WRAL: I read the comments so you don’t have to

It’s time once again for some comments from our good friends over at WRAL dot com! If you’d like to preserve your faith in humanity, I’d suggest that you just skip this one.

OK, are you ready to be depressed? READ ON!

Up first, here’s a downright baffling comment on the story about Rise accepting BTC [ED: both spellings of “donut” are actually acceptable, lest you be confused]:

mafiamic: It is DONUTS not doughnuts….Pretty soon you’ll be paying with your picture,show a copy of your drivers license online on a site then get your goods and pay later. And not the one from 20 years ago when you were a supermodel wannabe before your 20 kids changed you either.

I… um… what? (on the Duke porn star article):

notexactly: Um like bill getting a lawinsky in the white house , then lying about it, then having his wife lie about it and try to ruin ml life. (well until the blue dress came out) Both her and bill were wrong to lie. Hilary was wrong to try to slander ml alone. Both were wrong, but you will vote for Hilary just the same cause dems can do stuff like that and you are good with it, Makes no difference if this girl is a dem ore rep. her business. But when a prez lies to the American people it is wrong and sad. You know like O did also. Wow take off your one way glasses.

On the wonderfully titled article “One hour, three gunshot victims in Durham“:

ThomasL: Don’t travel to Durham so let em kill each other off,just another day in the worst town in NC,who else has daily shooting?

Check out this sick burn from an article about a guy who shot his baby:

Itsmyopinion67: Note to local news channels — It’s NOT breaking news when someone is shot in Durham. It’s breaking news when someone is NOT shot in Durham.

Astoundingly, these guys even showed up on an article about the expansion of the NC Museum of Life & Sciences:

03arabian2: That is nothing at all what all of Durham is now is it? Its a cesspool of crime and shootings, murders and robberies. Why would anyone want to take their family to play in the middle of it?

And last but not least, it wouldn’t be WIRTCSYDHT if I didn’t include at least one racist:

MadMaxx: welcome to Durham, Crime Capital of NC. More crimes committed by blacks on blacks, but has a problem of profiling since most of the crime is black. Facts just make liberal news groups so mad.

That’s it for this episode folks!

Oh, a program note: I’m pretty busy again, so posts may be a bit less frequent for the next week.


Durham’s education lottery: your chance to win a “good” school

No, I’m not talking about the “education” lottery run by the State; this is a far stranger animal: the DPS Magnet School lottery.

Before I talk about the lottery itself, a bit of background is in order.

As you may know, Durham has historically been… lacking…  in the whole “education” game. It’s not much of a secret that parents and would-be parents often land in Chapel Hill or Cary due to their superior schools, which post consistently better scores on end-of-grade testing.

Durham’s “neighborhood schools” (code for “the school you go to by default based on where you live”) really have been underperforming for decades. There are perfectly good reasons for this; specifically, Durham is a more diverse area than the more solidly middle class Chapel Hill and Cary. Durham has large populations of economically disadvantaged and non-native English speakers, so it’s no surprise that the overall statistics reflect more on the challenges of the student bodies rather than any inherent defect in the system itself.

In short: Durham’s public schools are bad because more of the students are starting from bad positions. If you examine the data (specifically with an eye for economic-ish factors) when looking at e.g. Great Schools dot org you can observe a pretty consistent pattern: the kids who aren’t on free / reduced lunch and aren’t English as a second language fare almost as well as their suburban neighbors. Still, the poorly performing schools do fare somewhat worse even for economically advantaged students, and (probably more troublingly) tend to have more violence and criminal activity surrounding them.

A large part of this is the legacy of Durham’s “white flight,” when affluent people (and their tax moneys) moved to the suburbs and abandoned the inner city schools. In response to the problem, the county and city school systems merged back in the ’90s, aiming for (in part / theoretically) a more even distribution of funds from suburban taxpayers to the failing inner city schools.

The magnet system was one of the early initiatives of the newly combined school system; probably its most visible success story is the Durham School of the Arts, which was founded (along with eight other magnets) in 1996 [Source: “Durham County: A History of Durham County, NC by Jean Bradley Anderson, pp 415].

Now I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how they were originally pitched, but from what I can tell the basic notion behind magnet schools was:

  • Take a failing inner city “neighborhood school” with no clear path to success, and shut it down.
  • Change the districting of the surrounding area, so you send those kids to other, less bad schools, freeing up the failing school to be repurposed.
  • Re-open the failing school with a “theme,” then allow students from all over the school system come there to receive a more specialized education there, and by so doing increase diversity.

By killing the failing schools and sending the students to “less bad” schools, you (hopefully) give them a better education. At the same time, the new magnet schools attract students from all over, which should make them more diverse than the (often very segregated) schools they replace. Furthermore, the neighborhood schools should “lose” students who opt for the magnet school, thus offsetting the addition of newly zoned students and hopefully limiting overcrowding.

Win win. Right?

Well… maybe.

There’s a weird thing that has happened with the DPS magnet schools: they’ve become some of the better performing schools in the district. So now, if you’re zoned for a poorly performing “neighborhood school,” magnet schools represent not just targeted programs that appeal to your child’s specific interests, but instead they’re your best chance to get into a better performing, safer school even if you live in a crappy area.

Here’s the trick to all of this: DPS magnet schools can only be entered if a parent makes a specific effort to get his or her kid into the magnet school. There are two basic ways to get into a magnet, both of which require that an online application to be filled out:

  • If you live in the “walk zone” (a .5 mile radius around a magnet school) you can get in due to proximity. Not all magnets allow this (e.g. DSA does not) but most do.
  • You enter… the lottery.

Your chances of winning the lottery vary, depending on which school you’re trying to enter, how much competition there is, and… other things. There is a byzantine set of rules which governs your odds, and what happens to you once you’re in. I don’t even really understand how all this works, and I’m having trouble finding out, but I’ll try to break down the factors here:

  • Once a student “wins” the lottery, they can stay in a magnet school until they outgrow it or leave (and few people decide to leave). This means your chances of winning are higher if you’re trying to get in at grade “breaks” (especially at K or Pre-K levels)
  • Oh, there’s an exception to that; if you got into a magnet due to a “walk zone,” and subsequently move out of the walk zone, you’re gonna have to win the lottery to stay.
  • In addition to the magic automatic “walk zone” of .5 miles, there’s also a “priority zone” for some schools which, while not automatic, will increase your odds of winning the lottery based on your current school and/or residence location.
  • In many cases, once you’re in at one magnet, you also have a preferential path to the next magnet up of the same type; so e.g. you have better odds if you try to go from a Montessori elementary school to a Montessori middle school.
  • If you want, you can apply for “sibling priority” which increases your odds of getting a sibling into a magnet school when a sibling is already in that magnet school.
  • If you work for a DPS magnet school, congratulations! You can take your kid with you.

Oh, and best of all? There are magnet preschools. If you win one of those, you get free pre-K education as well.

I don’t have hard numbers, but I’ve heard that your chance of getting in at an entry point is about 10-20%. Getting into a non-transitional grade is less common.

So in a very literal sense, Durham has an education lottery, in which the prize is a superior education, even including free child care for your kid who is too young for regular school (which, I know from experience, is worth nearly 5 figures).

Why do I bring this up now? Oh, just because the magnet deadline for the 2014-2015 school year is like… tomorrow. So if, you know, you’re hoping to win the lottery, you should probably get on that.

Possum Drop it like it’s hot! For realz this time!

Well, it’s the last day of 2013, and there’s only one way to ring in the new year: dropping a possum!

A Superior Court judge will allow Brasstown’s annual Possum Drop to go ahead despite opposition from animal rights activists.

You may recall that in one of his first acts as governor McCrory signed a bill into law that allowed the return of the Possum Drop, and in one of my first posts as blogger I wrote up an extensive retelling of the saga, which you might (or might not) find amusing. This ruling marks the end of the legal shenanigans from the likes of PETA , and so the beloved hillbilly tradition is back in earnest.

I hope you guys had a good 2013! I thought it was pretty sweet. See ya next year.

Duke hosting pet blessing giveaway this weekend

Do all dogs go to heaven?

Hell if I know – God works in mysterious ways and all that. But if there are any people who could improve your pet’s odds of slipping into those pearly gates, you’d expect to find them at Duke Divinity, where they’re handing out free pet blessings this weekend:

Duke Chapel ministers will bless a variety of pets at the chapel’s annual Blessing of the Animals service 3 p.m. Sunday. The 30-minute service on the chapel lawn will feature performances by the Durham Children’s Choir, Scripture readings and a reflection by Rev. McKennon Shea, director of admissions at the Divinity School. Individual animal blessings will take place immediately after the service.

So, if you really don’t want to risk leaving Fido alone to fend off the heathens after you get raptured, Duke’s got you covered. There’s just one little catch:

Limited parking is available in front of the chapel for those with large animals and trailers are permitted in convenient spaces.

Yikes, so you have to find a parking spot on campus to achieve pet salvation? I guess getting your dogs into Pet Heaven is even harder than I thought.

McCrory apparently remembers he has veto power

WRAL says:

Gov. Pat McCrory issued the first veto of his administration Thursday, rejecting legislation that would have required people applying for welfare benefits to pass a drug test.

Well now, that’s interesting. Even if you agree with the general sentiment of denying the social safety net to addicts, this kind of screening process is known to be incredibly expensive to run, and this move gives a lot of credence to McCrory’s “fiscally responsible” messaging. A similar program in Florida cost the state more in test expenses (handed out to buddies in the drug testing industry who lobbied for the program) than was saved in denied claims.


Looks like he also vetoed the immigration enforcement bill, according to WUNC:

One (HB 786) known as the “Reclaiming NC Act” would have required undocumented immigrants to submit to criminal background checks and fingerprinting to obtain driving permits. It also would have allowed police to detain people they suspect of being undocumented for up to 24 hours.


His rationale for rejection of HB786 is that it attempted to pre-empt federal immigration enforcement laws, allowing employers to avoid parts of E-Verify. So he’s vetoed an anti-immigration bill… ostensibly because it would have made it too easy to hire illegal immigrants. Weird. It’s not clear to me whether this is just to save face with the GOP or whether such concerns are legit.

Interestingly, both of these bills would have certainly been challenged in court, and indeed there are relevant pending court cases against similar legislation in other states already. The 24 hour detention thing on the immigration bill was almost certainly unconstitutional.

Durham news odds and ends (mega vacation catch-up edition)

I’m a bit behind due to being out of town, so today I’ve got a jumbo version of odds and ends for you:

Phew. Maybe I shouldn’t go on vacation again for a while, eh?

Possum drop legal bill dropped on the state

Hey, do you remember the possum drop saga, in which McCrory kicked off his legislative agenda by allowing permits for everybody’s favorite hillbilly passtime?

It’s amazingly back in the news, as WRAL reports that PETA has won its bid to have the Wildlife Resource Commission pay its attorney fees:

“This decision backs up PETA’s position that the Wildlife Resources Commission issued the permit for this crude and cruel activity illegally in the first place,” PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr said in a statement. “The WRC compounded its unlawful conduct by filing a baseless appeal and sticking taxpayers with the bill.”

This ruling dates back to the original court case, which PETA won, but since McCrory later signed the possum drop legalization bill into law that victory has no bearing on the current or future legality of dropping possums.

So yeah, possum drops? We still cool.