Not Cease from Exploration

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2013 Jeep Liberty

I recently rented a 2013 Jeep Liberty for a business trip and while I rent a lot of different vehicles, this one stood out, for all the wrong reasons.


Where do I begin?  Well first let me say that I have nothing against Jeeps in general.  In fact, one of the best vehicles I've ever rented was a Jeep Compass.  I've also driven Patriots, Commanders and Cherokees before, more or less without complaints.  A Jeep hater I am not.

Anyway, my biggest complaint about the Liberty?  It simply didn't feel very stable.  Driving in the competitive world of I80, there were more than a few occasions when I felt as if I was going to lose control of the vehicle.  Again, I drive dozens of different vehicles every year, and this is the first time I've ever felt unsafe while driving.  Maybe this thing handles better in bad weather, but on drive pavement going about 75 mph it seemed like a deathtrap waiting to happen.  Oddly enough I've rented the Jeep Liberty in the past but it never felt this way; maybe something changed with the vehicle's last re-design.

My second biggest gripe?  The drivers seat was extremely uncomfortable.  It was oddly narrow and for some reason I found my neck getting sore as I drove it.

On the plus side the controls were easy to use and it had a ton of room.  That was about it though.  I'll also note that I find the most recent re-design of the Liberty makes it an unattractive vehicle in my eyes.  In fact, I think the older version, with the round headlights, was far better looking.

Friday, April 26, 2013

With age comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom. Maybe.

One of my favorite quotes...so much so that I incorporated it into my work email signature:

"Experience is not what happens to you.  It is what you do with what happens to you."


To translate this to a more modern vernacular:

Everyone goes through sh#t in life, but smart people actually seem to learn from it.  

While not claiming any measure of smarts myself, I do claim the ability the learn from my mistakes.  Eventually.  Although I will admit sometimes I seem to have a need to practice the mistakes a few times, just to make sure I get them "wrong".

Regardless, as my body has now made 49 complete revolutions around the sun, Huxley's point is indeed very well taken.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inner & Outer Rage

As I jokingly tell people all the time, "I hate people, which is why I work in HR".  Emphasis on the word "jokingly", because by and large I do like people, just in relatively small, measured doses.  Now given the fact that, for example, I co-taught a class yesterday on customer focus, most people who know me professionally think I am some kind of flaming extrovert.  I have nothing against flaming extroverts (or flaming desserts for that matter), but it's not the "real" me.  The "real" me is exceptionally introverted.

They say you see the "real" you when you are under the most stress.  I disagree with that statement.  Rather, I think you see the "real" person when they are pressure, but not killer stress.  As a dyed in the wool introvert, put under extreme, killer stress I can morph into someone who can be almost cruel (see THIS citation, among others).  This manifests itself in being exceptionally direct, argumentative and assertive to the point of  being over-bearing.  As I said, the operative word that comes to mind is "cruel". Thankfully I've only been this way once over the past few years.  Granted my constant Walter Mitty-esque inner dialogue has probably wanted to strangle more than one person from time to time, but that's just the insular chatter that we all have, especially introverts.

When I think back to my one moment of true outburst over the past few years, I do regret the manner in which I expressed myself.  I don't regret what I said, for even enraged, my internal governor was still in place, and what I said at the moment was wholly accurate, even if the message came wrapped in a bow of sheer anger.  More than anything else though, I am truly thankful for having the ability to look back, think about the situation, understand both what I said and, thanks for some study in the area of personality type, how I said it.  I won't use the word "apology" in this one specific case, for the nature of the discussion (if you laughingly want to call it that...) was such that I genuinely don't believe that I said anything wrong.  This noted, I regret the manner in which I chose to express myself.

Thinking outside my own head, I've seen a few examples lately where differences in personality drive very different outcomes.  Whereby my inner rage is bottled up and put under pressure until it explodes, others just seem to "let it rip" at a slow and continuous pace.  It actually sounds like a better model, if you will, if it were not for the fact that there is almost always some collateral damage, someone having to receive this more constant stream of vitriol.  In cases of those who are truly mentally unhinged this can be dangerous, dangerous stuff.  While I feel bad for anyone with so much negativity in their life that it bursts from their inner seams, I feel worse for the loved ones of those who have to bear the brunt of these regular explosions.  We are not responsible for our thoughts, as our brains are far too complex to allow us prevent that errant idea from popping in from time to time.  We are, however, wholly and completely responsible for the conscious decisions we make in what and how we express to others.  We own that, and we also own the damage we cause when we fail to exercise reasonable self-control. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Television Show Themes

I miss television shows that had great theme songs.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Hill Street Blues
I loved this show.  The theme song was written and performed by Mike Post, and it had the same kind of quality feel to it that really represented the show.  I have this in my Sony Walkman and play it often.

Lost In Space
Lost In Space had two different opening theme songs; the better of the two was used in seasons 2 & 3 (I think...).  When I hear this it reminds me of how, when I was a little kid, space exploration was about really big stuff...that somehow the future was this wide-open space, full of possibilities.  Now days?  We have a couple of tubes in orbit that we call an international space station.  At least we are discovering extra-solar planets.  Performed by John Williams.

Cheers
I was never really a fan of Cheers, but I always liked the theme song.  Performed by Gary Portnoy.

Johnny Quest
I loved this show as a kid.  Oh, and I always thought that Johnny looked more like "Race" Bannon than he did his dad.  Hmmmmm...

Black Sheep Squadron
Another performance by Mike Post.  It fits perfectly with the images of the Vought F4 Corsair.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Heroes

Too many people are called "heroes" these days.

By my reckoning, no one is a hero by virtue of their job.  Not firemen, not policemen, not EMS personnel, not professional athletes, not coaches, not soldiers.  Why?  Because being a hero requires actually doing something heroic, such as actively risking death for others.  We cheapen the word "hero" whenever we apply it so liberally to entire professions.

An actual hero?  This past week there were more than a few actual heroes out there, actively risking their lives.  Sadly one died, Officer Sean Collier.  Here's to all those who ran towards danger.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Road Apples, #136

New Header...The picture is of downtown Boston, circa August 2012.

Rental Cars...Traveling on business is seldom glamorous, but one thing that can really make it stink (literally) is a smelly rental car.  New car smell?  Well maybe in the car was parked in a garage at Phillip Morris, at least as far as the 2013 Hyundai Sonata I recently rented.  To be a bit more direct, I had to spend 6 hours driving a rental car that smelled like an ashtray.

Not A Good Sign...that is when you head to your company's headquarters and it is surrounded by SWAT team members toting machine guns. For the record I took the side door into the building.

Blogfest 2013...I'm unfortunately going to miss the April 2013 edition of Blogfest, although I do wish the other bloggers and assorted politicos of NEPA well.  My plans for the weekend include visiting with my sister, something I haven't done in far too long of a time, so I'll have to take a rain-check on Rooney's this time around.

Windows 8...I had briefly toyed with the thought of upgrading at least one of my computers to Windows 8.  I thought better of it.  Apparently so have many others (link HERE).  Software is supposed to make your life easier, not harder, a lesson that I think Microsoft is learning the hard way.  Tech companies have a tendency to want to tell their customers what they want...sometimes it works (Apple at times)...most of the time it doesn't.

Speaking of Tech...I briefly toyed with the thought of buying myself a "smart watch" as a birthday present.  Then I considered what such watches actually do, and I pondered if I need to actually be even more connected that I already am.  The collective answer?  No.

What I'm Currently Reading...Gordon Livingston's "The Thing You Think You Cannot Do", a book about fear and courage, something very timely given recent events in Boston.  In fact I'd recommend just about anything Dr. Livingston has written.  In the audio book department, I'm currently working my way through "Happier" by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD.

St Dunstan's, Blue Bell...is where I went to church this past Sunday.  I'm amazed at how friendly people can be at a small church.  It was truly welcoming.  I can't help but think about the fact that over the years I was a member of two different churches in South Scranton and never once felt all that welcome.

Dear Comcast...I am not interested in purchasing your home security services.  Not ever.  Never.  No chance.  Nada.  Nope.

Defiance...I caught the series premier of Defiance on Syfy this past Monday night.  Good show.  I hope it survives.  There really isn't any good new series programming when it comes to SciFi these days (with apologies to fans of Dr Who, which really is an animal in and of itself).

NRA...The National Rifle Association is about as concerned with our second amendment rights as tobacco companies are concerned with smoker's health.  They remind me of the days when tobacco companies (not so) secretly funded so-called "smokers rights" groups.  Anyway, in point of fact I have no problem with folks owning guns.  I do have a problem with the notion though that the second amendment rights shouldn't be subject to limits yet other constitutionally guaranteed rights are (you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater; reading material is restricted, public gatherings are subject to permitting and approval processes, etc.).

Best Quote...that I've seen in a while:
"The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you." - David Foster Wallace

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reacting to Boston

It's always been difficult for me to process certain kinds of things.  Anger, extreme sadness, and similar kinds of very strong emotions don't come easy to and for me.  It's as if I have some kind of internal governor that just stops my emotional engine from over-revving.  It's both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing in the sense that I generally speaking stay very calm 99.8% of time time, even in the most trying of circumstances.  A curse in that for some portion of that 99.8% the immediate release of anger or other strong emotions would probably be far more healthy than not.

Even now I'm just not sure what to make of events in Boston.

In some respects I am very thankful for television and the Internet, as they keep me informed...but...they also create an almost surreal, "out of body" experience.  It's a very spectator way of dealing with horrific events such as what we all witnessed yesterday in Boston.  Try as I might, my mind seems to stop at some level and not think about the emotions of anger and sadness that some must feel at these events, no matter how much information saturation surrounds me.  Therein lies something of a protection mechanism I suspect.

Protection, now there's a concept amplified by yesterday.  My rational mind knows that the very act of living is fought with danger.  I could go out to my car tomorrow morning, start it up, head up Cherry Street and then get rammed by truck.  Might it happen?  I suppose it could.  But it probably won't.  What I can't do though is to stop getting into my car every morning out of feat of what might occur.  Then the very thing we cherish...life...ceases to exist if we over-react to possibilities of danger out there in the world.

Here's to hoping that those who were injured or harmed yesterday are healed and that families of the victims eventually find some peace within their losses.  Here's to also hoping that we grieve, but that grief doesn't lead to us to react in ways such that we lose the very things we cherish the most.  Here's to hoping that we allow a sense of justice, not revenge, to prevail from what happened yesterday.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Our Parents Lied: Monsters Are Real

Shocking is the word that comes to mind as events unfold in Boston.  Time will yield more answers, but that's of little comfort now.  Speaking of now:  now is the time to stay informed (but probably not glued to CNN for the next 12 hours), pray (if you are so inclined) and be grateful for your loved ones (for you never know what can happen).

Stay strong Boston.

September 5, 2012 NCFE Posting:  Downtown Boston

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

5 Questions for Tom Borthwick

Preface
I've known Tom Borthwick for a few years now and I consider him to be both a friend and a decent human being.  Given  the decent human being status, I'm hard-pressed to understand why he insists on running for elective office.  Never the less he is, in fact, running for an open Scranton School District director position in the upcoming election.  In an effort to educate myself, amuse myself and maybe educate others, I've asked Tom to answer five questions related to the operation of the Scranton School District specifically and public education in general.  My questions, and Tom's answers, are noted below.

By the way, you can link to Tom's website at TomBorthwick.com.


Ground Rules
I wrote the questions and Tom answered them.  Pretty simple actually.  There has been no editing done on my part.

Other candidates wishing to answer these questions are free to do so and I will publish their responses exactly as provided to me, without any editing or editorial comments.  You can send your answers to me at genagrippa@gmail.com.

I do reserve the right to comment on the responses in a separate posting.


5 Questions
My questions are noted in dark red text; Tom's answers are noted in gray text.

Topic 1: Nepotism
Local school districts across Northeastern Pennsylvania have earned a
reputation for employing the relatives of district officials. This
reputation extends to the Scranton School District. This has created a
general sense of corruption and a belief that the district is not being
run for the benefit of students but instead for the benefit of the
politically connected.
Question:
Do you share in the belief that the Scranton School District has a
nepotism "problem"? If no, why? If yes, what will you do as a Director to
change this perception?

There certainly is a perception that nepotism is a problem in the
district.  The Board did, at one time, have an anti-nepotism policy and I
doubt it has been rescinded.  Obviously it has not done anything to
counter how the public views the Board.  As one of nine, I wouldn’t have
total control over hiring, but I can say that my family members are all
comfortable in their professions and I don’t plan on using the district to
enrich myself or my blood.  That’s not why I’m running.  The best way to
change the perception, I think, is to simply not hire family.  It won’t be
an overnight thing, but a “lead by example” situation that would have to
happen over time.


Topic 2: School Funding
In Pennsylvania, public school districts are primarily funded through a
combination of wage and property taxes. In areas with strong property tax
bases (such as suburban Philadelphia), districts seem to be well off
financially. In areas such as Scranton, the opposite is the case.
Question:
Do you favor a substantial change in how school districts are funded in
Pennsylvania? If so, what kind of change would you advocate?

Recently, bills have been proposed in the General Assembly that would
shift the funding burden from districts to the state.  I am 100% in favor
of this.  Sadly, the bills have gone nowhere.  Right now, there is a huge
disparity in funding between districts.  Wealthy suburban districts
obviously have more money to play with.  They also tend to perform better
on tests.  The opposite is true in urban districts.  If property taxes
were eliminated and sales taxes were upped 1% (along with the removal of
silly sales tax exemptions for things like candy), that would be better
for the state and for districts.  Property owners would see more money in
their pockets and schools would be funded equally. This would create
parity, leveling the playing field for kids across the state.


Topic 3: School Director Qualifications
Being the director in a public school district is equivalent to being a
director in a small-medium sized corporation. Directors in the public
sector almost always elected with specific areas of expertise in mind,
such as legal, human resources, or industry specific skills. In
Pennsylvania, school district Directors are not required to have any
qualifications for the position, other than simply winning a popularity
contest.
Question:
Do you favor a system of qualifications for school directors? Why or why not?

This is a tough one.  I believe that Directors should be qualified for the
position, but I also believe that the electorate should be the group that
decides what the word “qualifications” means.  What would I like to see in
a Director?  Obviously, I want to see wisdom, experience, and some level
of higher education.  Proven dedication to the community and volunteer
service is also important to me.  I understand that I’m kind of describing
myself here, but a lot of other candidates do and have fit this
description.  So while I would like to see qualified people in there, as
I’m sure many do, I wouldn’t rob the electorate the chance to define what
“qualified” means.



Topic 4: Labor Relations
Public school districts are one of the few areas of employment where
strikes still remain a facet of labor relations.
Question:
What can be done to eliminate labor strikes in Pennsylvania's public schools?

Currently, the system is silly.  Strikes have lost their teeth because
districts are mandated to reach a certain amount of instructional time
regardless of strikes.  The purpose of a strike, at its core, is to
demonstrate to employers the value of work done by employees.  So how do
we make that happen?  On the board level, there is nothing I can do.  I
can only hold an ideological position and not affect state legislation.
Frankly, I’m up in the air and open to listening to all sides here.  My
instinct is to say that we need to have fair and equitable contracts and
we need a means for district employees to get them.  Is last best offer
binding arbitration the way?  Maybe.  It would encourage both districts
and unions to offer reasonable, center-driven contractual proposals due to
the threat of an arbitrator rejecting an extreme proposal that both groups
tend to start with.  I also feel that strikes, and the threat of strikes,
cause major inconvenience and are a PR tactical tool that district unions
utilize to draw attention to their cause.  I’m loathe to rob unions of
their voice because I believe strongly that they deserve one.  Workers are
continually marginalized across all sectors of the economy and so I would
be willing to listen to their perspective (and really any perspective) on
how to avoid strikes while maintaining workers’ rights.



Topic 5: High School Sports
At at time of dramatically reduced state funding for education, the
Scranton School District is most likely moving forward with a significant
upgrade to the sports facilities at West Scranton High School.
Question:
Are public schools in general (and the Scranton School District in
particular) spending money on athletic programs and facilities that should
be spent on academic programs and facilities?

You know, I recently read that in Europe, sports programs are tied to a
community and region and supported as such.  Here, local sports programs
are supported by high schools.  I don’t have a problem with that because I
think it’s important to offer kids after-school programs.  I know that a
lot of kids, particularly in low-income districts, benefit from the
community and discipline provided by extra-curricular activities.
Now, the issue that you’re getting at is funding priority.  Should sports
take precedence over academics?  The answer is never.  I was once at a
meeting about teacher layoffs that also had a discussion about who would
be hired as a new coach.  The coach issue was first.  Once that was
settled, more than half of the parents and kids there left the meeting.
There is a problem of priorities when something like that occurs.  I’m not
devaluing sporting programs at all, but the focus needs to be academics –
that’s the purpose of a school and, in terms of what is more important to
fund, it’s a no-brainer for me: classrooms.




Monday, April 8, 2013

The Atheists are coming! Quick, hide the babies and the bible!

Well make that "Atheist", as in Scranton mayoral candidate Liz Randol.  From what you read in some dark corners of the Internet, you would think that there is a looming cloud of smallpox potentially facing Scranton. Oh, and while I usually credit other Internet sources, I'm going to make an exception here, as one site in particular has committed a cardinal sin of the Internet:  using my stuff and not crediting me.  That's okay though, because I always do have the option of responding in kind.

Anyway, so what's it about being an Atheist that bothers some in NEPA?  I suspect that's the usual combination:  Ignorance, bigotry, fear of the unknown, fear of anything from outside of NEPA, fear of new ideas, fear of anything and everything that is not told to you by some authority figure.  It's the latter in the previous string that I find the most fascinating:  some folks in NEPA just want to be told what to do, what to think, what to believe.  It's a kind of carry-over legacy from the mining days.  Substitute "mine foreman" for "parish priest" and it's all the same ball of wax.  Oh, and I'm decidedly NOT being anti-religious here; in fact true religious faith has nothing to do with the concept of blind obedience; the concepts are mutually exclusive, at least in my mind.  Faith is the act of believing....in spite of what you may have been told, may have experienced or may have seen (or not seen).

And so I digress.

When last I checked, one of the most wonderful aspects of being an American is that there is no state religion (despite the desires of some in North Carolina).  We are all free to believe...or not believe...in what we choose.  This may come as a shock to some, as spouting your belief system has become something of a litmus test for public officer holders as they jockey to out religion each other.  Not lost in all of this is how often many of them fail to actually live up to their convictions (such a good Christian like former Governor Sanford, for example).  Regardless, spouting religion is really just a silly ploy at popularity...it's a way to say "Hey, I'm in your tribe...I'm just like you!".  What it isn't is a demarcation of ethics, values or any other higher sort of aspirational actions.  As Glinda says in Wicked, "it's all about popular!".  I, point blank, have seen plenty of evidence whereby some religious people are immoral and capable of horrible actions, sometimes justified by their beliefs.  On the other hand, some of the most moral people I have ever known have also been holders of great faith in things far greater than themselves.  What I don't see is that one exclusively leads to another.  Religion doesn't have a lock on morality...no more than it has a lock on immorality.  One can...but doesn't always have to...lead to the other.

All of which leads us back to Liz Randol, candidate for Mayor of Scranton.  By all means, if you don't want to vote for Ms Randol because you believe her policies will not benefit the city (or, since this is Scranton we are talking about, your faction of the city) then it's reasonable and logical for you not to vote for her.  But what if you don't want to vote for her because she is an Atheist?  Well let's parse that one out.

Support - By voting for an Atheist you are no more supporting Atheism than you are supporting Judiasm by voting for a Jewish candidate.

Understanding - Do you actually understand what being an Atheist means in the first place?  If you don't, then man up, do some research and maybe even actually talk to an Atheist.  I know a few that would be more than happy to dialogue with you and explain that, despite what you may have heard in Sunday School, "Atheist" doesn't secretly mean "Satanist".

Bigotry - Forget understanding for a moment; if your reaction to an Atheist candidate is immediately revulsion, them maybe you have some soul-searching to do.  I'm convinced that we all have corners of bigotry hidden in our inner selves, so maybe this is an opportunity for you explore yours.  There's nothing to be ashamed of in admitting one's own bigotry, as I'm convinced that discerning the world into "our tribe" vs "the other tribe" is built into our genetic code.  Luckily, as critters with well developed rational brains (with the possible exception of rapper Rick Ross prominently noted), we do have the ability to rise above our emotional reactions.


The bottom line:  Not voting for Liz Randol simply because she is an Atheist is, at best, stupid.  I'll let the words above fill in what it is at worst.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Scranton School Board Vacancy

"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."
Will Rogers 


And so it goes, after the Scranton School District last night filled a vacancy:

...that was created by the quasi-mysterious departure of a sitting board member
...via a process that gave interested candidates 48 hours to submit their interest
...where a decision was made in the course of about 2 hours after the letters of interest were received
...and which didn't really involve any interviewing

You can read all about it HERE.

How would I describe this process?

Hmmmmm

Oh, how about this?  Insane.  Yes, that's it.  Insane.

The last vacancy I had at work took approximately 4 months to fill, but hey, I know that far greater care and effort needs to go into hiring a corporate trainer than it does deciding how will make policy regarding the education of the nation's most precious assets.  Hell, we actually interviewed people!  What's more, the person we hired wasn't an insider, wasn't someone who gave favors to anyone else, wasn't someone with high name recognition.  Yes, silly us in the private sector:  we took our time and hired someone who had the best qualifications for the job.

Let me be even more blunt that I've already been so far:  the Scranton School Board stinks of corruption, back-room deals, and politics for the sake of personal enrichment.  It's primary focus seems to be on granting power to board members and protecting employees, not the education of our region's most precious assets.

In the midst of all this mess, there is one bright spot;  Director Kathleen McGuigan seems to have finally had enough.  Usually a voice of reason for the board, Mrs McGuigan now seems intent on waging a legal battle against its latest actions.  I wish her well.  If recent events at the local Intermediate Unit tell us anything, it's that bad things happen when good people keep their mouths shut.  

Good hunting Mrs McGuigan.