All posts by tim

Reading is Power

This Time article on Sarah Palin mentions that:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Which begs the question, why are people still trying to ban books? If 27% of people don’t read at all in a given year and most read less than 5, then they must be very, very frightened of those of us who do. We must be a very powerful, involved part of the electorate.

The Human Race

Ran the Nike 10k Human Race last night. It was something like 13,000 people in Austin, competing against cities across the world. You got to pick a charity to run for. I was running for the UN Refugee Services. I had planned on running, but then I didn’t really get my act together and they were no longer taking registrations online so I sort of gave up. Then on Friday my sister emailed me and asked if I was running, and if I could perhaps pick up her registration packet. That was just enough of a kick in the pants to get my and my mother signed up to.

Which is how my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and I ended up on a bus heading downtown yesterday. We lined up in Congress avenue. For some reason I decided I was kind of slow and started in the 11 minute mile crowd (you start based on how fast you can run a mile). We ran across the starting line, headed down Congress, and then turned on second. That was the first time it hit you. Nike supplied red racing shirts and the entirety of second street was full of red. And that didn’t let up. Turning from the Bob Bullock History Museum onto MLK there was red stretching all the way up to Red River. Turning from Red River onto Dean Keaton there was red all the way to Guadalupe. It was amazing.

That said, a lot of the people were obviously not runners. A large number of people around me started walking before they even hit one mile. I really think one might want to be able to run further than a mile before signing up for a 10k. There are shorter races you can run first. It was much more of a mental game than the 5ks I’ve run. I was constantly having to dodge walkers and think about what I was doing.

That said, I think being slow at the beginning really paid of in the end. I was really able to power through the last two miles when everyone around me was fading. The fact I run in the heat and up and down hills a lot paid off too. People were really complaining about the heat and the hills. I found the hills pretty easy, and the heat was nice. The coolest race I’ve run was 89 degrees, so last night was pretty cool.

Getting the bus back after the race was a bit of an adventure. A CapMetro supervisor got us back on our bus, but it picked us up at exactly the same stop where we got dropped off. Which should never happen.

So what was my time? My dream was to make it in under an hour, and I think I did pretty well:

Time: 1:01’40”

Austin Ranking: 2959

World Ranking: 102751

$100k a year is rich

Slate is running an article right now about how deluded many pundits and politicians are about what constitutes rich. But it’s really us Americans who are deluded.

I personally think that rich should be pretty easy to define. If you’re in the top 80% of income earners in the United States my thought is you’re rich. If you’re in the top 90% you’re filthy rich. That’s just based on how I feel about percentages. I think most people would say those numbers seem fair if they don’t see what the median income is for someone in the 80% and 90% brackets.

The Census Bureau earlier this week reported that the median household income was $50,223 in 2007—up slightly from the last year but still below the 1999 peak. So a household that earned $250,000 made five times the median. In fact, as this chart shows, only 2.245 million U.S. households, the top 1.9 percent, had income greater than $250,000 in 2007. (About 20 percent of households make more than $100,000.)

Shocking, eh? So over $100k is rich. But that doesn’t buy a new cellphone every six months, and a lexus for your kid, and a million dollar house, so how is that rich? Amazing how our culture has managed to change wealthy into something so ridiculously unattainable. We feel poor because there’s so much great stuff to spend our money on.

Although we really need to start agreeing that we should be able to tax the hell out of people making more than 5 times the median income. It’s ridiculous that we would think that people can raise a family a 4 on $50k/year and yet howl when it’s suggested that people who make 5 times that be taxed a little more heavily.

Murder!

A while back I received a citrus zester. It is labeled as such, but it doesn’t really work well for zesting fruit. You end up with long skinny strips. When I want zest, I want tiny shavings, not long strips. This is clearly the wrong tool for the job. So it has been sitting in my drawer.

Recently I had a lot of julienning to do, so I pulled it out. Just on a lark, to see if it would work. I took down a cucumber in less than a minute. It works great.

Everyone I talks to about their mandolin says that they’re worried they’re going to slice their hand off. Not owning one, I don’t know exactly why this is the case, but I can say that you won’t do that with one of these devices. You might shave off your knuckles, but you shouldn’t end up in the hospital.

Which leads me to last night. I was making an Asian salad which calls for julienned beets. I was really going to town, tearing down this beet into strips, when I looked up from my work. The kitchen was covered in red. It looked like I had slaughtered a pig. I couldn’t have paid Hollywood special effects wizards to come in and do a better job.

While I love this tool, I’ve decided that I have to use it in the sink when working with beets.

You know you’re from the prairie when…

Some neighbors across the street cut down a huge tree today. It was towering over their house. They probably shouldn’t have, but no one’s going to complain because we’re all hoping the reason they’re working so hard on the house is that they’re converting it from a rental to be for sale.

That said, without the tree you can see clear over the roof of the house, over the roof of another house and stare directly at a house another street over. Being from Dallas this is pretty trippy.

My Movie Night Creation

Our movie night theme on Sunday was “hunting”. For some reason this got me thinking about Wild Boar, and the way that cooks used to make fake versions of food when the king demanded a beef roast when there were no cows on hand. So I made a fake wild boar.

Stella was really into the process and wanted to see the pig at each step of the way.

I was worried that once I put it in the oven the dough would rise and obliterate the basic pig shape, but thankfully it stayed put.

It’s actually a goat-cheese, mozarella, and prosciutto calzone, btw. And yes, I used food coloring in my egg wash.

More Public Schools

Wanted to share this Salon article in reference to yesterday’s post. Especially this bit:

“It’s also a shift in terms of conversation. I think for good liberal Democrats of my ilk, for people to sit around and say, “Public education, no one can go there” — I don’t think that’s a fight that should be allowed to be abandoned in conversation anymore. It’s a bit like if you said, “Yeah, I toss my recycling right into the landfill. I don’t even bother to separate my recyclables. What’s the point? We’re all going to hell, anyway.” That wouldn’t pass in nice company. I think we need to start changing the conversation so it’s not just a given that we’re going to send our kids to private school and that that’s better.”

The Planned Destruction of Public Schools

So, I’ve been meaning for a long time to write something about the “No Child Left Behind”(NCLB) program. I’ve been musing a lot about why the most pro-business administration ever would create a new program for our socialized school system. It somewhat clarified when I was reading reviews of Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew”. He basically argues that contrary to what everyone believes George Bush is just playing stupid, and the Republicans are simply playing at inept. What they’re actually doing is breaking the national government so that it is irreparably broken. If you pass legislation to change things your way, then when the next guys get into power they can reverse everything you’ve done. If you break it completely, there’s nothing they can do about it.

I started thinking about this when the latest test results came back for the elementary schools in my neighborhood. Travis Heights Elementary came back as academically unacceptable. Travis Heights has a reputation for being a great school that does an excellent job teaching students of varying economic backgrounds. But now it is academically unacceptable.

REALTORs must love NCLB. It gives them a great way to point out where the most desirable homes are. Your customers don’t have to take the REALTOR’s word on which neighborhood schools are good and bad. They can just look at statistics from the federal government. Which of course means bad schools are going to stay bad. Concerned, involved parents aren’t going to move into a bad school area, or they’re going to move in and send their kids to private schools.

But that’s not a huge difference from the way things always have been. REALTOR’s opinions have always red-lined neighborhoods. That’s a good part of what you pay for. The expertise of someone who knows all the different parts of town. So while we might see a few more schools fail, we shouldn’t expect the whole sale destruction of the public school system.

Until we get to the issue of failed schools. Failed schools are the linchpin to the system of destroying the public school system. Johnston just failed. As part of that failure 50% of those students must be transfered out. And that’s where the dominoes will start falling. We’re transferring out kids who are known to fail on standardized tests. So they move into another school. That school has a sudden influx of failures that drag down their scores. Concerned parents pull their kids out of that school and put them in private schools. The test scores move lower. The schools failed. Eventually these kids get transferred to the rich predominately white schools where all the best teachers are. This is where proponents of the system say the system will stop failing the kids. But I fail to believe that Bowie’s teachers are currently composed of Morgan Freeman, Sydney Portie, and Michelle Pfeifer. Sure some small percentage of kids who get transferred will thrive under better teachers and the resources that these schools have. But that won’t matter. Because the law of averages will take out that school with all the kids who don’t.

So why are private schools better? It certainly can’t be the instruction. The average private school teacher is not licensed, has less education, and is paid less. The key is exclusivity. Picking and choosing students means, you can pick and choose how good your school is. So existing private schools are a cash cow. Then when you look at private companies taking over public schools you can see why with NCLB they’re drooling. You could siphon off money from the students, and every time it fails you get new students, and new teachers. If they put performance requirements on schools then you would just find schools (like Starbucks) are yet another thing you don’t find in the poor side of town.

I listen to parents a lot and they agree with what I’m saying, but they feel that they have to do what’s best for their kids. Which is very different from the way our grandparents viewed education. In the 1950s and 60s most companies were local. You needed kids who could do arithmetic to man your cash registers. You needed the college students to love their community and want to settle back in it once they completed their degrees for higher level positions in your companies. You needed local engineers and craftspeople. So schools became a priority for the community. You couldn’t just plan on staffing your department store with kids from the next town, or in China, where schools were good.

With globalization we’ve uprooted. We pick towns based upon how they fit our lifestyle, rather than where our roots are. And in much the same way we’re not loyal to our jobs, we’re not loyal to our communities or our schools. We might have to change them, and frequently, so why bother getting involved. It seems quaint to think that there was once a social stigma attached to skipping the neighborhood schools and going private.

So what do we do? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t found a parent yet who was willing to commit with me to sending their kid to public schools. Most are planning to try them out, or are going to use them because they can’t afford a private school, but they’re all clear that if push comes to shove they’re pulling them out.

I can only hope that this is yet another pendulum, and the coming destruction of the public school system will refocus our energy on having top notch schools. That the increases in cost of energy will cause people to think more about nurturing their local communities rather than moving their kids to exclusive enclaves or transporting them to private schools. But our attitudes have changed so much that I don’t know if we can count on it.

The Story Behind the Magnolia

So Austin Towers has an interesting post about the failure of “The Magnolia”. This is my goto project on why condo projects don’t appear to be just about location. It’s right across from the Alamo Drafthouse, Maudies, and Suzies, right next to Uchi and just down the street from the hike and bike trail, and the new water park. Pretty decent location. But it didn’t get built. While the Sage further down South Lamar is next to a spectacular number of used car lots, and is being built.

Turns out:

– The project on South Lamar had significant issues with topography, grade slope, and tree preservation causing construction estimates to skyrocket. Prices for the units were adjusted accordingly, making the price per square foot uncompetitive for the neighborhood and actually on par with more desirable downtown high rise projects. This factor alone made the project unlikely to succeed.

– The project was also a victim of the national real estate crisis when Fremont Investment & Loan, the project’s construction lender, retracted its loan commitment when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. prevented it from funding any new loans.

Keep in mind when they started the units were going to be in the $200s, which is a really good deal for that close in. So obviously some of what is driving the slowdown is trying to lure condo buyers into crummier locations that are easier to build on, rather than a lack of desire for downtown condos. Obviously a lot of the land downtown is going to be hard to build on (since otherwise it probably would have been developed by now).