Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Reading

Education on the Cheap: How South Florida school districts are planning to open with less money.

When South Florida’s 600,000 public school students return to class in eight days, it won’t be the same — thanks to an array of changes forged by a bleak budget season and a summer of tough choices.

Here’s what budgetary cuts on schools means for students and parents in Miami-Dade and Broward:

• Fewer teachers aides will be on hand to assist in classrooms.

• School lunches will cost more and there will be less variety.

• Some student clubs and athletic teams could vanish.

• Students will have to work with a pared-down selection of supplies.

• In Miami-Dade, driver’s education won’t be offered at high schools during the day.

• Broward magnet school students will have to travel farther to bus stops.

• Children will take fewer field trips.

• Fewer faces will greet students in front offices and on school grounds.

And, of course, Dade teachers find themselves having to fight for pay raises that had previously been promised — which is likely to hurt morale. In Broward, teachers’ salary talks are stalled.

Principals say they are doing everything possible to keep all the ”fewers” from affecting students’ daily lives by trying to find creative ways to replace what has been lost.

Still, district leaders say, it will be impossible to totally shield kids from the new reality of tighter belts and fewer frills.

The cuts are just too severe. Collectively, Miami-Dade and Broward schools have $1 billion less to spend this year. Each district’s budget is more than $5 billion.

Biting Satire: Alan Ball’s new HBO show True Blood makes vampires hip.

Compared to the living, breathing vampire plague we’re dealing with these days, Alan Ball’s new fall drama for HBO, “True Blood” (premieres 9 p.m. Sept. 7) is like a sweet little sexy fairy tale. Based on the vampire series by Charlaine Harris, “True Blood” tells us the story of Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a sweet-natured waitress in Louisiana who just happens to be able to read other people’s minds. Inconveniently enough, Sookie can’t stop reading them: She knows when her best friend thinks she’s being stupid or her boss wants to sleep with her.

No wonder she’s drawn to the tall, dark, handsome vampire stranger whose mind she can’t read when he comes into the roadhouse for a drink. Apparently vampires have recently come out of hiding in a quest to be a part of society and live like normal humans. The Japanese have developed synthetic blood, so vampires no longer have to kill people just to eat. This means that Bill can sit down for a glass of wine (that he doesn’t touch) and take in the sights.

Not surprisingly, though, the rest of the townspeople are seriously suspicious of vampires and they don’t want Sookie running around with one. Not only does it seem just a wee bit dangerous to attach yourself to a man who must struggle mightily to contain his urge to bite your neck and suck you dry, but also, vampires are weird and different and immoral and other metaphors for being black or gay or foreign or super-creative with a glitter pen.

Who Reads It? Michael Kinsley on the Democratic platform.

The purpose of a party platform is pandering, but it is pandering of a particular sort. The Democratic Party’s platform committee has produced its 2008 edition, and now this draft awaits approval at the Democratic National Convention later this month. Like all platforms, it is not an outreach document. It is aimed at the faithful, under the assumption that only they will read it.

The platform is Democrats’ assurance that the party still loves them, their reward for supporting a candidate who may not have been their first choice and their consolation for betrayals yet to come. Much of it is written in code, lest it fall into the wrong hands.

Translating the document is no simple task. First, an alarmist note. Democrats favor “tough, practical and humane immigration reform.” And, “We will provide immediate relief to working people who have lost their jobs, families who have lost their homes and people who have lost their way.” It’s not clear what that third item refers to. Tax credits for G.P.S. devices? Presumably, “people who have lost their way” doesn’t mean illegal immigrants trying to find the border.

As a general rule, platforms of both parties avoid the word “people” in favor of “the American people” or “families” or “American families.” And platforms traditionally follow the rhetorical rule that there are three of everything. This year, though (in a development that will, I fear, reinforce prejudices about liberal profligacy), the Democrats have replaced the Rule of Threes with a Rule of Fours: “policies that are smart and right and fair and good for America,” or “a government as decent, candid, purposeful and compassionate as the American people themselves.” Or sometimes even Fives or Sixes (I’ll spare you).

Sometimes there are only two. Usually this means that some difficult trade-off has been resolved by the simple expedient of promising both alternatives. “We will ensure that our patent laws protect legitimate rights while not stifling innovation and creativity” — an excellent summary of the dilemma of patents since this nation’s founding. Or how about a promise of more research money for “common and rare diseases”? That about covers it.

Hair is back.

It is deep summer in the late 1960s in Central Park, and nobody is keeping off the grass. A heady concentration of anarchic youth has come out to play, flooding the shaggy green patch of turf that has been made of the stage at the open-air Delacorte Theater. And the whiff of hedonism that this crowd emanates induces a serious contact high in anyone who comes near it.

At the conclusion of the Public Theater’s production of “Hair” at the Delacorte Theater, the audience is invited onstage to dance with the cast members. More Photos >

The pure hormonal vitality that courses through the Public Theater’s exuberant production of “Hair,” which officially opened Thursday night, is enough to make it the pick-me-up event of New York’s dog days this year. But middle-aged audience members who revisit this landmark work from 1967 in search of the feckless flower children they once were are likely to uncover more than they bargained for.

Doonesbury: Summer lovin’.

Opus: How I spent my summer vacation.