Tuesday, February 28, 2006

And We Wondered Why the Indian River School District Has Money Problems

From today's News Journal: Indian River refuses deal on prayer.

The story is about a proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought by a parent in the District who felt unwelcome, as a Jew, based on the pervasive Christian-ness of the District and its tendency to start almost everything with aggressively Christian prayer.

The Board had a chance to settle out of court and put the case behind them. They didn't.

The subtitle of this story (Hymn-singing crowd praises Jesus after board's decision) gives me a notion that the District is probably going to lose this one in court.

I hope the plaintiffs take the win and pass on any punitive monetary award. I wouldn't mind seeing the Board settle down on the religion thing. I'd rather that they not have to face figuring where to save a huge chunk of money to pay off damages.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I'm Torn

I'm torn between agreeing with an editorial in the February 24, 2006 Cape Gazette and deploring a ... deplorable factual error in that editorial.

The editorial, What Would Jesus Do?, speaks to the issue of the Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches deciding to not allow non-Christian congregations to be part of the Association. The editorial writers note that it is the case that the group is an association of "churches" and that that does indeed suggest limiting itself to Christian denominations.

At the same time, the editorial suggests that a more inclusive association, including all faiths, might be more useful. I have to agree. I was applauding the editorial all the way through to its end, but I had to take exception to the final thought in the final line.
The community is fortunate to have an association that knits us together beyond the segregation of Sunday morning. However, many would like an outreach effort that is all inclusive so we can move closer to that ideal expressed by the founders in the Pledge of Allegiance: "“One nation under God."
I agree with the sentiment. I don't want to argue about the "under God" thing. What bothers me is the sloppy assertion that Pledge was an expression of the founders and that they included "under God."

The founders were the folks in the late 1700's who led the Revolution, crafted the Declaration oindependencece, and drafted the US Constitution.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, by socialist author and Baptist minister Francis Bellamy. It was officially recognized by the Congress in 1942. The phrase "under God" wasn't added until 1954.

Again, I don't disagree with the sentiment of the editorial. And I don't want to argue about God in the Pledge. What bugs me is the inaccuracy and sloppiness of the end of this editorial.

I love the Cape Gazette. It does a great job of covering the area in which we live. But editorial standards are slipping. Good journalism is accurate and timely and well-written.

It should at least be grammatically correct. Lately, we've seen more and more grammatical errors. It should at least be factually correct. In this case, it is not.

Side Note: Here's a link to the editorial page itself. I'd have linked to this from the title of the editorial, but links to the Gazette web site don't persist. Next Tuesday, a different editorial will be at that link.

Here's a Cool Idea: PARK(ing)

One of the great frustrations of urban life, especially in the fast-urbanizing areas of recent growth (such as we have around parts of Delaware), is the lack of parks. We have open space, but it tends to be farm fields which are nice to look at, but not places where one can sit and enjoy nature. Lewes has wonderful parks, but Lewes is an old place, a real town.

For the newer urbanized areas, here's a cool idea. A web site called PARK(ing) offers the idea of erecting a temporary pocket park in a parking space.
We identified a site in an area of downtown San Francisco that is underserved by public outdoor space and is in an ideal, sunny location between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. There we installed a small, temporary public park that provided nature, seating, and shade.

Our goal was to transform a parking spot into a PARK(ing) space, thereby temporarily expanding the public realm and improving the quality of urban human habitat, at least until the meter ran out.
I like this idea.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


We got a letter today letting us know that Colleen's name came up in the lottery used by Sussex Technical High School to select in-coming ninth-grade students for next year. She's in.

Colleen really wanted to get into Tech. Most of her friends are planning to attend there, and she'd like to continue with them.

Karen and I are quite pleased as well. Despite starting life as a Technical Vocational School, Sussex Tech has become one of the better academic high schools in our area.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that the technical school districts are county-wide. There's one in all three of Delaware's Counties. And the school is well-funded. The tech districts collect school taxes from the whole of the county and (if I understand this correctly) can change their tax rate without referenda.

Sussex Tech's reputation, and the occasional problems of the other high schools in the County, has meant that in recent years there's been a strong demand for places at the school. That has led to the institution of a lottery system. Younger siblings of current students get a free pass.

At least three of Colleen's best friends got that free pass, so we were worried about her not getting in via the lottery. But she did. Yay.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Good For You, Dr. Hattier

Dr. Donald Hattier, a member of the Indian River School Board, has a letter in the Delaware WAVE today. He's responding to recent concerns (ours among them) about budget-cutting in the district and the effect it might have on the Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA).

In his letter (Clearing things up about SDSA), Dr. Hattier responds to several letters in the February 8 edition of the WAVE. Interestingly, he responds equally to a letter from a supporter of SDSA and (though not explicitly) to the letter from a new Board member who I think has stirred up much of the fuss.

Dr. Hattier explains that the Board is looking for places to save money across the District, not just from SDSA.
The intent was never to cut the school or eliminate it. I do not believe that the board as a whole ever considered that, notwithstanding comments made by a board member. I do not consider SDSA dessert, nor do I think that represents the thoughts of most of our board. The intent was in fairness to look at everything, period.
Fair enough. We can respect that and work with it.

Update: Karen pointed out to me that Dr. Hattier is not the head of the Board, but only another member. I must have been fooled by his willingness to lead. I have updated this post as of 6:00 p.m., 2/23/06.

"He was clearly exploited by somebody," she said. "We just don't know who."

There's an update in today's Washington Post column The Reliable Source about my nephew Nick. (Registration probably required, and you'll have to scroll down a bit.)

Nick was written up in the December 1 Reliable Source column after his brother and several other sharp-eyed movie-goers spotted him in the movie version of the musical "Rent."

He'd been filmed while playing his melodica on the street in New York City. The camera-folk claimed to be making a student film and gave him only a few bucks for his trouble.

They may have been only making a student film, but the footage found its way into "Rent" and the story made its way into the Washington Post.

That led to some results:
Several outraged actors who read our story contacted the Screen Actors Guild, which called the film's producers at Sony Pictures. "They were terrific," said Jane Love , assistant executive director for SAG's Washington area branch. Though it was unclear whether Church was entitled to compensation, Sony settled the matter immediately. A check to him for $122, the day rate for a bit player, is in the mail, she said.
I have to wonder where they'll send the check; Nick is intentionally living a nomadic life right now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In Fifty Years, This May Require a Footnote of Its Own

I've just finished reading the latest Flashman installment from George Macdonald Fraser. The 12th in the series, Flashman on the March is a story of the Victorian British expedition (invasion?) into Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).

The Flashman books feature an almost unbelievably amoral rogue named Harry Flashman, a minor character that Fraser liberated from the 19th Century novel Tom Brown's School Days. Fraser places Flashman, Zelig- or Gump-like, into a variety of major historical events of the Victorian age. He's a coward, but through luck and bluster always manages to emerge a hero. The books are great fun, and I recommend this latest as well.

My eye was caught by the end of the Explanatory Note, which included an interesting echo of today's history.

This section is part of the conceit that Fraser is simply editor of the recently discovered Flashman Papers. Fraser, a British writer, sets up the historic context of the story -- an apparently insane Abyssinian monarch has taken the British envoy hostage and is massacring his people. The British send in a limited force to free the hostages and depose the tyrant. Not to stay, not to create a new democracy. A limited mission.
All of which [Flashman] records with his customary shameless honesty, and it may be that along with the light he casts on a unique chapter of imperial history, he invites a comparison with a later and less glorious day.

For Flashman's story is about a British army sent out in a good and honest cause by a government who knew what honor meant. It was not sent without initial follies and hesitations, in high places, or until every hope of a peaceful issue was gone. It went with the doubt that it was right. It served no politician's vanity or interest. It went without messianic rhetoric. There were no false excuses, no deceits, no cover-ups or lies, just a decent resolve to do a government's first duty: to protect its people, whatever the cost. To quote Flashman again, those were the days.
To steal a phrase from characters in another set of favorite books (the Aubrey/Maturin series), he can't say clearer than that.
Filed in:

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Oh, For Heaven's Sake

Many of us in the world of geospatial technologies have been waiting for the new offering from ESRI, the top GIS software company. They have been working on an answer to Google Earth - expected to be an update to their freeware GIS viewer.

This past week, folks involved in beta testing for ESRI were asked to see if they can access the URL "www.arcgisexplorer.com." The test request specifically asked for reports from people who are blocked from seeing that URL. Seemed odd.

James Fee, who writes the blog Spatially Adjusted, has found out why the test was needed: to see whether our IT systems are too hung up on the "sex" in the www.arcgiSEXplorer.com.

I guess that could be a problem.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A New Photo Project

Geese and Tree
I've wandered into a new photo project: Exploring the small roads east of Route 1/Route 113.

I've started taking short side trips down the roads that lead off of my commute route between Lewes and Dover and over to the Delaware Bay or the marshes along the Bay.

There are some great things to see.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Knowledge, Openness, Responsibility, Civility

Adena Schutzberg's All Points Blog pointed me today to an entry at TechDirt (The Internet May Be A Different World, But It Still Maps To Home) that suggests that knowing each others' locations makes for more civil blog commenting.

Topix.net has started plotting commenter's locations, and offers a map of commenting activity. I think this is cool on several levels, but I was interested in the effect adding very basic location information seems to have had.
Since adding the user's location to each post, we've noticed a marked lift in the overall tone of the conversations. To be sure, there is still a lot of heat, but it seems like naming the town that someone is posting from has helped humanize some threads. It's not just a flamewar with faceless forum handles, there's a real person on the other end of the keyboard, they actually live somewhere.
I have been thinking about the issue of on-line civility lately.

Delaware blogger Delathought recently announced that he (or she?) was shutting down, in part because "Now that I've established a pattern of behavior, people are making arguments based on what I've said previously, and so I have to go."

In the discussion that followed, I mentioned my misgivings about trying to maintain an on-line presence under a "nom-de-blog." I was reminded that almost every time I've written, broadcasted, or blogged under an assumed identity, I've ended up not liking who I became. I'm convinced that being on-line as myself, entirely in the open, requires me to maintain a certain level of civility and responsibility. I think my output is worth a bit more for that.

Delathought has returned to blogging, by the way. We don't yet know the name behind the screen-name.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What Day Is It Today?

At lunch today I stopped by the Safeway in Dover for a salad. I like their selection; they always seem to have plenty of sunflower seeds and I really like sunflower seeds on my salads.

But that's not the point of this post.

The cash register in the Deli section was not open, so I wandered down the front of the store to the "12 Items or Less" Express Check-Out. I was annoyed to find a long line.

But when I looked along the line, ahead of me and behind, I saw almost all men. Men sheepishly holding bouquets, boxes of chocolates, and cards for Valentines Day.

"Gentlemen," I wanted to say, "we must learn to plan ahead!"

Monday, February 13, 2006

Snowy Fields, Full Moon

This evening I noticed anew a phenomenon that I always enjoyed when I lived in the frozen north.

We didn't have nearly as much snow as others in the northeast had this past weekend, but we got enough to cover the fields. Tonight there are a few high clouds, but the skies are clear enough for a nearly full moon to shine down and reflect a silver glow off the new snow.

When I lived in Maine, I used to love the clear nights that sometimes followed a heavy snow. When the moon was full, or full enough, and the skies clear, and the snow unbroken, the night had a special luminance.

It was nice to see it again, if only for one night.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Michelle Kwan is My Hero

Michelle Kwan pulled out of the Turin Olympics today. She had a groin pull and decided that she would not be able to compete at full strength. Other skaters in the past have kept competing with injuries of this sort.

Rather than struggle on in pursuit of her last shot at a gold medal, however, Ms. Kwan decided to do what is best for the US Olympic Team.
"This injury prevents me from skating my best, and I've said all along that if I couldn't skate to the level that I expected from myself, I'd withdraw from the team."
That, my friends, is class.

It's About Time

Snowfall in Lewes
Snow Pole
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

We were terribly disappointed not to see the forecast of a day of snow come true yesterday, but the wet did turn to snow overnight. This morning we woke to a well-blown inch or so of snow.

It's not much; nothing like the foot or so our northern neighbors are dealing with, but at least we have some real winter this winter.

We can hunker down to watch the Winter Olympics today. Pop some corn. Set some logs a-blaze. Fire up the crock-pot for a slow-cooked dinner later on.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cold, Wet, 5K

The Race Starts
Despite the cold and rain, Karen, Christina and I took part in a 5K charity race this morning down by Ocean View. It was an event by the Seashore Striders, meant to raise money for the "Steel the Show" steel-drum group of the Southern Delaware School of the Arts.

We weren't there to win. The organizers offered a 1-mile fun-walk. We opted to go the 5 kilometers, though we planned to mostly walk it. We all did a bit of light jogging as well.

Karen likes to speed-walk these things. Christina was jogging and walking by turns. I was mostly walking, and stopping to take a few photos. I wasn't the last person back to the finish line, but it was close.

Christina was the fastest in her age group.

It was cold. It was raining, though it wasn't the steady, cold disappointingly-not-snow rain that we endured all afternoon. We all were limping around the house this evening. Well. I was. Karen may have been. Christina is a kid. And limber. She'll probably happily be doing splits tomorrow morning.

I Should Have Known

The weather service and the goofball TV Meteorologists have let us down again. Their predicted day-o-snow has been a day-o-cold-cold-rain. They say it will turn to rain overnight. We'll see.

Waiting for Snow

After a let-down of a winter, they tell us we may see a real winter storm in the mid-Atlantic this week-end. We live right on the coast and so may see less snow here at home than in the rest of Delaware, but we'll wait. We'll watch. We'll probably end up shovelling as well. We hope.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Oh, How I Love That Crazy Internet

My brother John has found a recording of a song co-written by our grandfather, Redmond Farrar, on iTunes. It is the song I'll Have Vanilla, part of a collection of recordings by Eddie Cantor. Of course I have purchased a copy.

Our mother's father made his living in a variety of jobs in the straight economy, but he was also an active jazzman in the 1920's and 30's. He wrote the music for a variety of jazz popular songs. He wrote with other musicians and lyricists and helped create songs like I'll Have Vanilla, which is a family favorite; Loving You, recorded by Adrian Schubert'’s Dance Orchestra in 1929; and I'll Keep Warm All Winter, published in 1934. I think that last one was also recorded by Eddie Cantor, but I'm not sure.

I love I'll Have Vanilla partly for its quirky jazzy little melody, one of the first things I learned to pick out on a piano and later a guitar, but also for its goofy lyrics. For example:
You can shake
That milkshake
'Till the cow starts to scream.
But I'll wait
For a plate
Of vanilla ice cream.
Mom tells us, and Dad backs her up, that there was a song in the Redmond Farrar output called We Feed the Baby Garlic So We Can Find It In The Dark. I haven't found it, but I haven't given up yet. For a variety of reasons not much of my grandfather's music was been saved and handed down. We have inherited a love for the stuff, however.

In fact, John has inspired me to throw out a fresh Google net to see what turns up.

I've found versions of the Eddie Cantor I'll Have Vanilla for sale on several music services. The sheet music is part of a collection called "80 Years Of Popular Music - The Twenties." I think John already owns this book.

I also found the Cantor recording on Last.fm and used it to establish an "I'll Have Vanilla" station on the music service Pandora, which uses the "Music Genome Project" to associate different songs with each other based on their characteristics. This has given me music from Danny Kaye, Squirell Nut Zippers, Gary Pucket and the Union Gap, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, so far. I've added some of these to my Pandora Favorites page.

Maybe my favorite find this evening is a Barbershop Quartet version of I'll Have Vanilla from a group called Yesteryear. It's on a collection of recordings called Let The Rest Of The World Go By. Please listen to a clip of Eddie Cantor singing the song before you listen to the clip available from this group. Please.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

I'm Not Sure, But I Think We May Have Touched A Nerve

One of the Indian River School Board members, Mrs. Donna Mitchell, has responded to our concerns about the future of the Southern Delaware School of the Arts.

Her letter to the editor in today's WAVE newspaper (
We need to be looking out for the overall good of public schools) reads like an angry response, to me. My guess is that she was hurt or insulted by the volume and force of mail she has gotten from parents worried about a threat to the school.
I'm concerned that what started out as a good idea with honorable intentions has now turned into a spoiled child who looks down on her sister schools as inferior.
I assume that she is responding to what was written in private letters to her. Most of what has appeared in the papers, and what was said at the School Board meeting, was very respectful. In her response, Mrs. Mitchell paraphrases several letters that she says she has received. She has focused, in her response, on issues that I think are secondary, but I will assume they are important to her.
As I read these letters, I sense that parents like having their children involved in art school because their children are having difficulty integrating socially in the public schools or are unwilling to have their children participate in the diversity of 21st century America.
Wow. That is rather a sweeping generalization, and doesn't at all reflect our experience. But I'll forgive her that.

Mrs. Mitchell goes on to quote dollar figures, student/teacher ratios, and class sizes. I'd have to look more closely at the data -- with help from someone qualified to interpret that data -- before responding to the thesis she puts forward, that the District spends too much on the "spoiled" families that have kids in SDSA.

Finally, Mrs. Mitchell offers a spirited defense of athletics in education.

Physical Education leads to healthier bodies and improved behavior in schools. Do you realize that removing sports would increase the dropout rate far greater than if arts were removed and despite what you may think, many of our student athletes are excellent students and some even take art and play in the band.

I had heard from some other parents that Mrs. Mitchell was the prime force behind the proposals to do away with SDSA, and that she was doing so in favor of spending on more sports fields. I had questioned this notion. I didn't believe that a School Board member would be likely to take such as position.

After reading this letter from Mrs. Mitchell I have a feeling that I may have been wrong. She does sound like a person who wants to close our school in favor of more "traditional" athletic programs. Not that she wasn't exposed to the arts, apparently.
For your further information, I was in the band, chorus and my class play. I also participated in sports. I believe our schools should and do offer some of everything. That's what public education is all about. When a parent wants specialization they should look to private schools.
So. Here we have a member of the school board advising Karen and I to move our two bright productive students -- and their share of funding from a neighboring school district -- out of her district and put them in private school.

Well. I suppose we can think about that.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

A Report from the 2006 Delaware Junior All-State Chorus Concert

2006 Delaware All-State Chorus
We spent part of this weekend in upstate Delaware. On Saturday, Colleen performed as part of the 2006 Delaware Junior All-State Chorus. The All State Chorus is organized by the Delaware Music Educators Association. They do a great job.

The concert was held at Dickinson High School. It was preceded by two full days of rehearsal at Springer Middle School. Both are about an hour and a half to our north. That meant early mornings for parts of our family for several days last week.

Karen helped drive Colleen and her fellow chorus members from the Southern Delaware School of the Arts up to rehearsal on Thursday. She was also along as a chaperone/teacher. They left a bit before 5 a.m. On Friday, other parents did the driving, but I had to have Colleen out of the house at around 5 to get her to the rendezvous site.

Earlier in the week, I'd had meetings over in Washington DC. That called for me to head out at about 5 a.m. on Tuesday. I'm getting too old for this.

I had meetings upstate Friday afternoon, so I picked Colleen up from Springer after rehearsal and we met Karen and Christina at a motel jus north of the Route 1/Route 95 interchange. We passed the evening spending hundreds of dollars at Christiana Mall and slept-in a bit on Saturday before taking Colleen up to Dickinson for more rehearsal prior to the Concert.

The theater at Dickinson is a grand place and boasts one of the best examples left in this country of the old Theater Organs that used to grace America's movie palaces. According to the Dickinson Theater Organ Society, this instrument was built in 1928 for a theater in Philadelphia and was featured on local radio for many years. It was in disuse for several decades before being donated to the high school in 1968.

Christina and I went up for a closer look. These things are fascinating. We were treated to a short performance on this instrument before the choral concert. I love the deep, earth-shaking but smooth bass tones that these old pipe organs can produce.

The All State Junior Chorus sounded wonderful. They sang a mix of traditional choral and modern works. There was a Nigerian folk song, a traditional American folk song, and a Serbian gypsy song. They sang jazz and classical. They were accompanied by grand piano and used
a small set of tubanos for the Nigerian piece.

Afterwards, we wiped away proud-parentness from our cheeks, took pictures, and headed home.

Saturday, February 4, 2006

I Guess I Seem a Bit Single-Issue Focused Lately, Huh?

I am sorry about that. But the Indian River Schools issue has been a bit central to us lately.

I am pleased to report that My Letter to the Editor did make it into the Cape Gazette yesterday. Yay.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Update: Letters to the Editor

My letter to the editor to the WAVE this week did not make it into the paper. I'm not sure if this is because I sent it in too late or because of a glitch with the "contact us" form.

I have submitted it to the Cape Gazette as well and have sent it off to the School Superintendent and asked her to deliver copies to the School Board members.

There was good coverage of the issue in the WAVE, however, including a full story, and two letters to the editor (Don't tell us that we are a program, not a school and Mitchell owes SDSA an apology).

I was glad to see the WAVE reporter note that there was "A crowd of approximately 600 people, split into two rooms," rather than the "more than 50" people originally reported.

I think I know where that earlier, lower number came from. I can see a reporter asking a school district official how many people were at the meeting:
"I don't know, we didn't count them."

"Well, can you give me an estimate?"


"Well, were there more than 50?"

"Yes, I guess it would be accurate to say that."
And, as a result, that "estimate" became part of the lead of several newspaper stories and made it into the Associated Press version of the story, which is what most of the radio news readers "rip and read" for their local news.