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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Poem: Will's Magic Potion Advert

Imagine that William Shakespeare were alive today. He might be writing the text for advertisements, catchy jingles that people will remember when shopping. Now imagine he got a job writing for the next diet craze...
**********************************************************

Blubber, blubber
Toil and trouble
Cellulose burn
Under skin and stubble

With Death by Chocolate and  
Cold Champagne,
Pickled herring,
Your BMI Bane!

When Fate brings heart attacks
That soar and surge,
Will a deadly rose help you
Poison and purge?

Grecian Formula for your hair,
Contact lenses for your eyes,
But what fool-proof plan appears in your head
To handle those rotund thighs?

My Cure-All Potion is what you Need,
100% Risk-Free Guaranteed.
It will make those stones just melt away,
Without making your wallet bleed.

Trust me.

Poem: Burning

We burnt gasoline and oil
Driving to work
Driving to school
Driving to stores, museums, the movies
Driving to gas stations
To buy more gasoline

We burnt diesel
Driving trains
Driving tractor-trailers
Moving coal, lumber, sheet metal
Moving cars to people
To use to burn gasoline

We burnt, burnt, burnt
Until the offspring of our burning
Burnt the ground in Africa
Killing plants
Killing animals
Killing crops, crops, crops
Until millions of people starved

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Background:

I wrote this poem after watching a science show that discussed the drought in northern Africa in the early 1980s. You see, the rains usually travel from southern Africa to northern Africa once a year, and people in such countries as Ethiopia depend on the rains for their survival. The seasonal rains stopped in the early 1980s, and the subsequent drought killed millions of people. Then, in the late 1980s, the seasonal rains returned. For the longest time, we didn't know why.

Then, some scientists stumbled across the reason while researching the effects of particulate pollution. To sum up their findings, the air pollution generated in the US during the 1970s and early 1980s traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, and disrupted the rain cycle in Africa.

After watching this show and thinking over their evidence and conclusions, I sat astounded for several minutes. Who knew that the world was so interconnected? Who knew that Americans had accidentally killed millions of Africans simply through driving cars?

I felt sickened at the thought, and a little guilty because I love driving around. So I wrote this poem, to capture the mood.

ECP: A Call for Geeky Art

I am a geek.  I love my new Android tablet!  My husband and I wired our house for Ethernet, even though we also set up a wireless router.  I watch Nova ScienceNOW, and I research the shows afterwards.  I get the NASA newsletter, then I drag my kids to astronomical events, though “drag” is the wrong word because my kids are geeks too.  We discuss things such as how frozen water on the moon increase our chances of setting up a successful moon base, and how thorium/fluoride reactors solve the power problem, being so much safer than uranium reactors.  Plus thorium is abundant not only on Earth, but on the moon and Mars as well.

And for shopping, I love ThinkGeek.com!!!  This place has everything for geeks - coffee mugs with a caffeine molecule on the side, T-shirts that proclaim “Stand back!  I’m trying science!”, replicas of the 10th and 11th Doctor Who sonic screwdriver...  For the record, I prefer the sonic screwdriver that Tenant used - it includes an pen snub with invisible ink and an ultraviolet light to view message written with such.

Last week, ThinkGeek.com issued a call for geeky art.  They received a letter from Christina Nemeth, who is currently stationed overseas with the Air Force.  Christina would like to decorate her boring, plain office walls with pictures of monkeys!!  Monkeys - The official mascot of ThinkGeek.com!

So I am passing this call on to you, East Cobb.  If you have artistic skills, or you just like to draw monkeys (though other primates are welcome), please consider sending something to Christina.  She can use all the monkeys and cheer that’s available.  

Contact information is in the ThinkGeek.com blog.

ECP: Arguments for the Balanced Calendar

As the balanced calendar ended this year, several Cobb parents decided to collect some data to determine how successful or unsuccessful this year was.  The evidence is clear - the balanced calendar is not the “vacation” calendar that some people in the county want to believe it is.

I am not copying their data here - but if you want to read it we’ve uploaded it to the East Cobb Patch.  You can find the information here (Wendy - please link the data here).

Basically,  these areas showed improvement this past year:

  • Test Scores:  Test scores are up this past year.  In fact, the ITBS scores, which have declined since 2007, went up again.
  • Student Absenteeism:  Student were absense less last year - approximately 7.5% district wide.  In the first semester alone, about 75% of the school reported a decrease in student absenteeism.
  • Teacher Absenteeism:  Teachers were absent less as well.  Not only does this favorably effect the kids - who don’t need to adjust to substitute teachers, but it saves the county money in substitute costs.  Cobb School District saved over one million dollars in these fees, and that after lowering the payout for substitutes from $79/day to $69/day.
  • Student Morale:  This is less concrete, but from experiences with my own kids, and their friends, last school year I witnessed significantly less burn out, and a better attitude  towards school the entire year.
  • Teacher Morale:  Again, this is a less concrete measure.  But I know several teachers, and every one of them enjoyed the breaks as much as the kids.


So, with what appears to be overwhelming data, why is there such a controversy?  Where is the data for the traditional calendar?

Supposedly, Kathleen Angelucci and Scott Sweeney have data to show the benefit of the traditional calendar, but as far as I know no one has seen this data.  Do you know what I think?  I think that they simply want the traditional calendar, so they have lied to us about their data.  Because every time anyone requests this data,  Angelucci and Sweeney give that person either the silent treatment or  the run around.

I think lots of people out there want the traditional calendar, not based on facts or logic, but because it’s close to the calendar that they remember as kids.  It is easy to get nostalgic about school, and believe that things were “better” when we were kids.  But honestly, we’d still be living in grass huts, wearing leaves, walking around barefoot, and eating bugs if we never changed.

One argument for the traditional calendar is that the kids need a long enough summer, with the mistaken assumption that the balanced calendar shortchanges kids.  But let’s be honest here, the balanced calendar left a ten week summer!  Typically, an American school district has 2-3 months, which translates into 8 to 12 weeks.   So our 10-week summer break falls smack dab in the middle.  Why, then, do people think our break is substantially shorter?  My guess is the timing of the summer break - from late May until early August, instead of mid-June to late August.  In summary, it's not as though the kids aren’t getting a summer.  They are simply getting a summer with different start and ending dates.

The other argument for the traditional calendar would be potential tourism dollars lost for local businesses.  First, my child’s education is more important that tourism.  Period.  Second, we Georgians don’t typically use our own tourist locations in August - we can go there during the cooler times of year.  Third, the week long breaks in September and February actually open up more possibilities for tourism in a time other than summer.  And finally, our children’s education is more important than tourism.  (This needs to be restated; it is that important.)

The traditional calendar also has a large negative.  There have been several studies that show children who receive free or reduced lunch actually lose significant ground academically during the summer break, but children who do not receive a free or reduced lunch either lose a little ground or gain ground academically during the summer break.  This means that the 46% of children in Cobb county lose ground all summer.  Why would we want to increase the time in summers?  So that the “haves” can outperform the “have-nots” even more?  

In conclusion, I ask everyone out that who supports the traditional calendar to ask yourself why.  If you have some actual reason, with data to back it up, please post your reasoning here in the comments.  We supporters of the balanced calendar would love to learn why you believe that way.  But if you simply like the traditional calendar for the sake of tradition, don’t bother.  You’ll never convince us, and we’ll never convince you.  


Poetry: Right Brain

I am going to write a poem.
I am so tired of topic sentences,
Supported by details,
Restated in conclusions.

I don’t need prose.

Blocks of black syllables,
Linked by transitional devices,
Indented neatly,
Three to a page,
Depress me.

I need a poem.

Not rhymed or in pentameter,
Snooty sonnets or cutesy cinquains,
No ostentatious villanelles,
But free verse
Winging to heights invisible
Then dropping, dipping, drowning,
Now reviving
And soaring high again.

I will not use binder paper.
This poem will be torn from my life.
And the paper will be creased,
Ragged at the edges.
It will not need a title or a date;
Nor, in the upper right hand corner,
Will it need my name.

Friday, June 17, 2011

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ECP: War of Cobb County Street Signs

Cobb County does a good job with street signs.  There are big, yellow signs announcing small roads, upcoming curves or hills, blind driveways, and other potential road hazards.  Speed limit signs abound, alerting motorists as to the maximum legal velocity.  Stop signs delineate who has the right of way.  And those cute, little green street signs pleasantly mark every corner, assisting those both with and without a sense of direction.  Or a GPS.

Only now the street signs are losing a war.... with PLANTS!!!!

That’s right - plants.  Historically, these green villains tried to take over each summer, growing new limbs, leaves, or vines up, over, and around our street signs.  And historically, Cobb County’s Army of D.O.T. Workers stood in the way.  Diligently, they drove their trucks around the county, hedge trimmers and hatchets at the ready to remove offending plants in their attempts to mislead motorists. These brave men and women fought offensives from kudzu, poison ivy, various bushes, and the most malicious blackguard of them all - the trees.  And before now, our Army always prevailed.

But not these days.  Budget cuts removed funding for what the plant-loving politicians call “extraneous expenses”.  The results are clear - the rapscallions have begun to win the war.

At first it was small.  A cluster of leaves hanging over a yellow sign, making it difficult to read.  Or maybe a stray vine, climbing up a metal support post.  Then the plants stepped it up, as whole branches grew out over sidewalks, visually blocking motorists from even knowing a street sign is there, nevertheless reading it.   And the worst has happened.  The stop sign for a small cul-de-sac in my neighborhood is now gone.  Oh, you can see the metal skeleton of the stop sign, amidst the bruising botany.  But the sign has been eaten, Charlie Brown style, by a tree.

So, what can we do about this?  How can we save our street signs?  

Maybe we could call our county government, and see if we can convince these green-loving people that street signs need love too.  Or we can fight this ourselves.  If you see the army of plants using your yard as a base of attack, do something about it.  If a plant in your yard is attempting to cover a street sign, trim the infringing branches, removing the trespassing vines.  And help our local street signs do their job.

Thank you.
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ECP: CCSD Changes Its Facebook Policy

Last Sunday, at 12:29pm, this post appeared on the Cobb County School District Facebook page:

Due to recent offensive and/or inappropriate posts, CCSD Facebook page posting permissions have been changed to allow only comments on posts made by CCSD. Facebook does not provide an option for comments to be screened prior to posting, and the district does not have the resources to provide constant monitoring of the site. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Then on Monday, the CCSD removed all posts from their Facebook page that did not originate from the school district.  

This change in policy caused an uproar on Facebook, as people wondered why this happened.  Was the school board behind this?  Is the school district now censoring the community?

To get to the bottom of this, I called the school district office and spoke with someone in their communications department.  The answer about “why” turned out to be fairly mundane.  According to the School Board Policy Manual, section IJNDB, section F: Employee Created Web Pages and /or Blogs:

The District Web site and individual employee Web pages/blogs will not:
a. Contain public message boards or chat-room areas. ...
b. Allow the display of unsolicited comments from the general public. Any solicited
  public feedback should be reviewed by the employee before posting....

Translated to English, this means that the school district cannot have an open posting policy on Facebook.  So what can we, the community do, if we want to communicate about the school district on Facebook?

Make our own Facebook group.

So I did.  Last night, I created a group called “Cobb County School District Unofficial Community Page”.  Anyone is welcome to join the group, and anyone can post to the group.  Please feel free to post articles, opinions, events, and other information, just as you would have to the CCSD Facebook page.

Friday, June 10, 2011

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ECP: Call to Arms

Maybe I should have said a call to keyboards and cell phones.  

Yesterday, the Cobb County School Board voted to include a new calendar option on the agenda for the next meeting.  This means that we, the community, have a new chance to let the school board representatives know how we feel.

Now, I believe in Albert Einsteins’ definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  So, if nothing had changed in the school board since February, I would not be writing this at all.

But several things have changed since February.  School board members have been called in front of the grand jury to explain their actions.  SACS asked for a review, then told them to get training.  So the school board has gone through training, to help them not only learn their own policies better, but to help them learn how to function as a school board.

What does this mean to us?

It means we have a chance to work with the school board to get a calendar acceptable to everyone.  It means that maybe, just maybe, the school board members will decide to represent the voters of Cobb County.  But only if they know what the voters of Cobb County think.

So, please, I beg of you,  contact your school board member and let him or her know what you think about the new calendar option.  You can call.  You can email.  You can send a letter through snail mail; use semaphore, telegraph, smoke signals.  Just contact your representative with your opinion.  After all, it is your right and responsibility to let your representative know your opinion on this matter.

To make it easier, here are the email addresses and phone numbers for all the school board members:
  • Post 1 - Lynnda Eage, lcrowder-eagle.boardmember@cobbk12.org, 404-697-9562
  • Post 2 - Tim Stulz, tstulz.boardmember@cobbk12.org,  678-773-1877
  • Post 3 - David Morgan, dmorgan.boardmember@cobbk12.org, 404-702-1857
  • Post 4 - Kathleen Angelucci, kangelucci.boardmember@cobbk12.org, 678-896-6399
  • Post 5 - David Banks, dbanks.boardmember@cobbk12.org, 404-725-3394
  • Post 6 - Scott Sweeney, ssweeney.boardmember@cobbk12.org, 678-646-2470
  • Post 7 - Alison Bartlett, abartlett.boardmember@cobbk12.org, 404-702-9291


For snail mail, semaphore, telegraphs, and smoke signals,  use the district office:

514 Glover Street
Marietta, GA 30060

ECP: In Defense of David Banks

As the debate over the school calendar continues, I constantly hear comments about how our school board representative, David Banks, “flip-flopped” from campaigning on a traditional school calendar stance to voting for the balanced calendar.  These comments quote his campaign website, imply that Mr. Banks’ take on the calendar was the sole contributing factor to his election win, and generally rake Mr. Banks over the coals for betraying his constituents by voting for the balanced calendar.

As someone who lives in Mr. Banks’ post, I can tell you that these allegations are only true on one point, and far from the truth otherwise.

The only truth is that Mr. Banks did say he thought that the school calendar had too many non-instructional days, and that by removing those days he thought that the school calendar could run from after Labor Day to just before Memorial Day.  

But the school calendar is listed as the last entry on his Issues page, with SPLOST III and  traditional/block scheduling taking up the lion’s share of the page.

As for the other allegations? First, let me share some background information.  After Mr. Banks won the position to represent Post 5 on the school board, he started sending out newsletters, titled “The Latest From David’s Grapevine”.  At the top of each newsletter, Mr. Banks states:

Help me spread the news by forwarding your copy of this Grapevine letter to your friends and neighbors and ask them to email me at david@davidbanksforschools.com so I can add them to the email list or use the options available at the end. I have xxxx email addresses currently and I would like to grow this number to the point I am reaching most of the Post 5 community.

If you sent an email to Mr. Banks, he automatically added you to his newsletter distribution list.  If you called him, he asked for your email address so he could add you to his newsletter distribution list.  Whenever and however you interacted with Mr. Banks, he asked to add you to the list.  Mr. Banks put substantial effort into growing his newsletter distribution list, because he wanted (and still wants) to be able to communicate with the people of Post 5.

On November 9, 2009, Mr. Banks sent out volume 7 of his newsletter.  The newsletter contained a summary of the school calendar poll that had been conducted earlier, which showed a majority of the people in Cobb County wanted a balanced calendar.  Mr. Banks stated eleven reasons why a balanced calendar had potential benefits over a traditional calendar, then he goes to to make three significant statements:
  1. I have received a number of emails on this matter, which tends to align with the above results.
  2. The number of emails received so far is a small percentage of the Post 5 community which leads me to believe that 90% of the Post 5 families are okay with whichever calendar is adopted.
  3. The Board will vote and adopt at the November 11th meeting a calendar, so I hope you will email me soon with your opinion if you have not already done so.


These statements show that Mr. Banks listened to everyone who bothered to communicate with him, either in email, paper mail, or  phone calls.  Mr. Banks assumed that those who did not bother to communicate did not have strong opinions one way or the other.  And Mr. Banks encouraged people to communicate with him before the school board meeting.

I’m sorry if you did not like his vote, but what Mr. Banks did was not flip-flopping.   Listening to your constituents and voting the way they want you to vote is what a representative does!!!

The Board itself advertises that the first priority under “Stakeholder Involvement” is “Utilizing community in decision making”.  Translated to common English, that means asking the people in your post what they think about the current issues, and listening to the answers.  That means if a majority of the people in your post feel one way, the representative will vote that way.

It’s how this whole “representative” thing works, folks.

So not only did Mr. Banks not “flip-flop”, he did his job.  He choose what the people of Post 5 wanted, and he did not arrogantly hold his personal opinion above others.  In doing so, Mr. Banks voted for the balanced calendar.

As for the allegation that people voted for him based on the school calendar issue?  Seriously, where did these people get mind reading machines?  What gives them the right to claim absolute knowledge as to why people voted for David Banks?  

Personally, I voted for him despite his support of the traditional calender.  

So to all the David Bank bashers out there, please stop making allegations about the man.  Your ignorance is showing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

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ECP: Cobb County School Board's Web of Distrust

As the entire process of hiring a new superintendent played out over the past month, I became aware that from the start I did not trust the candidate, Dr. Michael Hinojosa.  Before reading anything about the man, before his meet and greet sessions, and through no fault of his own, I simply did not trust the man.

Why then, did I have such an immediate, strong reaction?

Because the Cobb County School Board recommended him.

Under the covers, Internet security runs on webs of trust.  In layman’s terms, this concept means if I want to talk to you but I’m not certain if I can trust you, a mutual friend authenticates you as a trustworthy individual.  Then I trust you, and I confer my own trustworthiness to you when I introduce you to new people.  This is not a new concept - society itself runs on webs of trust.  When a friend recommends an article for you to read, that recommendation is a strand on your personal web of trust.  When a door-to-door salesman wants you to change garbage companies, he tells you that he sold your neighbors, to try and cash in on the neighborhood web of trust.

Usually, a local school board would be at the center of a web of trust within a community.  Instead, the Cobb County School Board managed to create something opposite of that - they created a web of distrust.

This web of distrust works exactly like a web of trust, only in reverse.  So, if the school board makes a decision, the community reacts skeptically, initially disliking the decision unless there are overriding reasons to like it.  When the school board initially picked Dr. Hinojosa, the man walked into a situation where the majority of the community would not trust him, simply because the school board did.  The ramifications of this distrust mean that the man gets no benefit of the doubt on statements, he gets no leeway from the community, and he works under scrutiny until he proves he does not need such scrutiny.

In case this seems unfair to you, remember that trust, or distrust, is contagious.  That’s how the web works.  If the school board wants for the distrust to change, they will have to make some changes internally and externally.

First, the school board needs to act in a normal manner.  By “normal”, I mean act in a manner that is appropriate to the situation.  Taking Dr. Hinojosa as an example, the school board approached the man and offered him the job for secret reasons.  I know that they, the board, probably followed the letter of the law with this appointment, but it feels like they ignored the spirit of the law by having only one candidate.   (As an aside, one candidate does not a candidate pool make.)  Considering the closed door sessions on this topic, the allegations of misconduct from last fall, and the lack of public reasons for picking this particular man over anyone in either Cobb County or Georgia, the school boad’s behavior feels off to those of us on the outside.  The fact that Dr. Hinojosa is from Texas, the place where some of the school board members already have shady connections, also adds to the feeling of unease.  The entire situation leaves me feeling that there are backdoor deals being made, deals which are probably not for the benefit of the students or parents of Cobb County.

The school board needs to stop this sort of behavior.  They need to be completely above board with their actions, and be even more that perfect about following both the spirit and letter of the law in their actions if they want to restore the trust.  And they should want to restore the trust, considering “Utilize community in decision making” is one of their own priorities, and that priority does not happen in an environment of distrust.  They need to follow their own rules, specifically from Treatment of Consumers, SD-3:

B COMMUNICATION:
    1. Consumers should be clearly informed of matters relevant to their association with the Cobb County School District (District). District communications should be courteous and responsive.
    2. Responses to telephonic requests should be made within 48 hours except for weekends and holidays.
    3. Responses to electronic requests should be given in a timely manner.
    4. All information collected, reviewed, stored or transmitted should be accomplished in a way that properly protects the privacy of the information.


I don’t know about anyone else, but I have called several school board members, but the only one to return my phone calls was David Banks.  In fact, for several months you could not even leave a phone message for Kathleen Angelucci.  The same applies to emails.

As for the school calendar, school board representatives need to represent their own constituents, and vote accordingly.  If this means going back to the balanced calendar, so be it.  But switching back to the balanced calendar will not restore the trust on its own, it is merely a step that needs to be taken.

I hope the Cobb County School Board realizes there own mistakes, and begins to make changes.  Otherwise, like the Police sing, “Every breathe you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, <we’ll> be watching you...”

Monday, June 6, 2011

ECP: My Dear Readers, Please Do Not Feed the Trolls

Last week, I posted a response to an article I read in the East Cobber.  Happily, I received several comments.  Most agreed with me, a few disagreed.  But then there was the troll.

What is a troll?  I am so glad you asked.  According to the Urban Dictionary, a troll is:

A person who, on a message forum of some type, attacks and flames other members of the forum for any of a number of reasons such as rank, previous disagreements, sex, status, etc.

A troll usually flames threads without staying on topic, unlike a "Flamer" who flames a thread because he/she disagrees with the content of the thread.

So, which commenter was a troll?  How do I know it was a troll?  I will leave out names, but here is the comment:

Re:" Hopefully the money trail will lead us into a direction that will make a recall unnecessary as they will be much deeper trouble for their participation in bribery"

Not only that, but my hairdresser (Sissy) says that Alison is Not a natural blonde!
No, really, seriously!

It would be nice if you women would get real jobs.

Let’s start with the first sentence.  The troll repeats part of someone else’s comment.  Now, repeating a sentence or two from another person is generally not only acceptable, but it is necessary if you are responding to that sentence.  The repetition provides context for your statements.  

But the troll does not respond to that statement at all.  He simply repeats a seemingly random sentence from a previous comment.  Hence, troll.

The next two line may or may not be bad humor.  Either way, they represent a personal attack on Alison Bartlett.  Troll.

The last statement is a classic troll statement.  It does not provide new information to anyone, nor does it even cover the topic of either the blog article or any previous comments.  That statement is there solely for the purpose of flaming all the women who had written before and after him.

So, how do you handle trolls?  The generally accepted Internet rule is:

Do not feed the trolls.

By that, I mean do not respond to trolls.  Do not reply to their statements, do not reference anything a troll has to say.  Do not give them the satisfaction of knowing that their comments meant anything to you.  It only gives them more to digest and then fart back out into the flames.

So, remember dear readers, if you see a comment similar to the one from my article, just flag it as inappropriate (or as spam), and do not feed the troll.