Tuesday, 1 April 2008

What a Mess

Last month, while I wasn’t posting anything, Larkin went to the Democratic caucus for our precinct to declare her preference for Obama over the ice-bitch from New York. When I was much younger I played the political game and was Precinct Committeeman several times. (Political correctness requires the gender-neutral Precinct Committee Chair these days, which works nicely as these things go.) The caucuses were held in the PCC’s living room, and a half dozen neighbors came over and sent someone, probably the PCC, off to the county convention. I probably put on some coffee. It was a bit mystical to those who only knew the election process rather than the nominating process, but it was comfortable and manageable. Not any more!

Every precinct on south Whidbey caucused at the South Whidbey High School. This might work fine some years, but it sure doesn’t work when the blood is flowing! As inspiration crushed experience (67% to 31% statewide), hundreds turned out, most of whom had never been to a caucus before. People were parking a half mile from the school. Once inside, there were tables for each precinct where participants were to sign up. Little signs were on the tables like place cards to direct participants to the appropriate sign-in. It was a system that may have looked good to the organizers at ten in the morning, but was absolutely useless when the room was filled and you couldn’t see the tables, much less the place cards.

According to a story by Aimee Curl in the current issue of Seattle Weekly, Your Delegate May Not Be Registered to Vote, the nonsense Larkin experienced here was repeated across the state. Some are estimating that as many as 10% of the delegates chosen to represent their precincts were either elected form a precinct they don’t live in, or weren’t even registered to vote. Both of these are cause for disqualification, and around the state there are party regulars burning the midnight oil with their precinct maps, getting ready to compare the lists against the voter roll, and wholesale challenges are bound to be the primary agenda of the next round, where delegates to the district conventions will be chosen.

The Marines have a name for such events: Cluster Fuck. One more reason to look forward to my coronation, If I Were King, there would be no state parties.

Nice Guys Want to Stop the War on Some Drugs Too

I’ll admit that I seem to carp a lot here. That’s the nature of the beast, the things that make us angry are the things that are most likely to send us to our keyboards. So it’s great to see, and note, when one of the good guys makes the news. Friendly, mild-mannered, incredibly-famous Rick Steves showed up in the lead of Timothy Egan’s Fresh Ideas for a Tired Crusade in todays New York Times. Apparently, Rick is almost as opposed to the incredibly-misguided US War on Some Drugs as I am. Larkin and I used to go to Trinity Lutheran Church at Lynnwood, Washington. (We almost always go to a church with that name, it’s just that the city changes from time to time.) Rick and Anne and family were also active members, and I believe they still are. When it came time to sell my piano when we moved out of Lynnwood and didn’t have room for it, Rick’s dad handled the sale. So we have a personal connection, and I can tell you that what you see in all of his travel guides on PBS is the real thing. The quiet, cheerful, reasonable man you see on camera is exactly the same man you would be delighted to run into week after week in church, or probably anywhere else. And now he’s taking a stand on the decriminalization of marijuana. No, nice guys like Rick Steves aren’t likely to take the kind of radical position that you would see If I Were King, but it’s a step.

Inept at the top, dropping out at the bottom

In today’s New York Times, this article by Sam Dillon reports that US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will soon introduce regulations that require a consistent formula for calculating dropout rates across all states. Wow! What a concept! Apparently, there are a lot of kids dropping out of school, and the states have been lying about the problem. Big time. When North Carolina revised their formula, their dropout rate soared from 5% to 32%.

But wait! There seems to be a fly in the ointment. Apparently, a large number of states don’t have systems capable of calculating the accurate number. Here’s the tricky formula: The number of high school graduates in the current class divided by the number of ninth-grade students enrolled four years prior.  (This gives the graduation rate as a decimal, multiply by 100 and subtract from 100 to get the dropout rate as a percentage.)

Excuse me? There are state departments of education that don’t have the numerical or statistical expertise to handle this? These are large organizations that somehow manage to write paychecks to thousands of teachers, administrators, and non-certificated staff every month. They manage billions of dollars in pension plans for those employees. They may choose to mask their appalling results, but if they claim they can’t calculate those results they are lying.

If I Were King, they’d have until Friday to get it done or lose their jobs. And their pensions.