RIDE rules sword pic OK for yearbook

It's over. ACLU & free speech win. Read the excellent coverage over at Newport9.

PCC can't intervene; can file amicus brief

According to today's ProJo, the initial Caruolo hearing yesterday resulted in a rebuff to Portsmouth Concerned Citizens, Inc. The judge denied their motion to join the suit, but he did allow them to file a "friend of the court" brief to be sure that all taxpayers' opinions are fairly represented.

Also reported was the PCC's pre-hearing brief, which said, in part:

In written arguments filed by Wigand and Kyle prior to yesterday’s hearing, the citizens’ group said it suspects the School Committee of filing the lawsuit as a means of “subterfuge” to “override the results of the special Financial Town Meeting and increase its baseline budget for future years.” – via Projo

So this has nothing to do with the acknowledged fact that the Tent Meeting underfunded the schools. It's subterfuge. I see.

No outcome yet from tonight's TC/SC meeting

Swamped by my day job this week, so just a brief update on tonight's Portsmouth Town Council/School Committee meeting: No decision on any Caruolo compromise as of the time they went into executive session about 9:30.

The Council spent a good amount of time exploring the issues, getting legal input both from Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin, and also School Committee attorney Stephen Robinson, who was on hand. There were questions about the "Basic Educational Program," or BEP, and whether the town could cut things above that. (While technically possible, not if it violated existing contracts.)

Dr. Lusi had some updated numbers from December, which, with added Medicaid revenue on the plus and higher SPED costs on the minus, might have changed the bottom line number by what sounded like 90K, before adding in the costs of the program audit. So there was no real wiggle room, which frustrated some on the council.

"Can there be a number between 770 and zero that the school committee could live with?" Asked Council President Canario. "We wanted to do this in an open workshop. We were hoping the school committee would come up with a number." Dr. Lusi replied that the school committee had already made two rounds of cuts -- the first cuts by the council in June, of 1m, and then the Tent Meeting cuts of 1.1 of which, she pointed out, B&E had determined that only about 300K could be made without violating law, regulation, and contract, so that's where the number came from.

It sounded like there were at least three votes for a middle path. James Seveney tried to be reasonable: "Let's not scare people. This is going to happen. There's going to be a supplemental tax bill. We're unbalanced right now and we need to make it right for this year. The schools need the money -- I don't want to give a dime of it to anybody else."

Len Katzman took a similar tack: "I'm not a financial expert. Say it's 770, or whatever, if B&E isn't lying, it's not zero. To save 200k [the estimated legal fees for a full Caruolo action] we can accept the 770 number, because that's where we may end up."

And William West added a note of caution. "If we go to litigation, and the judge rules for the school, the money's gone. That's it. I don't think we're being less prudent by saying we need a stipulated agreement."

If anything comes out of open session, we we won't hear about it tomorrow anyway -- the reporters from both the Sakonnet Times and Newport Daily News left before I did. (I stuck around to hear Karen Gleason poke interminably at the language of the RFP for the Performance audit of the School Department. "If I'm getting too picky, let me know." Dave Faucher, the Finance Director, raised his hand...

ADDENDUM: I sent this to the Town Council via email earlier today.

Mr. President and members of the Town Council:
I heard last night that public comment will not be allowed in tonight's discussion of the Caruolo action, and wanted to take an opportunity to share some thoughts. My apologies to Ms. Gleason and Mr. Little, who do not have e-mail addresses listed.

It is said that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. I urge the council not to dig our town in deeper and negotiate a stipulated agreement.

We are indeed in a hole. The school year is half over, and instead of being able to focus on the economic realities facing the Town under the tax caps next year, we are bogged down in rehashing last year's budget. Personally, I live in Island Park, and would like to see the Council's time freed to focus on wastewater and sewerage questions.

You have an opportunity to stop the digging now. While I'm not a lawyer, my personal experience with legal proceedings leads me to believe that to contest the School Department's claim effectively, you are going to need to dispute the facts presented in their complaint, chief of which, one would assume, is the budget deficit determined by B&E.

To convince the judge their number is wrong, you would need evidence, such as another audit, at a cost of tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars. In addition, if you choose to proceed in an adversarial fashion, you would, perversely, pay the costs of litigation on both sides, which ultimately comes out of taxpayers's pockets.

I respectfully suggest that the Council consider carefully the wisdom of this course of action, and I urge the council not to dig our town in deeper.

And, lest there be concern about the necessity of such an agreement, let me point out that even the PCC admits that there is a significant deficit.

At the November 28 School Committee meeting, immediately before the vote by the committee to pursue a Caruolo Action, PCC president Larry Fitzmorris addressed the committee, arguing that such an action would be an attempt to subvert the decision of the people at the Town Meeting.

I call attention to another thing he said in that public statement. In talking about the size of the current deficit, he said it was, quote, "770 thousand -- which I think is more like half a million." [I was at the meeting, have watched it twice on Cox, and this is as good a transcription as I can make, but it may not be completely accurate]

But note that he did not say, "770 thousand -- which I think is more like zero." Mr. Fitzmorris and the PCC are therefore on the record as accepting that there exists a deficit on the order of half a million dollars.

I think the Town Council can do no less. If even the PCC believes that there is a deficit of this magnitude, then it seems that the Town Council should feel free to enter into a stipulated agreement.

I know these are difficult times and difficult decisions, and I thank you for your consideration, and for all the work you've been doing.

Kind Regards.

Renovations complete...

If you're reading this in RSS, please do click through to take a peek the new look here at hard deadlines. Drupal, the awesome content management system that drives the site, just issued a release candidate for their next version, and since they're confident enough to run their site with it, I guess I can roll those dice.

You should notice snappier performance on many static pages, and, of course, there's a very spiffy new skin. Comments most welcome (one of the new features is a site-wide "contact" link that you'll find in the left-hand nav.)

Visit Drupal.org for more info.

Rehnquist on the bench with diamonds...

"Hunter S." Rehnquist According to an AP report on CNN, former Chief Justice William Rehnquist spent the Seventies on a powerful painkiller called Placidyl, finally going cold turkey during a 1981 hospital stay:

"Prior to his hospitalization, Rehnquist occasionally slurred his speech in his questions to lawyers at Supreme Court arguments. Those problems ceased when he changed medications, the doctor said." — via CNN

While hospitalized, a report from the FBI says, he hallucinated patterns on the hospital curtains and tried to escape in his pajamas, thinking that people in the hallway were plotting against him.

Ah, yes, a hallucinating Justice. The Seventies were a much simpler time.

Hat tip to Shakespeare's Sister for pointing out the family resemblance.

E-voting machine test lab loses certification

According to a NYTimes report, the federal Election Assistance Commission decertified Coloroado-based Ciber, one of the main electronic voting machine test labs, last summer, but only just got around to telling people.

Experts say the deficiencies of the laboratory suggest that crucial features like the vote-counting software and security against hacking may not have been thoroughly tested on many machines now in use.

“What’s scary is that we’ve been using systems in elections that Ciber had certified, and this calls into question those systems that they tested,” said Aviel D. Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins. — via the New York Times

Rubin quite logically suggests that a better testing method would be to hire teams of hackers. (Me, I'd like to see EFF hackers with a civil-rights focus and a case of Jolt cola have at these puppies.) Right now, there's an odd relationship between manufacturers and testers that makes me queasy. If we're voting on these things, all tests should be conducted to strict, public standards and the results should be completely transparent. And, it goes without saying, we need a paper trail.

RIDOE hearing on PHS swordsman: ProJo

As reported in today's ProJo, a closed-door session yesterday heard testimony from Patrick Agin and Portsmouth High representatives. Legal briefs due Friday, decision by education commissioner Peter McWalters urged by Jan 19.

U.S. District Judge William Smith, after a conference in chambers last month, issued an order that said the ACLU agreed to file an administrative appeal with McWalters “so as to not involve unnecessarily the federal judiciary in this dispute.”

But Smith will ultimately decide the case. He asked the lawyers involved, Stephen Robinson for the Portsmouth School Committee and Thomas Connolly for the ACLU, to report to him on the status of the administrative appeal by Friday and has urged McWalters to make a decision by Jan. 19 to help move the case forward. — via Providence Journal

Truth in PHS mire hard to come by; there really *was* a deadline

I should know better than to believe completely in anything that appears in print. In a previous post I referenced a Newport Daily News article that insinuated that Portsmouth HS Principal Littlefield's deadline for the yearbook might have been exaggerated.

One of my faithful readers, who has personal knowledge, tells me that, in fact, the senior pictures section did indeed go off to the printer on the date Littlefield mentioned, minus the page with Agin's broadsword picture. Yes, the drop-dead for the rest of the book is February, so there is some wiggle room, but the bottom line is that the principal did not lie.

I stand corrected. We may disagree with Littlefield's judgement, but it appears he was telling the truth.

As someone who's worked with printers, this doesn't surprise me. You can usually change anything right up to the time you're on press (with, however, price increasing inverse to time remaining.) Didn't get any info on whether there's going to be additional costs associated with delaying this page.

Hat tip to my unnamed source. Many thanks.

2007, 3000. And, you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?

By now, we have probably lost our first soldier on the way to our next grim milestone, and we seem to have no way out. We are in that late phase of a failing project software developers call the "Death March," when all vision has been narrowed to a single point, all perspective on the process lost, and people work incessantly, grimly, patching leaks as the ship sinks, trying desperately to get something, anything out the door. In such "single vision and Newton's sleep" there is rarely victory, and always a terrible price. And not just in a suboptimal release or a failed state, but in other tasks left undone, other creative options that were never explored.

In an opinion piece in today's Washington Post, former counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke talks about the hidden costs of the Iraq War: a Presidency and Administration focused obsessively on Iraq, rather than attacking the full range of serious global issues that have been put on hold (global warming, the deteriorating political situation in Russia, war in Africa, resurgent narcotics trade in Afghanistan, and more).

As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing -- problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens. — via the Washington Post

War is news, and the military-entertainment complex understands the magician's force. Look over here; pay no attention to what my assistant is doing to those detainees. Yes, the blogosphere has goaded mainstream media into reluctantly dealing with some issues, but those in power are still happy to play the percentages. And as much as I genuinely enjoy Jon Stewart, it is not without a certain irony that he represents the culminant moment of Chayefsky's masterpiece, "Network." What sounded like madness in 1975 (a news division being handled like other programming? preposterous!) now seems completely normal -- in fact necessary -- in a world with no attention span and a handful of multinationals running the public airwaves and newspapers.

Joseph Palermo, in HuffPo, urges the incoming Democratic Congress to take steps to re-balance the American media landscape, which has drifted into dangerous territory, unmoored from the Fairness Doctrine and increasingly vested in the hands of media conglomerates bent not so much on a particular ideology as they are on, well, making money. Which means delivering eyeballs to advertisers. Which means reducing all discourse to sound bites, all complexity to affable infographics.

"Twenty years ago, in "Amusing Ourselves to Death," Neil Postman wrote: "We are presented not only with fragmented news but news without context, without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news as pure entertainment." Fox News anchor Brit Hume pretends to be a journalist instead of a Republican mouthpiece; Tony Snow pretends to answer questions the members of the supine White House press corps pretend to ask him. President Bush pretends to know and care about what he is doing. "Politics is just like show business," Ronald Reagan said in 1966." — via HuffintonPost

Palermo's suggestions are good first steps, but we would do well to remember what Postman concluded: that the real hope for slipping the noose of electronic media was "to rely on the only mass medium of communication that, in theory, is capable of addressing the problem: our schools." Education, as the last outpost of the printed word that created America, is our best hope for re-igniting the critical habits of mind that could jump us out of the death march and confront the complex world we face.

"It is an acknowledged task of the schools to assist the young in learning how to interpret the symbols of their culture. That this task should now require that they learn how to distance themselves from their forms of information is not so bizarre an enterprise that we cannot hope for its inclusion in the curriculum...we are in a race between education and disaster." — Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.163

Happy New Year.

Kathryn Cramer's Republican Novena

Cramer's wicked take on MSM's faux beatification of the Pardoner:

   St. Gerald, worker of miracles, pray for us.

   St. Gerald, helper of the hopeless, pray for us.

Say this prayer 9X a day, by the 8th day your prayer will be answered. You will not be indicted & will be spared the embarrassment of a public trial, provided you are a Republican. It has never been known to fail. Publication must be promised. Send your $4.00 publication fee to PO Box 78, Pleasantville, NY 10570.]

— Via kathryncramer.com

Check out her photoshopped Ford ikon, quite tasty. In all the hand-wringing and "context" over the last few days, the disgusting fact remains that Ford's pardon allowed one of the worst criminals in American politics to escape punishment, an act that, as Shakespeare's Sister pointed out, set the stage for future Presidents to feel above the law. Run guns to the Contras, mine Nicaraguan harbors, make shit up to justify a bogus war. The hits just keep coming. Thanks, Saint Gerald.

Oh, and you did a good job on the Warren Report, too. Your edit made things much clearer.