Category Archives: Uncategorized

SOQ Examination

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a lot of commentary in recent posts over the state Board of Education’s proposed changes in the Standards of Quality, with a $950 million price tag. Rather than focusing on the total price tag and one component of the proposal (equity fund), it seems to me a more productive approach would be to look at each component and evaluate it separately. (The detailed descriptions of the items can be found here, the first item under “Action/Discussion Items.)

Before delving into the details, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

  1. The Board of Education can only propose changes to the Standards of Quality. The General  Assembly has the last word.
  2. Any new funding associated with any changes in the SOQ will be in addition to the amount needed for “rebasing.” This is the biennial exercise in which the SOQ funding is adjusted for changes in student enrollment and general increased costs.
  3. Educational funding is not my field of expertise. I am endeavoring to summarize what is proposed, based on the BOE document, and add my two cents’ worth for certain issues.

Continue reading

Hey, Sultan, Your Mother Swims out to Troop Ships!

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire

This is apropos of nothing in Virginia, and I’m not trying to make a political statement of any kind, but… With Turkey and Ukraine much in the news these days, a famous 19th-century Russian painting is making the rounds on the Internet: a rendering by Ilya Repin of free-wheeling Cossacks composing a ribald and insulting response to a demand by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV for their submission. In language even less diplomatic than that employed by our current president, the Cossacks literally told the Sultan in 1676 to shtup his mother. Read the hilarious letter on Wikipedia here. Russia had a history every bit as colorful as the U.S. wild west, but Americans aren’t taught it. Seeing this painting makes me want to learn more. I was so tickled that I had to share.


Go, Nats, Go!

by Bill Tracy

Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson along with his friends Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington are very happy today.

In case you did not notice, there is big news in NoVA: The Washington Nationals are National League Champions for the first time in franchise history!

Unexpectedly, many wholesome life lessons appear to be coming from this very fun sports effort. Appearing to be down-and-out in May, Washington’s home team persevered to win the National League pennant. Attendance was down, and even die-hard fans felt the team had no chance to advance in the playoff as late as a few weeks ago. Team manager Davey Martinez was on the outs with many fans in May, but the Lerner family (team owners) trusted in his potential as a 2nd-year baseball manager.

Suddenly, only a few days ago, people started using the words “World Series” and “Washington Nationals” in the same sentence.  Washington, D.C., will now host its first Word Series since 1933.

Is there a Virginia angle here? Aside from many NoVA fans like me attending games? Jim always insists that I talk about Virginia in my posts.

How about Ryan Zimmerman? According to Wikipedia, Zimmerman graduated from Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia and played college baseball at the University of Virginia. He has been a member of the Nationals since his and the Nationals debut in 2005. He is well known for his clutch hitting and walkoff hits. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Weekend Catch-up

Wait… what? Cut Richmond schools some slack? John Butcher, author of Cranky’s Blog, normally doesn’t have much sympathy for the City of Richmond public school system. But he notes in a recent post that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) methodology for assessing schools is stacked against those with a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged kids. Comparing majority-white Mary Munford and William Fox elementary schools with majority-black Barack Obama and John B. Cary elementary schools, he notes that affluent Munford and Fox have significantly higher SOL pass rates. But economically disadvantaged kids at Obama and Cary out-perform economically disadvantaged kids at Munford and Fox. The Board of Education abandoned a system, the SGP, that was uncorrelated with economic status. Says he: “We are left with a reporting system that punishes schools and divisions that serve larger populations of poor students. If that is fair, I am Santa Claus.”

I wish Mike Thompson were still around to see this. Back in April, in one of his last publications, Mike Thompson, then-president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, issued a study concluding that hiking the tax on cigarettes rarely yielded the revenues predicted by static analysis. Now comes this story from the Richmond Free-Press: “Profits up in smoke as city merchants report hefty sales slumps since start of city cigarette taxes.” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney expected a 50-cent-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes to yield $3.5 million in added revenue. The first month, July, collected a nifty $770,000 in taxes. After smokers got wind of the new tax, however, August collections declined 60% to $307,000. Owners are driving past Richmond convenience stores to buy cigarettes in Chesterfield County. No report on how much Richmond stores are losing in non-cigarette sales as a result. Somewhere up in heaven, Mike is smiling.

Who are you calling “inequitable,” dude? On the issue of “inequitable” school funding, I argued recently that high-poverty  rural/small town localities in Virginia were taxing less than their fiscal capacity would enable them to, while more affluent school districts were taxing more, although differences in the Cost of Living between Northern Virginia localities and Rest of Virginia localities made statewide school-spending comparisons tricky. Jim Weigand, of Lynchburg, drove home the point with the following numbers: Continue reading

New Theme for Bacon’s Rebellion Header

Inspired by recent events and growing cynicism, I have installed a new slew of header images for the blog. Can you guess the theme?

Here’s a clue: Great Dismal _____.


Happy Birthday, Mr. President

AP Photo

By Steve Haner

I love this photo, for some reason.  The lieutenant in the background is President Carter, 95 today.  Our last WWII vet president, but I very much hope not our last military veteran president. There are veterans in the Democratic field.  This is an AP photo now appearing on the Richmond Times-Dispatch webpage,  where you can read the story behind it.  It was 1952, and the boat was the USS Barracuda.    Now, Barracuda was not a Newport News ship, sadly, nor was Carter’s last assignment, the nuclear USS Seawolf. It is always a mark in someone’s favor that Admiral Rickover personally selected them for the nuke Navy.  That took the right stuff, too. 

The death of his father ended his Navy career soon after.  That other company in New England we shall not mention also built this one.  There is no higher honor than a ship of the line in the world’s finest navy named for a living person.  We now return you to your regular programming.  (Note:  If you read this when I first posted it, I had the wrong “Seawolf” linked…and it wasn’t built by NNS…fixed that.)

Richmond and DC Among Cities People Are Most Eager to Ditch

by Don Rippert

Anywhere but here. Moneywise Publishing is citing a “study” detailing the most and least desirable American cities based on real estate inquiries. Real estate brokerage firm Redfin tracks Americans using their web site to find new places to live.  According to the company, 25% of people browsing home listings online are “looking to get outta town.” Tracking the places people want to leave isn’t very encouraging for Virginia. Both the Richmond metropolitan area and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are on the list of 19 top places to leave. Redfin also tracks the 10 places people most want to go. No Virginia city makes that list. Continue reading

The Death of David Koch

by Peter Galuszka

Imagine the coincidence. On Friday I was reading business writer Christopher Leonard’s excellent “Kochland” book on the hard-right, billionaire industrialists, Charles and David Koch. I put my Nook down for a moment to check the news. David Koch had died at age 79.

He, his brother, the rest of the family and their sprawling, secretive business empire based on oil trading and petrochemicals are fascinating topics. And, the Kochs, especially Charles, have had a huge influence in Virginia as they spread their gospel of free market libertarianism.

David Koch, who lived in New York City rather than Wichita, the headquarters of Koch Industries, had been known as a man-about-town.He was a bachelor until later in life and gave freely to medical research and the arts.

Gifts include $100 million for cancer research art his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he still held the record for the most points ever scored in a school basketball game. He also gave $100 million to underwrite a ballet theater at the Lincoln Center in New York.

When he died, David and his brother were each worth about $50 billion. They got their money by running the family business, which buys and sells oil and distributes it through pipelines. They also have petrochemical plants where they make plastics used in windows, clothing and a lot more.

With Charles taking the lead, they developed a tough corporate control system that involved loyalty, secrecy and tough discipline. According to Leonard’s even-handed book, they Kochs were accused of making millions by cheating oil producers by under-reporting the amount of crude oil they received. The company settled the case. That and smart business led to success. Continue reading

Does the Left Have an Understandable Position on Immigration and How Much Does It Matter?

by Don Rippert

Debate: The debate on immigration in America continues to rage. People who hold right-of-center political beliefs seem to think that the U.S. immigration laws should be vigorously enforced. There may be some “wiggle room” on the right. For example, some conservatives believe there should be exceptions to deportation for those illegally in the United States so long as they have been here a fairly long time, paid taxes, stayed out of legal trouble, etc. Without commenting on the reasonableness of the conservative position, it is understandable.

The position held by Americans with left-of-center political beliefs is hard to fathom. While few liberals will openly say they are in favor of “open borders” the sum total of their beliefs seems to indicate that “open borders” is exactly what they seek.

This issue is important for Virginia because some areas of Virginia have very low numbers of foreign born residents, while other areas have very high numbers of foreign-born residents. For example, the 2010 Census found that 12.9% of people living in America were foreign born. Virginia had 11.4% of its residents recorded as being foreign born. However, Arlington County (Virginia’s 6th most populous county) had a foreign born percentage of 28% in 2000. Social services are affected by immigration. The cost of teaching English as a second language in public schools is directly impacted by the percentage of residents born in foreign (non English speaking) countries.

Author’s apology in advance – this is a long post. By far the longest I have ever published. However, this is a complex topic with both liberals and conservatives more than willing to misrepresent the data. I saw no way to properly handle the topic with brevity.

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Virginia-Based Capital One Hacked

Who let the dogs data out?  McLean-based Capital One has been hacked in one of the largest data breaches ever. A single hacker with apparent mental health issues managed to copy 100 million credit card applications and accounts. The seeming ease with which the hacker compromised what should have been ironclad security is shocking. The bank’s stumbling and fumbling explanations of what happened have not helped Capital One’s cause.

The hacker who couldn’t shoot straight.  The FBI has arrested 33-year-old Seattle resident Paige Thompson in connection with the data breach. Ms Thompson, who goes by the online name of “erratic,” made so many mistakes that her capture was tantamount to turning herself in. Slate reports, “According to a federal indictment, Thompson posted the data she pilfered on her GitHub profile on April 21, where she had also uploaded her résumé with her full name listed and details about her employment history.” Erratic indeed … not exactly up to the standards of Frank Abagnale. Ms. Thompson also posted her interest in euthanizing her cat and committing herself to a mental institution on social media. Continue reading

Cyberhacking: A Threat That Won’t Go Away

One rainy, windy Friday in mid-May, I went into a chemistry department auditorium at Tufts University outside of Boston where I was attending my 45th reunion. The room, with its oversized wall illustrations of the periodic table, was familiar turf. I had been through chemistry lectures there as an undergraduate.

That morning, the topic was cybersecurity. The lecturer was Dr. Arthur House, a former intelligence official in the Obama Administration and now is Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer for the state of Connecticut.

Plenty of what he said was chilling. Hackers, some from Iran or Russia and others from third world countries, have run the gamut of IT abuse, from ransomware attacks, to collecting confidential personal information, to taking dangerously aggressive measures, such as trying to remotely open the floodgates of a New York dam.

“We are extremely vulnerable,” House said to me later. “The Feds deal with interstate abuses but the real problem is at the local level.” The State of Connecticut has undertaken strong measures to deal with the threat. So has Virginia, although it isn’t easy getting information about what it has been doing recently.

Underscoring his point, several days before his May talk, the City of Baltimore found its IT system completely hacked by cybercrooks who are demanding a ransom of more than $76,000 in bitcoins to turn the system back on. Baltimore’s police and emergency medical response numbers had been hacked and switched off the year before.   Continue reading

Differences in Arrest Rates for Marijuana Offenses across Virginia Localities

Data exhaust. In a relatively recent BR post “Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)” I examined the disparity between black and white Virginians when it comes to arrests for marijuana possession. My conclusion that African-American Virginians are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession came from data generated by a VCU Capital News Service study on the matter.  Helpfully, the VCU / CNS article provided a link to a spreadsheet containing the raw data (you can download the same spreadsheet from the source link under the Datawrapper graphic). As I’ve continued to examine the VCU / CNS data I’ve noticed that it’s not just your race that affects the odds of being arrested for marijuana possession.  Where you are in Virginia matters too.  A lot. Continue reading

Starbucks Past and Future

From hole-in-the-wall…

For coffee lovers like Laura and myself, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a pilgrimage to Starbucks. Down at the city’s famous farmer’s market, the retail giant still maintains the very first store it opened (pictured above). The progenitor Starbucks shop sold coffee, pastries and spices. You won’t find spices there anymore. The king of caffeine finds it more profitable to peddle Starbucks-branded kitsch to a stream of tourists so endless that they line up outside and, to prevent overcrowding in the hole-in-a-wall shop, are waved through in twos and threes.

As Starbucks has grown into a globe-straddling enterprise, it experiments with new concepts. You can get a feel for the company’s new directions by visiting the Starbucks Reserve complex on Pike Street (pictured below). Don’t be surprised if some of these retail ideas appear in a shopping center near you.

…to sprawling retail mega-center

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2018 Hate Crimes Down

Looks like Attorney General Mark Herring will have to come up with a new campaign theme in his run for governor.  It’s bad enough that he got caught up in the blackface scandal. Now the central premise of his campaign launch — that the nation was in the grip of a surge of white supremacist violence — rings more hollow than ever.

The Virginia State Police has issued its 2018 Crime in Virginia report, and sadly for Herring (but good for the rest of us), the number of reported hate crimes was only 161 — down from 202 the previous year. The number of anti-black hate crimes fell to 62 from 68 the previous year.

The 2017 hate crime surge hyped by Herring turned out to be a blip in a long-term decline. The fact is, despite the best effort of politicians to stir up racial grievances, Americans and Virginians get along pretty well with one another.

Update: I updated some of these numbers when I returned from vacation and re-gained access to a PC.

Blackface Mystery Solved: Ralph Northam as Michael Jackson

Published in the Roanoke Times today, a concise synthesize of my blog posts about Ralph Northam costumed as Michael Jackson:

Ralph Northam’s racism controversy has tumbled down the memory hole. The governor has struck with the story that the photograph appearing in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of a man in blackface was not of him, and a McGuire Woods inquiry failed to find any evidence to prove otherwise. Critics who once called for his resignation have fallen silent as the governor pivoted left on social justice issues. And the media, which normally loves a good scandal, apparently has concluded that there is little left to be discovered.

But politicians and reporters are overlooking the obvious identity of the man in the yearbook photo — it is of Ralph Northam dressed in Michael Jackson costume. Continue reading