Saturday, September 8, 2007

DH Has Great Recap of Lebanon Fiasco

I'm sure many people have seen this already, but Jennifer Moody of the Albany Democrat-Herald has a great story up today that recaps the ongoing implosion that is the Lebanon Community School District these days. She covers a whole host of issues - this is a wonderful recap or introduction to what's going on, so if you've been tuning out all the posts on Lebanon, I'd encourage you to read (or at least skim) this story.

So far, I've only seen one comment on the story at the DH's website, and it's not a happy one. I'd suggest you read the article first and then look at the first comment and decide for yourself whether or not the criticism is warranted; however, I'm sure there will be more, since this is one of the most contentious issues to hit Lebanon in some time.

Also, life has kept me from posting a whole lot lately, especially about non-Lebanon stuff. C'est la vie, I suppose. I hope to be able to get some substantial posts out in the future, but I've just not got the mental energy for it right now.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What It Means to Understand Writing

William Gibson, in an interview in the Washington Post:

I make black marks on a white surface and someone else in another location looks at them and interprets them and sees a spaceship or whatever. It's magic. It's a magical thing. It's very old magic, but it's very thorough.

Truth and Power

Tristero, who writes at Hullaballo, gets one right:

But the truth, George W. Bush knows, can be magically nullified through the exercise of sufficient power. That - and only that - is his mad delusion, a delusion nurtured by his toxic upbringing where his family shielded him from the consequences of his failures and incompetence. It is a delusion that has led to the pointless suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of people.

All I have to say is that wouldn't it be nice to be a world where 'power' was not defined as the ability to fuck people over against their wills?

Oh, and in the case of the Lebanon School Board, um, the answer is no. Rick will never exercise enough power to nullify the truth. That doesn't mean he and his cohort haven't tried. But creating an alternate reality is hard.

Says Ralph Ellison: "Could politics ever be an expression of love?"

Were it only the case.

(h/t CM for the quote)

A Very Good Question

From a political perspective, I really want to know the answer to this one, put forth by Lebanon Truth:

And isn't it interesting that the jock block wanted to appoint Ken Ray as Bo's supervisor. Why did they think that Ray wouldn't fire Yates for his money monkey business?

I'm also really curious what happened in the executive session in which Ray met with the board and the decision was made to not appoint him interim Superintendent. The cynic in me says that Rick and maybe Josh asked him to do something he knew was flat-out unethical or even illegal, and in good conscience, he decided to decline rather than put his own ass on the line. I'd call that a very smart move on his part. He's the principal of the high school, has worked at the District Office in the past, and assuming he's followed the rules thus far (and I have no reason to think he hasn't), the only reason he won't survive this mess is if he decides to leave.

So if Ray decided not to get involved with Alexander's little war on reason, I can understand and support that. It makes me wonder, further, if Ray suffered or will suffer any loss of credibility with the anti-Robinson folks because of his choice.

It also makes me wonder what was expected of him to make him decide not to accept.

I am assuming, of course, that he decided not to accept the position, since when the board left the public eye it was waiting on him to say yea or nay. I suppose that if he told the board - or Alexander in particular - he wasn't going to do their dirty work, the offer may have been rescinded.

In any case, Kelley was appointed temporary superintendent, which I think was the best possible move under the circumstances.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Another Lebanon Voice Speaks Up

This is what I've been waiting for - no, not this person specifically in this format - but something like this:

After making the decision to decline running for re-election to the Lebanon School Board, I thought it inappropriate to become involved, at least for a time, with the workings of the new Board.

However, it is impossible to sit by and watch a vocal minority destroy the many accomplishments of your past school boards in putting the Lebanon School District on track to be innovative in programs, rigorous in expectations and relevant in curriculum. The current proceedings of the Board have caused further embarrassment to this community and all citizens need to be aware of current activities and be supportive of the work prior to July 2007.


But for many in our community who haven't recognized the real importance of what is going on in our District, it is time to become informed and see how far we have come in our education system. The outside world looks in and sees, simplistically, a dysfunctional Board which flops around at meetings, trying to “get” each other, and this view becomes, for that outsider, the “norm” for our whole community. We, together, have accomplished much and we can't afford to keep being the laughing stock of public officials in this state. Prospective businesses read about these public antics and wonder why they would want to come to our community.

McHill is nice, so his taking folks to task is very polite. It's fitting of an attorney, former school board member, and upstanding citizen.


The New Lebanon Express Story

My titles aren't that great today. Oh well.

There's a new LE story out this week, and if someone hadn't clued me in to the events presented in the story already, I'd be all over it. As is, I don't want y'all to think I'm ignoring it, so consider this a reminder that I'll blog about it later.

In Which the Author is Pleasantly Surprised

Not so long ago, a new blog formed using the name Lebanon for Truth and Reconciliation. The founder of the blog had left comments at my site and on at least one news story related to the ongoing controversy regarding the LCSD School Board.

The first few posts came slow, but after last night's board meeting, things seem to be looking up for both the blog and for LCSD politics in general, so kudos for LT and their cobloggers.

According to LT, there was a strong showing at the latest board meeting by folks who were no longer afraid to speak out against what's going on. That's fantastic news, and here's why: In cases like this, where this is one group who has very little positive agenda to offer (but has a lot of negative things to say), just about the only way for such a group to "win" is to shout down anyone else from saying anything- something that has quite literally happened at previous board meetings. If that doesn't work, it often becomes clear very quickly that such a negative message doesn't really have any long-term traction.

Now, I wonder, if it's becoming clear that several of the anti-Robinson folks don't have much of a platform beyond "Academies bad! Robinson bad! Football good!" (To be followed by "Unions bad!" the next time contract negotiations occur.) The political tactics present here are pretty universal - distract everyone with your shiny complaint because if they look away they'll realize the emperor has no clothes. Or, circa early 2003, scream "9/11 Al Qaeda! Iraq! Saddam Hussein! Weapons of mass destruction!" any time anyone suggests that going to war (or electing anyone but Bush) would be a bad idea. The comparison, from the point of view of, say, a political strategist, is eerily apt.


While the jock block/Alexander alliance had planned to exercise a coup, installing their Bo as Athletic Director and principal of the Social Systems Academy, apparently that drive was blocked before the start of the meeting. LT would like to know what stopped the assault.

This blogger would also like to know what derailed that plan. I can hazard a guess, though I have no idea if it's correct.

Two guesses, actually, one already provided by LT coblogger IHDSM:

Because the staff and students of the Social Systems Academy deserve a principal who 'fits' the academy---one who supports and sees value in the arts and humanities. Students choose Social Systems because of the programs in the academy---not because of sports offerings. Is Mr. Yates an avid supporter of the arts? Does he attend high school concerts or plays? Can he connect with the students and staff who work hard to put on these events? Would he put as much effort into fund-raising for these activities as he has put into funding sports programs? Perhaps or perhaps not...

My instinct is to suggest a former football player and one-time Athletic Director would not, in fact, make the best principal for an academy focused on social sciences and the humanities. Go figure. I could be wrong, of course, but certainly the position warrants the kind of search IHDSM is calling for, if for no other reason than, you know, appointing people you like without going through an open process is nepotism.

The second potential answer is that the participants, or at least some of them, got cold feet. Perhaps the estimable Ms. Shimmin is realizing that this whole enterprise has consequences. (I don't particularly hold out hope that Mr. Alexander will ever become a completely reasonable person.)

Or, to throw out a third suggestion, perhaps someone got to the so-called "Jock Block" and convinced them what they were supposedly about to do was wrong. It could have been any combination of the above, or something else entirely. I don't know the answer.

What I do know is that at least for one time, the Board chose not to take an arbitrary and authoritarian action, and that's a good thing. IHDSM's post is titled "Is The Tide Turning?" I had that reaction as well when I read the latest Express story and LT's account of the most recent board meeting. However, I'd like to add a qualifier to that suggestion: While it may be turning on this particular act, as long as the board is so fractured and Robinson continues to provoke such strong emotions through his management style, the tide will come back in. Count on it.

Guest Post on the Lebanon Sports Mafia

[Note: The content of this post was written by frequent commenter I]

There are so many mysteries here.

What about the previous head football coach, a young man from out of state named Dave Kline? It was his first head coaching position and he suddenly announced his coaching departure at the football banquet knowing the following year the team would be playing in a smaller classification and have a terrific season. What a resume builder that would have been for him. Lead a team that hadn't had a winning season in however many years and in his forth year go to state? It looks like he's actually the one that built the program yet I've heard no mention or credit given to him? He claimed he was leaving for his family because his wife had a new baby but the next year he was coaching for Silverton. Did the "sports mafia" run him out? Was that poor guy unknowingly thrown to the wolves with no support?

Here's one of his quotes from the Express: “They need to bring somebody in that has the same goals of having high integrity and high standards,” Kline said. “That is the most important thing.”

Was there a hidden meaning? What did he know?

Then there's Bo Yates. If nothing else here is a man that bites the hand that feeds him. The superintendent hired him and apparently gave him the financial support to build up athletics. It was his first administrative position. We have not seen Bo giving any credit to Jim Robinson and there is mounting evidence he is actually stabbing him in the back.

He didn't have a winning season the entire three years he was at West Salem.The year after he left they played the exact same teams as when he was there and finished 4th in state. The next year they were classified 6A instead of 5A and finished 2nd in state. If he built the program as Dave Kline built Lebanon's, why would he leave? He doesn't mind taking other peoples credit, why wouldn't he stay and accept his own? What happened in Salem?

Who are the puppets, who are the pawns and who is really running this horror show?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Only Bush I Trust is My Own

During my recent Internet hiatus, I read a lot, just sort of whatever was at hand. One of the things I read - quickly, since it's a short book - was Periel Aschenbrand's The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own. It's a quick read filled with a no-bullshit attitude and a dangerous sense of humor. There are two passages I wanted to highlight from the book that stood out to me:

From page 190:

[Walt] Whitman said: I am large, I contain multitudes, and I wallow in my inconsistency.

Perfect. Internal coherency is overrated, anyway, not to mention nearly impossible to achieve. We are human, after all.

The second passage, from later on the same page, is Roland Barthes on what he termed The Fashion System:

Fashion is a social fact; those who exclude themselves "suffer a sanction: the stigma of being unfashionable."

I'd never thought about it that way before, but I think Barthes is essentially correct. I think that goes a long way towards explaining the tension in my style of dress: Just acceptable enough not to be noticed.

Anyway, grab the book some time if you can. It's pretty funny, especially the first section.

Tony Karon on the Israel Lobby

There's been an interesting divide in my reality for some time: The social-justice circles I'm familiar with, especially the white folks, are usually pro-Palestine, the reason being that Israel, as a state actor, has dumped on Palestinians for years and continues to do so. Oh, and the U.S. has long supported Israel's highly immoral policies.

The mainstream media and intelligentsia, on the other hand, has been painfully pro-Israel. Lots of lefty commenters know this, but I've seen very little change in the mainstream position.

Tony Karon has a great essay up commenting on the attempts of a couple of authors to challenge the orthodox view of the Israel/Palestine conflict. I'm not going to rehash the incredibly complicated conflict here or even summarize his essay (go read it yourself), but I want to note a few things.

First, my own conclusion is that anything resembling a just and justifiable outcome has to acknowledge the essentially unjust creation of Israel. It was, as Karon notes, colonisation of the worst kind. That doesn't, of course, mean the abolition of the state of Israel. Why do I say this? Because as far as I can tell, that's the root cause of the conflict.

Anyway, Karon says some good stuff:

And, revealing the extent to which Washington is encased in a bubble when it comes to matters involving Israel in the Middle East, Senators Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin wrote Maliki a letter saying the following: “Your failure to condemn Hezbollah’s aggression and recognize Israel’s right to defend itself raise serious questions about whether Iraq under your leadership can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing stability to the Middle East.”

To cut bluntly to the chase, there is scarcely a single politician in the Arab world willing to endorse Washington’s definitions of the problems or the solutions when it comes to Israel’s impact on the region — and that even among the autocrats with whom the U.S. prefers to work, much less that rare breed that Maliki represents, i.e. a democratically elected leader. It is the U.S. leadership that is in denial about what is needed to create security in the region.

Indeed, the grownups in Washington know this better than anyone. In response to the same crisis in Lebanon, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft wrote:

Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.

True, true, and true. But this is part of the Establishment's longtime problem of not even trying to look for root causes that can't be solved with guns. Deny so-called "terrorist groups" recruits and they'll go away. Killing civilians, I'm sorry to say, does not hinder recruitment as much as one might think.

More Karon:

Like the tech-bubble and real estate-bubble, Washington’s “Israel bubble” is unhealthy and dangerous — in fact, it not only jeopardizes U.S. interests throughout the region and beyond (by serving as Exhibit A for any anti-American element anywhere in the Islamic world to win the political contest with America’s friends), but it is also exceedingly bad for Israel: Particularly over the past decade, the U.S. has essentially enabled Israeli behavior so self-destructive that it may have already precluded any chance of it being able to live at peace with its neighbors.

Now we're getting somewhere, though it's sort of pathetic that arguments based on the rights and dignity of Palestinians have gotten nowhere while an argument based on Israel's self-interest is about the only thing that will get traction. In fact, it does not speak well of those who ignore the incredible injustice of the situation. Can someone hand this guy a megaphone? Please?

Go read.

"New Urbanism"

Via BB, I found this article on a new type of housing development. Given the label of "new urbanism," it's really just a revival of an older style of development (which the article acknowledges).

The impulse is simple: Make it easy to interact with your neighbors, and make your neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly. How? Houses close to the street, large huge porches, parking in back, no cul-de-sacs, lots of small green spaces throughout. Oh, and provide some mixed-use areas close enough that people can walk to bars and restaurants. The article talks a lot about alcohol and reducing the need to drive in order to find a drink, which I find fascinating.

Why am I even posting on this? Because one of my pet peeves is suburbia. It's a bloody horrible way to design a neighborhood. My hometown is exploding with the worst kind of suburbs - all cul-de-sacs and houses so close together you can't get a vehicle between them; I wish they'd just give up the pretense of single-family dwellings and go to English-style housing, what I'd call duplex townhouses or something. Suburbia promotes the use of cars by making it harder to walk anywhere; setting homes back from the street with garages out front and no porches inhibits conversation with neighbors; and it's just ugly as hell. Admittedly, this new design allows for the ugly to continue (stop painting houses with the same half-dozen pastels already! Jesus!), but it is a step in the right direction from at least two standpoints:

*Puts on Policy Wonk Hat*

1) The Environment. Specifically, given population projections, we need to stop creating more suburban developments immediately and start building more high-density dwellings if we want to have any countryside left in 50 years. This move is, in policy terms, a step in the right direction. The inclusion of green space and the increased pedestrian traffic also help the environment by reducing vehicular traffic and adding carbon dioxide sinks throughout the neighborhood. They're not intentional communities, but they'll do. Now if they could just garden with their graywater, that'd be great....

2) Social Participation. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, should be pretty pleased by this. He's made a career out of noting the decreased participation in civic and social life of Americans, and suburbia is often cited as a major reason for that decrease. This new design trend, according to the article, promotes social interaction. Certainly I'd rather live in a place where I could hang out with my neighbors than have to drive across town to see people, that would be good.

Long story short, while this may be a good move, it's certainly not the best move. But given the dominant trends in public policy and planning in this country (zoning segregation, suburbia, and big box stores), this is better than I would have expected. But it's not enough.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Geeks and Wonks and Politics, Oh My!

Brother J passed on this article, claiming it somehow relates to me. I can't imagine why he would think such a thing:

[Policy geeks] are no less fascinated by detail but are drawn to ideals. Observation alone bores them. They are drawn to the prospect of change. They don't want to be players as such; they question the very rules of the game and want to change them. They are happy to make a difference in the ideological infrastructure, whether big or small. They tend to work alone and totally disregard caste distinctions...this means that the geeks are drawn to ideas, even radical ideas. They can easily imagine what doesn't exist, which makes them dreamers and entrepreneurs. And so they are attracted to and study history and philosophy and economics...They thrive on making information public, on smashing old structures, breaking cartels, and busting monopolies of power.

I'm more than a little flattered, or maybe it's just me being egotistical. Who knows. Nevertheless, I wholly endorse the article, and, I must admit (with some help), see a little of myself in the wonk part, especially this line:

Political wonks are fascinated by process.

I am less proud to admit I see myself in this passage:

They thrive on meetings, small victories, administrative details, and gossip about these matters. Knowing who is who and what is what is the very pith of life.

The Climate Emergency Fast

The Climate Emergency Fast

I don't think I'll participate, given the circumstances, but I like the idea.

More LfTaR

Two new posts, both very good:

It Just Gets More Insane

Sports Are Not Bad; Corruption of Sports is Bad

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day, a magical day early in September, when people get the day off and spend it at the lake and start packing away those white clothes, or something. (It's also the common starting point for Bush Administration "fall marketing campaigns," but that's a separate scary story.)

Labor Day is also supposed to be the day when the American Worker is celebrated, and there's usually noises to that effect.

Labor Day is bullshit.

To wit: The rest of the freakin' world celebrates the worker on May 1st. America celebrates it in September to avoid any kind of worker solidarity. Seriously:

With the Chicago Haymarket riots in early May of 1886, President Grover Cleveland believed that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus, fearing that it might strengthen the socialist movement, he quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Knights of Labor and their date for Labor Day.

Yeah, we have May Day, but it's not the same thing. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate paid holidays and all, but this is just stupid. Having May 1st as Labor Day was a tradition started in the United States, even.

If you're interested, consider researching the 1886 Haymarket Riot and its connection to organized labor and May 1st. There's a lot of history to it, none of which makes it into the public eye. It's kind of like Columbus Day/The Day of Indigenous Resistance in that way.

UPDATE: For example, these folks should know better: Atrios, Ezra Klein, and Matt Yglesias.

The Fish Speaks on Religion and Politics

I've never liked Stanley Fish. I think my first exposure to him was something he had written that I really, really disagreed with (I think it was about higher education). Since then, I've had little reason to change my mind, at least until this morning. I ran across a long column of his in the New York Times (unfortunately, it is behind the TimesSelect firewall, so no link). In it, Fish talks about the ongoing conflict between liberalism and religion. I want to excerpt a few paragraphs because I think he's got something to say:

If the goal is to facilitate the free flow of ideas in a marketplace of ideas, the one thing that cannot be tolerated is the idea of shutting down the marketplace. Liberalism, if it is to be true to itself, must refuse to entertain seriously an argument or a project the goal and effect of which would be to curtail individual exploration, self-realization (except in one direction), free expression and innovation. Closed-mindedness with respect to religions that do not honor the line between the secular and the sacred is not a defect of liberalism; it is its very definition.

The fact that liberalism's quashing of ideas extends beyond mere self-preservation aside (unless we're going to separate the ideas quashed by capitalism or Protestantism), I think Fish has something of a point, or at least one well-made in the void. I'm not sure how true this is in reality anymore.

But say it's true. Realizing that liberalism is a political-philosophical concept embodied by humans, and realizing that K-12 students have generally been taught these precepts (in the past at least, and albeit in a totally normalized way), I think it's time to admit that there's a portion of the country that now disagrees with this basic premise. Instead of a secular framework that allows for private religious practices, many folks - let's call them Christian Fundamentalists, just for fun - have started insisting that 1) The United States was founded as a strictly Christian nation, and should therefore have Christian morality embedded in the laws, policies and practices of the nation-state; and 2) Anyone who doesn't agree with #1 is the enemy.

Unsurprisingly, this has created some conflicts. On the one hand there are Christian Fundamentalists, who are deeply enmeshed within the Republican Party, and on another (broadly speaking), lefty political bloggers. The lefty political bloggers agree with more or less intensity with Fish's proposition about the place of religion in a liberal state.

It's pretty obvious who's right in the historical debate - while the so-called "Founding Fathers" were Christian Deists, they were pretty explicit in not wanting a religious state. (Why did people come to American, especially from England? Religious persecution. Come on people.) Essentially, the Christian Right is attempting some serious historical revisionism on this count.

But what about the ideological debate? Should America follow the path of liberalism or should it fundamentally alter its ideology? (I say ideology because America has always been dominated by Christians in practice. Obviously.)

I think it should be pretty clear by now that given this choice, I'd go for the ideology of liberalism. However, given a little more, um, freedom of choice, I'd go for this or something like it.

Anyway, there was one other related thing I wanted to address from the Fish column, and then I'll end this boring rant of a post:

There are two answers presidential candidates cannot give to the now obligatory (and deeply offensive) question about their religious faith. A candidate cannot say, “I don’t have any,” and a candidate cannot say, “My faith dictates every decision I make and every action I take.” Rather, a candidate must say something like, “My faith generally informs my moral values, but my judgments and actions as president will follow from the constitutional obligations of the office, not from my religion.” In other words, I too believe in the public-private distinction and I will uphold it. I won’t insist that you adopt my values and I will respect yours. (In short, I’m a liberal.)

A candidate who didn’t say something like that but instead announced a determination to reshape public institutions in accordance with the dictates of his or her faith would be seen as too closely resembling the Islamic fundamentalists who, we are told again and again, are our sworn enemies.

Fish's comment is dead on if we're talking about Democrats. Watch Clinton or Obama or Edwards some time; they say something that is remarkably similar to what Fish suggests is the only possible course of action.

However, that's where the similarity ends and where I think Fish's head is in the sand. There's a huge fight going on within the Republican Party right now over this very issue. The Christian Right, especially its most militant and active members, wants a candidate who will "reshape public institutions in accordance with the dictates of his or her faith." That's exactly what is wanted, actually. All the stuff about restricting or outlawing things like abortion and birth control, outlawing gay marriage before it's ever legal, etc. - those are all social practices that a vocal minority want to force everyone to follow. Yes, such a move would certainly undermine Fish's carefully constructed liberalism. No, I don't think said Christian Fundamentalists would care. And no, I don't think Fish - or very many other Establishment folks, be they politicians or academics or pundits - really understand the depth of this particular conflict. And yes, there could be - and have been - serious and seriously negative consequences already.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Redefining Rant

On the Internet, I think rants are indicated by a complete lack of paragraph breaks.

By that standard, the brand-new blog Lebanons for Truth and Reconciliation just posted a doozy:

Some adults conned student athletes to show up at the June school board meeting to demand that the school district hire both of Tomlin's sons to teaching positions. Rob Allen followed the students with a plea for hiring the Tomlin boys. But do you think it is unreasonable to ask that the Tomlins actually APPLY for a teaching job. If they wanted teaching jobs, why didn't they show up to any of Lebanon's recruiting fairs? It is questionable whether Ty ever even filed out an application.Robinson was informed by the district's legal counsel that he had an obligation to turn in Yates for his wrongdoing or Robinson could have his own license revoked.So he turned him in. What would you do?

There's a lot more where that came from. Check it out.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.