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Saturday, December 29, 2012

My top 10 wishes for NEPA in 2013

In no particular order and for no particular reason, and with no hope for most of them to actually happen anyway.

  1. Graft - That in the absence of pressure from the electorate, federal authorities continue to squeeze the elected elite in NEPA.  It's rather sad when you look at the number of "not so secretly" corrupt politicians in NEPA who continued to be re-elected year after year, only to fall to federal investigations and indictments.
  2. Electorate - See #1.  That the electorate in NEPA starts to think about qualifications and results when it comes to selecting individuals for public opposed to bizarre notions about what little coal patch someone grew up in, the ethnicity of a candidate or the idea that they may "scratch your back" if "you scratch theirs".
  3. Consolidation of Services - That we end small governments.  Please, someone do explain to me the cultural, political and economic rationale behind the separate governments in West Pittston, Exeter, Wyoming, West Wyoming, Forty Fort and the like?  As I drive through these towns (and many like them) it's insane to think that each little town duplicates services over and over and over again.  Of course we don't need to be naive about this:  the reason behind the duplicity is that it allows for the creation of multiple little kingdoms, complete with multiple little kings.  Time for that to end.  Towns can keep their names, if that makes some folks happy, but there's no reason for services to be duplicated across imaginary borders.
  4. Economy - That NEPA slowly be weened off public sector employment.  I'm convinced that a part of our economic troubles in the area has been an over-reliance of the government for employment.  Coming with that is the still lingering perception among many that the best jobs in NEPA are those that are funded with taxpayer dollars.  They aren't.  Period.  Local chambers of commerce and elected officials need to do more to encourage a vigorous private sector.  Militias are marshalled and politicians rushed into action at the mere thought of a threat to "Da Depot", yet we don't see nearly the same effort and sense of urgency when it comes to private sector employment concerns.
  5. Scranton - That banks will stop lending to the city, that revenues will continue to fall short of expenses and that city leaders will finally wake the Hell up.  If you are spending too much money, the first part of the solution is to stop spending more money.  The city can not and will not borrow its way into solvency.  Period.  As I have said repeatedly, Scranton already is's just we need to make it legal.
  6. Lackwanna College - That the school reconsiders the naming of the Mellow Theater.  See #1 & #2.  This is a powerful reminder of the chummy relationships that existed between power-brokers in NEPA and how the electorate in NEPA consistently turned a blind eye when faced with rampant corruption.  Bob Mellow was a thief while in office, so why is he being rewarded with this honor?
  7. Susquehanna River - That NEPA pays attention it it's greatest natural resource.  I can think of few more under-utilized natural treasures in NEPA.  We have a major river flowing through our area and yet we do very few things with and for it.  Maybe this comes from back in coal mining days when the river was viewed as little more than a glorified toilet and industrial waste highway.  Anyway, how about every town that sits along the river simply commit to keeping their shoreline clean and debris free in 2013?  It would be a start.
  8. Blogging - That all the good work undertaken by the likes of the NEPA BlogCon squirrel ladies and NEPA Blogs continue. Encouraging the open expression of ideas is an important element of a vibrant society, and I am firmly convinced that the Internet is a powerfully enabling tool in this arena.
  9. Media - That the professional local media outlets, be they print, radio, television or Internet, make the challenging of assumptions a priority in 2013.  I get it, WNEP (for example) has to cover every little local fire, and they have to interview, on camera, the witness who has the poorest grasp of the English language and the worst teeth.   Fine, we can all accept that as a cost of doing business.  But how about more investigative reporting on corruption?  How about some in-depth reporting on why the Scrantoon/Wilke-Boro/Hazelnut MSA has consistently had the highest unemployment in Pennsylvania?
  10. Tolerance - That the residents of NEPA be just a bit more tolerant in 2013.  People who are atheists are not immoral.  People who support the right of a woman to have an abortion are not baby-killers.  Gay folks are simply folks...who may behave differently in the privacy of their own homes than others do.  We don't all have to agree on every nuance of life, but we should all agree that someone else's difference is not a threat to our existence.  We need to stop demonizing, through our words and deeds, those who may not act like the majority.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012: Time it was and what a time it was...

Some random thoughts on my 2012

Too much of the Presidential campaign over the summer, ended up politically disgusted by the time the actual election came along.  Note the word..."disgusted".  Still "disgusted" by politics.  Years ago I attended an alumni event at Penn State where the speaker was a state legislator from the Allentown area.  He said something like "politics is the only sport for real men", a phrase still remembered vividly to this very day.  He was wrong.  Politics isn't a sport, it's the colon cancer screening of society:  necessary, but still none too pleasant, mostly dwelling in the bowels.  It's a disgusting, dirty business, perpetrated by many who otherwise wouldn't make it in the private sector.

Not reading enough books.  Tons of stuff read all the time, but few actual cover to cover books.  Need to re-think the book strategy.  Part of it is just an inefficient use of time.  Part of it is interest.  Part of it is opportunity.  Regardless, more is needed for 2012.  Tired of looking at Daniel Pink's DRiVE sitting on the desktop.

Time to end the self-imposed banishment to Elba.  Too many temperature extremes.  Too many randomly full cat food dishes.  Too many late night knocks on the door for silly things.  Too many decisions made for me about my time.  Difference between being an owner and actually owning.  Too little privacy & there should be no need for extra locks on bathroom and bedroom doors.  A need to be typing the 2013 year in review from somewhere else.  Garage, with workbench, is required.  

Not enough in 2012.  More of it in 2013.

Too much bad stuff in 2012.  More good stuff in 2013.

Not enough in 2012.  More in 2013.



Penn State
Rehab (image...).  It ain't about football any more.

Professional Colleagues

Significant Other
Exceptionally happy & truly blessed.  There is much to do.

Closing in on 1300 postings.  Closing in on a page view milestone.  Time to consider starting a professional blog.  Or at least consider the thought more seriously.  Enjoyed many local blogs...we produce some world-class blogging stuff in NEPA.

Time to start becoming a bit more secure.  Time to start taking some chances.  Time to start using some of the implied authority I have been given.  Time to start cashing in some of the respect earned over the years.  Cashing in some of the chips.  Time to be a bit less subtle.  Time to start using some of the access I've been given.  Time to get over the silly distaste for networking.  Time to let them know I am here.

Always keep learning and taking nothing for granted.  Learning to let go is the only sure fire way to know that you actually have anything in the first place. Being honest but not too honest.  Parenting is like a symphony:  many different parts, all blending together to hopefully make one sound.  It's different when your "children" are capable of being parents themselves.  Continue to do less "saying" and more "showing", as life is a contact sport.  Always trying to set a good example.  Take nothing for granted.

Time to get down to see my sister this year.  For real.  South Central Pennsylvania is my second home anyway.  Time for more coordination with my brothers.  Enough compromising.  Time to make long term decisions for those who are unwilling or unable. Too much dichotomy between my professional and certain parts of my personal life.  Looking forward to spending New Years on the top of Walton's Mountain with some very wonderful people:  there will be hiking, conversation, food and battery recharging.

Playing the Limbo:  how low can it go?  Home for a good part of my life, but there is nothing holding me here.  See "domicile".  Disgusted, see "politics".  Clearly, an escape plan is required.  Cost/benefit equation has tilted way off kilter.  2.4% raise just for leaving is very appealing.

Far too much.  Solutions to violence shouldn't include more violence.  We've turned death into either a news spectacle or a video game cartoon.  The Boomtown Rats were right:  "...the lesson today is how to die...".

Talked, but not as much.  Not feeling abandoned though and not asking for favors.  Life lessons continue, and it's pretty clear that the only way to know where you are going is to first get on the road.  Miss having a church to attend.  Have enjoyed attending Grace Episcopal in Kingston.  Still getting my arms around Protestant church organizational structures:  Wardens?  Sextons?  Democracy is a tough concept in religion when you grew up in a totalitarian state.

Best quote found this year:  "For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to be served, a debt to be paid.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness - happiness is the way.  So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one." - Father Alfred D'Souza

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On guns, gun control and our culture of violence

This is going to be "it".  The one and only time I will wade into the debate about gun control and last week's horrific shooting in Connecticut.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, this country has faces several challenges, none the least of which is that we have a culture where violence is interwoven with the fabric of our society. Note the use of the word "culture".  Professionally*, I use the word "culture" in a very purposeful means the "unwritten rules by which an organization operates" or something along those lines.  In the United States today, there is an unwritten rule that violence is okay.  In fact, it's been an unwritten rule for a very, very long time, going back to "spare the rod, spoil the child" days until now where you have life-like video game simulations of combat.  We have always tolerated more violence than just about any other western culture.

Here's the thing about culture though:  you don't change it quickly and you never change it easily.

The above statement doesn't mean that you fail to take common sense steps to make people safe.  In fact, the only way I think you CAN change culture is by taking small, incremental steps.  I firmly believe that one of the incremental steps that needs to be taken in this country is to limit access to certain kinds of guns.  So far in this country we can't seem to take even the smallest of steps towards reasonable limits to gun ownership.  Why?

When it comes to gun control, there is a very small core group of people who want to own guns not for sporting purposes, but for the simple (all be it bizarre) "fact" that they believe guns will be necessary when they need to protect themselves from an oppressive government (think Biblical stuff, number of the Beast, bad 70's devil movies, etc.).  This group, who I personally think is at the core of the National Rifle Association (NRA), will never change their opinion on gun control.  They WANT a culture of violence, as it suits their view of the world.  Read about the "ZOG"** for an idea as to what I am talking about.  For these people, a belief in guns is almost like a religious belief, which is why they can't accept reasonable restrictions on gun ownership just as we all accept reasonable restrictions on free speech.

Stripping out the "guns to protect us from the ZOG" and "Jesus wants us to be able to own machine guns" crew, I think that most NRA members actually don't want their neighbors, for example, to own assault rifles.  In fact, these people probably understand to a greater degree than most just how deadly firearms can be in the hands of the wrong people.  Most NRA members, I suspect, realize that assault rifles are designed to kill people, and nothing else.  I had someone once tell me that using an assault rifle to hunt deer would be like shooting squirrels with an .44 magnum.  Simply put there is no reason to own certain kinds of firearms.

So what should be done about all of this?  Well if our "culture of guns" is a part of our "culture of violence", then it seems to me that there are a few reasonable steps that can be taken that will, over the long term, have a positive impact on everyone's safety.  These include:

  • Banning the sale and ownership of assault rifles OR any kind of weapon that can be turned into basically a machine gun.  
  • Banning the sale of large capacity ammunition magazines.
  • Banning the sale of guns over the Internet.
  • Banning the sale of guns at gun shows where there is no ability to conduct background checks.
  • Banning the ownership of guns by people who meet certain mental health criteria.
  • Banning the sale of guns at department stores.  Nothing is more discouraging than seeing the gun racks at WallyWorld being 30 feet from the toy section.

Now contrary to what some of my more Progressive friends may think, I do not believe that this is the only solution to our culture of violence problem in the United States, but it is a common sense area where a small but meaningful impact can be made.  There are other things we can do, and while there are no easy, no simple, no "quick-fix" solutions to our violence problem, some other things I'd like to see change include:

  • Conflict Resolution Skills:  Teach conflict resolution skills in every school, in every grade.  It should be like Reading or English class.
  • Mental Health:  Devote greater resources to mental health screenings and treatment.  Make mental health as great a topic of national discussion as we do physical health. 
  • Violent Content:  Put graphic violence on par with graphic sexuality in terms of access and disclosure. Part of our culture is that a movie showing people making love gets an "R" rating, but a "shoot'em up" movie gets a PG-13.  It simply makes no sense, unless you run it though our culture of violence filter that exists in the United States.

I know there is more than can be noted and done, but it's a start.  In the end, the first step towards changing culture is a simple desire to WANT to change culture.  Maybe, hopefully, that's where we find ourselves now.

(*) I cringe when business leaders talk about changing "organizational culture", like it was swapping Coke for Pepsi in the vending machines.  Many leaders confuse "culture" with "climate", where "climate" is how you feel as a part of an organization.  Climate can often times be changed quickly (get rid of a bad leader and climate improves immediately).  Culture can not be changed quickly, ever.

(**) I am not implying that all NRA members are antisemetic, but rather that ZOG is an example of the kind of conspiracy theory thought that I believe does exist at the core of the most ardent NRA members. They really do believe that they need their guns in order to form militias.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A victory for common sense & fiscal responsiblity

Local news outlets (such as WNEP) have reported that a three judge panel in Lackawanna County has denied the City of Scranton's request for a 1% commuter tax.  You can read more HERE.  This is a victory for common sense & fiscal responsibility.

Common Sense.

The approximately 20,000 commuters that work in Scranton didn't create mess that Scranton is in, so simply put, they shouldn't be responsible for fixing it.  Period.  Who is responsible?  Well in my opinion, the order goes something like this:

1) Elected officials
This includes the Mayor and just about every member of city council for the last quarter century.  These elected officials have regularly spent more than they had and made up the difference using just about every silly idea (including the current silly idea de jour, lease-backs) and borrowing trick known to accountancy. Also, successive City Councils have routinely put members political interests ahead of those of taxpayers by constantly bowing to public safety union member demands.

2) Public safety union officers
I specifically mean the leaders of the police and (especially) fire departments labor unions.  They have used scare tactics and taken advantage of the political ambitions of elected officials to blunt just about every attempt at seriously controlling costs.  When your employer is bankrupt, only in Scranton do workers demand (and get) raises.

3) PEL
For providing spineless guidance.  I also fault them for the city's loss in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which cost the city a $30 million award (which public safety union members "generously" reduced to a paltry $15 million).  If you advise the city...and your advice is should be held accountable. As far as I can tell, PEL is accountable to no one.

4) Taxpayers
See item #1...ultimately taxpayer apathy is to blame for poor city administration.

Now the above may sound like "union bashing", but so be it.  More than half of the city's expenses are in the area of personnel costs, and when workers control the terms and conditions of employment...which they do in's no wonder that the city is run basically for their exclusive benefit.  In one sense I really can't blame them:  over the decades, union leaders simply took advantage of elected officials desire to remain in office at all costs.  They get an "A" for strategy, but an "F" for overall impact.

So what should be next?  The city needs to declare bankruptcy and open up all of its contracts for re-negotiation.  This includes labor contracts.  No one...and I mean NO ONE...employed by the city of Scranton should be getting a raise as long as the City is unable to pay its bills.  No one has a "right" to be employed by the city.  No one has a "right" to a raise.  City residents are going to have to...

...accept higher costs for city services
...accept fewer police and firemen on duty

...and most importantly...

...start to demand some accountability for results.

It all starts with the Mayor and City Council, but will soon have to move to the Scranton School Board, which has it's own set of fiscal nightmares.  The connection though is that both the City and School District are funded by the same group of taxpayers, so it's high time for some coordination and cooperation.

In the end, this can either be a new beginning for the city or it can be the last spiral down the drain.  It's time for Mayor Doherty and Mayor (I mean Council President) Evans to face reality and stop pretending as if we can simply kick Scranton's problems down the road a few more years.  A "few more years" is now.

Time to put on the big-boy pants ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Apathy towards greed and corruption in NEPA

While reading a posting of Gort's a few moments ago, I had something of an epiphany:  maybe the reason why there is so much corruption in NEPA is because many here secretly want to partake of it themselves.

Tony Soprano would describe it as wanting "a taste".

It's something of a viscous circle in a lot of ways:  the economy in NEPA has always been bad, therefore jobs are hard to come by.  The solution?  Turn a blind eye when that school board member or businessman skirts the law in the hope that maybe you will be able to, in turn, get a "favor" from them.  Maybe it's a teaching job for your son or daughter.  Maybe it's something else.  Does it really matter?

The above explains quite a bit in the local school board & Bob Mellow departments.  This theory would be ripe for actual study by a local college or university.  Any takers out there?

Regardless, evil exists in part because good turns a blind eye, and in NEPA many a blind eye has been turned over the years.  Let's hope our children learn better.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Road Apples, #132

The Shooting...I'm still not sure what to make of the CT shooting.  Part of me has this visceral reaction, part of me just doesn't know what to think.  I do know this:  I'm pretty disgusted by some of the gut reactions by some, as expressed in the Facebooks.  On hand you have some calling for immediate gun control, on the other you have people claiming that we should be arming schools like they were prison yards.  It's all so very disconcerting.  From my last posting on the Facebooks:

"I'm pretty disgusted with Facebook now...all the "Put God in schools", "turn schools into armed fortresses" and "gun control now" stuff is getting a bit disturbing. 

Yes, I believe in God, but I'm sorry, forcing kids to pray and read the 10 Commandments will not prevent another shooting. By the way, precisely WHICH GOD are we to be putting in schools? The stern God of Baptists or the understanding God of my college chaplain? And what about children who are Muslim, Taoists, Buddhists, and non-believers? Besides, we already have places where people read scripture and pray: they are called "churches", "temples" and "mosques". 

Also, do we really want heavily armed men patrolling our schools? Does a kindergartner really need to see someone with an M16 greet them every morning? What kind of lesson does THAT teach our children? We already have places full of armed guards, locked doors and high-security: they are called "jails". 

While I'm at it, whining about gun control will not solve any problems either. The Genie is out of the bottle already for God's sake. You can no more legislate cultural change than you can morality.

I really don't know what the solution is to all this madness is, but I can tell you this much: it will not be found in or inspired by a Facebook meme.

Rant completed."

Proud Father Department...My youngest daughter is transferring to a school in NEPA, as she has figured out that living away at West Chester just isn't for her. Home sick?  I don't necessarily think so.  My youngest is a very hard working individual and I think it's more a case of her wanted to be able to go to school and continue to work at a job she likes.  You can't ask for much more than that in the parenthood department.

Work...When I do the tale of the tape, I have exactly two more days in the office for 2012:  this coming Thursday and Monday the 26th.  I also have two days of training coming up in Newark, but that's hardly time in the office.  Even with this I think I am still carrying over something like 14 vacation days into 2013.  I have plans for the weekend before New Years, but it will also be nice to have a few days during the week of Christmas to relax and contemplate.  There is much to be thankful for, much to plan, much to do.

Westboro Baptist apparently going to "protest" at upcoming shooting victim funerals.  Let me get right to the point:  these pigs don't deserve to be in the same state as the heroes and children who recently died.  Never before has a group so tarnished the notion of religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Walking Dead...I tried to watch the Walking Dead last weekend, but I just couldn't.  It's such a dark, dark show.  At first it seemed that there was some hope for these survivors, but now, well, it's all just death and decay.  I don't need the negativity.

Scranton Follies...Apparently the good judges will be handing down their decision on Scranton's commuter tax before the end of the upcoming week.  I've made no secret that I find the tax to be nothing more than a sham, an excuse to perpetrate mis-management of the city, a targeting of a group that can't vote against those who are imposing the tax.  Here's to hoping that the panel of judges forces Scranton's leadership to face reality now, because if they don't, they will simply have to face reality later.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Parents Lied: Monsters Are Real.

It's very difficult to describe the feeling when you ponder that so many children have died in such a horrible, violent manner.

So much potential gone.

So many brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, all gone.

So very senseless.

In the end, I suspect that's the point:  it doesn't make sense.  And it never will.

There's a time and season for everything.  Now's a time to mourn.  We can argue about gun laws later.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day one of the Scranton commuter tax hearing

You can read the coverage HERE (I hate linking to the Scranton Times "Pay to Read" site, but so be it).  My read?  It's not looking good for the city of Scranton.  A few points came up that are worth nothing:

  • It doesn't appear that the judges are convinced that Scranton has exhausted all of its potential revenue sources.  This includes raising the garbage fee.
  • There is some skepticism over increasing the city's debt; to quote Judge Nealon, this is akin to "just throwing deck chairs off the Titanic".  For the record I worked with Terry Nealon a long, long time ago.  Smart...and nice...guy.
  • Even PEL believes that getting $1.3 million from not-for-profits is "unrealistic".  I have a better word:  fanciful.
As I said, not looking good.  The hearing resumes today, and I suspect that testimony will further erode the city's case.   I hope that Ms Evans and Mr Doherty (the strangest of bedfellows) have a Plan B.

I'm thinking that they don't, but that's okay.  When all you do is simply make numbers up (like $1.3 million in voluntary contributions from not-for-profits), coming up with additional fake revenue shouldn't be all that difficult.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Scranton's Commuter Tax Hearing (Today)

Today the City of Scranton's leaders will attempt to convince judges that they have made every possible budget cut, trimmed every expense imaginable and taxed city taxpayers to the brink SUCH THAT they should now be allowed to tax non-residents who work in the city.

This is, as I've noted before, ridiculous.  And I make this statement as a resident and taxpayer of the City of Scranton.

The best website/blog I've found for information on the city's farce (known as its budget) is Consolidated IZA (click to link), which provides far more detail than I would ever attempt here.  However I just can't help but offer a few opinions of my own.

So what have the city's leaders done to get Scranton's fiscal house in order?

  • Provided multi-year contracts to unionized public safety workers that guarantees them a raise each year.  Note that when my employer was trying to cut costs, they eliminated raises for everyone.  Then again my employer has to actually balance a budget.
  • Proposed raises ON TOP OF other financial awards (from bond proceeds) for city lawyers.  
  • Somehow transported themselves into a magical land where TAX EXEMPT organizations should be paying TAXES to the tune of over a million dollars a year in fantasy revenue.  Note to City Council President Janet Evans:  "TAX EXEMPT" means that they "DON'T HAVE TO PAY TAXES".  
  • Continued to kick the ball down the street with a DRAMATICALLY UNDERFUNDED pension plan.

Not to be outdone, city hall employees continue to work as if nothing bad at all were happening.  Hell, public  safety workers GENEROUSLY agreed to reduce an arbitration award from $30 million to JUST $15 million.  They do realize that the city doesn't actually have the money, right?  That's okay, as they can probably arrange for another loan from union affiliated bank at an interest rate akin to what someone with bad credit pays for a used Dodge Caravan at a "buy here/pay here" car sales establishment.  Tell me, who really is running Scranton these days?

So yes, the hearing is today.  Here's what I am hoping for:  No to the commuter tax.  While I agree that commuters benefit from Scranton's infrastructure, the simple fact is this - they didn't create Scranton's fiscal mess, and as a result they shouldn't be required to help fix it.  Period.  A "no" today could hopefully lead to the only real solution to Scranton's financial mess:  bankruptcy, where someone without political motivations will make the tough decisions (including opening up labor contracts) that actually will solve the city's problems.

Mark my words:  as "yes" on the commuter tax only forestalls Scranton's eventual bankruptcy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2013: Reducing my (paper) footprint

I have many goals for 2013:  some big, some small, some well planned out, some just sort of coming to me.  One that has been brewing for a few weeks now has to do with how I handle information, both personally and professionally.  Simply put, I want to dramatically reduce the amount of paper I handle, manage and store.


Well this particular initiative was more or less born at work, but it makes plenty of sense to apply it at home as well.  We've talked in the office about reducing our printing costs.  Now this isn't an enormous amount of money, but if we can save a few hundred dollars in our office by using electronic documents instead of printing out paper, then why not?  The more I have thought about it, the more ridiculous the whole paper culture thing becomes; in many instances, I was printing paper to read maybe once or twice then simply throwing it away.

Now making this change works for me on a couple of different levels:
  • I don't like waste (a.k.a. I am cheap)
  • I like to be environmentally friendly
  • I like using technology (and I have lots of it)
  • I want to do whatever I can do to help my employer's success
So why not?  If my mission is to reduce my paper footprint, then I need a few strategies to make this happen.  Here's some of what I'm going to do.

Up until fairly recently, my laptop has been more a desktop than anything else.  Yes, I would take it home, but outside of my office and my backpack, it was pretty much stationary.  Not any more.  For example, when I get an agenda for a meeting, I'm saving it in a desktop folder and bringing the laptop with me to the meeting.  From there, I am taking meeting notes on documents themselves storing them on my personal network drive.

I'm also slowly but surely going to scan important documents to pdf files where it's something I do receive in paper but want to retain.

Now there are some things that I am going to continue to keep in paper, such as travel receipt copies.  I am going to keep a notebook for ad hoc notes and phone messages.

All told?  I think I can easily reduce my paper usage at work by about 80%.

I am actually better about managing paper at home, believe it or not.  Where I do maintain paper, such as keeping receipts from bills I've paid, I am going to start using my flatbed scanner to convert them to pdf files.  There are some thing that I want to continue to keep in paper, such as printed out tax forms, but that's all material that can be archived in a storage box.

I know, the above is something of a yawner, but that's okay, as it doesn't take that much to amuse me.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Sean O'Shea

Dear Mr O'Shea,

Congratulations on having been selected as the next President of the Scranton School Board.  As you've probably been told already, many times, you certainly have a tough job in front you.  State budget cuts, professional contracts, decaying buildings, poor test scores:  the list goes on.  However, I think there is one issue that rises above all others, and I'm publicly asking you to address it as your first order of business.


Yes, in my opinion trust is the most important issue facing the Scranton School District.  In fact, I'd call it a crisis of trust.  The public that pays for the operations of the Scranton School District simply doesn't trust your Board. They believe that the Board exists as a glorified employment agency for the connected and related.  They believe that the Board puts the personal interests of Directors and Administrators in front of all else, including what should be the central mission of the Board:  educating our children.

As someone with military experience, I am sure you understand how important discipline is in running an efficient and effective organization.  Disciplined operations have a vision, have a mission, and they have values.  And they test all of their actions against this vision, mission and values.  I dare suspect that nothing in the vision, mission and values of the Scranton School Board includes "employment for friends and relatives".  However, as long as the actions of the Board are perceived as being motivated by personal gain on the part of Directors and Adminstrators, all of the actions of the Board will be tainted.

You, now, can make a difference.

Make one of your first actions the adoption of a tough anti-nepotism policy.  Simply put, the District should NEVER hire relatives of Directors or Administrators.  Ever.  Period.  I know, I hear the cries now:  "but the relatives that have been hired were highly qualified!", which may be true, but there are many non-related but highly qualified individuals out there looking for work.  Has the Board ever hired a relative or friend that anyone admitted to being not "highly qualified"?  Of course not!  Again, the issue isn't one of talent:  there is plenty of non-relative talent out there looking for work.  Again, the real issue is about trust, and right now we, the taxpayers, don't trust the Board. As previously noted, this lack of trust taints everything the Board does.

Make the difference Mr O'Shea. Do something shocking:  stop the Scranton School District from continuing to be perceived as an employment agency for the family members of the connected.


Steve Albert
Resident & Taxpayer, City of Scranton

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


...motivation.  I just don't have much of it.  Now last night I could blame the 3:30am attack of stomach sludge that made its way up through my throat.  Gross, but it has the benefit of being true.  Didn't Keith Moon or Bonzo Bonham or some other drummer die of such a thing?  Oh, that was related to drinking.  Never mind, as mine is more related to eating too much fatty food and a nasty case of GERD. Besides, I don't drink...alcohol.

I could also blame the sheer bulk of stuff I have to do at work, because that also has the benefit of being true.  It's nice to be valuable, until that value exceeds your capacity to deliver it.  I'll get over it, but my Catholic guilt is in overdrive.  Yes, it even applies to work.  Especially to work.  No wonder they've kept me all these years.

I could blame the holidays, but that's not neither fair nor accurate.  I actually like Christmas.  I always have as a matter of fact.  Holiday depression is for people that don't have a family.  Or a significant other.  Or a cat.  I have all three categories covered as a matter of fact.

Maybe I can blame the "fiscal cliff", as that's the thing to do these days.  Nah, that would be just stupid.  You  know, like the whole "fiscal cliff" thing in the first place.

No, I suspect that there is no one to blame here.  The very concept of "blame" is so very pedestrian anyway.  More likely than anything else, I just need to get off my butt.

And now for something completely different:  Raj from the Big Bang Theory meets Siri...