John McDaid's blog

Why people leave town: thoughts on the Hugo nominations

A genuinely hilarious video (although perhaps not for the reasons intended), attributed to Vox Day.

I live in a small town, and have spent the last ten years or so involved in small town politics. I've learned a few lessons, some the hard way. Science fiction is a small town, and in this year's Hugo nominations — the awards voted on by members of World Science Fiction Convention — I'm seeing unfortunate echoes of the way local politics can be gamed and hijacked by a small but determined group.

You may need some context; if so, you can take a peek at these posts by The Slate, Mary Robinette Kowal, N.K. Jemisin, File 770, and George R. R. Martin.

Back in the oughts, my town of Portsmouth became one of the first battlegrounds for the anti-tax crowd in Rhode Island; proto-Tea Partiers before there was such a thing. In 2006, the local "Concerned Citizens" group managed to use a procedural technique — a referendum on the local budget colloquially referred to as a "tent meeting" — to slash the budget for Portsmouth's schools and town in what was the index year for all subsequent tax levy increases. By rallying ten percent of the town's electorate, they were able to override budgets crafted by the duly elected School Committee and Town Council.

In local politics, you learn that angry people show up to vote. And it's far easier to drum up an angry mob than to communicate nuanced positions on issues.

Folks in a small town expect local government to handle things without a lot of drama. They vote for people on the Council and School Committee without necessarily a whole lot of thought about party affiliation; it's not like national politics. You may know this gal from church, or that guy coached your kid's Little League team. There's a general sense that the people running for office all have the town's best interests at heart — I mean, they're stepping up to do a several-year stint for very little pay. That assumption of good will works to an attacker's advantage.

Local elections can be swung by a few hundred votes. If you can get a core group of even 50 people riled up about an issue — in local politics, taxes are always handy (as are sewers and arsenic) and each of them reaches out to their network, you've got enough votes to change the leadership of a Council or School Committee. Not that those people, once elected, will necessarily show a lot of interest in post-partisan governance (or even, in some cases, serving out their term). They are more interested in advancing an agenda, and they will take hold of the levers of local control for a couple of years and run things into the ditch. (I say this, admittedly, as a one-time candidate for school committee who got my ass handed to me by a couple of the darlings of the anti-tax faction, so, obviously, I am biased.)

The parallels to science fiction fandom should hopefully be obvious. Worldcon is effectively a small town, albeit a temporary and peripatetic one, as it re-creates itself in a new host city every year. The same attacker's advantages accrue in voting for the convention's awards. The total number of ballots cast for Hugo nominations this year, 2,122, is the kind of number you see in a small town election. That's the kind of number you can swing with the torch-and-pitchfork crowd. Get a few hundred folks riled up about an issue — and it can be as illusory as arsenic in a landfill — and they wield an influence all out of proportion to their actual numbers, because the people of good will may not even be aware of their activities and the strength of the majority is diluted.

These are the kinds of things that can make people throw up their hands and figuratively leave town by abandoning local politics. Some people — even those who are well-intentioned — see a false equivalence and blame "both" sides.

It doesn't have to be that way.

The cynics (λυπημένος κυνικός) may win in the short term. They have absolutely scored a major victory, both in the composition of the Hugo nominations and the amount of ink and angst generated over their actions. But they underestimate the true power of small-town politics: regression to the mean. There are many more citizens than cynics, and their votes can not be gamed. The collective notion of the genre has been moving, inexorably, in the direction of more progressive, inclusive science fiction. Those of us who share that vision need to speak out, generate recognition among the majority of people of good will, and show up at the polls. That's how you overcome reactionary extremists. That's how you turn things around in local politics.

In case you're so inclined, you can get a supporting membership to Worldcon here and vote on the Hugos.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, sf, worldcon, hugos

Portsmouth to be featured on RIPBS "Our Town" – and YOU can help

15mar31_ourtown.pngPortsmouth has been selected as one of three Rhode Island towns to be featured in a RIPBS "day-in-the-life" tv program called "Our Town," and they are looking for local videographers and storytellers to capture the unique flavor of our community. From the web site:

Our Town features the local legends, historical happenings, and backyard secrets that our Rhode Island towns and villages have to offer - those untold or uncelebrated stories that capture the essence of the town. Rhode Island PBS does not choose the stories - you do!

You can be a part of the Our Town story by collecting video and being one of the storytellers. Help document the people, places, and happenings in your community. No experience is necessary, just enthusiasm!

Town residents are especially urged to participate - you know all those great stories! But because Our Town is all about sharing, you do not have to live in the town if you have a great story to tell or would like to help record great town stories.

If you're interested in participating, there will be a planning meeting on Monday, April 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Portsmouth Library. Hope to see you there!

Read more

Nice town, y'know what I mean?

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, RIPBS, OurTown

PHS at top of Rhode Island graduation rate

The Rhode Island Dept. of Education released data on 2014 graduation rates last Friday, and Portsmouth High School came at 97%, tied with Classical High School in Providence for highest in the state, sixteen points above the statewide average.

According to a press release from RIDE, the 2014 Rhode Island graduation rate rose to 81%, a 1-point improvement over the previous year and a 5.5-point improvement since 2009. The dropout rate declined to 8%, a 1-point improvement over the previous year and a 6-point improvement since 2009.

“Our high-school students, teachers, and leaders deserve high marks for their tremendous efforts in raising our graduation rate,” said Governor Gina Raimondo in remarks distributed by RIDE. “As we make creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders a priority, we must continue this momentum to make sure our kids build the skills they need to compete in a 21st-century economy. Earning a high-school diploma is one important component to making our state stronger for everyone.”

In a note sent to PHS parents this afternoon, PHS principal Bob Littlefield said,

"We are extremely proud of this success because it is recognition of a great deal of hard work on the part of our students, teachers, and families. And this came for the Class of 2014 -- the class that not only had to pass all its courses and complete Senior Project but was required to demonstrate proficiency in reading and math on NECAP tests.

A great deal of credit goes to our counseling staff who refuses to give up on students and is relentless in getting students together with teachers in order to make positive progress toward graduation requirements.

I also want to recognize our teaching staff for their eternal optimism about individual student success. We don't give up on students and we don't allow them to give up on themselves.

Several high schools attained 4-year graduation rates of 95 percent or higher in 2014, including the Block Island School, Classical High School (Providence), Cranston High School West, and East Greenwich High School in addition to PHS.

Several high schools improved their 4-year graduation by more than 5 percentage points over the past year, including East Providence High School, the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction & Career Academy, Tiverton High School, Toll Gate High School (Warwick), West Warwick Senior High School, and William E. Tolman Senior High School (Pawtucket).

National information on the 2014 graduation rates is not yet available. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released data on the 2013 graduation rates. Rhode Island, with a 2013 graduation rate of 80 percent, was 1 point below the national average and tied for 29th among all states. The Rhode Island graduation rate improved by 3 percentage points over the two-year span of the report, better than the 2-point improvement for the country as a whole.

A report on the 2014 Rhode Island graduation and dropout rates is posted on the RIDE website, at: http://www.ride.ri.gov/InformationAccountability/Accountability.aspx

Editorial note: Written from press release and e-mail material.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, Schools

Aquidneck Land trust conserves 72-acre Portsmouth parcel

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 3.03.14 PM.pngOn Friday, January 30, 2015, the much anticipated closing occurred between Aquidneck Land Trust ("ALT") and St. Mary's Church on the conservation of 72.18 acres of land in Portsmouth, RI. The conservation of this property began in 2011 when ALT, St. Mary's and its related entity the Sarah Gibbs Trust entered into a binding, contractual agreement to conserve the land in perpetuity. ALT was able to raise the funds needed in the first year of the option term, but was substantially delayed in receiving its largest grant for the project from the United States Department of Agiculture/Natural Resources Conservation Services ("NRCS"). With all the details finally worked out, both parties were elated to close on this property, ALT said in a release today.

"This project has been one full of dedication from a truly amazing and committed group of individuals," Chuck Allott, ALT's Executive Director, said in remarks distributed to the press. "We would not have been able to accomplish this closing without our important financial stakeholders, as well as all those who dedicated their time to the conservation of this parcel. The Church and the Sarah Gibbs Trust were amazing partners as we fought our way through the bureaucratic red tape of the federal funding agency for over a year and a half. In addition RIDEM and local NRCS staff ultimately found the way through to get the deal done. Aquidneck Island received a wonderful gift today, and to all those who helped us make this possible, we are forever grateful".

Jennifer Pedrick, the rector of St. Mary's, said, "The experience of working with Chuck Allott and The Aquidneck Land Trust on this deal demonstrated to us the deep commitment and perseverance of this organization. We are delighted to begin a new chapter in partnership with the Aquidneck Land Trust, our closest neighbor. St. Mary's and I look forward to supporting the great mission and work of the ALT. Congratulations!”.

With the generous contributions ALT raised enough in grant awards and cash from 3 governmental entities, 6 foundations, and 40 individuals to cover the entire project costs of $3,068,569.63. A number of parties made significant leadership contributions including NRCS, the State of Rhode Island/Department of Environmental Management, the Town of Portsmouth, the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, the Prince Charitable Trusts, the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust, The Nature Conservancy through a grant from The Champlin Foundations, and The Rhode Island Agriculture Lands Preservation Commission.

The 72-acre St. Mary's Church and Sarah Gibbs Trust conservation areas are strategic from a conservation perspective. Pursuant to the Town of Portsmouth's 2002 Local Recreation, Conservation and Open Space Plan, the subject land is located within a Town designated Open Space and Active Agriculture Area, Resource Protection Overlay District Area, and Greenways Plan Area. The St. Mary's Church land is located next to a number of previously conserved parcels within ALT's Center Island Greenway thereby building upon and enhancing this past conservation work. The land also falls within the St. Mary's Pond Watershed, directly abutting the St. Mary's Pond Reservoir area with over 1,000 feet of frontage on the reservoir property. The St. Mary's Church land therefore acts as a natural buffer to this important island water reservoir from stormwater and nutrient runoff. The 2000 study Critical Parcel Identification for Watershed Protection in Newport County, Rhode Island, done by the Aquidneck Island Partnership, recognized the subject St. Mary's land as critical to protect from a watershed protection perspective. ALT's 2011 mapping and prioritization study of all the remaining and threatened open space parcels within Aquidneck Island's seven primary watersheds also identified the St. Mary's Church land as a high priority for protection. The woods, fields, and wetlands of the land provide diverse wildlife habitats that support various endangered species such as the Glossy Ibis. This land, which has almost 1,000 feet of frontage on East Main Road, is also an iconic property that provides joy to numerous passersby everyday with its spectacular scenic vistas. Furthermore, the fields of the proposed conservation area consist of mostly Prime Farmland Soils as recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture making the property an important agricultural resource.

ALT's time-sensitive mission is to conserve Aquidneck Island's open spaces and natural character for the lasting benefit of our community. With today’s closing, the organization has conserved 2519.49 acres on 73 properties across Aquidneck Island since its founding in 1990. ALT is a 501©(3) non-profit organization, and the first land trust in Rhode Island to have received national accreditation.
For more information, visit www.AquidneckLandTrust.org

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, ALT

Portsmouth Water to begin clearing hydrants; you can help

The Portsmouth Water and Fire District's operations staff and its contractors will begin clearing snow around the District's 570 fire hydrants on Wednesday morning. Residents can help expedite this process by clearing the snow around any fire hydrants near their house. Hydrants should be cleared so that the Portsmouth Fire Department can easily see and access the hydrants for fire fighting. The public's assistance in this effort will be greatly appreciated by the Portsmouth Water and Fire District and the Portsmouth Fire Department.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, pwfd

Gov. Raimondo reminds Rhode Islanders to prepare for severe weather

Governor Gina Raimondo today released the following statement reminding Rhode Islanders to prepare for severe winter weather.

"The National Weather Service has issued a Blizzard Warning for all of Rhode Island for Monday night through Wednesday morning. We are hard at work tracking the path of the storm, positioning our assets, and preparing to respond. I will remain in regular communication with all of the appropriate agencies, as well as with our municipal and federal partners. Rhode Island will be as ready as possible, but make no mistake: this could be a very severe and dangerous weather event. We will continue to keep you updated before, during, and after the storm.

"I urge all Rhode Islanders to also take the steps necessary now, ahead of the storm, to be prepared. This includes making sure to have sufficient food, water, and fuel for the next few days. You can find more information on this below, and please continue to follow the news for new updates."

Important Information and Preparedness Tips
Everyone should have supplies for at least three days:

  • Some non-perishable food, bottled water
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • A portable radio in case of power outages
  • Freshly-stocked first-aid kit
  • Essential prescription medicines
  • Baby-care items
  • Extra blankets
  • A fire extinguisher
  • Sufficient heating fuel

Safety & Travel Preparedness:

  • Snow will be very heavy and wet in some areas. When shoveling, remember to take frequent breaks to avoid overexertion. Keep fire hydrants clear of snow.
  • Make sure that generators are operated away from the home and in a well ventilated area to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Plan long trips carefully, listening to the news/media for the latest weather forecasts and road conditions.
  • Make an emergency supply kit for your vehicle, in addition to the emergency supply kit for your home. Include a shovel, jumper cables, and a bag of sand
  • Travel during the day, and if possible, try to take someone along with you
  • Keep your gas tank full
  • Install good winter tires with adequate tread
  • Check your windshield wiper fluid
  • National Weather Service recommends that all boats should be in port by Noon on Monday.

Winter storm may cause isolated power outages. Remember: Do NOT call 911 to report a power outage. Contact National Grid at 1-800-465-1212.

Please monitor social media and the news media for continued updates:

  • Governor's Office
  • RIEMA
  • RIDOT
  • RISP
  • National Grid
  • National Weather Service

Announcement from Serve Rhode Island: Serve Rhode Island is seeking volunteers to help remove one to two feet of snow after the storm of blizzard conditions forecasted for Monday and Tuesday.
Volunteers will be needed after the storm through Thursday to help elderly and disabled residents with snow removal. Serve Rhode Island will coordinate requests from elderly and disabled residents and assign snow removal jobs as volunteers become available.

Volunteers can sign up online by going to Serve Rhode Island's website or clicking this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SRI_SAFE-D

Residents who are elderly or disabled and who need snow removal assistance should call Serve Rhode Island at 401-331-2298 beginning Monday morning at 9:00 AM. For all other needs, people should call United Way-2-1-1.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, RIEMA

Rep. Edwards crafts anti-surveillance, legislation review bills

edwards.jpgRep. Jay Edwards (D-70, Portsmouth) has submitted bills in the RI General Assembly that would prohibit unauthorized highway surveillance and create a committee to review and recommend laws for repeal, according to a state house release Friday.

Rep. Edwards bill (2015-H 5051) would prohibit surveillance on any public highway in Rhode Island unless specifically authorized by statute or court order. The bill would also provide for the confidentiality of information collected or stored.

“Rhode Island residents are entitled to their privacy,” Rep. Edwards said. “This measure would not stop our law enforcement officers from tracking down those who engage in criminal activity. It also does nothing to inhibit the state from operating toll booths. What it does is protect our citizens’ private information obtained through global positioning satellites, EZ-Passes and transponders, radio frequency identification devices and automated license plate recognition systems, from a public search. In a world where we have to worry about things like identity theft and hackers, it’s necessary to have these safeguards.”

All information collected through acceptable forms of surveillance under the law would not be subject to the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) without a court order. Employees of the state would be able to access this information for customer service, statistical, administrative, or legal purposes, as long as it is justified as necessary to performing their duties. Additionally, no information or data would be stored for more than five years unless a court orders otherwise.

Rep. Edwards’ bill (2015-H 5054) would create the Joint Committee of the Repealer, which would effectively compile suggestions for the repeal of statutes, regulations and executive orders received from citizens, businesses and government agencies.

“It’s time we have a committee that sits down, reads through some of these older statutes and makes recommendations to repeal rules that hold no relevance in 2015,” Representative Edwards said. “The joint committee would also target ‘business-unfriendly’ wording and redundant language in our books. We’re supposed to be doing everything we can to encourage economic growth. Well, it’s the little things that count sometimes and I think this is something that just needs to be done. There are a lot of arbitrary statutes and cumbersome regulations that need to go.”

The committee would consist of six members, three from the House and three from the Senate. Following a review of the suggestions, the committee would then make its recommendations to the General Assembly of laws to repeal or to the governor of executive orders to repeal.

Both bills were forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee; based on information on the General Assembly web site, both were heard on Tuesday, Jan 20, and are being held for further study.

Editorial note: Written substantially from a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, GA

"Broadway" benefit show at PHS on Feb. 7

broadway5_header.jpg

The Dr. Robert A. Davidson Charitable Fund presents

Broadway From Then 'Til Now 5

A Concert of Broadway Showtunes, old and new

All Proceeds to Benefit the Portsmouth Public Education Foundation, Looking Upwards, and other local causes.

Saturday February 7, 2015
7:00 PM
Portsmouth High School Auditorium
120 Education Lane
Portsmouth, RI

Tickets $20 Adults, $10 Children Under 10
Online Tickets/Donations at Broadway5.eventbrite.com or Call 401-683-2824

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, PPEF

New treatment plants fix Portsmouth water quality issue [update]

Portsmouth customers have already seen an improvement in water quality courtesy of new treatment plants, according to a news release from the Portsmouth Water and Fire District.

Quarterly water samples collected from February 2014 through November 2014 indicate that the Portsmouth Water and Fire District is in compliance with the state and federal regulations for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs). TTHM compliance is measured as a four-quarter, running annual average of four sample sites within a water distribution system and the EPA maximum level for TTHMs is 80.0 parts per billion. The TTHM four quarter, running annual average for the District’s most recent compliance period was 71.8 parts per billion.

In September of 2014, the District issued a news release and mailed a notice to customers indicating that it had exceeded the TTHM regulations. That excedance was based on the four-quarter running annual average of 89.2 parts per billion for the period of November 2013 through August 2014. The most recent quarterly testing in November 2014 resulted in a TTHM average for the quarter of 24.6 parts per billion, which brought the District’s four-quarter, running annual average into compliance.

William J. McGlinn, the General Manager and Chief Engineer for the District, indicated that construction of the new Lawton Valley Water Treatment Plant in Portsmouth and the renovation of the Station One Water Treatment Plant in Newport made an immediate difference in the TTHM levels for Portsmouth Water, Newport Water and the Navy – the three island water suppliers. The water treatment plants project was constructed by the City of Newport and both plants were put on-line in the second half of 2014. Due to the challenging water quality of the City of Newport’s nine reservoirs, Advanced Water Treatment processes have been incorporated into the two water treatment plants in order to assure compliance with drinking water standards, particularly the TTHM standards. The total project cost is $84 million, which is being funded for through the water rates of all water users on the island.

Update, 1/22/15 5:16pm: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect expansion of the acronym "TTHM." It stands for Total Trihalomethanes, rather than just "Trihalomethanes." This error was present in the press release from the Portsmouth Water and Fire District, and was pointed out by a reader. My apologies for letting this slip through.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, pwfd

Gallison reappointed House Finance Committee chair

15jan20_gallison.jpgPortsmouth Rep. Ray Gallison (D-69) has been reappointed as chair of the House Finance Committee by House Speaker Nick Mattiello, according to a state house news release distributed today.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to continue leading the Finance Committee. The work our members do is very complicated, intense, and often requires difficult decisions, but it also is an opportunity to ensure that we reflect our state’s values in the way we raise and allocate our funds," Gallison said in the release. "I’m proud to have a dedicated committee and staff who will work alongside me, and am looking forward to once again making sure our budget and the legislation we craft reflect our state’s goals and shared hopes for the future of Rhode Island.”

Representative Gallison was first appointed to the position in March 2014, when Speaker Mattiello was elected to his post. At the time, Rep. Gallison had been serving as co-vice chairman since 2010 and the committee was in the midst of deliberations on the 2015 budget bill. In a matter of 12 weeks, the committee completed its work on the $8.7 billion state budget, closing an unexpected $67 million gap, fully funding education aid, averting bridge tolls and tax increases, establishing a steady source for transportation funding, and promoting economic development while reducing the corporate tax rate and the inheritance tax.

The Finance Committee is considered the most influential of the House committees, since it is in charge of developing the state budget as well as other matters that have a financial impact on the state. It is also one of the busiest committees, meeting daily for much of the session.

Rep. Gallison was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000. He served on the committee from 2003 to 2006, and then again from February 2010 to the present.

From 2011 until his appointment as chair of Finance, he was chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also previously served as vice chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and as a member of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the former House Separation of Powers Committee. He was a deputy majority leader for three terms as well.

A self-employed attorney practicing in Massachusetts, Rep. Gallison lives in Bristol. He and his wife, Diane, have two sons, Timothy and Nathan. He earned his law degree from what is now the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Law, and completed his undergraduate studies at Rhode Island College. He is a La Salle Academy graduate.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, GA

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