"What are U wearing?" -- Congressional IM shorthand, via WhiteHouse.org

As usual, the liberal media has it all wrong. The new online world is a very different place, and congresscritters have adapted with startling speed, developing a lexicon of shorthand to make communications more secure. What could be better than a code that looks like instant-message sex?

Those inspired truth-seekers at WhiteHouse.org dug up a compendium of these congressional text-message translations -- you'll see just how hard our representatives were working when you thought they were just jacking off.

Message: "How often do U work out?"
Translation: If there is a last minute vote, please contact me via my pager as I may be out of cell phone range.

From the really, really NSFW memo on common Congressional terminology.

Also, if you are into merch, check out their new Foley gear. (Thanks, Ka!)

Co-sleep fearmongering by Southcoast Hospitals and Bristol DA

An unsolicited newsletter from the Southcoast Hospital group showed up yesterday, with the startling headling: "The Dangers of Sharing a Bed with Your Baby." Co-sponsored by the Bristol county DA´s office (and yes, he's running for re-election...) Southcoast sees its mission to prevent tragedy and "educate people about the dangers of bed sharing."

Now I've followed the literature on this, and while there are clearly risks associated with co-present factors and SIDS (adult bedding materials, siblings in bed, overheating, etc.), I'd like to hear Southcoast and the DA explain the nature of the specific risk associated with the practice itself.

Even the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (which Southcoast links to) merely makes safety suggestions in their NICH bed-sharing FAQ.

So where's the fear coming from? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (which presumably wants to forestall any action against bedding manufacturers) and Southcoast (which clearly wants to be on the record as warning people.) Why the hell the Bristol DA is sticking his nose into a medical, family issue is beyond me.

None of want kids to get hurt. But SIDS kills 2,000 babies a year; let's attack the root cause (is there anyone who doesn't practice Back To Sleep yet?) and not some peripheral factor which would end up putting more kids farther from their parents.

For more balanced recommendations, try KidsHealth.org or the CDC (which, although recommending separate sleeping, provides sensible guidelines for parents who co-sleep.)

(Thanks, Julie, for catching my typos!)

WaPo goes deep on Reading First: "This program bashing is best done..under the...radar."

Nice reporting on the widening troubles at the Department of Ed, where their "Reading First" program looks more and more like "campaign donors first," in a billion-dollar boondoggle contravening the stated aim of the program to base itself on scientific research.

Via the Washington Post
"In fact, the vast majority of the 4,800 Reading First schools have now adopted one of the five or six top-selling commercial textbooks, even though none of them has been evaluated in a peer-reviewed study against a control group. Most of the schools also use the same assessment program, the same instructional model, and one of three training programs developed by Reading First insiders -- with little research backing."

The (now resigned) program director, Chris Doherty, crows about strong-arming states into using his pet materials. "This program bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens."

Yeah, now that's just the kind of openness and concern for children that the Bush administration brought to Washington.

My frightening-writerly 6-year-old

Jack and I were playing that I was his household robot, and like most media sf scenarios, I went into "tickle" mode and couldn't be stopped. "I pressed your off switch," he yelled.

"Negative," I replied in my robot voice. "I cannot be shut off. I am using my secret power supply, an energy crystal that fell to earth, presumably in a meteorite."

"Dad," Jack said scornfully, "We got rid of that energy crystal in the middle of season three."

"All right, Warden, let's give them what they want." Last words of the doomed.

This one comes around the horn: BoingBoing blogged a Guardian (U.K.) review of Texas Death Row last statements.

Spent this morning reading through them, and the accompanying profiles and crime details, all on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice site. It is both gutwrenchingly sad and utterly chilling. There is clearly no doubt about guilt in some of these cases, and the crimes are hideous. But to be the State, to stand there and execute a human being?

And one point which the Guardian story makes minor mention of – the level of education. I didn't check all 376, but a random sample would put the average offender at probably a mid-to-late high school education. The one standout who had two years of community college cooked up a murder-for-hire scheme that would only have worked on some '50s crime drama.

But it certainly is simpler to execute folks than teach them. At least for Texas.

"Longer too, and with a higher net worth"

The grim reality of Rhode Island Senate politics, via savage, NSFW parody site WhiteHouse.org.

Thanks, Ka.

Bush's Reading First director: "beat the shit out of...these dirtbags"

''They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,'' the program director wrote, the report says. -- AP, via the NY Times

So said Chris Doherty, in an e-mail describing vendors of reading curricula he didn't like. A report from the DoE Inspector General, released today, seems to show that there was at the very least, some bending of the rules, winks and nods at conflicts of interest, and a heavy-handed favoritism in doling out billions in grant money in the Reading First program.

The Education Secretary was right on top of it, according to her AP interview: ''When something undermines the credibility of this department, or the standing of any program, I'm going to spring into action.''

When something undermines it in a way that shows up in the media, yeah, sure, of course. But, clearly, not before.

Once again, the folks at the top, reading "My Pet Goat," it seems, forever.

All politics is local -- and so are harassing phone calls

"Are you running for something?" I smiled even as I answered, "Gosh, no." Before the call was over, I was reamed for being "scurrilous" and "stupid." Then, the caller flung the ultimate New England insult: "How long have you lived in this town?" Ouch.

Yeah, it was about my previous entry, a pointed comparison between the Bath Schoolhouse Massacre and the PCC's attack on education in Portsmouth. In addition to posting it here, a shorter version appeared in last week's Newport Daily News, and this week's Sakonnet Times. That's where this guy must have read the piece, since it hit the stands today.

I didn't even know they ran the dumb thing until I got a call earlier this afternoon complimenting me. That turned out to be a charming, intelligent person -- who had also written a letter to the editor recently that I thought quite well done -- and we had a fun, civilized chat. (Thank you!)

Tonight, at 8:30, there was this anonymous voice on the phone. "You don't know what it's like to be retired and pay these taxes." I tried to explain that, in fact, I did, since I'd been paying taxes on this house for my mom until she died. "But this is the first year you've paid taxes." Hmm. "How do you know that," I asked, but the cloak of mystery descended: "I know everything," he said.

Know all, tell nothing. Wouldn't say who he was. I tried all the tricks I use in corporate comms: empathy, common ground, looking for win-wins. He did tell me his name was "Harry." And that his property was now valued at 900K, up from 100K when he bought it. And I said, yeah, I can understand why you'd be upset paying taxes on that. But no, no common ground to be had. He hung up on me.

Karen shrugged: "It just proves the point you made." Yeah, I guess so. And while it's appropriate to be called on to defend your ideas, it speaks to the character of the PCC's supporters that they call people up, anonymously, while they're trying to put their kids in bed and harass them.

Truth to tell, it did kind of tickle me. I mean, heck, I've been a pro writer for ten years now -- a Sturgeon Award, shortlisted for the Sidewise, preliminary ballot for the Nebula -- sob -- nobody ever called to tell me I was...stupid...

BTW, "Harry" & co: If you're googling -- Verizon has your number. Don't fuck with me.

Education under attack in Portsmouth

America’s first suicide car bomber wasn’t fighting capitalism, globalization, or even MTV. He blew himself up over property taxes for education.

In the worst act of domestic terrorism prior to Oklahoma City, on May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, a disgruntled school board treasurer, wired up the Bath, Michigan consolidated school with half a ton of dynamite and destroyed a building full of students. Then he drove his car, packed with explosives and shrapnel, into the middle of rescue workers and blew himself up. All told, 38 children and 5 rescuers were killed and dozens more injured.

He was upset because his tax rate was too high, you see.

And although he had tried to do things the right way first – join the school board, run for town office – the sad truth was that not enough people agreed with him. So he resolved to cut his taxes by any means necessary.

On August 19, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, a bare quorum of 1,284 voters (in a town with a population of nearly 20,000) used a Financial Town Meeting to reduce their property taxes by cutting $1.1 million from the school budget. They based the size of this cut not on any analysis of line items, but rather on the tax rate they sought.

The self-styled tax rebels of the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) showed no mercy that morning, refusing every compromise proposed by Save Our Schools (SOS) supporters. Despite differences of less than 100 votes for more reasonable cuts, the PCC saw no evenly divided group and no opportunity for common ground. In a last ditch effort, SOS walked out of the meeting, but failed to break the quorum. Flush with their success, the PCC followers went on to slash an additional 632K from the Town budget, just for good measure.

Their tax rates were too high, you see.

Now, please don’t think I’m just labeling those with whom I disagree “terrorists.” I leave that rhetorical move to the folks who invented “No Child Left Behind” and other unfunded mandates. But I am calling attention to a fundamental “un-sanity” (to quote the late education theorist Neil Postman) in this pair of extremist actions.

In an illuminating letter to the editor in last week’s local paper, the Sakonnet Times, one PCC apologist stated their position succinctly: “I think I have paid my fair share for the past 15 years by not having children in the schools. Did anyone take a survey on how many property owners have no children in the schools?”

Indeed. Should we also take surveys on how many people had no house fires? Or who required no visits from the police department? For all the rhetoric about reining in teacher contracts and protecting seniors on a fixed income, this was just, at base, an attack on public education as an institution.

Neither Andrew Kehoe nor the PCC appear to grasp the basics of the social contract. We fund schools not because we have children in the system, but rather because an educated electorate is essential to democracy. And any rational member of the electorate would agree we should determine funding not by slashing blindly aiming for an arbitrary tax rate, but rather through a reasoned cost-benefit analysis.

Just such a process took place. The duly elected school committee drafted a budget. The Portsmouth Town Council had already worked with the committee to cut $1.2 million before the PCC intervened. Another 1.1 million reduction is not a return to “reasonable territory,” as the PCC claims. The finance subcommittee struggled unsuccessfully at their meeting last week to identify nickel-and-dime reductions, and all the cuts discussed would have direct impact on students.

I believe that the true majority of Portsmouth supports both education and the democratic process. There is real common ground here; we all want fair taxes. But high property tax rates are only a symptom – we need to approach this at the appropriate level, state and federal governments which persist in an antiquated system of education funding. If Idaho can do it, why not Rhode Island?

I also believe the true majority of Portsmouth is more interested in preserving our schools than saving a hundred bucks or so on taxes. I have already donated my “rebate” to Portsmouth United for Education and hope anyone reading this letter might do the same. Not everyone could make it to the tent meeting, but we can still send the PCC a powerful message.

For the sake of Portsmouth’s children – and America’s first democracy – let us not allow a disgruntled minority who could not accomplish their goals through representative government succeed in their attack on our schools.

Rest in peace, Prid E. Vicious

preddie_jan05Our wonderful cat, Preddie, died today after a long battle with chronic kidney failure. He had just reached his 18th birthday, and had been with us since the year after Karen and I were married.

jack_preddie_smHe had always been a wonderful kitty with Jack, who grew up with the big cat.

jack_preddie_073106He survived FIP, radiation therapy for two bouts of thyroid hypertrophy, and lived for a year with progressive kidney failure. Over the last weekend, he seemed to just get tired of the subcutaneous fluids, and the progressive muscle weakness, and we knew that it was time to let him go.

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