Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My phone at work (and the spy in me)...

My phone is a valuable tool to me at work. Recently I’ve been keeping track of what students still need to take a particular standardized test in the note app on my phone. It’s my calculator, my timer, and the only watch I carry. It has my Google calendar (which is filled with mostly school related things). I have Dropbox on my phone: that holds a huge number of things (including schedules). I have alarms set on my phone that tell me my C&P is about to be over, or that the day is about to start, etc. I could go on…

It was recently suggested to me that someone thinks I could be a spy, and that when I have my phone out I’m texting my wife to tell her about bad stuff that’s happening. I find that thought humorous. But (for what it’s worth) below you’ll find a transcript of every text my wife and I have sent to each other since the teacher work year started. I don’t delete them. You’re welcome to look at my phone whenever you like (just ask and I’ll hand it to you). If you suspect that some texts are missing, say so and I’ll produce a bill you can take home and reconcile (text by text) with the list below.

Got it! :) 4:45pm Oct 8

Where r u? 8:45pm Oct 7

CC: I wondered 5:10PM Oct 6

Home. I appreciate you not locking the backdoor. My keys never occurred to me. 5:01PM Oct 6

CC: Ok 7:48AM Oct 6

I just remembered you’re going to Kimball. Don’t go to the boe just for my badge. 7:46AM Oct 6

CC: Don’t forget cabinet man today 7:34AM Oct 6

CC: I’ll try 7:25AM Oct 6

Will you try and get my badge today? 7:22AM Oct 6

CC: K 4:12PM Sep 30

He’s gone. Email him… 4:11PM Sep 30

CC: Yes 4:10PM Sep 30

mr lane wants you to email him and let him know whether to come on Monday 4:09PM Sep 30

no net or phone since before the mouse 9:36PM Sep 29

text me when you’re. I’m beating up tucker… 4:29PM Sep 29

k 6:45PM Sep 26

CC: Want me to wait till u get here? 6:44PM Sep 26

Moving 6:40PM Sep 26

CC: Construction just before the rt 80 turn 6:40PM Sep 26

Stuck in Coretta. Wreck maybe. Can’t tell. 6:37PM Sep 26

CC: Where r u? 6:36PM Sep 26

CC: Yes leaving in a minute 6:34PM Sep 26

U still in War? 6:32PM Sep 26

lol 5:39PM Sep 26

CC: 6-8 teachers 5:38PM Sep 26

What is “plan” on tomorrow’s calendar? 5:37PM Sep 26

CC: I guess 5:30 Sep 26

That sounds like you’re at least part SIS instead of not SIS.

CC: Not this time but he wants me to go eventually 5:26PM Sep 26

So… Wednesday? Charleston? 5:24PM Sep 26

CC: Must be aCCess mail. I’ll check it when I get upstairs/ 5:22PM Sep 26

Sent u an email. Yes, sitting here next to Billings. 5:19PM Sep 26

CC: Did u go to Welch? 5:16PM Sep 26

CC: I’m going back to school for a bit 4:30PM Sep 26

u still meeting? Let me know what u do. Love, greg 4:12PM Sep 26

sorry 7:41AM Sep 26

CC: will you bring my hasp 7:00AM Sep 26

I don’t know what this means 10:18AM Sep 14

I gove up. dew we 6:34 Sep 23

CC: Where r ralph’s keys 8:01PM Sep 21

CC: In flos office 4:11 Sep21

Watching sandwiches bake. Where will you be? 4:10PM Sep 21

CC: I would walk over there but carry all this stugg 4:40PM Sep 20

CC: *phone number omitted* 4:36PM Sep 20

Still no Ralph 4:36PM Sep 20

CC: Still no Ralph? 4:32PM Sep 20

Waiting……… 4:31PM Sep 20

k 4:58PM Sep 16

Leaving 4:57PM Sep 16

home 4:29PM Sep 16

*names of student government election winners omitted* 3:22PM Sep 16

I’ve been asked to text you and ask what to do next. 5:08PM Sep 7

So u were right about my dr time. I looked on my way to the car. I made it. Waiting on a shot. New antibiotics. 4:00PM Sep 4

CC: Leaving 5:01PM Sep 2

CC: K 4:29PM Sep 2

Text me when you leave and I’ll consider actually getting dressed. 4:29PM Sep 2

CC: K 10:33AM Sep 1

Sitting in Dr Duty’s office near the florist on Fincastle. 10:32AM Sep 1

I’m here 4:15PM Aug 31

Leaving Welch. I’ll be a little late I guess 3:35PM Aug 31

CC: I hope not 2:42PM Aug 31

While I know that game exists, I don’t really know the rules. I’m afraid I’m going to end up at the ER for antibiotics before Tuesday. 2:39PM Aug 31

CC: just finished a game of duck duck goose 2:36PM Aug 31

CC: Me too 3:45PM Aug 30

I’m out 2:56PM Aug 30

Billings wanted me to ask you for the keys to mboyd’s old room. I forgot. 2:29PM Aug 26

CC: Ok 12:20PM Aug 20

I presume they’d bill our insurance. But I’ll ask. 12:20PM Aug 20

CC: Free? 12:18PM Aug 20

Flu shots available on demand at CVS. Just walk in. 12:17PM Aug 20

Fyi Flo just told everyone that if they don’t have a laptop they should see you at 10am 8:12AM Aug 19

CC: Can u come help me with a teport 3:33PM Aug 18

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Florida, Kentucky and Drug Testing

Conservatives have gone viral recently in places like Facebook with this simplistic little diddy on drug testing welfare reciepients:
THANK YOU FLORIDA AND KENTUCKY!!!! Florida and Kentucky the first states that will require drug testing when applying for welfare, effective July 1st! Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional? It's OK to drug test the people who work for their money but not those who don't? Re-post if you want all states to do this.
I love their rhetorical question: How can this be unconstitution? The question is followed by a piece of misinformation: It's OK to drug test the people who work...

The truth is it's not always "OK" (I think that's code for "constitutional") to test people who work. In the private sector it's a contractional agreement that you enter into before you take a job. You enter into it voluntarily (since you could choose to go work omewhere else, instead). If you work for the government, the courts have ruled that you can be required to take drug tests if your job performance could endanger public safety. Washington can drug test air traffic controllers, but not clerical staff.

Many of the viral status updates that Conservatives circulate make perfect sense - as long as you believe the little untruth planted at the heart of them (in this case,"It's OK to drug test the people who work..."). And if you're well informed on the issue, that little piece of untruth is usually easy to spot.

The "drug test for welfare" issue has been around for a long time now. I wrote this about it over three years ago here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Undivided Attention

I was in a meeting some weeks ago where the first real order of business was to decide something like rules of order. There were various subtopics, but one in particular has hung around in my brain. In discussing what constituted courtesy and respect in a meeting, it was suggested that we give speakers in particular and the meeting in general our “undivided attention.” That idea was fleshed out with statements of protocol concerning side conversations, electronic devices, and so forth. You get the idea…

The discussion (and especially the central phrase) bothered me; but I couldn’t decide why at the time. Recently it came to me: my attention is rarely undivided. Demanding my undivided attention for long periods seems unreasonable to me.

I began to get clarity on why the issue bothered me while watching a trailer for the Facebook movie. In the trailer the movie’s main character is in a college administration office with some older, well dressed men. He’s fiddling with a few things while they talk. One of them, irritated, asks if they have his undivided attention. He responds that they don’t, but that they have sufficient attention from him to proceed. While the movie scene is tense and the statement in the movie is laced with disrespect, the underlying idea seemed to reflect the normal human condition to me.

Very few things get my undivided attention for very long. I listen to TV and surf news sites on my laptop while my favorite shows get aired. I cook with the radio on, or with a laptop on the kitchen counter. I drive to work thinking about and planning the day that’s starting, while contemplating the scenery and listening to radio news. I mow the grass with an iPod in my pocket. Stray thoughts about the logistics of dinner, events on my calendar, my parents’ health, my wife’s birthday, etc. follow me up and down hallways at work and aisles in the grocery store. Then at the end of the day they often crawl into bed with me.

The approach in my meeting some weeks ago wasn’t unusual. We came up with a few rules and made it clear that people were expected to comply. And that idea, compliance, is also part of the problem in my view. We teach compliance and then wonder why we don’t see initiative and creativity. Compliance is the Dime Store substitute for responsibility. When I speak or present something to a group I see two types of people. Some are engaged with me; and if they choose to glance at their phones and type a couple of lines in reply to someone, I don’t mind. Others aren’t engaged with me; and since they’re not, what do I care if they mess with their phones while a talk. The only real issue is whether they’re disruptive.

Someone will say that it’s unprofessional. I’m not saying standards don’t exist. But the details that flesh out many people’s concept of professionalism are manufactured and artificial. And I suppose the bottom line is that I can pretend to focus with undivided attention on something if I must, but actually doing it is far more difficult – perhaps impossible.

I don’t think I’m that unusually. Doesn’t everyone have something like a lazy susan in the middle of their brain that slow spins and constantly serves ideas previously cooked up? I’ve always thought so…

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vern Presley get Democratic Nomination for Virgnia's 3rd Legislative District

On July 15th the Third Legislative District's democrats met in Tazewell to nominate a candidate to replace little Willie Morefield in the Virginia House of Delegates. That candidate is Vern Presley.

Repubican's out east bought the seat for Willie 20 months ago. Willie's kept it warm; but that's all he's done. The time has come to take the seat back.

Thomas Brewster for Vern Presley

State Senator Philip Puckett for Vern Presley

Vern Presley accepting the Nomination (Part I)

Vern Presley accepting the Nomination (Part II)

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Samsung Captivate

So now I have a phone...

I knew smartphones were great things, but even with my tech background I hadn't really understood before exactly how much a smartphone can do:

  • My phone is a better camera than my camera.
  • It plays music, and has more memory than the 8-gig iPod I've been carrying.
  • It's a video camera (I'd been thinking of getting one of those anyway).
  • It's a scientific calculator (trigonometric functions in degrees, radians or gradients, hyperbolic functions, factorials, permutations and combinations, 10 memories - and I'm not even sure what some of that means).
  • It's a voice recorder, so I don't have to carry a micro-casette around.
  • And it's the biggest flash drive I have.
On top of all that, it's also a phone...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Democracy, Republics, and Revisionist Tea Party Drivel

I've been involved in a number of discussions recently (many of them on Facebook) about how America is a Republic, not a Democracy. Proponents of this idea all seem to be Conservatives who are either involved in the Tea Party or at least smile on its activities.

The video below got posted on one of my Conservative friend's Facebook pages this morning, and it's a classic example of the sort of compost they promote. We'll look at a transcript after the video.

When Benjamin Franklin existed the Constitutional Convention he was asked by a woman "Sir, what have you given us?" His immediate response was "A republic Ma'am, if you can keep it." Yet most American's today have been persuaded that our governmental system is a democracy, and not a republic. The difference between these two is essential to understanding Americanism and the American system. Many Americans would be surprised to learn that the word "democracy" doesn't appear in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution. Nor does it appear in any of the Constitutions of the 50 states. The founders did everything that could to keep us from having a democracy.
  • James Madison, rightly known as the Father of the Constitution, wrote in essay number 10 of the Federalist Papers, "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulance and contention; have ever been found incompatable with personal security or the right of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."
  • Alexander Hamilton agreed and he stated, "We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy."
  • Sanuel Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, stated, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself."
The founders had good reason to look upon democracy with contempt because they knew that the democracies in the early Greek city-states produced some of the wildest excesses of government imaginable. In every case they ended up with mob rule and anarchy, and finally tyrrany under and oligarchy.

The problems in this text are numerous. First, I've never understood why these people want to insist that democracy is incompatable with being a republic. Asking whether we're a democracy or a republic is like asking whether an apple is red or crunchy. Usually, apples are both. The two are not mutually exclusive. And while I hear a lot today about democracy, I don't think I hear more about it than I used to - and I don't hear anything about us not being a republic.

Conservatives seem especially concerned to stress the idea that we are a constitutional republic. And so we are. But how does that, by itself, make us unique? Almost every country in the world today is either a constitutional republic or a constitutional monarchy - from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (whose current constitution was ratified in 2003) to the Republic of Zimbabwe (whose 1979 Constitution was amended for the 17th time in 2005). In fact, 124 of the world's 203 sovereign states include the word republic in their official names.

Of course, what's in a name. Brunei's name, for example, includes the dubious epitath "Abode of Peace." If a republic is a state where most decisions are made with reference to established laws, rather than the discretion of some monarch or head of state, then North Korea is a republic in little more than name and most of the world's monarchies today have become psuedo-republics, with constitutions and the rule of law being the framework for their society. The term "constitutional republic" may be emotionally packed, but it is largely redundant. Name the three most important republics that aren't governed by a constitution or some similar body of code. You can't.

Were the Founding Fathers opposed to democracy? Should good Americans have contempt for the idea of Democracy (as the video suggests)? This line of drivel seems fairly new to me. Abraham Lincoln surely didn't share it:
Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Neither did Ronald Reagan.
Democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. ~ Ronald Reagan

Conservative voices in recent years haven't always embraced the message that democracy is something evil.
Despite what the pundits want us to think, contested primaries aren't civil war, they are democracy at work, and that's beautiful. ~Sarah Palin

But if there's an erosion at home, you know, Thomas Jefferson warned about a tyranny of an oligarchy and if we surrender our democracy to the tyranny of an oligarchy, we've made a terrible mistake. ~Pat Robertson

I would suggest that the Founding Fathers were concerned that America not become more of a Democracy than was necessary, and they were resigned to the idea that if had to be a democracy. The actual quotes in the video are accurate - but the video's director is cherry picking the thoughts of the Founding Fathers.

Jefferson was resigned to democracy as a component of American government.
“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” ~Thomas Jefferson
He wanted to ensure that democracy had its limits and didn't infringe too much on individual liberty. And Madison understood there was little risk of pure democracy ever replacing the republic.
A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person. ~James Madison
America has never had "a small number of citizens." Madison understood that pure democracy was impossible in a country the size of America (or the size of Liechtenstein, for that matter).

As academics, the Founders were very interested in the democracy as a philosophy of government. Constitutions generally address the mechanics of government. I think the most humorous idea in the video above is that somehow James Madison's disdain for democracy was still an influential force when Oklahomans sat down to write their constitution in 1907 and Hawaiians did it in 1949. They excluded the word out of respect for the Founding Fathers? How about we say they excluded the word because it doesn't serve much functional purpose; it's not a technical term, in government. It's an ideal.

The Founding Fathers saw democracy as flawed when they looked at experiments in democracy hundred of years earlier. But that brings up a problem with the Founding Fathers' views of democracy. There simply weren't a huge number of functioning government at that time where democracy could be observed. And the Founding Fathers made the same mistake those early democracies made: they gave every citizen the vote, but greatly restricted access to citizenship so that women and slaves weren't citizens.

I know... You're going to tell me that those were the times. And you'd be right. That's why Jefferson said this in a letter to Madison on September 6, 1789.
" society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation." ~Thomas Jefferson
America is a great country - not because the Founding Fathers were right about everything (they weren't), or because we're a constitutional republic (there are plenty of people on earth who haven't been helped much by that form of government). There are many reasons America is great - among them, its work ethic (which is still pretty good) and its tolarance for pluralism (which the Tea Party sometimes appears to be trying to erode).

The Founding Fathers did not do everything that could to keep us from having a democracy. In fact, they gave us a democracy - and they framed it in a republic in order to make it function well and last.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shea the Plumber?

I couldn't resist this brief moment from Thursday night's introductions at the redistricting committee meeting. Republican Shea Cook decided to inject a little humor (I think) and described himself as a part time student at Southwest Virginia Community College who was studying to be a plumber. As in Joe the Plumber? I'm not sure...

In case you don't know, Shea has his own law practice and has been the GOP candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney.

Text: My name is Shea Cook. This is the first time I've had to serve on the redistricting committee and I'm looking forward to serving along with all of you. Like everybody here I'm a lot of things to a lot of different people. I'm a part time student at Southwest Virginia Community College. That's one of the things that I do. I'm learning how to be a plumber, and uh (laughter)... so I'm looking forward to working with you all and help as much as I can the people of Tazewell County.

Second Redistricting Committee Meeting

Tazewell County's redistricting committee met for a second time on Thursday night (Feb. 24). The meeting was largely informational. Members received data on precinct populations in 2000 and on voter turnout by precinct over the last decade.

District population totals are available for the 2010 Census, but not for individual precincts within those districts yet.

Here are the 2010 population totals:
District2010 population

The redistrict committee has been given an ideal population that each district should be: 9,015. But there is an allowable margin of plus or minus five percent. So district populations must be between 8,565 and 9,465 by the end of the redistrict process. While a five percent margin is allowable, the Federal courts are more comfortable with a three percent maximum variation from the ideal population number. That would mean keeping district populations between 8,744 and 9,285. All five Tazewell County districts are within that range.

With the districts all within the Federal "comfort margin," any redrawing of the count's district lines would have to be motivated by political concerns, not legal issues.

When the committee meets again the focus will likely be on individual voting precincts. A number of concerns have been raised that could impact precinct lines. Some current voting locations are developing issues with handicapped access; compliance with handicapped accessibility laws can impact federal funding for election costs. At least one precinct was mentioned where some voters have asked to be relocated to another precinct because they have to drive across a mountain to reach their voting location. The county's implementation of the 911 system has resulted in the relocation of some voters from one precinct to another as GPS mapping data created more precise maps of where those voters lived.

The committee will meet again in late March. Below you can view video of Thursday's meeting.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Redistricting Starts in Tazewell County

Redistricting always has the potential to become a political fight. With last year’s census numbers now becoming available, the process has started in Tazewell County. Tazewell County’s redistricting committee met Thursday night, February 10, for an organizational meeting. The committee will eventually make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors (as I understand the process) and the BOS will vote on new district and voting precinct boundaries in the county.

The meeting was relatively uneventful. As Chairman of the Board of Supervisor, Seth White was chair when the meeting opened. Philip Horton was elected to serve as chair and White turned the meeting over to him. Sandra Warden was elected recording secretary. There was some discussion about when meetings should be held; WVVA’s Greg Carter is on the committee but has to be on-air until 6:30pm in Bluefield. There was some talk about what data was available (2010 numbers for individual precincts were yet available on the 10th) and on where to find old data for comparison purposes.

Tazewell County has actually seen a small increase in population. Unless there has been major movement within the county, there may be little practical reason to move many precinct or district lines. Tazewell County’s five districts are supposed to come out of this process with a relatively equal population: a margin of 5% difference is evidently legal, but not optimal if it can be avoided. Precinct populations are more a matter of tradition and geographic convenience.

A number of issues were left undiscussed Thursday night (mostly because there was no reason to bring them up yet). The biggest movement within the county will almost certainly be the growth in population in the Pocahontas area of the Northern District. That growth is due to the new prison there, and the inmates count as part of the population. I will be surprised if the Northern District doesn’t lose a precinct to a neighboring district as a way of compensating for this growth. Which precinct? Your guess is as good as mine.

Another issue not yet discussed is precinct consolidation. Tazewell County has 24 voting locations and 10 of them are in the more rural Northern District. It is in the best interest of the county and its residents to keep those precinct locations open. But finding election official to work inside each of those locations can be hard to do. I suspect that the voter registrar’s office harbors a secret desire to consolidate some of those precincts into a single location. Of course, the few locations there are to vote on election day, the farther people have to travel in order to vote and the lower the voter turn on. While the current member of the Board of Supervisors for the Northern District is a Republican, the district has traditionally voted for the Democrat. In a year when Republicans hold the Board of Supervisors, the temptation to close some of the Northern District’s precinct locations will be tempting. Seth White and Shea Cook are likely to see that as part of the fruits of victory from last year’s election. We’ll see at the end of this process whether the board is more interested in a political agenda or in what’s good for voters.

Here's video of the meeting:

Full disclosure: I was appointed to the redistricting committee before the 2009 election. In Nov. 2009 Jim Campbell was elected to the Board of Supervisors – the first Republican to ever serve for the Northern District, I think. We spoke. He talked a lot about how he was going to try to be non-partisan and that he’d run as a Republican because he had to be in one party or the other. And he told me we could work together. Then he was sworn in and took his seat. And (without speaking to me about it) he had me removed from the committee as one of his first official acts. At the moment Barnes Kidd holds my old seat on the committee. Kidd was busy elsewhere Thursday night and could not attend.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Connectivity: My Problem with Blogging

I haven’t blogged in months, and I think I just identified one major reason: connectivity. I have too much connectivity…

I’m sitting here listening to the radio because the cable is out. I get my Internet over the cable. It’s how I check my email. It’s how I know if someone’s played a word in one of my Scrabble games on Facebook. It’s how I know the weather forecast (which changes rapidly here this time of year). It’s how I farm (on Facebook, of course); I’m at level 101 on FarmVille.

Being connected is how I know whether the other teachers made it home today. We left school early this morning. From what I hear, the kids all made it home safely. Stupid me, I live in a neighboring county. So it’s a half an hour of driving to get from school to my house – through the strip mine across Gary 14 Mountain and then over Stoney Ridge. I had to stop after I got over 14 Mountain and shift to four-wheel low. Then there were wrecks on Stoney Ridge. So I sat about halfway up the north face of that mountain for almost three hours, wishing I was driving down the south face, about a mile away. Oh well, once each year it seems like we play chicken with God. Thirteen months ago we lost. Today I think it was a draw - which is to say that none of my friends went to the hospital as a result (as far as I know) and no one ended up sleeping in their car...

And I’m taking time to blog about it because, well, I’ve lost my connectivity. I’d usually be sitting here checking the school closings on several different websites, half-watching the television, harvesting my FarmVille crops, looking through Google for educational games I can use, and browsing my reader for news and blogs. I really need to see the various responses to last night State of the Union (especially since I watched a rerun of Law and Order). But I can’t, since I’m not connected.

So instead, I’m blogging.

And I’m hoping that the radio gets around to telling me what schools are closed soon. When I’m connected I can get info like that on demand, and this irritating idea of waiting until they decide to tell me is for the birds.

Well, maybe soon my cable company will figure out where in all this snow their line is broken and they’ll restore my connection. Then I can post this blog. Of course, that will happen after I harvest my carrots on FarmVille, check the school closings, and update my status…