Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ups and Downs, Ups and Downs

When I was in elementary school, a teacher read my class a book that followed the pattern "Fortunately. . . Unfortunately." It was like this one--and maybe it was that one, but the copyright date doesn't seem right. Anyhoo, cribbing from Amazon's description of that book, the plot went something like this:

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.

Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.

Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.

Lately my life has seemed to be a big, disjointed narrative of Fortunately. . . Unfortunately. . .

Some episodes:

I get a nasty head/chest cold. I begin to recover. Then I get a second round. Then I begin to recover again, but with a twist--my head and chest are clear but I have all the tiredness of a mononucleosis victim. Plus: insomnia! Today, in fact, is the first day in a while that I've had enough energy to make it through the day intellectually and physically intact.

Today I turned in a grant application I've been working on for months. Yay! I've even come to grips with the university's indirect cost rate scaling down the project to the point where it's a bit embarrassing. I even found the strength to correct the grants guy when he called the $50,000 grant proposal "small." (Those of you in the sciences may not realize that a grant over, oh, $3500 is pretty damn big for a humanist.) And then, just as I think I have all my ducks in a row, I learn there's another form specific to my university--a big, complicated one--that I need to get filled out and double-signed. And no, my first thought was not, "What the fuck am I paying indirect costs of $19,500 for if the grants folk aren't going alert me to the fact that I need to fill out this friggin' form?" Fortunately, the grants folks are actually quite nice, and this was in the big scheme of things a small oversight, and they'll help me get it filled out quickly.

Lucas starts kindergarten in the fall. Unfortunately, our local elementary school is kind of sketchy. I'm not one to look at test scores, but let's just say a 50% drop in boys' reading proficiency between kindergarten and first grade raises a red flag--especially when that decline isn't mirrored throughout the district. Fortunately, Lucas earned lucky #13 (of ~150) in the lottery for one of the area's best-regarded charter schools, the one to which local hippies and commies (read: the professoriate) long to send their kids. Unfortunately, through the whims of fate (read: large Idaho families + priority for siblings of current students), even #13 might not be a good enough number to get him into the school. We'll know within a couple of weeks. Keep your fingers crossed for us, OK? As Fang has detailed on his blog, Lucas has been running into a number of budding sociopaths in his preschool, and we'd really prefer that he fall in with the kind of kids whose parents are serious about sending them to a great school, even if it's in what's widely acknowledged as Boise's armpit.

Then there's Utah. That post was a way for me to come to grips with the fact that a doctor found a giant tumor in my 87-year-old grandmother. In her colon. Because her primary care physician is (literally, alas) in a coma and thus no one had pointed out to her that her symptoms might indicate a cancer-scale problem--which means she hadn't had a colonoscopy in, well, ever. Fortunately, the surgeon thought he could excise the tumor, do a temporary colostomy, and reconnect the remaining parts of the colon. Unfortunately, he found the tumor is cancerous, the cancer has metastasized to her liver and pancreas, and the primary tumor is inoperable because of scar tissue from an apparently botched hysterectomy from 40 years ago. The surgeon gives her two years to live.

I'll write a blog post about my grandmother when I have the emotional strength to do so. For now let's just say that I've always marveled at her strength and good humor, and that my grandmother has not just been a caretaker and adviser to me, but also a very good friend. Even today, just a couple days after her surgery, even though she'd had family and doctors and nurses and physical therapists visiting her all day long, she was chatty and even optimistic. We talked and laughed for 25 minutes--and this is a woman who recently found out she's terminally ill and had just hours before learned how to empty the colostomy bag that she'll use for the rest of her life. I love the woman dearly, and I'm having a very difficult time being so far away from her.

This geographical angst has been made even worse by Idaho politics. I love my job dearly, and what little I've seen of this state is achingly beautiful in that wind-scrubbed arid intermountain way. I do plan to stay here for a long time. Yet recent events have made me regret, just a little, putting so much distance between me and California.

Share your own Fortunately. . . Unfortunately. . . scenarios in the comments. It's good to know I'm not alone on this roller coaster.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Putting things in perspective

From Robert Reich, on the Republican strategy:

Last year, America’s top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains – at 15 percent – due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded.

If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society – thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let’s make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Next stop: Hellscape

Caution: I may be channeling Fang.

In recent years, I haven't been prone to pessimism, but I'm beginning to believe that the Republicans won't be satisfied until we're all living in heavily armed survivalist compounds outside of dead (liberal!) cities. Only then will we have achieved the vision of the Founding Fathers--only it will be a twisted, post-apocalyptic version of Jefferson's agrarian middle landscape.

I know I need not provide much evidence on a national scale to readers of this blog, but may I share a few highlights gleaned from a few of the blogs I read, and only from the past few days? (Then, my friends, only then shall we turn to the clusterfuck that is Idaho.)

First, there's Historiann's post about representation without taxation. She sums up the Colorado governor's delusion plan to make the state more "pro-business"--the plan is awfully familiar to those of us a bit to the north and west of Historiann--and then provides this commentary:
What a brilliant “pro-business” plan this is! Absolutely everyone wants to move their businesses to a state that’s cutting education! It’s so easy to get your employees to see the advantages for their children of attending schools with huge class sizes and no “extras” like music, art, sports, or anything that’s not covered on the Colorado Student Annual Progress (CSAP) tests. And if they love that, they’ll love the nonexistent state support for universities here! (And guess what? Republicans here are lauding the governor’s “seriousness,” while Democrats are treating Hick’s budget like a flaming bag of poo left on their doorstep.)

We get the politicians we deserve. The fatuousness of these conversations among our elected representatives reflects our own unseriousness as citizens. We expect to enjoy quality schools, universities, parks, roads, hospitals, medical care, emergency services, low-income assistance, prisons, public transportation, and all other services without paying taxes. We’ve been living off of the crumbling infrastructure Americans invested in fifty years ago and more, expecting that nothing would change and that no further investment was required.

Then there's Bardiac's upper-Midwest state, which has been in the news quite a bit lately for its attempted pounding of public-sector labor unions. She provides a round-up of Republican plans to, for example, eliminate health insurance and pensions for "limited-term employees" (who, she points out, are mostly women), as well as cut funding for Medicaid, so that even the children of these newly health-insurance-free employees won't have access to affordable healthcare. She then nicely details the difference between pro-business factions and those of us on the front lines of public service and in particular education:
There's some bluster on both sides, of course. But the bluster of state workers is so much less effective. I was thinking about how ineffective our bluster is.

And here's what I figured out: our problem is that we actually care.

We value education and care about educating our students.

We care about doing jobs we think are important enough that we take less pay than we'd get in the private sector (it's in the news, not just some opinion I have).

So we aren't going to mess with students or do less work.
Can I hear another amen, people?

(Arbitrista seems to agree:
Why so glum? My nature perhaps, and the fact that these are discouraging times. But more importantly I don't have a great deal of confidence that the Democratic Party will do anything to stop it. As with abortion rights or gun control, Democrats have stopped fighting very hard for unions. They're pretty much absent from the public debate on these issues, which means that one one side you have a barrage of relentless propaganda and on the other....nothing.)
And then, via Shark-Fu, we learn of a particularly asinine proposal to eliminate child labor regulations in Missouri. Here's the summary of the bill from the state website:
SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
(Take a moment to pry your jaw off the ground. I'll wait. I'll use the time to teach Lucas how to earn pennies an hour on Mechanical Turk.)

Quips Shark-Fu, "I’m guessing that [state Representative Jane] Cunningham, ever a faithful minion, consulted Satan prior to filing this shit."

Now that we've finished a rapid tour of flyover America, let's take a look at my far-flung corner of Real America.

Via Sisyphus at 43rd State Blues, I learned about the blog of state rep Nicole LeFavour, a Democrat who represents my favorite parts of Boise. LeFavour penned a post titled "How to Tank a State Economy: Easy Steps for Lawmakers." It's worth reading in its entirety, but it's such a well-organized post that it's possible to outline it here.
1. Destroy Jobs

A. Lay off as many state employees as possible

B. Reduce wages

C. Be sure that businesses doing contract work for the state go bankrupt

D. Repel Businesses Seeking to Move into Your State

2. Increase Costs to Families

A. Force Families into Crisis

B. Make Education More Expensive

C. Remain Dependent on Fossil Fuels

D. Increase User Fees for Everything

3. Keep State Government in Perpetual Fiscal Crisis

A. Turn away federal matching funds or any form of money paid to the federal government by taxpayers in your state.

B. No matter how well the national economy is recovering, predict doom for your own state.

C. Create Political Strife.

D. No Matter How Much Things Fall Apart, Don't Raise Taxes.

4. Reduce The State's Population

A. Nothing says economic disaster like death and out migration.
But really, this outline doesn't do LeFavour's post justice. Click through to read it yourself, but here are some of my favorite recent Gem State hijinks (and their results, many of which have been realized) she suggests the state should pursue if it really wants to fail big:
  • Be sure your public schools rank last in the nation for per pupil spending, class size and adequacy of school facilities, course offerings, text books, lab supplies and equipment and materials essential to teaching.
  • Provide no anti-discrimination job protections for gay people. Technology companies are full of gay employees. Even if a company provides its own job protections, a state needs to project a hostile enough atmosphere to guarantee that other family members seeking jobs or educational opportunities will face discrimination in employment, housing and education in any given town across the state.
  • Ensure state leaders talk as much as possible about large predatory animals decimating wildlife populations and killing domestic animals.
  • Even if you can not pass such a law, at least claim you will enact Arizona-style immigration policies so that employees and business owners with darker skin or names like Martinez or Perez will fear eminent racial profiling, detainment or arrest.
  • Fail to fund or develop a network of low cost health clinics. The fewer options families have, the more likely they are to fail to access preventative care and fall into costly medical crisis and personal bankruptcy.
  • Stop funding water quality monitoring, refuse to extensively regulate day care facilities and provide as few counseling services as possible in local schools to ensure an adequate supply of physical and mental health crises statewide.
  • Eliminate public Kindergarten. Make sure your state's children start out behind the rest of the nation.
  • Require public schools students take on-line classes in order to graduate. Decreased teacher interaction and the lack of support for those who struggle can be highly effective at wasting years of college tuition as students fail classes or need extensive remedial coursework. The impact on families of students with disabilities can be impressive as those with certain learning styles have higher failure rates and are more likely to fall into cycles of dependence later in life should support in these early years be inadequate.
  • Deny local communities the ability to fund public transportation. In urban areas this guarantees tax dollars are sucked rapidly into perpetual freeway widening projects which produce few jobs but expend state revenues on raw materials. A lack of public transportation also directly increases costs to families who struggle with with car maintenance or gas prices or for those commuters who waste time in traffic during their commute.
  • Ensuring failure of your public school system can help bring on privatization and a stratification of the quality of educational opportunity available to families of differing incomes. User fees in education are not a new concept. They are a bridge to stratification and ensure that some kids will not be able to reach the same levels of academic attainment that the more wealthy do.
  • Violate federal laws so that your state faces sanctions. Refusing to enact federal health care reform for example may well result in the state losing all federal funds for medicaid --meaning a loss to health providers, businesses and families of nearly a billion in federal dollars.
May I add "Have your State Board of Education suspend faculty governance at your state universities"?

Goddammit--I don't have time to become a political activist.

Yet I heart Nicole LeFavour. It's nice to know there's someone so bright and articulate in the statehouse. When Fang gets back on his economic feet (see: We Moved to Idaho), we'll definitely be donating to her campaign fund.

What's your state doing to transform itself into an environmental, economic, and educational hellscape?

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I have several blog posts in draft, but I haven't had the energy and focus to finish them because I've been thinking about an Unbloggable Thing (UT, so I'll call it Utah).

Random vague bullets of Utah:
  • A person I care about deeply has gone to Utah.
  • This loved one is not ready to share with others in hir family that ze has gone to Utah.
  • This trip to Utah could have been avoided, had adequate steps been taken.
  • The people who could have taken these steps are, I imagine, really angry with themselves that, despite their love and attention, this person has ended up in Utah, which, in this metaphor at least, is not a very nice place to visit.
  • Indeed, I'm upset with myself because I might have urged others to take the steps to prevent the trip to Utah.
  • I'm exceptionally frustrated that ze has gone to Utah, especially considering the trip was avoidable.
  • Still, I'm pretty much endlessly forgiving when it comes to people I care about, even when they make mistakes that take them (or others I love) to someplace like Utah. (With myself, I'm considerably less forgiving.)
  • This recent trip to Utah is making me very sad.
What would help, in the comments:
  • Stories about how you had to keep quiet for a while (perhaps a long while) about something that made you very frustrated or sad, and how you dealt with that, even though it was always on your mind.
  • Good vibes for my loved one in Utah.
  • Sympathy. This is going to be hard.