Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Header

I was wandering around Wyoming, Pennsylvania on Sunday with the sole intent of taking pictures of a few churches.  Mission accomplished.  The header photo is something of an annex to Wyoming Presbyterian.  You don't see that style of building in this area very often.  A beautiful structure.  I just wish there weren't so many overhead wires.

Some other shots:

A very old church.

Curse the overhead wires (and my inability to get a picture level).

A third shot of Wyoming Presbyterian church.

Methodist church, showing rather crude lightening protection.

View of the Methodist church, behind the tree branches.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Teachers reviewing Principals? Why how dare they!

The Scranton Times reported yesterday that a proposal by Scranton School District teachers to evaluate district principals has drawn the ire of at least one group.  According to the article, Attorney Frank J. Tunis Jr, representing the Scranton Association of Administrators and Supervisors said that...

"The last thing we're going to accept is to have the people we supervise evaluating us."

Having just gone through my own employer's performance evaluation process, I reacted to the article with a mix of amusement and disgust.

Now I've said many times on this blog that I have mixed feelings about labor unions, which makes me at least somewhat suspicious of the underlying intentions of the Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT, which is the union representing district teachers) in this matter.  They have helped to create the adversarial relationship that exists within the professional ranks in the Scranton School District, so feigning shock at the sad state of teacher - administrator relations is silly (at best).  This noted though, I think that it's a GREAT IDEA for those who are supervised to provide feedback on their supervisors.  Furthermore, I'm of the opinion that this kind of feedback should be a formal part of the the performance evaluation of every leader, in just about every organization.

Why?  I think that performance feedback is a lot like chocolate:  a little is good, a lot is great.  What's more, feedback shouldn't just flow upward, it should also flow from the sides as well.  Think of the process as providing "360 degree  feedback": from the below (those who report to a leader) from the top (the person to whom the leader reports) and from the sides (peers that the leader interacts with on a regular basis).  A leader should be welcoming the perspective of others, especially those that rely on the leader for guidance and support.  This is in keeping with my perspective that leadership is, in fact, a form of service. What successful service provider doesn't solicit feedback from customers?

By the way, my 2012 performance appraisal included feedback from the person I supervise, just as every performance appraisal I've had going back 10+ years has included feedback from my direct reports.  I'm not just advocating upward feedback as part of some intellectual exercise...this is cooking that I, in fact, eat myself.  Have I agreed with all of the feedback I receive from my direct reports over the years?  Of course not.  Then again I've not agreed with all of the feedback I've received from the leaders I've reported to either.  Disagreeing is not the same as discounting though, and in fact most of the feedback I have received from direct reports has been very insightful.  What's more, the process of determining why you may disagree with a particular piece of feedback can be very educational.

In the end, the statement by Attorney Tunis sounds elitist, is shortsightedness and is in keeping with circa 1950 leadership theory.  Mark my words:  this whole mess will not end well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

John Lennon, God

Not "John Lennon is God" but rather two nouns separated by a comma.  I refer more specifically to the song "God" by John Lennon.



This has always been one of my favorite Lennon solo songs.  I do, sometimes, think that people believe in all of these "things" simply because they either don't want to or lack the ability to believe in themselves.  Having faith is, in my estimation, wonderful; having faith in something else because you lack it in yourself is a terrible thought.  None of us are disposable.  Excluding mass murderers and dictators, none of us are so abhorrent and abnormal as to be so greatly deviated from the other.  It's a lesson I've yet to fully master for myself by the way.  I take solace though in the fact that John Lennon probably didn't either, as I take the song as being more about aspiration than actuality.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

5 Things that will not change with a new Pope

As the men in the funny hats will be gathering within about a month, it probably makes sense to talk about what will not be changing with the next Pope.

  1. Child Sex Abuse Response - Nothing will change relative to the Church's response to the sexual abuse of children by Priests and the resulting multiple cover-ups.  This has grown beyond a moral issue, as now the lawyers are involved and the Church will continue to act more like a defendant than a moral authority.
  2. Anything Related to Gays - According to the Church, it's okay to be Gay...just don't engage in any homosexual acts.  In other words, it's okay to be Gay, just don't, well, do anything Gay.  
  3. Birth Control - Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics regularly and routinely violate Church teachings relative to birth control, the Church's actual stand on birth control will not be changing.  Church rules are described as being about morality, but I suspect that they have more to do with control than anything else.  The ability to tell people what they should do in their intimate lives is a power that the Church will never want to give up.
  4. Conservative Political Meddling (in the U.S.) - The Church will continue to be something of free source of labor for the Republican Party, despite the half a dozen or so reasons (such as social justice in general, the death penalty, immigration...to name just a few) why the Church actually supports Democratic causes about as often as it does GOP ones.  The reason?  I suspect that this has more to do with the personal political ideology of U.S. Bishops (older white guys) than it does anything nearly as simple as basic morality.
  5. Abortion/Death Penalty Contradiction - The late Pope John Paul II once said that the death penalty can be morally applied in so few instances that it basically can never be morally applied.  Yes, in the late Holy Father's eyes, the "right to life" included ending both abortion and ending the death penalty.  A natural birth through a natural death.  Yet you will never see throngs of Church-sponsored buses headed to Washington DC to protest the federal death penalty.  Why the contradiction?  Again, I think it has more to do with the personal political ideologies of Catholic Bishops (older white guys) than it does actual morality.  Don't buy the spew about "the truly innocent", as this makes the incorrect assumption that everyone executed by the federal government was, in fact, guilty; history has shown that the government has, in fact, executed plenty of innocent people.  
The above points to the simple contradiction that is the Roman Catholic Church:  it may be "of God" but it is most definitely run by "man".  And I don't mean "man" in the general sense of our species either...I literally mean "man", as in mainly white, older males.  Is that bad?  Well it's not if you make the basic underlying assumption that somehow God wants it that way.  Personally I'm still waiting for God to weigh in on the issue, but I do find it a bit odd that, in the entirety of God's creation, only older white males are somehow allowed to make the rules.

Now don't get me wrong, as I do hope that things really do change for the better.

I hope that the Church will stay out of political debates and stop the de-facto endorsement of political candidates...especially since these endorsements are more often than not just based on one slice of one moral issue.

I hope that the Church will stop simply spewing rules, but instead will reach out to people where they are in their lives.

I hope that the Church will actually live by its own moral code and open every record related to every child sex abuse accusation.  To be "of God" will mean transcending what may be the advise of defendant lawyers.  Somehow I don't think that God engages in legal risk management anyway.

I hope that the Church will come to realize that the Creator of the Universe probably doesn't endow just older white guys with special insights.  I say this as an older white guy by the way.

In the end I am really am a hopeful guy. Honest.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Jesse Jackson Jr

Our favorite former absentee member of Congress has been formally charged with stealing campaign money for stuff other than campaigning.  You can read more about it HERE.

As I've noted here before, I don't consider the purchase of Micheal Jackson's fedora to be the worst crime that Rhyme Master Jesse's son committed.  For me, the bigger deal here is that Jesse Jr insisted on collecting his congressional salary while NOT representing the members of his own district.  Hell, he wouldn't even tell his constituents where he was during most of last year.  If his intent was to heal, then he should have resigned, period.  The citizens of his district deserved representation that he was paid to provide, but he did no such thing.  That's the real theft.

The joke in all of this though is the fact that Jesse Jr was actually re-elected.  Go figure.

Let's hope for a stiff sentence in this case of double theft...a sentence at least as stiff as a non-white collar criminal would get for stealing. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Facebooks

A while ago I commented about disengaging somewhat with "the Facebooks" (said with an Eastern European accent, a-la Peggy). You can link to that posting HERE.  This whole notion of social media disengagement is both fascinating to contemplate and almost counter-intuitive in this day and age. Never the less I can report some minor degrees of success...

...I am spending less time basically using the Facebooks as a kind of visual muzak.

...I recently and significantly culled my herd of Facebook "likes". To the social media uninitiated, these are pages on the Facebooks that are either for a (famous...of the major or minor sort) person or organization.

To the second point, a few specific examples stand out:

  • One of my first quasi-friends on the Facebooks was an author that I am rather fond of, but alas, her postings tended to be either advertisements for her writing seminars or inside jokes that, for the most part, I either didn't get or didn't want to get.  Gone.
  • Equally gone?  WILK.  Yes, this is about the second or third time that I've "liked" the local talk-radio station, but this time it's a permanent separation.  I got tired of the "Limbaugh-wannabe" in the morning and the "I am intentionally controversial" liberal in the afternoon.  I actually did, for the most part, enjoy Sue Henry's postings, but with WILK it's all a package deal.  
  • I tried to cull all of the "likes" that seemed steer targeted advertisements from the geniuses at the Facebooks to my wall.  Sorry Mr Zuckerberg, I'll figure out what I like all on my own, thank you very much.
Now it wasn't a complete purge, as I kept some of the news feeds, The Onion and George Takei (who has some of the best stuff out on the entirety of the Facebooks).

The ironic part to all of this?  I'm on something of a quest at work to get my colleagues to embrace social media technologies and social learning. Yes, professionally I'm pushing people towards this kind of thing and personally I'm moving away from it.  It's an odd world out there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Thornburgh Report

I read with glee the numerous "JoePa" supporters yesterday touting the "paid rebuttal" known as the Thornburgh Report.  To those not following this nonsense, here's a snap-shot:

  • Former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued a report in the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky child molestation case.  This report was very critical of former coach Joe Paterno.
  • Not liking the Freeh  report, the Paterno family PAID for their own report, conducted by former United States Attorney General and former Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh.  This new report used the same data as Mr Freeh uncovered, but reached a different conclusion about the involvement of Joe Paterno in the Sandusky case.
So what you have is someone not liking an answer, so they attempt to change it.  Pretty simple actually.

Pretty silly if you ask me.  Don't forget that the Paterno family PAID for the Thornburgh Report.  What's more, the Paterno's were long time Republican supporters in Pennsylvania (which is not a bad thing), and part of me wonders how much the Paterno family contributed to Dick Thornburgh's political campaigns over the years.  Conflict of interest?  That seems just a bit too cozy for me.  To the best of my knowledge Louis Freeh had no connections to the University prior to the issuance of this report.  He certainly wasn't paid to come up with a specific conclusion (unlike Dick Thornburgh) either.

Andy Palumbo is spot on with his analysis of this whole sad affair.  You can read his take on it HERE.

While I admire loyalty, what really saddens me as a Penn State graduate (and life member of Alumni Association) is when I read the strident defenders of Joe Paterno forgetting that this whole mess isn't about "JoePa"...it's about a bunch of boys who were raped by a monster.  A monster that Joe Paterno kept and fed for a number of years.  If he didn't know what was going on he should have known.  The raping of children under his watch over-shadow's Joe Paterno's legacy, as it should.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Old White Guy Elected New Pope

I'm sorry, that's a post title from next month.

I refer, of course, to the news this morning that the Pope Benedict XVI will be resigning by the end of February.  You can read about it HERE.

I don't think that a sitting Pope has resigned for reasons of health in hundreds of years, so this really is news, of a sort.

What's next?  Well according to the Church, God only favors old, white, European guys to run His Church on Earth, so I'd say look for another old, white, European guy to be elected Pope.  Yes, there will be a short-list candidate who isn't a white guy, and it's entirely possible that a Cardinal from Latin America may be seriously considered for the job, but in the end the next Pope will be another old white guy who will no doubt be European.  Remember, this is a Church that only within the past 40 years decided that the old white guy elected Pope didn't have to be Italian.  God must really like Italy.

On a deeper level we could probably contemplate why the Creator of the Universe only believes that, among His creations, only old white European guys are fit for the job of running His Church.  Is God that concerned about gender?  About age?  About Ethnicity?  Or maybe, just maybe, those are human considerations and constraints?  I don't know, and those are questions which are pretty much above my pay grade in terms of providing an answer.  Suffice to say though that every change is an opportunity, so here's the hoping that this change in leadership for the Roman Catholic Church yields positive results for the faithful.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fiscal Crisis? Not in the Scranton School District!

Yes, apparently all the state budget cuts haven't hit the Scranton School District.  Everything is fine.  There is extra money just laying around.

How do I know the above is true?  Well among a few other things, I saw this little ditty in the Tuesday edition of the Scranton Times:

"The cost for the West Scranton Intermediate School gymnasium floor project will now be at least $168,437 more, with directors voting to install a hardwood floor instead of a synthetic floor.  The project, now at more than $1.1 million, includes major underground work for stabilization."

Now in fairness, I've played basketball on both hardwood and synthetic floors, and without doubt the hardwood floor is better.  Oh, and if money were no obstacle, the cost difference wouldn't matter.  But money is an obstacle here.  A big obstacle, as a matter of fact.  In fact it's a $168,437 obstacle.

Don't let the enormous size of building projects and school districts budgets fool you:  every amount counts when you are actually in a fiscal crisis.  School district budgets are like home budgets in that regard; if you are barely paying your bills you don't add luxuries.  But then again the Directors of the Scranton School District apparently don't think that there is a crisis.  My point in all of this cynicism is that the district shouldn't be spending any extra money on projects, let alone increasing the cost of a project by over 10% for reasons that quite frankly escape me.

Maybe a hardwood floor will cost less in the long run. I suspect though that, given the district's history of poor strategic facilities planning, this has more to do with personal preferences and an over-emphasis on athletics than anything else.

For the record, if there is an absolute, burning need to spend $168,000, I can think of a few better options:

  • 3360 more textbooks could be purchased (at an assumed cost of $50/book)
  • 1411 Kindle e-readers could be purchased (at an average cost of $119/reader)
  • 168 laptops could be purchased (at an assumed cost of $999/machine)

Apparently though athletic preference is more important than textbooks or other tools that can be used to teach students.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Road Apples, #134

(Published) Post 1300...For the record, this is published posting 1300 of this blog.  At the moment I have 19 unpublished postings, most of which will probably never see the light of day.  I also have three off-line postings that may eventually be published.  It's all more or less trivia, but I do have some degree of pride in sticking with this blog for so long.  I've said...repeatedly...that I do this for my own enjoyment.  I would, however, be very dishonest if I didn't state for the record that I am honored when people take time out of their lives to read what I've written.  Thank you.

Hillary Clinton...Here's to hoping that the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State decides to retire.  Now for the record I consider myself to be a fan of Ms Clinton, but there comes a time in your life when you should be able to retire.  For this person I think now is the time.  Run for President?  I like the idea, but I think she has earned a rest.

Disingenuous...is the word to describe the conversion of many in the Republicans ranks when it comes immigration policy.  Some, such as Senator John McCain, have at least been quasi-consistent (being for reform before he ran for President in 2008 but then backing off during the election); others have been remarkably consistent, reasonable and logical (such as former President George W. Bush, who bucked his own party by insisting on a path to citizenship).  Most though have been simply sucking up to modern day equivalent of the "No Nothings".

Music...I have been listening to a lot more Roxy Music lately.  Here's a sample.  "Laissez-faire Le Strand".  My older brother Rich was into this back in the 80's, and at the time I didn't understand the attraction.  Now I do, especially given what passes for popular music these days.

Tom Corbett...The Scranton Times reported last week that Tom Corbett is now officially less popular than Adolf Hitler in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  That's not the sad part though...what's truly sad is the fact that he will most likely win re-election.  Welcome to Pennsylvania, where 8 year election cycles mean more than just about anything else.

Audio Upgrade...In the "contemplated upgrade" department, I am considering replacing my Pioneer stereo receiver (that is a few years old) with something new from Sony.  The receiver is great...outstanding sound...but my main beef is that I'd like something that I can port an mp3 player into, as now so much of my music isn't contained on CD's but exists as files.  The Pioneer simply doesn't have a line-in for audio files, although I could probably make it work by using some other input, but I think I'm better off with something designed for digital audio.  Besides, ideally I'd eventually like to combine my "jumbotron" flat screen TV with my audio system.  We shall see.  **Update** In between writing the draft of this post and now I actually did buy a new receiver.  It has more bells and whistles than [insert offensive ethnic reference here].   The actual machine I purchased is a Sony STR-DH720.  Here is to much connecting and figuring to do.

Liz Randol...Look for more postings on the candidacy of Liz Randol, who is running for Mayor of Scranton. Policy aside, Ms Randol, if elected, would represent a cultural breakthrough for the area.  Understand that no woman has been the Mayor of any larger city in NEPA.  In fact, out of the last 4 Mayors of Scranton, 3 were...
...white
...male
...middle-aged
...Catholic
...of Irish decent
(this would be Mayors Doherty, Connors, McNulty).
A woman?  Some who is not religious?  Game-changer on the cultural front.  It remains to be seen if anyone can actually fix the mess that is Scranton's finances, so my view is that Ms Randol probably can't make it any worse.  Hell, maybe she will actually fix something.  In any event, look for more postings here about her candidacy.

Apple Fake News...Courtesy of The Onion...
(credit to The Onion...see link, above)

In other (fake) Apple news, the company recently announced that they will be suing 27 different drawer manufacturers for patent infringement.

Apple Real News...Just in case you though the above was really silly, here's something even sillier (but sadly real)...Apple Patents Store Design.  Crazy People + Lawyers = Bad Combination.

Violating The Code...I discovered that some of my original material was used, without permission or credit, by a local message board.  In fact, it was passed off as having been created by someone posting under a pseudonym.  Needless to say I am not happy.  I've written to the administrator of the board in question, but almost a week later I have yet to receive a response.  A "second request" will be sent shortly.  From there?  I'm not sure.  Maybe I'll pose the question to some of my peers in the NEPA Bloggers group.  The fact that people do this...namely STEALING CONTENT...is the height of low rent stupidity.  Yes I am glad people read the blog (see the first item in this post), but all I ask is that I get the credit...or the blame...for what I produce.  I make no money off of this blog, so the issue of content theft isn't one of economics, rather it's one of simple, basic fairness.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Higher Ed doesn't mean higher salaries

It's a neat trick when an institution of higher education:
  1. Has the lowest paid faculty in the United States
  2. Doesn't have the lowest tuition, even in just Northeastern Pennsylvania
You can read the story here:

Lackawanna College faculty, lowest paid in the United States, seek contract

This situation is brought to you by the same people who insist on naming a theater after a convict who used our tax money for renovations at a private college.

It does beg the question:  where does the money go?