Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Open Letter to the Georgia General Assembly

If you've read my blog before, you know that the subjects dear to my heart are education and food.  Today I am writing an open letter to the members of Georgia's General Assembly on the more important of those two subjects.
Dear Senators and Representatives:

We are at a critical moment in the future of higher education in Georgia.

I’m sure you know that Governor Perdue has recommended in his budget for the coming fiscal year a cut of nearly $300 million in the appropriation to the University System of Georgia.  According to the Atlanta Constitution last week, you who are elected to the General Assembly are considering cuts of an additional $385 million.

This cannot be allowed to happen because a cut of this magnitude threatens Georgia’s economic future.

Some of you may not know that a study conducted by Georgia Tech in 2003 determined that University System of Georgia students who graduated from 1993 to 1997 contributed $1.25 billion to the state’s economy in 1998 alone, solely because of increased earnings due to their USG degrees.  Imagine how much more University System graduates are contributing to Georgia's economy today.

Although I am a teacher in the University System, I’m not particularly worried about my own job because I’m old enough to retire and spend the rest of my days reading and writing if I need to.  I am worried about our students.  Cuts of the magnitude proposed will mean reductions in faculty and staff throughout the University System.  That, in turn, will mean larger and fewer classes.  Fewer classes will mean delayed graduation, suspended job searches, postponed weddings, and, for some, the end of the dream of a college degree.  Those people won’t be making the contributions to Georgia’s economy that our graduates have made in the past, or their contributions will be delayed, perhaps for years.

Declines in tax income are a grim reality, and cuts have to come from somewhere to keep Georgia’s budget in balance.  I understand that.  I also understand that the General Assembly has a harder job than ever this year to find the cuts necessary to balance the budget.

However, I hope those of you elected to the General Assembly will consider the future implications of this year’s budget and find a way to continue the investment in Georgia’s economic future that is represented by the University System.

With best regards,
Bob Brown
If you want to let your elected representatives know what you think of their plans to decimate higher education in Georgia, you can find information on your elected representatives by starting here: and put in your ZIP code.  Then fill in your complete address on the next page.  You'll find links to your state senator and state representative just below the information about the governor's office.

Write an actual letter... yes, on paper... and send it to them by fax or even {gasp!} by postal mail.  Do it soon, Monday or Tuesday, because they'll likely be voting on this matter next week.

In your letter, tell your elected representatives how such cuts will affect you personally and those whom you know.  Express politely that you believe education is an investment in Georgia's future, and ask politely that they reconsider priorities in setting the budget for the University System.  (And remember, all they can do is "reconsider priorities."  They cannot borrow money or otherwise make this problem go away.  Be sympathetic to the difficult job they're doing.)

You might also consider writing to Representative Earl Ehrhart, Chairman of House Appropriation Subcommittee on Higher Education, email:, and Senator John Wiles, Senate Appropriations Committee – Higher Education, fax: (404) 657-0459.

If you're on Facebook, there's a Facebook group, USG Students for Quality Education, devoted to this issue.  The link is or just type "USG Students for Quality Education" into the search block.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Thoughts on Yeast

Yup, yeast.  The stuff one buys in little foil packets and uses to bake bread.  At least, I used to buy yeast in little foil packets until I figured out how much it was costing me.

Three of those packets (they're sold together in threes) cost $1.99 at the super market.  Each packet holds 1/4 ounce, so one is paying $2.65 an ounce, and that's before taxes!

Alternatively, one can buy two pounds of yeast for about $10 and get free shipping if one is an Amazon Prime member.  That's 34 cents an ounce.  To look at it another way, when you've avoided buying the sixth one of those foil packet threesomes, you're money ahead.

Well, almost.  Active dry yeast will keep almost indefinitely when frozen, so you'll need something to keep it in.  Get one of those air-tight acrylic canisters with the lever-locking lid for another $12.  Now you need to have bought 12 of those three-packs to break even.  I use enough yeast to account for 30 3-packs a year, so I saved enough money in the first year to buy a pretty nice bottle of wine.

Keep the canister of yeast on the freezer door.  When you need yeast, get it out, measure what you need, and put it back.  Never let the contents warm up.

According to Harold McGee (author of On Food and Cooking), yeast should be dissolved in 110° water.  That feels pretty hot to the touch.  Use a thermometer until you have {ahem} the feel of it.

Yeast "works" best at about 95°.  I put yeast breads in the oven with the light on to rise.

So, you've saved a bunch of money and you're baking better bread.  Glad we had this little chat!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kids! (Reprise)

Kids! They are just impossible to control,
Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock and roll!

Oh, wait! That was me!

I am extremely lucky to have been invited to judge the junior division of the Fulton County Schools' Science and Engineering Fair earlier today. The junior division is middle school students, seventh and eighth graders. I saw middle-school kids in suits and {gasp!} dresses!

OK... appearances aren't everything, and sometimes they aren't anything, but I am encouraged that these kids are learning that appearances do count.  It looks like they're learning that from their parents, too.  One can hope that they're learning other, equally important, lessons at home, and it seems likely they are.

In some cases the science was a little shaky, but in other cases the kids nailed it dead.  What struck me in almost every instance was curiosity and a desire to learn.  (These kids need to figure out that Wikipedia isn't everything, but that will come.)  I met one child whom I'd be happy to have in my college classroom.  I can find it in my heart to hope I live to see one of these kids become President.

Meanwhile, back in reality, I came home to read on about a child the same age as the kids I was working with being taken away in handcuffs for doodling on a school desk with a marking pen.  Morons!  When I was in high school, it was not uncommon to find something like "Joe {heart-with-arrow} Cindy" actually carved into the desk with a pen knife.  (All boys were Joe, Bob, or Bill, and all girls were Cindy, Kathy, or Barbara in those days.)  Of course, if a boy got caught doing this, he'd find out how compatible his bottom was with the assistant principal's paddle, but no one would have even thought about it being a matter for the police.  (Don't know what would have happened to a girl.  As far as I know, the paddle was reserved for boys.)  Having a pen knife at school today would probably get you 20 years in Leavenworth!

Modern school desks seem to be made of wood-grained impervium.  A little scouring powder will remove anything.  This kid probably should have had a finger shaken in her face; handcuffs are way beyond the pale.

All might not be lost.  The CNN story quotes a Clayton County (Georgia) juvenile court judge as saying "zero intelligence" about such "zero tolerance" cases.

I don't have to run for election, so I can say, "dumb as a doorknob!"  Parents, "zero-tolerance" laws and regulations do not protect your children; they threaten your children with arrest records.  Remember in November.  I came home ready to write about how great kids are today and ended up writing about how dumb adults are.  What a shame!