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5 vampires that are cooler than the Twilight kid

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Inspired by the season and reading The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (really good, by the way). I’ve been thinking about vampires. Ones I’ve liked and the one that has been shoved in the face of the world for the past few years.

Let me start by saying I am not an expert on vampires and I am certainly no expert on Twilight. I haven’t read a word of the books nor have I seen a minute of the films. That being said, I haven’t been in a cave for the last couple of years, so I know a little something about Edward Cullen and his angsty, tousled-haired sparkliness. That being said, I’m pretty sure that compiling a list of vampires that are cooler than the Captain of Team Edward is as simple as saying “every other vampire ever” (except maybe Tom Cruise’s version). But that’s too easy (and less fun). So instead, I offer you my well-thought out and researched list of 5 vampires that are certainly cooler than His Poutiness.

1. Count Chocula. Seriously, what’s cooler than the undead helping you kickstart your day by turning your milk chocolate?

2. Keifer Sutherland as David in Lost Boys. With a mullet that made Toby Keith green with envy and cheesetastic visuals, the future Jack Bauer’s first shot at coming back from the dead made the film one of the coolest of the 80’s.

3. Count von Count. This whole list could be dedicated to him. He’d count it down better than any of us. With his WHAHAHAHA and the lightning flashing around him – possibly the coolest of all on the list.

4. Jim Carrey in “Once Bitten”. As goofy and cheesy as this film was and as smarmy as Carrey was in it – he’s still cooler than Ed. While not a classic film, certainly a classic 80s vampire.

5. Maladict from Pratchett’s Discworld series. While not well-known, Maladict is a great vampire character in the classic Bela Lugosi style. Maladict has traded human blood for coffee, but is still willing to use the possibility of throat-ripping carnage to accomplish aims.

If you want some great reads that feature vampires, go with Stoker’s Dracula, Salem’s Lot, I Am Legend, The Passage, or The Strain Trilogy (to name a few). Put the angst down and walk away.

Happy Halloween!

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

744 is a bad idea – epilogue: alternatives to 744

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Sociologists are often accused of spending all of their time and energy pointing out problems without offering solutions. In this final (I promise) state question 744 post, I want to buck that stereotype by offering some alternatives to 744.

It seems that the (well-intentioned) purpose of sq744 is twofold: 1) to improve education in OK and 2) to provide the funding necessary to make that happen. Setting aside the question of whether or not increased spending would make a significant difference in educational outcomes, I offer thoughts on how we accomplish these tasks without handcuffing the state to a system that looks to be nothing but trouble down the line.

Funding:

1. Consolidate. I know this is a touchy subject and that it’s easy for those  that it would not affect to say it should happen, but it seems nuts to me that we have 537 school districts in a state of 3.7 million people. Other states at around this population have 195 (Connecticut), 196 (Kentucky), and 221 (Oregon). (source) Even if only administrative offices were consolidated, it seems like that would free up a significant amount of money. Do we need that many superintendents?

2. Corporate partnerships. I know there is already some of this taking place, but it seems that there is a lot more that could be done. Oklahoma companies partnering with Oklahoma schools seems like a win for everyone. Companies get the positive reputation (not to mention a better educated workforce), kids get the help they need. Are there problems with the plan? Sure. Is it better than 744? Definitely.

3. Use a regional average that makes sense – and let it move naturally. For all of the 744 supporters who think pegging spending to a regional average is the best way to go, let’s at least use one that makes sense. What if we tied spending to the regional average of percent of total budget spent on common education? This allows OK to compare to a regional average while staying within the reasonable bounds of our specific economy. I still don’t like this option because it may still lead to difficult choices about cuts in other areas, but it seems better than the per pupil spending average. Whatever measure is used, it has to be allowed to decrease if the regional average goes down.

4. Fire your congressperson. One of the big issues for the yes on 744 folk is taking funding out of the hands of politicians. What about taking politicians out of the position to make choices about funding? If education is the most important thing to you, then stop electing people based on what church they attend or how much they hate homosexuality or how strongly they oppose the Taco Bell menu being printed in Spanish. Elect people who are committed to funding education. And if they don’t do it – fire them too.
4a. Cut legislative pay. It is beyond offensive that we pay legislators more ($38,400) than we pay teachers with 14 years of experience ($37,650). It won’t generate a ton of money, but it’s the right thing to do.

Some ideas on improving the state of education in Oklahoma humbly offered by someone on the outside looking in.

1. Create incentives. Good teachers should be paid more. Great teachers even more. Find a way to reward teachers, schools, and districts that are doing a great job so that we can a) keep those teachers in the state (and in education) and b) encourage creativity and excellence in the classroom. If implemented, standards need to be based on reasonable criteria (beyond test scores) and pegged to previous performance as a baseline. Reward progress, not maintenance.

2. Create an emergency fund. There are schools and districts in the state that could greatly benefit from an one-time infusion of money. The state needs to develop and maintain a fund that can address those needs as they occur without having to up the budget for every school in the state.

3. Bring the parents in. This may be the biggest key. Again, I know there are a lot of schools doing great things to keep parents involved and partnering with the school (my kids are fortunate enough to go to two of them), but could more be done? What if schools held tutoring sessions where parents and kids came together to learn? What if parents were held responsible for their kids’ test scores and/or grades? What if parents and teachers operated as partners in the education of our kids? It would involve a change of mindset – particularly on the part of parents – to make some of these things happen. The laissez faire (or adversarial) attitude about schools and teachers would have to change. Schedules would have to change to make room for school opportunities. If we really believe that the education of our kids is of the utmost importance, even to the point of being willing to back a really bad proposal like 744, we’ be willing to make those changes. Right?

Education in OK is broken. Something needs to be done so that our kids can have the best possible education. But 744 is not the right way to go. I’ll be voting no on Nov. 2 – what about you?

Read previous thoughts on the problems with 744: Part 1 – the conceptPart 2 – paying for itPart 3 – unintended consequences.

Categories: 744, education, Oklahoma, politics

744 is a bad idea part 3 – unintended consequences

October 18, 2010 1 comment

Read Part 1 – my thoughts on the general concept of 744

Read Part 2 – thoughts on the problems with paying for 744

Let me start by saying I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person. Scare tactics aren’t my thing. I don’t think the state is going to release 8500 inmates (although there may be a number of those that probably should be released) or do away with Medicare (we can’t can we?). That being said, when I look down there road, there are a couple of issues that seem almost inevitable to me. It’s easy to say we need to pass 744 “for the kids”, but with the good intentions, we have to at least think seriously about the possibility of unintended consequences.

1. Development of a hostile business environment. Proponents of 744 claim that there are 2 billion dollars in wasteful spending and tax breaks available to be tapped to pay for the required spending increases. But one man’s wasteful tax break is another man’s (or company’s) incentive to locate their business in OK. If a company is paying a 20% tax rate due to incentives and breaks what is their response going to be when suddenly they are being told they have to pay 30%? Are companies going to relocate to or stay in OK if they are penalized to do so? The pro-744 camp claims that our better educated workforce and superior education system will draw new high-paying jobs to the state, but  will they? Oklahoma is already falling in the Forbes rankings of business-friendly environments. It’s hard to imagine that going after business to foot the bill for 744 is going to reverse that trend.

2. Cuts in other critical areas. I don’t think we’re going to find enough money to pay for 744 in cutting legislative salaries and perks or going after wasteful spending. Especially as the going rate keeps going up (and stays up no matter what happens in the states around us). It may be there, but our legislature isn’t going to go after it.  I think we are moving toward a situation where legislators are going to be forced to attack the budgets of other state agencies to pay for the mandated increases in common education spending. In part 2 of this conversation, I pointed out that funding to higher education, health, and other services is already on the decline. If 744 passes, I think they are going to fall farther. They’ll have to. Is it going to help the state if our better educated high school grads can’t afford to go to OU or OSU? We already have some of the worst roads and bridges in the country, what happens when infrastructure spending deceases? We can’t count on a stimulus package every year. The further out of whack the budget gets skewed toward mandated spending for common education, the more issues related to underfunding we are going to see.

3. It hurts education instead of helping. Could the passage of this amendment ultimately be bad for education in OK? Will corporations be less involved in partnering to help education if they are already being hit up to pay for education through increased taxation? Could increased costs in higher ed cause a brain drain out of the state as students look elsewhere to further their education? Without any direction as to how the new funds are spent, is there any guarantee that they will go to programs that actually help? If districts have to decide between increasing technology, providing training for teachers, or raising salaries – which is going to be chosen? I want teachers to be paid what they’re worth (and that should be a lot), but is it in the best interest of kids to increase the salaries of teachers and administrators who aren’t getting the job done?

If 744 passes, I hope I am completely wrong on every count. And if I am, I’ll be the first to admit it. But I just can’t see it. Education is the key to so many things that we want to accomplish as a state, but education is affected by a ton of factors beyond the financial. The passage of 744 is going to hurt extraneous factors and their impact on education more than the additional funds are going to help.

Up next: Epilogue – What could we do instead?

Categories: 744, education, Oklahoma, politics

744 may be a bad idea part 2 – paying the piper

October 12, 2010 2 comments

Read Part 1 – my thoughts on the general concept of 744

Alright mathletes – it’s time for fun with calculators.

In sq744 we have a potential amendment to the OK Constitution that mandates an increase in education spending to the per pupil regional average. Based on current numbers, this means an increase of $1,627 per OK student. Since the full phase in is not complete until 2014, there’s no telling how much we will actually need, but for the sake of the conversation, let’s use the $1,627 figure. Last year, there were 654,511 pre-K through 12th grade students enrolled in Oklahoma common (public) schools. This comes to a total of $1,064,889, 937 additional dollars needed for education. This represents 14% of the ($6.9 billion) 2011 Oklahoma budget. In addition to the 36% of the state budget already allocated for public education. That’s a lot. So what provisions does 744 make for generating that kind of additional funding? None. The question and amendment do not contain a single word about funding the mandate.

So how are we going to pay for it? According to 744 supporters, there are two answers: 1) eliminate tax breaks and wasteful spending and 2) reduce pay and perks for legislators. They are adamant that the measure does not call for a tax increase. So far, I’m totally on board. Increase education spending dramatically, cut out waste, and keep taxes where they are. Sounds great, but let’s look at it more closely.

Let’s start with our legislature. Currently, we have the highest paid legislators in the region ($38,400/year). Since we’re big on regional averages, let’s say we lower that amount to the average of our six neighbors, bringing it down to $14,955.67 / year. A savings of $23,444.33 per legislator. Multiplied by our 149 (seriously? 149?) legislators (who, I’m certain, would be quite eager to accept this pay cut “for the kids”), this generates $3.5 million that we can now use to fund 744. Additionally, supporters of 744 are calling for an end to wasteful perks like travel spending by our legislators (and I agree). According to Newson6.com, Oklahoma lawmakers spent $1.5 million on travel in 2009. Eliminating this spending, coupled with the pay cut, gives us $5 million for 744. At $1,627 per student, this will cover 744 funding for 3,073 students – the student population of Ardmore.

Obviously, the legislature is not where the big money is. According to yeson744.com, $2 billion could be generated by ending special interest tax breaks. Two. Billion. Dollars. While I agree that there is a ton of wasteful spending and lost revenue due to crazy tax breaks, it’s really hard for me to buy that we could effectively increase state revenue by 29% simply by closing loopholes. If that really is the case, impeachment proceedings for every member of the legislature should begin immediately. When pressed, 744 supporters point to three (incredibly) wasteful projects – Rocket Plane XP, Quartz Mountain Air, and Great Planes Air – that cost the state $77 million dollars. That’s a lot, but it isn’t $1 billion, much less 2. There may very well be a billion dollars in waste out there (the definition of “waste”, of course, is quite fluid), but this conversation raises a bigger question: Do OK legislators have the political will to take on these powerful interests (and their own self-interests) to the tune of $1,000,000,000? I’m sure there are a handful who are ready to go after it with guns blazing, but a majority? We have to look at what history tells us about the willingness of this body to take on these kinds of issues. I’m not optimistic. In recent history, when the state has found itself a little short it has hit soft targets like education, corrections, health, and human services. In fact, the 2011 budget shows decreases of $45 million to human services, $58 million to higher education, and $63 million to health (p. 11-A). The budget also has a $125 million dollar hit to common education – which is why 744 looks so attractive. Our legislators demonstrate a consistent lack of value for education. But if this is the general attitude of the legislature, are they going to take on entities like the energy lobby in OK to close loopholes? I don’t see it.

The final way of funding 744 that I’ve heard is through new tax revenue that will be generated by companies coming to OK to take advantage of our better educated workforce. While better educated workers will certainly be more attractive (as employees I mean – reading isn’t that sexy), how long will it take for those benefits to be seen? 5 years? 10? I love the long-term thinking and hope it comes true. I want OK to be a magnet for great businesses that bring great jobs, but those future jobs won’t fund 744 today. How deep can the hole be dug before we can’t climb out of it?

Next up: part 3 – unintended consequences

Categories: 744, education, Oklahoma, politics

744 may be a bad idea part 1 – the concept

October 8, 2010 3 comments

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I want the state of Oklahoma to fund public education to the highest degree possible. I want my kids to be valued by the state and I want that value to be demonstrated in the extension of the best education possible. However, I have some real doubts about State Question 744 (.pdf doc) being the vehicle through which this kind of education should be provided. These posts are as much about me sorting out issues as anything else and are going to be way too long, even divided into multiple parts.

Imagine that you live in a neighborhood in which your family happens to be the one that earns the least. All of your neighbors make more money than you do – they have bigger houses, nicer cars, better clothes, etc. In fact, while you’re surviving, it’s a paycheck to paycheck existence with no margins. One day, someone knocks on your door and tells you that you can no longer drive your reasonable, affordable car but instead you have to buy a car with payments equal to the average of the car payments of your wealthier neighbors. You have no choice in the matter and no extra funds will be coming your way to make the payments. You have to figure out how to pay for it. If your neighbors trade up, you have to trade up as well. However, if they fall on hard times and have to move down a notch, you can’t move down with them. Upside: you get to drive a nice, new, shiny car. Downside: you have to find a way to divert (for instance) 12% from other spending to pay for the car.

This is State Question 744. If passed, Oklahoma will be required (by Constitutional decree) to increase per pupil education spending to the regional average of the surrounding six states (Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Missouri, and Arkansas).

For this first post, I want to focus on my problems with the concepts behind 744:

1. Creating a Constitutional amendment. In my conversation with YES on 744 communications director, Walton Robinson, he claimed that taking funding out of the hands of legislators (the purpose of going the amendment route), would keep funding from being blown by the winds of political sentiment. I understand the point. However, it’s hard to undo an amendment once it exists. Even a harmful one.  In fact, 744 is repealing a section of the OK Constitution that mandates that the state spend $42.00 per student. This has been on the books since 1932.

2. Holding OK spending to the average of wealthier states. It does not make sense for OK to be compared to states that have more economic resources – in some cases much more. YES on 744 wants to point out that our per capita income is higher than (at least) Arkansas, but that stat matters far less in the consideration of the state being able to meet these funding demands than state GDP per capita. Oklahoma is 47th in GDPPC, ranking above only Arkansas (49th), while New Mexico (44th), Kansas (33rd), Missouri (36th), Texas (22nd), and Colorado (11th) all have higher revenues. The argument is that we want to compete with other states in our region and that we should set high expectations for education funding, but at what point do high expectations become unreasonable ones? Why not create an average based on spending in the 6 states that rank just above us in GDPPC or other measures of economic development? By the way, while increasing graduation rates is a big part of the progress envisioned by the YES on 744 folks, OK already has a higher grad rate than 4 of the 6 states to which our funding is being compared.

3. Not allowing OK funding to decrease if the regional average goes down. This is the one that makes the least sense to me. I understand not wanting to ever reduce funding for education, but let’s think about it for a minute. Imagine a scenario in which the surrounding states experience a period of economic boom. Everyone is riding high and education spending increases rapidly. So the mandated spending in OK goes up as well. Great for everyone. But then a downturn hits our surrounding states (leading to the presumption that it would affect us as well). As state revenues shrink, everything gets cut, including education. But not in OK. We can’t. This inability to reduce spending could lead to education representing a grossly disproportionate percentage of the total OK budget.

I fully admit I do not have a grasp on every side of this debate. That’s why I contacted YES on 744 and will talk with the folks from the One Oklahoma Coalition as well. Feel free to take issue with my logic or point out gaps in my understanding of the issues. I welcome conversation. 2 rules though: 1) Be civil – I’m sick of the way these conversations tend to get held and 2) Keep your soundbites to yourself – this issue is far too complicated to be summed up in a slogan.

Next up: part 2 – paying the piper

Categories: 744, education, Oklahoma

two-wheeled worldview

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Last spring, I bought a bicycle and tried to get serious about riding. After a season of fits and starts, I had a “breakthrough” about a month ago that has led to me getting out and riding quite a bit. While I’m nowhere near the level of some of my hardcore friends who ride for hours at a time, I’m up to about 12 miles a trip and really starting to enjoy how it feels to cover the miles and overcome the obstacles that present themselves on the road.

As I was on my ride yesterday morning (and loving the 45 degree weather), I found myself thinking about how different the perspective is when you are traveling under your own power. I don’t know if it’s being exposed to everything around you or the work required to get somewhere, but, for me, things are different on my bike. While not earth-shattering in any form, the differences seem significant to me.

1. You see things differently: I was riding down a road that I drive almost every day, but the (much) slower pace revealed some things about the familiar setting. I found 2 or 3 spots that I want to come back to with my camera to shoot. There is a lot more time to notice and anticipate hills and potential troubles ahead. I’ve seen snakes, massive caterpillars and grasshoppers, and some great sunrises.

2. You hear things: When I was just riding a loop around the neighborhood, I wore headphones. Now that I’m out on the open road, I leave them off so I can hear traffic and rabid dogs coming after me. But I hear a lot more than that. Just a mile or so south of my house is almost rural. There’s a rooster that I hear every morning and a couple of donkeys that I’ve never seen, but hear all the time. Yesterday I was riding along a stretch of road bordered by tall grass and kept hearing small animals or birds running away as I passed.

3. You hear yourself: I don’t just mean the gasping for air and popping knees (although I hear plenty of both), but thoughts, prayers, and even random songs (Radiohead’s “Creep” was on constant rotation yesterday). My time on the bike has turned into meditation, revelation, even inspiration. I don’t live a life with a lot of quiet hours, but if I’m going to ride, I don’t have a choice.

4. You hear God: The heavens really do declare the glory of the Lord. The rocks (and birds and trees and horses) cry out. All of the sights and sounds and thoughts point back to the One who is waiting out there every morning.

When I bought the bike to start riding, the point was exercise. What I’m learning is that there is so much more out there than the burned calories and that’s what keeps me pedaling.

Categories: cycling, else, health, Jesus

I love this! Regular guys send camera into space

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Enjoy the geeky goodness.

HT to Geekdad

Categories: else