Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wing Malfeasance

For the second year in a row, the N&R has reviewed local buffalo wings in the run-up to the Super Bowl, and for the second year it has ignored Minj Grille, Greensboro's downtown restaurant that simply makes the best wings you've ever tasted: plump, juicy, crispy, tangy, sweet, hot.

When you taste them, you'll give them Hoggard's howl of approval: Oh - Ma - Gah.

What's up N&R? You were even chastised for the omission last year!

No excuse. Fire the features editor.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grievance Suspension

Suppose for a minute that your kid was struggling in school, had been suspended a number of times, and was thinking of dropping out. What would you do?

I asked this question of my wife, and she suggested (1) finding out who the kid is hanging out and causing trouble with, and getting the kids' parents together to stop whatever's going wrong, (2) working with the kid's teachers to get an assessment of what the academic/social problems are, and (3) getting remedial tutoring. I concurred.

But this is not the thinking of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. They are one of several groups holding a workshop at the Genesis Baptist Church for parents of at-risk minority kids in Guiford County, and here's what they're going to help parents to do, according to the N&R:

[At the workshop] parents can sign up to educate others about navigating the school system, appealing student suspensions and filing grievances with the district.
And that is a powerful indicator of the perceptual chasm that exists between white people like me and black parents in Greensboro.

It's pretty clear from this agenda that the Human Relations Commission believes that minority kids' school problems are mostly caused by institutional racism that results in unfair suspensions and treatment of students that merits filing a grievance.

And the fact that most white people -- me included -- would say that's way off base would only be further evidence to the Commissioners of our white racism, either conscious or unconscious.

But let's not have that argument today; it's boring and I'm tired of it.

Instead, let's see what works. Try out your plan, then assess its outcomes.

Compare the dropout rates of suspended students with those of students whose suspensions were appealed. Do the same for students whose parents file grievances and for those who don't, and for students whose parents take a workshop on navigating the bureaucracy and those who don't.

But also track the dropout rates of students whose parents formed networks with other parents, of students whose parents worked with teachers on their kids' academic problems, and of students whose parents actively sought remedial instruction for their kids, then compare them with kids whose parents didn't do those things.

Then, once we find which things work and which don't, make the results public and do the things that work.

Update: As if on cue, the N&R writes in an editorial this morning that the New Light Missionary Baptist Church will be offering a program of "one-on-one mentoring and tutoring" for students receiving suspensions, as well as alternative schools in Greensboro and High Point for students serving longer suspensions.

Assess, assess.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The More Things Stay The Same, The More They Change

Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con on living in old neighborhoods:

... you can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying. You can do things to control the rate of change and the direction of the change -- that's what our neighborhood achieving Historic District status recently was about -- but change is coming one way or another.
It's a long an interesting post about the different kinds of attitudes you find among old-neighborhood residents, but I was struck by the paradox that historic district regulations are an instrument of change in neighborhoods like his and mine.

I wonder if that's an idea that lots of people don't get.

I know that I'm attracted to such places because of the opportunities they present for making things happen -- changing the ugly to beautiful, the inhospitable to livable.

Frozen Memories

Today's relatively cold weather (17 degrees this morning) makes Horbrastar reminsce about boyhood winters familiar to to most of us northerners:

... all those afternoons we would come home from school in January or February and take our sleds over to Washington Park and sled until our mittens were snowcrusted and our ears fell off. Go home for dinner, painfully warm our ears, and then go back to the toboggan slide in the evening.
I remember once going to play hockey on a frozen creek on a Saturday when the temperature was ten below at midday; we were so layered with polypropylene underwear and sweatshirts that we could hardly move.

By the creek found a poor stray cat sitting in the crook of a willow tree, solid as a brick, frozen fast to the branch, as if the White Witch had passed by.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Dear Office Depot ...

Update (1/28/08): Office Depot has now removed the sign after much lobbying by neighbors. Thanks, Office Depot.

I slammed Office Depot a while back about building a new store that shows its rear to Wendover Avenue.

It's finished now, and to give credit where credit is due, they spent a lot of money to landscape around it, planting a large number of Willow Oaks and doing a good job with the sidewalk -- or at least as good a job as can be done when the main entrance faces away from the street.

But they also placed an internally-lit pole sign right next to the historic Bessemer Avenue bridge, right on the very edge of the Fisher Park and Aycock historic districts.

The neighbors in both neighborhoods aren't happy, and have sent a registered letter to Office Depot's CEO Bruce Nelson, having gotten no response after three attempt to contact the national facilities manager.

Here's some video documentation, followed by the letter that was sent to CEO Nelson.

January 23, 2007

Bruce Nelson
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Office Depot Corporate
2200 Old Germantown Road
Delray Beach, FL

Dear Mr. Nelson:

The neighbors and board members of the Fisher Park and Charles B. Aycock historic neighborhood associations welcome the new location of Office Depot at the corner of Wendover Avenue and Church Street in Greensboro, North Carolina.

We are, however, extremely concerned about the large commercial sign located at the corner of the entrances to both of the historic neighborhoods. The sign fronting Wendover Avenue is a wise choice as it is along a main corridor for travel and business.

The duplicate sign at the far end of the parking lot however interrupts the entrance into residential areas. Because of traffic patterns at this corner, it isn’t even necessary to have the second gigantic sign for Office Depot to be successful.

We would like to work with you to place a smaller, low-key sign consistent with the style of the Bessemer Avenue bridge and the historic nature of our neighborhoods. Both these neighborhoods have worked hard for many years to reclaim and restore the beautiful residences and historic character of these neighborhoods. Both have experienced resurgence in restoration and cmmitment from homeowners as well as support from the city of Greensboro.

We believe that taking this step will be consistent with the consideration you have already given to the parking lot landscaping and an opportunity to expand your environmental stewardship you are so proud of.

Your company policy indicates the following: “We are committed to the principles of good corporate citizenship, positive social impact and environmental sustainability.” We applaud your efforts involving environmental stewardship in the products you sell, but we encourage you to embrace broader concepts such as making relatively small acommodations to minimize disturbances to the environment in which you build.

When your national facilities manager was contacted three times by individuals during the construction stages of the store, there was no response. We hope that you will in fact, take a moment to contact us and work with us to assist the city and neighborhoods’ effort to revitalize and beautify at the same time as promote economic development.

We look forward to hearing from you and working with you to develop a sign that will enhance the area in which you have chosen to build.

Thank you very much.


Betsey Baun
President of the Charles B. Aycock Neighborhood Association
David Shub
President of the Fisher Park Neighborhood Association

Update: Greensboro's blogging billionaire Percy Walker thinks the letter should have been written differently.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Prius Priority

Lots of talk about energy lately; it reminds me of being in high school in the mid 70s.

The President's SOTU address stirred up commentary from Daniel Yergin in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and now Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post (via Cone). Krauthammer proposes that we forget about ethanol and (1) tax gas, (2) drill in the Arctic, and (3) go nuclear.

Politically, he can kiss (2) goodbye under a Democratic congress, but I'm all for gas taxes and nukes. And although Krauthammer doesn't say it explicitly (he probably doesn't want to raise the ghost of Jimmy Carter's sweater), gas taxes are all about conservation.

I like things that save gas.

We talk about conservation at home, in various ways, ranging from "why don't you kids ever turn out the lights" to daydreaming about our next car (more about that in a bit), to ranting about how much we hate sending money to fat Saudi princes by buying gasoline.

But I learned from Yergin's article that our #1 source of oil imports is Canada. #2 is Mexico, and #3 is Venezuela. The Saudis are pretty far down the list.

Still, lowering overall demand for oil will at least put a dent in the Saudis' disposable income for bankrolling worldwide radical Islamism. Reduced American consumption should please our Canadian neighbors who like to complain about our profligate ways (they'll be happy to make do with fewer of our petrodollars, yes?), and there's never anything wrong with reducing Hugo Chavez's oil income. (Sorry, Mexico.)

Krauthammer & Yergin point out that we've been hearing about "energy independence" since Nixon and Carter, and nothing much has happened to bring it about.

But one big thing has changed since then: automotive technology.

In 1975, I was driving a "small" car -- a Chevy Nova with a 327 straight 6 that probably got 15 mpg (and yes, I wrecked it, if you must ask).

Today, I can buy a Toyota Prius, a not terribly expensive car, which outperforms the old Nova in almost every way, and which averages just under 50 mpg city and highway.

A lot of other cars get comparable very high mileage, and almost all cars today get better mileage than cars did in the 70s. Which is to say that car consumers now have options that can soften the blow of higher gas prices.

I'm not going to wait for the gas, tax, though. I'm selling my 2000 Toyota Sienna XLE minvan (113,000 miles, sunroof, cruise, AC, AM/FM CD, lots of extras, well-maintained, new tires) and buying a Prius.

The fact that my 3 teenagers and my wife hate minivans, by the way, has nothing to do with this decision. Nothing.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds & Popular Mechanics like the Toyota Highlander hybrid (23.6 mpg -- not bad for an SUV).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Wray, Oedipus, Race, and Fate

After reading the N&R's latest installment in the story of former police Chief David Wray, it was hard for me not to think of a Greek tragic hero like Oedipus; Wray's story seems to be full of bitter irony.

The N&R story explains to me what had previously seemed inexplicable: how a man like Wray, who was publicly devoted to helping ease Greensboro's chronic disease of race-based resentment, could get caught up in what looked like a race-motivated persecution of a black officer.

The (alleged) answer: he thought Lt. Hinson was a dirty cop, but, lacking dispositive evidence against him, couldn't fire him without igniting a race-resentment conflagration. So he doggedly kept after that evidence, and sought it in ways that eventually cost him his job and his reputation.

Wray's story seems to have the essential arc of a Greek tragedy: a good man makes a serious mistake which entangles him in his own destruction.

Take Oedipus, who was bent on discovering the killer of his father Laius. In Oedipus the King, he becomes obsessed with finding the killer and pursues clues ruthlessly, against the counsel of his advisers, until he discovers that he himself was the killer. He is ruined and disgraced.

It's a tragic irony that Chief Wray may have become a bad cop out of an obsessive desire to collar a bad cop, and acquired a reputation as a racist out of his efforts to avoid a race incident.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that no matter what issue you're dealing with in Greensboro, no matter how small, and no matter how fine you chop it, race resentment, both white and black, is there.

Like fate in the tragedies, if you're a public person, it can bring you down, and if you try to resist it, it will bring you down even harder.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Love That Dare Not Bark Its Name

"They Think We're Nerds"

Lots of interesting and detailed discussion about BOE member Deena Hayes's comment that the GCS VSN middle school program creates a "slave and slave master" relationship among students at Lincoln Academy, where my daughter goes to school.

But Ms. Hayes doesn't provide any evidence that that's the way the kids at the school think of their interactions. She only quotes a Lincoln sixth-grader who talks about "the smart white kids."

Well, yes, they're smart. That's why they applied the VSN program. But "slave and slave-master?" Deena needs to back that up with some real evidence.

We had an interesting discussion about this over dinner tonight. My daughter is very happy in the Lincoln VSN program, partly because, as she said (rather sneeringly) to her older siblings, "it's a lot better than that white Christian school you go to" (my older kids go to BMCHS). "There's more culture there."

By "culture" I think she meant "mingling" with the neighborhood kids, mostly black, in her art, P.E., and drama classes, as well as with the global studies and performing arts kids.

When I asked her whether she thought there was any "slave and slave master" stuff going on at Lincoln, she just laughed and said, "they just think we're nerds." (Evidence of this is her and her friends' embrace of Weird Al's hit parody White and Nerdy.) But she said she liked the opportunity to get to know that kids who dressed, talked, and thought differently from her were "nice" for all that. "They're just kids."

I was glad to hear that, since it was one of the reasons we wanted her to go there.

Who knows, maybe some of those neighborhood kids like going to school with her, too.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Fecit Ergo Noe Omnia Quae Praeceperat Illi Deus

Cara Michele posted some great information about online Bible study, and I was especially intrigued when I found out that I could sign up to read the whole Bible -- in Latin! -- in a year.

So I signed up.

It'll be a challenge to do the whole thing. But it's neat that they send me my verses via e-mail every day.

Something about reading familiar stories in an unfamiliar language makes you think of them in a new way. I was struck by the verse in the title of this post: fecit ergo Noe omnia quae praeceperat illi Deus ("So Noah did everything that God told him to").

Well, that's pretty challenging, isn't it? Especially when last week's Gospel was "love one another."

Still working on that one.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Wantum Boston City Hall Torn Down

Architecture blogging from Quantum of Wantum: "Architect Ask Self How Le Corbusier Would Have Designed This Bleak Wasteland Of Concrete," writes Son1, and calls for tearing down Boston's City Hall, which the Project for Public Spaces has named as the worst public space in the world.

Greensboro residents may notice that Boston's building has a slighly less grandiose, but equally concrete-y and quasi-brutalist cousin here in town:

Yes, that's Greensboro's own Melvin Municipal Office Building, but I don't think we should tear it down for aesthetic -- or political! -- reasons. Not that it's attractive or easy to use (it's neither).

We just can't afford to build a new one.

Update: Quantum of Wantum has more thoughts and city hall photos. And there's some interesting and informed audio discussion here.

Update II: Boston native and friend Chris McDonough sent me this about the Boston Government Center: "It is hideous and hostile to all life, human and otherwise. I.M. Pei, the architect, had other successes in Boston- notably the Hancock Tower- but GC is an aesthetic and moral offense. Moral? Yes. Five city blocks of the old Scollay Square were leveled to make way for it. Scollay Sq. was the old burlesque district, and while it might wel have grown into a red-light district of the sort no city wanted in the 60's or now, nonetheless, there was a tradition there that the urban renewal absolutists simply obliterated. The best comment on the whole matter is the Modern Lovers' song, "Government Center," which I urge you to download if you don't know it. In essence, the lead singer, Jonathan Richman, recognizes in it a deep aesthetic failure which calls to him as an artist to help out on. "We've got a lot of hard work to do today at the Government Center," as he sings."

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a happy and safe holiday break. We spent Christmas at home with Laurette's parents and her brother's family, then the entire crew decamped for a New Year's celebration at her brother's house near Reading, PA.

Our wild New Year's party: a family game of charades with players ranging in age from 81 to 11. Everyone loved it, including the 5 teenagers.

Earlier in the afternoon we visited a new arts center in Reading called Goggle Works (so called because it's located in a rehabilitated goggle factory). It's part of an effort by Reading to revitalize its downtown (hmmm ... sound familiar?) . Here are some photos of old goggles, the center's gallery space, and some hip young artists making art objects out of glass.

I understand safety goggles ... but a "Saf-T-Bra"? It's moments like this when you really feel the loss of Mr. Sun.

Oh, and did I mention that my in-laws have dogs? Here is their whippet Jasper enjoying a relaxing evening in front of the fire:

Anyway, I am full of resolutions and good will for the new year. Hope you are too.