bring them in the afternoon. So...

#2. 1:30 pm. Moments after sending plagiarism girl on her way, I am in class, I snap in the video...and it isn't rewound. I rewind it (takes 10 minutes on the WW II relic VCR). I push play. It is episode 2 - apparently he mixed up the tapes when he put them back in the boxes. I run upstairs and retrieve the appropriate video. Back downstairs, I am getting a little nervous because I know there now won't be enough time. Class runs out when there is still about 5 minutes left of the model school portion. And of course there is the din as students pack up 5 minutes before that.

#3. 2:35 pm. After class several students wait. A book review is due this week, and the books are on reserve in the library (I bought multiple copies - once again, personal, no reimbursement - and put them on 48 hour reserve so students wouldn't have to buy them). Someone has taken many of the books and not returned them. I contact the library. They can't tell me who has them due to student privacy, but yes, they are missing and the fines are upwards of $50 per book (when you could buy them used for $5 on Amazon?). So now many reports will be late (and I hoped to use Thanksgiving break for evaluation of this assignment...)

#1. 12 Noon. Module 6 (that’s online lingo) group does not have their project ready to e-present to class at their deadline. And, of course, they are non-responsive to email.

Background for #2 and #3: Wednesday and Friday were big debate days in my two big, team taught classes. A few times per semester, two of the discussion groups debate the yes and no sides of an issue, a third group serves as the jury, and a fourth group functions as the debate managers. In the upper division class, Wednesday’s debate is about the merits of adding competition in the public school system, and Friday’s is about physician-assisted suicide. In the lower division class, the debate is about drug legalization.

#2. 2:35 pm. After class is over, a student from the group that is arguing for the “Yes” side in Friday’s debate approaches me to say that only four members of the group are willing to do anything, the others are on life support (and, this was my own private thought, should be calling for Dr. Kervorkian, if their side is correct). This debate was an add-on in the class (meaning I have to come to campus on a day when I never do) since the undergraduate TA for this group (which had lost an earlier debate) convinced me that it would be good for them to have another try. I didn’t really want the outcome to be another humiliating loss for the group in question, so I feel very sorry for the student and her three serious group mates. But I do my best to give her advice on a face-saving strategy.

More Background for #3: A recent problem has surfaced in these two GA-run classes. Each has two GAs; and in each class, one GA, both with excellent performance last semester, are December graduates and both have already accepted full-time jobs. This is causing strain on the other GA in each class. They are classes of about 80 students each, run by elaborate teaching and management collaboratives, they are almost bureaucracies. The strain is starting to create fissures up and down the structures.

#3: 4:45 pm. The jury has left the room to formulate questions for the opposing sides. This lull generally results in quasi-office hours, as I only attend class occasionally, most students don’t bother to email or come to see me otherwise, and who knows what is going on with the GAs.

A student from the “Yes” side receives his midterm back and freaks out over the (B-) grade. He approaches – attacks might be a better description – the GA who is sitting next to me. My attention is diverted, as another student is talking to me about his exam, and the other GA is a no-show. The student who is talking to me is reasonable – but oblivious to the fracas taking place not five feet away. I’m thinking the GA will be able to handle it, but the situation escalates – and the undergraduate TA for that group tries to intervene, unsuccessfully. There is a problem with the undergraduate TAs not being clear about their role – as part of the instructional team, or champion of their peers in group. Meanwhile the offended (and offensive) student has veins popping out of his neck, his face is all red, I am worrying that we may see a 21 year old succumb to a stroke or heart attack. Or perhaps he will lunge across the desk and choke the GA and we will have TV news coverage. Half the lecture center is watching, as this real conflict is much more interesting than the artificial one about smoking weed that I have set up.

Finally, I drag myself away from Mr. Center of the Universe and assume the posture of a middle school teacher. It takes me yelling to go and sit down, this is not the appropriate frame, twice, to put an end to the fight. The jury returns. The GA is shaking. What happened in class after that? I dunno.

#1. 11:45 am. I am meeting with the undergraduate TAs for the two classes described above, putting out the fires. Some papers have been misplaced by the two GAs who now have allegiance to the 9-5 real world. There are scattered reports that the discussion sections are being dismissed (very!) early on a regular basis (to which one TA gives me a very smart mouthed response). Tomorrow, the GA will visit the discussion sections so that the missing paper situation can be sorted out.

#1. 12:30 pm. The GA visits the discussion sections, and all but one group have already been dismissed (1/2 hour early).

Monday, November 15, 2004

I caught a student cheating. It was another of those plagiarism deals, handing in an essay that another student wrote last semester for my class. She is now pleading her case to my mostly unsympathetic ears. She has even suggested I do what another student she knows managed to negotiate, being allowed to withdraw rather than failing the class. As if being among a community of cheaters helps her case! Little does she know what I am debating is not whether to fail her - it is whether to report her to Judicial Affairs and allow the university to sanction her in addition to my penalty.

I wonder how many times I have missed it? How many students are cheating but go undetected? The class from last semester happens to be my least favorite, the one where students whispered and giggled during class, impervious to being told to stop talking, and I suspect lots of students didn't do the reading. I guess it is no surprise that one of them would share their work with a friend this semester.

This semester is going well, or at least I thought it was. I changed every assignment, to make it harder to plagiarize. But they do it anyway. I love teaching - more than any job I've had in the past, way, way, way more. But this is one thing I absolutely hate about it. Hate it so much I could change paths again. Maybe someday I will be a full-time writer...and I can leave this behind.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Yesterday was an irritating day. In my afternoon class, two young women were doing something with a cell phone, while giggling...taking my picture? Text messaging? Taking my picture then text messaging "what a dork?" I'm not sure. It was distracting as hell. I shot them a few glaring looks, which worked for about 30 seconds then they were back at it. Then I picked up my pen and pretended to make a note on my attendance sheet. That worked for about a minute.

On the advisement side, for some reason several students decided to rise up on the same day, and give me a hard time about Spring registration. I did my best to stay calm in the face of obnoxious behavior. It wasn't easy, but I do have a lot of practice in dealing with the sometimes unreasonable public.

Then, I am having some trouble with the GAs. Two are as very conscientious, but the other three have too many irons in the fire and the GA responsibilities wind up getting short shrift. I understand that writing a thesis and classes take priority - but working at other jobs seems to be what is actually driving this. I know I am probably an overly responsible person - as well as being somewhat over committed - but I am remembering that this is the hassle of being a supervisor. Others often don't live up to their obligations, and "the buck stops here." Oh well. Only about four weeks left of the semester. But Spring is usually more difficult. I'm going to need that winter break.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Yesterday we went to North Adams, MA, to vist my nephew who is a student at MCLA. We went to Mass MoCA, something we have wanted to do for a while. Interesting art there, to say the least, but I always wonder what is the utility of art that can only exist in a large museum space? What happens to it in the future? Will it be just a memory, perhaps captured only in photographs?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Something I forgot. After a long break (I think of about a year and a half) I volunteered at Historic Cherry Hill again. Since it was Halloween, they had a special tour about the murder that took place there. I forgot how much I enjoy helping out there. They called today to invite me for another special event, on December 5, and I'm going to go.

Still no word from the publisher about the Mimmie book. I am impatient (though I have little time to work on it until January regardless).

How is it that (according to the media outlets that have not already called it) Ohio is too close to call when Bush leads Kerry by 136,221 votes (100% precincts counted), yet Pennsylvania, a slightly larger state where Kerry leads Bush by 121,818 votes has been called for Kerry (with 99% of precincts reporting)? Another example, although in this case it is a slightly smaller state: Michigan was called for Kerry. With 96% of precincts reporting, he leads by 146,704. Yet another example, though this time a much smaller state, Wisconsin. Kerry leads Bush by only 13,293 votes, with 96% of the vote counted, yet that state also has been called for Kerry already. As my mother would say (inspired by a TV commercial), "something stinks and it's not the litter box."

But leaving Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin alone, and giving Kerry the rosiest scenario possible, from the data that has been thrown around, if there are 175,000 provisional ballots, and 90% of them count, that's 157,500. If they break the way Kerry's strongest county did (67% to 33%) that's 105,525 for Kerry, 57,750 for Bush. Assuming the bleakest scenario for Bush, that there are no absentee ballots at all - which is known to not be true - Bush still wins Ohio by 88,446.

And, why are members of the media who have called Ohio for Bush not calling Nevada for Bush - while those who have not called Ohio for Bush yet, are calling Nevada for Bush? What gives? Is it because if they call those races they would have to declare Bush the winner and they cannot accept that outcome? Or are they just trying to give Kerry time to wake up and smell the coffee?

Can you say "bias," "ratings" and "loser denial?"

Well, they may have an agenda, but I am going to be bold. Bush has won.

The networks are bad, but my thankfulness for not having cable grows.

Oh, did I mention that I hate lawyers even more than I did before?

Monday, November 01, 2004

We had 25 trick-or-treaters tonight. All those kids in costumes taking away candy is very upsetting to the dogs.

Friday, October 22, 2004

We saw Team America on Wednesday night. I have never liked South Park, as the animation is crude and I find the voices irritating, but ever since I was a kid, and my father put on puppet shows with Pinocchio and Geppeto, I have loved marionettes. The puppets in this movie were amazing. As a movie it is an outrageous, in-your-face, over the top satire, not at all PC, also vulgar and violent (although since it is puppets that was tolerable), and I think it is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. There were some scenes that were just hilarious, and everyone in the theatre seemed to agree. Plus, the portraits of loudmouth Hollywood stars - Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Michael Moore, etc. - cannot be missed.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Today, I saw in the Daily Freeman that the county legislature is going to take up the issue of the large parcel. So, I emailed all the legislators who have email addresses. I received one response, of course from one legislator who is against it. He says it is likely it will pass, as the votes just aren't in the Town of Olive. Sigh. Why is what is right not as important as what is popular?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I guess I must be used to my heavy teaching load since this is the second semester, and I am finally! getting to my personal to do list. I wrote to the publishing company that has my proposal to ask about the status...they have had it way too long. I anticipate this will be my fourth "almost, but no." That's the outcome I want, actually, because I plan to self-publish the Mimmie book, print-on-demand. Funny, just when I want a "no," or at least don't care, it may be a "yes" instead (oh, probably not).

Friday, October 08, 2004

Someone from a State agency - real property assessment or something - called me yesterday to talk about my school protest email. He was nice enough, and we had a long chat, but there isn't much he can do. He suggested pressuring the assembly and senate with a letter writing campaign, and the school board, by hassling them at every meeting they hold, if necessary.

I think OJ will be scarce this winter - the Florida crop was damaged by the hurricanes, but not to worry. There will be plenty of NYS apple juice to accompany breakfast. I have never seen such apples!

Friday, October 01, 2004

I received two responses to my letter. One was from the newly-elected school board member who was the only one to vote "no" on the large parcel. The other was from another tax payer in the district, asking me to serve on a committee of some sort. I'm not big on committees, and it is a little hard when you spend all weekdays and some weekends 75 miles away, but I am willing to help in whatever way I am able. My letter is in this week's Olive Press.

Friday, September 24, 2004

9/26 Update: When I got to Samsonville on Friday night, I read the Olive Press, and discovered that the town clerk (isn't she great?) had put in an ad with all the school board members' contact information (this wasn't available on the school website). So, I sent this to the entire board.

Today, I sent this letter to the Governor, Commissioner of Education, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, three senators, three assembly members, the school board president, and the local paper:

I am writing to you to about my concerns over the “large parcel law” that was passed last year by the State Legislature. I realize this is a long letter and I appreciate the time you or more likely, your staff members are devoting to reading it.

How ironic that a reservoir picture appears on the school's homepage. [The italics sentence was only in the letter to the school board president.] When the large parcel bill was passed, we learned that the new law would include NYC reservoirs, and if the school district decided to adopt it, it would cause a huge increase in taxes in the Town of Olive, the town that contains most of the Ashokan Reservoir lands. Olive is in Ulster County, and is a member of the Onteora School District, along with the Towns of Woodstock, Shandaken, Hurley, and small parts of Lexington and Marbletown.

The School Board conducted a couple of public hearings that were well-attended; the majority of folks in attendance, besides elected officials from the various towns, were from the Town of Olive, and of course all were opposed to adopting the large parcel bill. However, the school board decided to adopt the bill this year, and when the school tax invoices arrived, Olive residents were hit with a 56% increase. To someone who attended those meetings, is a graduate of Onteora High School and has roots that go back to 1790 in the Town of Olive, it comes as no surprise that the school board adopted the large parcel provision. It was clear from the demeanor of the board at the public hearings that their minds were made up, the public hearing were for show only. It seemed to me they regarded the Olive residents who attended the hearings as ignorant, non-elite, and rather scary. At the same time, they believed the large parcel somehow corrects “inequity” between the towns – oddly, given the situation, between expensive, erudite Woodstock and cheap, low brow Olive.

I am an education professor, and these issues are not unfamiliar to me. Equity is much in fashion in education circles. Rumor has it that NYC and the problems of school aid equity created most of the State budget delay. It is a term bantered around when discussing resource distributions between suburbs, cities and rural areas; upstate and downstate; poor schools and rich schools; the list goes on and on. I always wonder when I hear these discussions how far one should push the concept. It is nice in idealistic terms to strive toward equity -- all in the education field see it as a worthy goal -- though it is somewhat hard to achieve in a capitalist society – but does it extend to equity from student to student within the school? Does Olive have fair representation on the athletics teams? Are Olive kids equally represented in advanced classes? On the cheerleading squad? On grading distributions? On receiving graduation awards? I’m only going from anecdotal evidence – I guess if I FOILED I could find out for sure (I suspect the Board will never voluntarily give out the data) -- but from my experience, the answer is “probably not.”

Olive is my hometown, and nearly all of my family lives there, and has lived there, for generations. For 100 years Olive has given water to New York City. Our ancestral lands were stolen from us to make way for the Ashokan Reservoir. Today, we live with that beautiful artificial lake; it is both a blessing and a curse. First, we still mourn, in vivid memories passed down from generation to generation, the loss of our lands and the decimation of our history. It is the breathtaking and bittersweet watery grave of our past. Second, there has been less development in Olive than there might have been had the Esopus Valley been left alone, to take its natural course of growth. To be sure, we enjoy the pristine environment that the Reservoir and its land restrictions have protected. At the same time, this has prohibited much business from locating in the town, and although the Reservoir has created some employment, it has taken away many more jobs. As a result there is not as big a tax base as our neighbors have. Third, we confront, on a daily basis, closed roads and detours, because of threats to the watershed in the aftermath of 9/11/01.

These inconveniences are hardly a new thing. Never a morning person, I still remember the long detour of my high school bus that happened more than 25 years ago. That time it was for a more benign reason than terrorism, though it was still a dangerous situation. The Traver Hollow Bridge on NYC's Route 28A, which links the hamlets of West Shokan and Boiceville, had to be closed because pieces were falling off, something that was discovered after a school bus went over it. My three mile trip transformed into 20 miles. Several times our bus was sent back home, because we left West Shokan so early, and arrived at the school after the determination was made to close due to snow. New York City was in dire financial circumstances at that time, so once again no one in power cared about the rural folks in the Town of Olive. It took three years and a lawsuit by local community members before the bridge was rebuilt and my short bus ride was restored.

I have a house in Samsonville in the Town of Olive, built on land my parents gave me. It is a weekend residence, as I must live in the Capital District to find appropriate professional employment. Obviously, I am a fortunate person, and the absurd tax increase will not bankrupt me, although I still must dip into hard-earned savings to pay for it (and with the recent increase, my school tax bill for Onteora is now more than three times as large as in Castleton, where I'm proud to say my district is Schodack Central Schools in Rensselaer County). But I know many Olive residents who are not weekenders like me (albeit a hometown weekender). They may not be writing to you as I am, but I want to be their voice. There are senior citizens on fixed incomes. There are couples with mediocre jobs struggling to raise families. There are old timers who are land rich but cash poor who face astronomical tax increases. Why should they have to move entirely or sell some of their land to developers (and non-native weekenders) to pay for the outrageous school taxes? Is not intact land in rural areas something worth preserving? Don't local people deserve to stay in their hometown? Do Town of Olive residents have to take another indignity because they are host to a NYC reservoir? Why does the biggest beneficiary, Woodstock, or any of the other towns deserve to benefit from having the reservoir in the district? What have residents of their towns given up as a result of its presence? What was the legislature thinking when they passed this unfair law, and allowed a biased school board to make this important decision?

I have not addressed the other issue, which is not really related but adds to the indignity of this enormous tax increase. In 2001-02, on average OCS spent 23% more per student than did all NYS public schools ($15,090 to $12,265). In 2002-03, an article in the Kingston Daily Freeman reports that OCS spent $15,538.15 per student. District Business Administrator Snyder is quoted: "We are the second largest geographic school district in the state and you have neighborhood schools, which means they are spread out." He doesn't directly state that as being the cause of the high costs, but the article follows his statement by reporting that Onteora's costs for transportation are $1,090 per student, which is the highest in the county. Even in the unlikely event that OCS has transportation costs of $1,090 and other districts have a cost of zero, that still leaves more than half of the difference in expenditure unexplained.

For help the article turns to School Board Trustee Eisenberg. He is quoted: "I actually like where we're spending our money as opposed to where we're not spending our money. We [sic] much heavier on the instruction." So then I guess he is saying the higher costs are not from transportation? Let's return to the data. In 2002-03, according to NYS Education Department School Report Cards, per student instructional costs at OCS were $8,068 for general education and $24,906 for special education, compared to $6,649 and $15,575 at similar schools, or $6,968 and $15,712 at all public schools in NYS.

How about at three Ulster County peers? At New Paltz, they were $6,801 and $16,274; at Rondout Valley, they were $7,171 and $17,547; and at Saugerties, they were $5,945 and $15,816. So, yes, instructional costs are higher. (Duh.) But why? Is OCS better than the peers? Better than NYS Education Department-defined similar schools? Better than all public schools in NYS? Or even somehow different?

I looked quickly through comparison data to see if any numbers jumped out at me. OCS has a limited English proficiency population that is 1% of the students. This compares to .8% at Rondout Valley, 1.7% at New Paltz, .5% at Saugerties (statewide, 6.8% of students are LEP). OCS has a free-lunch eligible population of 14.4%, compared to 11.4% at Rondout Valley, 13% at New Paltz, or 13.4% at Saugerties (statewide the figure is 37.7%).

The attendance rate at OCS is 93.3%; it is 93.4% at Rondout Valley, 94% at New Paltz, or 94.5 at Saugerties (statewide: 92.3). The suspension rate at OCS is 1.7%; at Rondout Valley it is 8.4%; at New Paltz it is 6%; at Saugerties it is 3.9 percent; and statewide it is 4.7%. At OCS, 3.7% of students dropped out of school; at Rondout Valley 4% did; at New Paltz it was 1.8%; at Saugerties it was 5.4%; statewide it was 7.3%. The proportion of students classified as having disabilities was 14.6% at OCS, 11.8% statewide, 16.3% at Rondout Valley, 13.9% at New Paltz, and 9.8% at Saugerties.

Tentative conclusions I would draw from these proportions are that students at OCS and the peers are not as needy - they are much less likely to not be proficient in English, or to be economically disadvantaged, and so eligible for a free lunch, than students statewide. Also, OCS is less likely to suspend a student, and Rondout Valley and New Paltz are more likely to suspend a student than schools statewide. (Whether this is because all the students at OCS are angels or because the school tolerates inappropriate behavior is not answered by the data.)

Regardless, these numbers do not answer what might be driving the higher instructional costs. Here is another data category: in terms of a breakdown of staff, OCS had 352: 60% are teachers (211), 9% are non-teaching professionals (34) and 31% (110) paraprofessionals. For Rondout Valley, the total is 340; 64% teachers (217); 11% non-teaching professionals (36) and 87 paraprofessionals (26%). For New Paltz, the total is 261; 67% teachers (174); 11% non-teaching professionals (29) and 22% paraprofessionals (58). For Saugerties, the total is 306; 70% teachers (215); 7% non-teaching professionals (20) and 23% paraprofessionals (71). Statewide, there were 217,739 teachers (64%); 40,823 non-teaching professionals (12%); and 84,072 paraprofessionals (25%).

Assuming that paraprofessionals mean teacher's aides, a part of those higher instructional costs are coming from the larger proportion of "paraprofessionals" at OCS than at the peers or statewide. Which, I guess, is explained in this quote from the article: "Trustees also said special education costs, at $2,590 per student, include work that provides assistance in regular classrooms as part of long-term planning in the district." The problem with this quote is that the number $2,590 is wrong, by a lot. It is probably just an editing error, but who knows. The actual figure for special education costs, per student, was $24,906 in 2001-02.

Then Pupil Personnel Director Boyce is quoted: "The consultant teachers and teaching assistants offer support to the students without disabilities. They maintain a high level of instruction." No facts are given in the article to support the district's and Ms. Boyce's assertions, and unfortunately, I have only anecdotal evidence with which to evaluate the information. But, based on conversations with regular education students in the school, and also from my educational background, I think this is stretching the truth. Sure, having one or two or a few extra adults in the classroom probably helps the teacher, that's a no brainer. But how much regular education students actually get out of aides that are hired to help students with disabilities is debatable.

And, sadly, how this justifies OCS spending $9,331 per student more on special education than at similar schools in the state remains unanswered. Simply put, this is a very out-of-touch school board and administration. The district dealt with two divisive issues recently: closing the West Hurley Elementary School and the large parcel law, given those decisions and these figures, is it any wonder that the school budget was voted down twice this year, and one incumbent board member was resoundingly defeated?

I attended town meetings, and I apprehensively watched the events as they unfolded in the newspaper. I cannot register my disapproval by voting on the OCS budget or in the school board election, since my legal residence is Castleton (is that taxation without representation?), but I am not willing to sit by and watch while Olive's land is stolen once again. No one has the right to take money from the pockets of Olive residents and call it redistribution or equity. In my world that's called theft, and by any definition it is a crime. I am left with no choice but to refuse to pay my Onteora school tax bill this year.


Gina Giuliano, PhD
37 Green Avenue
Castleton, NY 12033
20 Jomar Lane
Olive Bridge, NY 12461

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Happy birthday to me (well, it was on the 18th). But if Elwyn could have a birthday month, I can have a birthday week. One great thing (besides having the best chocolate-peanut butter cake) I did on my birthday was see the Civil War Balladeers at the restored Old School Baptist Church. There are no "services" in the church -- it is authentic 1857 -- so we watched them (and they played) by the light of kerosene lamps! A cozier scene could not be imagined.

Also, I met Mandy.

Isn't she gorgeous?

We closed the pool. Welcome, fall.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Rudy turns nine today. I don't want him to get old, I want to have him forever. But at least he still seems young. Happy Birthday Mr. Wuja!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Long delay in posting, even given my recent once a week track record. Well, the beginning of the semester is tiring, and I don't use the computer that much on the weekends. I expected to write today that I had my last swim of the season yesterday, but Bob couldn't bear to put the winter chemicals in and the cover on when we are having the nicest stretch of weather we've had all summer. Incredible to think that this is at the same time that Florida is getting clobbered.

Mimmie was born 100 years ago today! I am going to work on the book proposal at the end of this week because I am only on campus one day. We have a short break starting on Wednesday.

Last week, we were eating in Smokey Bones in Colonie, it is one of the Darden chain (which includes Red Lobster, Olive Garden (yuck, ugh, I could puke), and another restaurant or two that are mostly, or maybe only in the south - I think one is called Bahama Breeze, something like that? Not sure). I don't like big chains like that with a few exceptions, and Smokey Bones is one. The rustic almost seems real. Sort of Disney lite. Anyway, when we were almost ready to leave, but had not yet paid, the fire alarms went off. After a very short time, Bob and I got up and went outside, but everyone else did not react. Very few were even looking around, although the sirens were more annoying than a car alarm, if that is possible. They just continued to eat their dinner, talk, and drink at the bar. When we got outside, one other person had exited too. Quite a while went by - it is hard to estimate how long or short - but it seemed too long, especially since the alarms kept ringing - and finally, the crowd inside, including the staff, came out.

Emergency vehicles arrived, fire trucks, police, paramedics, etc. The firefighters went in, came out after a while and got different equipment, including fans, and went back inside. While they were inside, it started to rain. The staff and customers were huddled under the building overhang. Some patrons went to their cars and left. Some new customers arrived and wondered aloud what was going on. The only thing we had to do was pay our check (and retrieve some leftovers). All the while the multiple TVs inside (always the most annoying thing about Smokey Bones and other such places of that ilk) broadcast images to no one. It was surreal.

Finally the firefighters left, and we were allowed back inside. The server said it was a false alarm, but the kitchen was shut down. (I guess they needed the fans to clear out the siren noise). She asked if we were upset, and wanted to speak with the manager. We told her we weren't upset by anything except that no one except us and one other person exited promptly. We asked if anyone had skipped out on the check, and she said one table had. (It was four guys who had been seated across from us.) I think there may have been more, judging by the number of people who drove away while we were outside in the rain, but I could be wrong. Bob asked if talking to the manager would mean we would get a discount, and she said no. So, he whipped out our gift certificate ($5 off came with a shareholder report), paid our check, we took our take out, and that was that. I'm thinking that as a shareholder (even if a miniscule one) I should write to the company about the experience. I think that for goodwill purposes, some sort of discount should have been given automatically to customers, and it shouldn't take the patrons having to whine to or yell at the manager.

A contrasting experience, on Saturday we went to the Country Inn, a small restaurant 1.3 miles from our house in S'ville. For some reason, we both ordered steak - I rarely eat beef, and can't remember the last time I ordered it in a restaurant. (It is always a mistake to eat steak when you are not used to it, but that is not really related to this story.) When they came out, Bob's was cooked perfectly, but mine was not done enough. The server took it back and had it cooked more, and when it came out a short time later, it was perfect. They also gave me another serving of al dente spinach, since the steak was served on a bed of it, which I loved.

After we were done eating, the server asked if we wanted dessert. We said no, but she said it was on the house because of the steak. I was so surprised, said that really isn't necessary, but she insisted. (I didn't feel it was necessary because what I feel is medium-well may be what someone else feels is well done.) Anyway, we both had dessert, and when the check came, not only was mine complimentary, Bob's was too!

Just one reason in 100 for why I prefer small businesses over chains.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Verizon DSL rocks! I have been having a problem with my university MS Outlook account when I access it over the Internet from home. All I called had no clue what might be causing it, but support at Verizon - even though it isn't their problem - helped me to figure out that it is because Outlook doesn't like router MTU settings over 1400. Wow! They actually hire people who know something about computers and don't fall back on the usual advice to call someone else - the PC manufacturer, some other software company, etc. If you can get Verizon DSL - and aren't adverse to paying for Broadband - do it!

The school tax bill came - the increase is $500. I feel like the School Board is stealing my money to give tax relief to others in the more populous town of Woodstock. And since I cannot vote on the budget or board election, I don't even get representation for that taxation. It is an outrage.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I read Educating Esme last week, and I recommend it. It is an easy read - it can be done in a day.

Friday, August 20, 2004

I am steamed. The incompetent jerks on the school board screwed us. It isn't really a surprise, I guess. I hoped some elected official would be smart enough to do something to help, but I should have known better.

Interesting, just yesterday this article was in the paper. What a Loser! (Yes, with a capital L.) These two unrelated incidents really capture the outrage I feel.

I am working away on syllabi for next semester, but I'll get back to this issue very soon. I'm simply not going to let this happen without doing something. How unjust, if Olive residents lost land once because of NYC's eminent domain for the Ashokan Reservoir, and then lose it again, because enormous tax hikes force land sales.

Tax bills arrive in September. They shouldn't be surprised if they get less money than expected from Olive residents in the return mail. I propose we pay the amount that was billed last year, and reject the absurd 53% increase. Although the board probably will continue in their clueless state, sniffling, "I don't know what they think they are accomplishing, it's the children who suffer" as the crumbling edifice goes down in flames. (Feuled by the gym teacher from hell you think?) I am going to organize this revolt. The email address is

Update: We are on our way. Bob contacted the Albany television stations to let them know of the story. I am designing an ad for the Olive Press. We plan to do a webpage, with sample letters to officials, that other residents can copy, informing them of our intention to revolt.

Update 2: the "draft" webpage is up: Olive School Tax Revolt '04.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

SUNY Albany has been named top party school by Princeton Review. According to the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (it is a subscription site, so I won't bother to link), "the party-school list is based on the answers students give to questions about the number of hours they spend studying per week, how much beer and hard alcohol they drink, and the popularity of fraternities and sororities on their campuses."

Great. And I wonder why I had my hands full last semester...(not that I buy into these stupid rankings or anything).

Update: Here's the story in the Times Union. The story reports,

"UAlbany, the New York City-based company declared Monday, ranks as the nation's top party school when compared with 356 others. The school last had that ranking in 1998.

It also placed first when it came to inaccessible professors and the fewest hours spent studying by students, and took top-20 notices on a host of other dubious distinctions, including least-happy students."

Tonight I am going to represent Oneonta alumni, at a gathering for new students this fall, and their parents. (Maybe I'll keep quiet about where I teach!) I recall when I was an undergraduate that the rumor was that Oneonta had more bars per capita than any other place east of the Mississippi. A dubious distinction, and I'm not even sure if it is true, UAlbany is the top party school. (I think this was fueled by the out-of-control Fountain Day last spring.) Yikes, I hope the common factor isn't me!

Monday, August 16, 2004

Two weeks until the Fall semester starts. I am hoping to finish getting ready, and have at least a few days to spare so I can re-focus on the Mimmie book. Once again - it has been languishing under consideration at a publisher for too long. So I must write, and prompt a decision (which is likely to be one more "we really really -- almost -- want to take it...but no thanks.")

The weekend was low-key, and productive. Did some much-needed grocery shopping. In the relaxation arena, we watched two DVDs. The first, Kill Bill (1), just about ruined Saturday night. Ebert gave it a four star rave review. I think that guy is too influenced by the big bucket of popcorn. About halfway through I retreated to the computer (Bob had already been put to sleep by the story-absent, violent monotony) but after a few minutes even the sound coming from the TV became overwhelming and so I turned it off. Ugh. What resources were wasted making that movie, and the hour I invested watching it was wasted too.

The second, Pinocchio, was better. Unlike Kill Bill, I recall the reviews for this movie were not that good overall (and it seems Ebert didn't bother reviewing it at all?), but Pinocchio has always been beloved to me, and I found this interpretation fairly true to the story.

Something else I hope to accomplish before the semester starts is more pleasure reading. I read a couple of Margaret Atwood books this summer, including Oryx and Crake. It was great, as are all of Atwood's novels. Currently I am reading Extravagance, by Gary Krist. It is well-written, but it is taking me a while to get though it. Not that it is long, but every chapter switches between perspectives, but with the same characters, and parallel story lines - going from London in the 1690s to New York in the 1990s. That's an interesting device, but it is interfering with the story being a page-turner. At the end of each chapter, it is really easy to put the book aside for a while.

Next on my list is Educating Esme. (Actually, it may wind up filling the space after this chapter of Extravagance.) It is a journal of a first-year teacher that I have wanted to read for a while, and now I have no choice. As I struggle with revising the syllabi and my courses, it is inevitable that last-minute inspirations overtake the need to plan. I want to add in some accessible books, and change one assignment so that it is based on this new reading, but book orders had to be in months ago. I could add another to the list, and hope the bookstore gets it in a few weeks, but students are already overburdened from buying books, and I am not positive which of the current reading I will pare down anyway. So, I bought multiple copies of Educating Esme (Codell), Up the Down Staircase (Kaufman), Hard Times in Paradise (Colfax), How Children Fail (Holt), Savage Inequalities (Kozol), and Keeping Track (Oakes) on, and I will put them on 48 hour reserve in the library.

(If you're wondering whether I'll get reimbursed for the outlay?...No.)

Friday, August 13, 2004

Yesterday, I spent the morning on campus, then Bob took the afternoon off and we went to the Albany Institute of History and Art, because we wanted to see the temporary exhibit of Don Nice artwork, and also the Hudson River School paintings that AIHA has in its collection. Afterwards, we went to the NYS Museum, to see the Barbizon School paintings. On the way out we quickly looked at the suitcase exhibit.

A half day was not nearly enough, and I have to get back to the State Museum at least, to look at the suitcases very carefully. Also, to see the Woodstock exhibit. We wrapped the day up by going to the I Love NY Food Festival at Empire State Plaza. All in all, a great mini-vacation close to home (though my legs were killing me by the time we got home).

So, we had a quiet night today to compensate (and delayed much-hated grocery shopping), watched a DVD and had take-out food. I don't recommend the movie, which was a very unrealistic story called "My Life Without Me." Netflix is great, but after a while who knows what's in the queue?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Here's a picture from the reunion...Anne, Bob, me. Can you tell it was fun?

Friday, August 06, 2004

Yesterday, when I saw the headline of the articles reporting on the CDC study (here is a prime example: Animals Cause 26,000 Roadway Injuries Each Year) I was so irritated. Typical "today-logic;" always in a hurry, tail gating, F-you, middle finger, pass on a double yellow, get off the road slow poke, kind of logic. Allow me to set the record straight: Animals do not cause roadway injuries -- people (make that jerks) driving cars do.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The reunion was great! What a surprise. Maybe it takes 25 years of adulthood before almost everyone is "grown up." It is bittersweet to return to routine. I think there are some cucumbers in my garden that grew to be the size of zucchinis! I also need to pick green beans, but it is so hot, and now I hear thunder.

Grades are due Thursday, and I really don't feel like getting busy...

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Class ends on Friday. Considering the large size (35 students), and the dial-up connection on all those three day weekends, it hasn't been bad at all. Of course, there are a couple of students that I expect will email me with requests for an incomplete. That always happens during summer session. I am always inclined to say yes, even though the majority who ask have not done enough work to make it realistic. But, there are occasional exceptions, so I say yes. Problem is, all the students who requested an incomplete last year wound up failing after one extension. I give students with incompletes two chances to finish the class, then I submit whatever grade they had. I would probably give students even more chances than that, if they ever emailed before the deadline to ask for an extension, but that never happens.

My 25th high school reunion is this weekend. Actually, I graduated in 1978 (without looking back), but that was a year early, and the kids I started school with, that I always considered my "cohort," graduated in 1979. I wouldn't go (part of the not looking back sentiment), except that a friend is coming from Buffalo, my "best friend." We met on the first day of kindergarten. We rode bikes together, had tag sales of stuff we pilfered from our mothers, swam, sat on the front porch of the general store, and played with our many pets. We shared a lack of athletic ability. We were sent to different tracks after second grade, but that didn't dampen our friendship. She was there the tragic day my goat Heidi died. We were together the first time we bought Stayfrees. (Or was it Kotex, back then? Can't remember. I moved on...) She didn't graduate from the same high school, but moved to Western New York after eighth grade. That was very traumatic for both of us, especially since we weren't really members of any of the big cliques of friends. But even that move didn't diminish our friendship. Anyway, she really wants to go to the reunion, and I am happy for the excuse to have her visit.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Times Union is running an interesting series this week on rudeness.  Today's story contains this:

"A similar narrow view can be engendered by "faceless technology" like e-mail and the Internet, said Deborah Smith, an online college professor who lives in Albany. More than once, Smith has felt the smack of a haughty-seeming, disrespectful e-mail from undergrads who probably just didn't think about how their communique might be received.

"Students can get very demanding online. They'll say, 'Hey, I want this,' " Smith said. "There's a loss of eloquence and respect. I bet you dollars to doughnuts they wouldn't speak like that if they were addressing me in person."

In the online class this summer, I have noticed the disrespectful attitudes of a couple of students in the discussion. These are not bad students, but bright, serious ones. I don't think it is intentional. I believe that some people don't understand the subtle differences between electonic and face-to-face communication.

But nothing matches the recent rudeness I experienced on the phone. Because of the Do Not Call list, I rarely get telemarketers calling any more. Since I work from home a lot, this has been great, because I can screen calls less, and instead I usually answer the phone right way when it rings now.

However, I have noticed that telemarketers have become even more sneaky. They can legally call you if you already do business with them. A few weeks ago, a man called and asked me to do a survey about fire safety. I like surveys and research, so I agreed to participate. He asked me about ten simple questions about smoke detectors, extinguishers, and exits, thanked me, and that was that.

A few days ago, a woman called, saying that I had won a $1,500 security system because my survey had been entered in a contest. I patiently waited for an opening while she rattled off the wonderful prize I would get, which included wireless equipment, stickers for my windows announcing to all that the house is protected, $99 installation fee waiver, all generously sprinked with overuse of my first name, and she ended with the inevitable punchline, that my cost would be only $1 per day for the monitoring service. She then took a breath.

Now, there was a time when I would not have picked up the receiver - because the Caller ID said "Out of Area." (Some cell phones come through that way, but who cares? Email me.) Then there was a time when I would have slammed the phone down while she was speaking. But recently I have not been feeling rude - unlike, if the series is true, most others in society - and I understand that working in a hotroom is a horrible job, one that I am blessed to not have to do. "It ain't so far from the diamonds in the sidewalk to the dirt in the gutter," as John Prine sings. (OK, maybe that's a little extreme for this example. But read on, in this woman's case, maybe not.)

She said something like, "I just have to confirm your address, are you the homeowner at...?" I said, "I'm really not interested in this. Thanks a lot." And I prepared to hang up. She responded, "May I ask why not? Is it the $1 per day" So I said, "well, no, actually, I am not interested in having a security system. I think it is kind of paranoid, especially where I live. Plus, I had one where I worked once and it was a hassle. And, I have my security...two dogs."

She shot back, "then why did you waste my time?" Now, I was already in no mood for this. We were out the door to Samsonville, the air conditioner had already been turned off, and it was getting pretty hot. But I went cold. I said, "why did I waste your time?" "Yes," from her, still indignant. As I slammed down the phone, I said, "I was politely listening to you, even though I suspected it was a come on. So why did you waste MY time?"

I should have asked what company she represented - I don't remember her telling me, and of course Caller ID showed nothing - so I could report them to the Do Not Call registry.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Hmmm...did blogger change again?  It looks a little different and I can't seem to make paragraphs. Oh well. Anyway...Ugh. I hate dodgeball. It was a favorite of the gym teacher from h-ll. I always hoped to get "out" immediately, so that I could sit on the side for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, there were times when this plan didn't work - I was an easy target and so the good players preferred to get rid of the true competition first. Which was awful, because being left until last, or nearly last, to be eliminated put me under enormous pressure. My teammates would scream from the sidelines, "get" whatever vicious player was left on the opposing side. Yeah right! The result was always the same, taking a blistering hit - sometimes to the face - picked off by the victor, guaranteeing a loss for the team, and reinforcing their disdain. A few semesters ago, one of my students wrote in his journal that he had no patience for people who fight to have dodgeball banned because it hurts kids self-esteem. He listed off all the wonderful things it teaches and fun it represents. I couldn't resist commenting that although I too question the endless self-esteem promoters, and people interfering over every little thing they don't like, I destest the so-called "sport." I wrote that I believe it is simple laziness on the part of physical education teachers, that they could be teaching something valuable about health and nutrition and exercise and instead they rely on cruel, simple, time-wasting games such as dodgeball, that left me with a lifelong disdain for athletics. I ended with "if dodgeball is abolished, I will host the biggest party ever." The student responded, "be sure to invite me!" (Maybe he thought we should round up one last farewell game?)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

This is a heartbreaking story. There still is a well-maintained shrine near the stone wall in front of the farmhouse. I can't imagine what kind of a person would do such a thing, but I think such people are the reason I don't drive.

Last night on the news, the boy's mother was interviewed, and she was talking about "Christopher's Law." Now, I am not really a proponent of the recent trend toward naming laws after victims, but I do think the law should be changed in this case. She said that there is less penalty for leaving the scene of an accident, and being caught later, than for staying there, if the driver is drunk. I think that may be one unintended consequence of the focus on strictly enforcing DWI laws. No way should this creep get away with less punishment than if he had been arrested at the scene. Yeah, it would have been his second DWI, but hit and run under the influence or not should be even worse than that! Maybe the boy would not have died if the driver got help for him right away.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." --Will Rogers

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

News I hoped would never come. Hobo died on July 3. He was 8 1/2. Diagnosed with bone cancer a year ago, the disease could not diminish his happy nature, or sunny disposition. He liked everyone, and everyone liked him, even people who do not much care for dogs. He often displayed his affection by backing up and sitting on your lap, with his front feet on the floor. He liked to play with toys, especially empty plastic soda and milk jugs, and plush squeaky toys, which he would promptly eviscerate. All dogs are wonderful to dog lovers, and everyone thinks their own dog is special, but some dogs are extra special. Hobo was one of the extra special ones, handsome both inside and out, and he will be very much missed by all who knew him.

There are a thousand stories, and here is just one. Rudy and Hobo were buddies. A few years ago, before we had a good fence, when Rudy was more active, he escaped, and was galloping around the big field. He does not "mind," which is a combination of my fault (I never taught him), life in a village (he never gets a chance to run in Castleton), and his hound ancestors. I was in a panic. Hobo was asleep on the grass nearby. He was a very obedient dog, always minded. Upon hearing the commotion, he stood up, all serious and observant like a soldier, and without waiting to be told, in a second he was off like a shot, running full tilt to Rudy, where he rounded him up and brought him back to safety, job proudly accomplished.

Before he got sick, he would take a two or three mile daily morning walk with my father. When Hobo could no longer go for long walks, my father would instead drive him to my house in the morning, where he would sniff around, go in the stream, and just generally be a dog. On the weekends, when we were there, he would come inside and visit us for a while too. Even before his illness, during their morning walks, they would stop by. We could always tell Hobo was on his way. In the past, my dogs would spot him coming down the road: prancing at the end of his leash, moving along at quite a pace, headed toward our house. More recently, we could hear him announcing his arrival, barking in excitement in the car, from a quarter mile down the road.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I think I first noticed "shrines" in early 1992, when Bob, my father and I took a car trip to Florida. I spotted them along highways in the South, on the way down. During the past decade, they seem to be everywhere, a floral reminder of the bloodbath that is our favored way of travel. Whenever someone dies in a car crash, a shrine immediately appears. Some, often in the most high traffic areas, quickly disappear; others are there for years afterwards, either becoming forgotten, tattered and forlorn, or they are regularly visited, with new bouquets placed nearby and sometimes even more permanent displays erected.

I wonder at this phenomenon. Is it because increasing numbers of people are cremated, (that is my guess, it has no factual basis) and so do not get interred in cemeteries, and there is no permanent place for mourning? Does the spot where death happened hold some special power? Or is it something about the special horror of car accidents, related in some way to "rubber-necking"?

For famous people, shrines appear at places besides the death site, and even when the death is not accidental. I wrote a bit, sort of on this subject, here.

Bob and I developed a business idea! (Since this site gets little traffic there is no fear it will be stolen...and we'll never do it anyway). Some florists and cemeteries offer services, delivering flowers or a plant to the grave of your beloved, on occasions such as Mother's Day or Memorial Day, when you can't visit yourself. So how about applying the same idea to the many neglected shrines along the roads? Roadside Rememberences. Let us lovingly maintain your dear one's shrine. Special on four times per year package: Easter, Memorial Day, Christmas, Birthday. Prayers extra.

Monday, June 28, 2004

I have been finally been using my digital camera. Here are a few pictures taken recently.

We have four of these hanging from the porch in Castleton. It is a zonal geranium, wave petunia, and vinca in each.

Not a great picture, but new this year, a second vegetable patch in Castleton, down the hill. It has yellow and green zucchini, cucumbers, and green beans.

This is the view from the front of the house in Samsonville.

This is what we have been doing on the weekends. The S'ville kitchen is coming! I faux-painted used cabinets.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The taxation without representation budget fails again. This quote from the board president really burns me up:

"It's not a happy day for the district," said school board President Marino D'Orazio. "It seems this Board of Education has been faced with some issues over which it has no control. ... It's all come together in one place THEY have a say, the school budget vote." [emphasis added]

D'Orazio attributed the defeat to a voter backlash from the town of Olive over so-called "large parcel" legislation that would tax reservoir properties separately, thus raising school taxes significantly in that town, and from the town of Hurley, where voters are upset at the closing of West Hurley Elementary School.

No, the large parcel legislation and closing of the West Hurley school resulted in voters becoming aware that OCS is an incredibly high cost district. Combine those three elements, plus a very arrogant attitude on the part of the board and administration [issues over which the board had no control? Did a little green munchkin decide to adopt the large parcel? And the munchkin's fairy godmother decided to close the school?] and the people had to find their voice.

Something I really don't understand and (despite my education-related PhD and last rant in the newspaper on the subject) I'm not wild about educational budgeting, so I may never find out, but how is it that a austerity budget still involves an increase in spending, an increase in taxes, and yet all sorts of programs have to be cut and people fired?

On another subject, turns out we can't get satellite television. There is no clear path, across the street is a hill with trees, and it blocks the signal. So, we went back to Radio Shack, and swapped the installation for what we intended to buy originally, state-of-the-art rabbit ears. We get eight channels, three VHF: CBS, NBC, ABC and five UHF: public television, Fox, WB, and two small local channels - one is mostly advertising, one rebroadcasts some things from NBC. CBS, public television, Fox, and WB come in just as clear as with cable, the other five are pretty clear, if you play around with the rabbit ears a bit. That should be more than enough TV for anyone, and we are enjoying thinking about the savings.

Update: I lied. I couldn't resist doing a little digging on the school budget. I know the usual line is that teachers' salaries and benefits drive the increase, but I don't believe that really accounts for all of it, and it doesn't explain why OCS is such a high cost district. I mean, other districts have to pay out similar amounts in that category. So I read the 6/22/04 board meeting agenda. The same night as the vote - the trustees could not know the outcome (though they must have suspected it would fail again) and they approve over $200,000 in consultants for 2004-05? Yet they wring their hands and claim that all sorts of things have to be cut due to the austerity budget?

Monday, June 21, 2004

My mother and I are growing two types of garlic. One type has scapes - elaborate tops - that should be trimmed so the plant puts more energy into growing the bulb. Tonight I made garlic scape pesto - Yum! It was delicious!

Garlic Scape Pesto

5 chopped garlic scapes (about 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Blend in food processor or blender.

I finally charged the batteries for my camera, and I decided to take some pictures of the garden and flowers in Castleton. I accidentally switched it to black and white mode and didn't realize it until later. So, now I'll have to take more photos of my beautiful flowers. But here is an interesting one of one of my favorites this year, a strawberry pot.

We bought steps for our pool in Samsonville, and yesterday we put them in. As we were carrying the old ladder to the shed, I noticed this stunning little fellow was using it as home (luckily, by this time I had switched the camera back to color):

Thursday, June 17, 2004

According to a People magazine interview, Ray Bradbury is mad at Michael Moore for ripping off his book title. That's good enough for me.

We cancelled our cable. Time Warner asked why, and Bob told the representative that DSL is cheaper and faster and we are going to get satellite for the TV. Yesterday we went to Radio Shack, to buy some modern rabbit ears (an oxymoron?) in the hopes of improving the reception on local channels. The young man who worked there was very convincing, and we wound up signing up for Dish, the basic package plus local stations. It will be installed tomorrow. So this is a savings of $360 per year.

And, my latest rant about the taxation without representation district budget is here. It's long, and there are a couple of typos, but all-in-all, I am pleased.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Today, for the first time in a long time, I have no university work. Summer session starts Monday, and I finished up a few details for my course yesterday - also submitted a book review to a textbook publisher. Wow, it feels good to have a few days to do "whatever." Maybe I will play with my digital camera.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

This report, all over the news, from Science, should be no surprise to dog lovers. And, on whether it is just "fetching behavior": No. Dogs not only can understand a lot of what people say, they also are capable of communicating in very sophisticated ways. Sophie wrinkles her forehead, tips her head and focuses, trying hard to understand what is said, and to learn new words. Rudy barks sentences, and his meaning is loud and clear. Hobo listens and responds to conversations, even when he is in another room.

It is looking like we will switch to DSL after all. I have been very happy with it during the trial. Time Warner has some worthy competition, they better watch out. Bob is planning to have the cable discontinued when we cancel road runner. We can get the local channels without it, and that plus the DVD player is plenty of TV. If he decides he wants to reconnect after the summer is over, we will get satellite instead.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I am testing Verizon DSL. So far, I notice no speed difference between it and Cable, which is saying a lot - it is $29.95 to Road Runner's $44. I had no trouble connecting - though I have not yet tried it using my hub rather than directly to the ethernet card in my recently crashed, newly back in business computer. Unfortunately - I predict I wind up cancelling it at the end of the trial, not because it isn't a good value or fast, but for reasons I'll call "the hassle factor." I have to install a DSL filter for my kitchen phone - they were included for desk phones, but not for wall phones. I have to try it through the network, on the old machine (which will mean lots of time consuming moving of files). Then, we already have cable television - not that we couldn't keep it and DSL, but satellite is cheaper - seems we should either get rid of the Time Warner bill entirely, or not bother. Packaging up the modem (which is nice) and all the DSL filters and wires involves a bit of a hassle factor - but on balance, it is less. Hmmm. DSL + satellite = $60/month, Cable TV and internet = $90. I was kind of hoping the decision would be easy - the connection wouldn't work or the speed would be awful. So maybe the hassle would be worth it?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

I am finally completely done with the Spring 2004 semester. What this means is that I am finished sending each student an email, with some feedback and a breakdown of their grades. No more teaching until Summer Session II, aside from a few course revisions (which will follow updgrading Lotus Notes) and maybe a grade change or two. So far, I have made mistakes in the final grades for six student (out of a total of about 240 students). Not bad, unless you are one of the six, I guess, in which case it is a crisis.

Does this mean I will be posting here more? Probably. I do have a lot of things competing, though, the first being tomato, basil, and pepper plants.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I'M DONE! Submitted grades for seven classes. Making the deadline really was not bad this semester, considering that's four more classes than I have ever taught, and the computer crash in March. Now I can focus on re-installing everything on that machine, testing DSL, upgrading Lotus Notes, being able to print from the network again. (It was really hard to finish up the grades without being able to print lists of students, the grading spreadsheets, etc. I hope I didn't make too many mistakes, the students are sure to email me if I have [or even if I have not]).

I plan to do some reflecting on the semester, too, some of it here. Some early thoughts, my day class definitely was impacted by my being spread thin this semester. Some of the students were out-of-control (socially) and I was too busy to make changes in my methods, on-the-fly, during the course.

Overall, students viewed the class very favorably, but I didn't think it was a very good experience. I think there were three students in the class who agreed, and who wound up with "B" when in a different environment they may have received B+ or higher, perhaps even A.

Five of the remaining six classes went really well, and a couple were excellent, in my opinion, sorry it's not humble. The sixth course wasn't a true course, it was an independent study that the undergraduate teaching assistants take to get three credits for being TA. I decided to change this to a one per week seminar next semester, since it went OK with minimal meetings, but I think there should be more TA discussions and accountability, and that would help to make the TAs more uniformly excellent. (Many of the TAs didn't like the idea, and some won't be returning next semester for that reason [others are graduating, or have other conflicts], but having new students is OK with me.)

I had my smallest online class this semester, and I really liked the size (16). It supported the idea that if there is to be group work, small groups (2 to 4 students) really work best. I may try out that size in my on campus classes too. This semester I had groups of 5-7, and that may have been another reason for the off-task socializing in class.

Anyway, speaking of accountability, the school budget votes were yesterday. My Castleton district's passed, no suprise or controversy there. In Samsonville, another no surprise, the budget went down to defeat by a huge margin. That is my taxation without representation district, but it looks like the community didn't need my vote to be heard! (Such fun to have time to comment on the paper's story.)

Friday, May 14, 2004

Last time I tried to use the new blogger interface, my post went to never never land. So, I am trying again, but either there is something wrong, or it is significantly less user friendly than that last version. I don't have time to figure out how to make a link, so I'll just put the URL here and fix it later. It seems like a step backwards.

Here are some more photos of Campus Clean Up Day. I am sort of in two of them. I'm the one raking in the background of both 35 and 36...(and I'm not the young blonde)

Update: I fixed it. There definitely was something wrong. It looks nothing like what I was getting when I logged on last week. The interface is pretty nice looking. We'll see.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Another story about a creep abusing a dog.

Decided not to wait until grades are done. I want to be ready to plant the garden on that happy day. So I called IBM, and they will be here with to install a new hard drive on Monday.
Now that classes (not grading) are over, I have been able to take a few minutes to take care of some other pending things. The technical stuff was all irritating, if predictable and as a result, routine.

I think the XP machine needs a new hard drive. I haven't been using it that much, since my schedule has been too hectic to waste time reinstalling only to wind up with data loss again, but I wanted a faster internet experience yesterday (to answer all those emails from students begging for special treatment, and extensions, and faster turn around on grades, and As). I discovered that it now won't boot, and it is worse than last time. So that is project one, after grades are done.

Then, I got an extension on my free month of DSL, since I have not had time to test it (plus the XP is in no condition, and the 98 machine needs to have space made on the hard drive). So that is project two, after grades are done. Then, during bill paying, I discover that Verizon has already been charging me - and $5 more than the deal was pitched to be if I do take the service! More time wasted on voice mail, and email, and hold.

The school budget votes are soon, so I researched whether I qualify for an absentee ballot in Samsonville. I am registered to vote in Castleton, but since I pay taxes in two districts, I can't see why I would not be permitted to vote on the school board and budget in both places. Well, after wading through the State Ed documents, I think the answer is, I can only vote where I have been a legal resident for 30 days, and I cannot be considered a resident of two places.

How annoying. I can understand the government elections being limited - I should not receive double representation in the Congress or two votes for president, but I don't see how that applies to the school. I believe preventing me from voting for the school district stuff amounts to taxation without representation.

Now, maybe just the pleasure of having two houses should be privilege enough...but the truth is my two fairly humble abodes do not add up in size or value to the majority of McMansions -- even the less grand ones -- that I see in subdivisions everywhere, and that are the minimum expectation for a lot of young couples.

After that frustration...I snuck outside and did some yardwork. The weather doesn't care about crashed hard drives, or exhorbitant phone bills, or unrepresentative school policy, or even grade obsessed (but effort challenged) students. When I came back in, I ordered my seeds and seedlings.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

On April 27, I participated in the university's campus clean up day. I worked for three hours in the morning raking and bagging leaves and pine needles. Here are some pictures of the event. I'm not a member of the IT staff -- so I'm not in any of them, but, unless I'm way off (and I don't think I am), the group I was in raked up quite a few of the pictured bags in the 12th and 14th photos. I guess the afternoon crew had time to pose for pictures while they loaded the bags on a backhoe!

Monday, May 03, 2004

My (much edited!) letter to the editor, about this story, is in the current issue of Preservation. (Unfortunately, the letter is not online).

I wrote about the issue before, here.

Last week of classes!

Friday, April 30, 2004

Last night we saw Marisol, the final play of the season at the university. Afterwards, I thought if I had to choose one word to describe it, that word would be "shrill." The performances were strong, the set was excellent, the sound, music, lighting was great. It presented a lot to think about...was Marisol already dead the whole time? Was it a vision the future or the present full of symbolism? It did a good job of displaying the ever-present fear and grittiness of a dangerous, lonely urban landscape. On the other hand, the story was a nightmare. Many of the references to God were offensive, and it left me with a terrible headache - not a migraine exactly, but from tension, frustration and anxiety - one of the back-of-the-head, back-of-the-neck variety. It didn't help that the the theatre felt like it was about 150 degrees.

The audience was 95% students this time, and many were required to go for some class. They had to write a paper, and some were taking notes. I don't think it is a stretch to observe that many didn't care for the play, and that it also may have been "over the heads" of some. That's not intended as an insult, the play was confusing, and I think life experience helps with interpreting it. That's not to say I really "got" it, either. But I keep coming back to shrill. That sums it up.

Anyway, all in all, the theatre department's performances are impressive, and a bargain. After seeing all four shows this year, I am definitely going to get season's tickets next year.