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Monday, November 18, 2019

Scranton's Teachers, Learning a (Biblical) Lesson

"Do not be deceived:  God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
(Galatians, Chapter 6 - Verse 7)

As noted in a recent Scranton Times article (link HERE), unionized teachers in the Scranton School Distract are upset.  You can read the article for the particulars, but that's not the point of this posting.  Rather, and as noted above, this is about a lesson of almost biblical proportions.

For decades, unionized teachers in the Scranton School District financially supported and campaigned for school board candidates are where, at best, incompetent.  At worst?  Well, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, there is more to come on the "at worst" front (link HERE).  It was this history of union-supported candidates who...

...drove the district to insolvency & at the doorstep of a state takeover
...approved to no-bid, dramatically over-priced, busing contracts
...allowed a non-employee to receive employee healthcare benefits
...looked the other way as a former Business Administrator was committing felonies

...and I could go on (and on), but the point is made.  Call me unsympathetic, but the union knew exactly who they were supporting, and what these individuals stood for, such as no-bid busing contacts.  What was the underlying thought process of union leadership?  That the money would never stop flowing, so what's some graft here or there?  Maybe it was that "better the known and incompetent than the alternative"?

Now the teachers' union has an absolute right to support the political candidates who they believe will benefit its membership.  They don't, however, have a right to be exempt from the rightful criticism that comes with aiding and abetting (at best) incompetence.  What's called for here is an examination on the part of the union leadership as to their role in the downfall of the Scranton School District and how such a role can be prevented in the future. The teachers' union is just one of many with dirty hands in the sorry state that is the Scranton School District; as learning professionals, they should be at the forefront of culling some important lessons from it all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Free Range Human

Greetings from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I'm here in a nice hotel room, having checked my company email for the last time today.  Tomorrow starts the two flights that will eventually bring me back home.  Since I've washed the travel off of me (literally...I just got out of one of those "far too long in the shower, but what the heck, it's a hotel room"), I'm left to here to either watch TV (which I don't like to do), organize files (which I don't want to do) or write.  As you can see, writing won.

Speaking of writing, I'm not publishing stuff on this blog as frequently as I used to.  I still do write, almost daily, as a matter of fact, but most of that stuff isn't fit for even this cheesy attempt at public introspection.  I feel a bit guilty about the whole not writing as much thing, by the way.  Guilty not because I somehow feel it is being missed, but guilty because this is a kind of commitment I made to myself back in 2008, and I should be doing a better job of honoring it.  Yes, that's one of the hundred or so thoughts pinging around in my head at the moment.  I'll be spelling out some more (literally) shortly.  Guilt aside, at least I am writing this posting.

The above is a kind of stall...as in I am stalling.  One of the things bothering me is the fact that a fellow Pru alumni, fellow blogger, and terrific human being, the author of the blog "Lights Cancer Action!" disclosed that she has a reoccurrence of breast cancer.  You can find her blog on the listing to the right of this screed, as well as a link to the specific posting HERE.  I'm not going to say much about her story, as you can learn about it from her blog, but I am going to say that there are times when I just really don't understand the cruelty of life.  Cruel, as in a third cancer diagnosis.  Cruel, as in children being tortured by drug-addicted parents (link HERE).  Cruel, as in the abuse of animals who only offer us unconditional love (link HERE).  Yes, I am bothered by all of this, and more.  I know that life offers us opportunities to learn in ways that we never really expect, but there are times when I wish the lessons weren't quite so painful.

Maybe I need to take another one of those "washing away showers".  Then again, if I shower once more today, my skill may actually start to flake off, en masse.  The joys of the heating season I guess.

Trying to move on, this was my third to trip to my employer's office in Fairfield, Iowa.  For some reason, they seem to not mind my visits, and for that...and the advice on local places to eat...I am grateful.  I am also grateful, in general, to my employer for providing me with work that (hopefully) has a positive impact.  That was...and is...important to me, and is something of a lesson learned from my last employer/micro-disaster.  I am not sure when I am coming back, but I am sure it will be sooner or later.

By the way, and as both a final point and explanation for the title of this posting, I'm wearing this shirt for my trip tomorrow.


For some reason, it seems fitting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tips for (In)frequent Business Travelers


From the temporary office in Fairfield, Iowa.

Tip:  When it comes to hotels, you get what you pay for (sort of).
Without mentioning names, I've been in hotels that cost $250 a night and those that cost $60 a night.  The big differences?
  • Food.  The food is better at the expensive places.  I'm currently staying at a "lower end of the scale" hotel this week, and I was sure that I would end up projectile vomiting my breakfast yesterday morning (the eggs smelled kind of, well, funny).  So far my immune system seems to be ruling the day.  
  • Decor.  Everything in my current hotel room seems to be tinted a dull yellow.  I'm not sure if that's the horrible compact florescent light bulbs in use, baked into the paint cigarette smoke (this place is older...as in pre-smoking ban older), or just yellow-ish paint.  The completely yellow-themed bathroom doesn't help.
  • Sound.  I could literally transcribe the voicemail I heard from the room next to me last night.
There's one not-so-universal caveat to this rule though:  Water pressure.  I've been in higher-end hotel rooms where water basically just oozed out of the showerhead.  In my current room, I am reasonably sure that I could strip paint off of an automobile fender with the pressure available (this is a good thing).

Tip:  Never, ever leave anything on the floor.
I was told this back in the early '90s.  Maybe it's an urban legend, but the idea is that anything left on a hotel room floor may end up becoming a transportation vehicle to your home for some kind of unwanted critter guest.  I even keep my shoes off of the floor.

Tip:  Ziplock bags are your friend.
I always keep an extra ziplock bag with me when I travel.  Use them to store the extra batteries you had to get at WallyWorld last night.  Or keep the above-mentioned critters from eating that half of a candy bar you also bought at WallyWorld last night.

Side note:  Forget fancy pill containers...I now just use three ziplock bags.  I use a big bag with two smaller bags inside of it (one for morning stuff, one for evening stuff).  The advantage?  I can easily find a nook or cranny in my backpack for the stuff I am taking.

Tip:  Bring a spoon.
I always have a spoon in my toiletry bag.  It comes in handy in case you, well, need a spoon.  Seriously, for example, if you bring something into your room to eat or if you are old and need to mix your Metamucil.

Tip:  Don't connect through Chicago O'Hare.
I've been violating this tip lately, and I'm sure at some point there will be a punishment administered.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Chicago O'Hare has an on-time rating of about 80%.  That means there is a 1 in 5 chance that your flight will be delayed or even canceled.  All it takes is one forced overnight stay in an airport to learn why this is a bad thing.  In addition to the Russian Roulette of on-time departures, O'Hare can be over-crowded and filled with nasty people (Why? They got the 20% previously referenced).

Tip:  Airports are food Hell.
Airport food is dramatically over-priced and rarely any good.  I've tried to get healthier food (well, healthier by my...low...standards) and have always been disappointed.  Want a hot drink for Starbucks?  Well, if you are at Chicago O'Hare and your flight is delayed, you may just have time to wait through the line.  Otherwise?  You're out of luck.

Tip:  Checking your bag isn't so dangerous.
I've been traveling for almost 30 years and do occasionally check my bag.  The number of times I've actually had a checked bag lost?  Exactly zero.  The number of times a bag has been delayed?  Exactly twice.  You have to be smart about this though; for example, never pack medications or expensive electronics in a checked bag.  It's actually pretty nice not having to lug a bag through an airport.

Tip:  Spring for First Class every once in a while.
Every once in a while I will spend an extra $70 (or so) of my own money and upgrade to a First Class seat.  After a long and tiring trip, it's sometimes down-right demoralizing to cram yourself into a seat with enough leg-room for a dwarf and less than an inch of cushioning for your posterior.  First-class is like another world of airplane travel.  There is actually room.  The seats aren't (seemingly) 18" wide.



Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Ritual Purification (of sorts)


I was having a conversation with someone I support at work last Friday, similar to one I had with my boss as well, about how learning to deal with adversity at work is a necessity.  In this particular case, the issue is a difficult personal dynamic between two individuals.  Some leaders deal with these kinds of situations by removing the dynamic (i.e. basically removing one of the people in question from the situation).  I do think this is a mistake.

Why?  The White Album.  Rumors.  Just to name two.

In case you don't get the reference, these are two classic albums that share something in common, namely a tremendous amout of stress during their creations.  I can cite other examples, all of which would make any and all think that I have far too much time on my hands, but the point is made:  A certain amount of tension can help produce great results.

It's not just that tension and stress can sometimes bring about great results, it's also that a certain amount of this stuff simply makes us better, provided that allow ourselves to learn from the experience.  I can think of a few examples in my own professional life where I worked for folks who were just very difficult (at least for me).  I still somewhat cringe at some of these memories, but I know for an absolute fact that I also learned a lot from these folks.  As they say about making hotdogs, the process wasn't all that pretty, but I'm more or less happy with the result. 

Getting back to the first paragraph, I concede that we can't force people to work together...well we can certainly try, but it may end up being counter-productive (think squeezing jello:  Sometimes the harder you squeeze, the more you lose between your fingers).  The better way is to try and get folks to simply try to work through their difficulties.  We don't have to like everyone we encounter, but I do think it's important to always assume positive intent(1), especially in those where our natural instinct may be to assume the exact opposite.  Even if someone is, in reality, a serial dirtbag of a human being, sometimes a little "forced consciousness expansion"(2) can be a good thing.  This is, of course, tempered in the reality that nothing lasts forever anyway.

* * * * * *

On a related note, maybe I'm channeling more of myself that I realize in the above posting.  The underlying reality has been that up until about 90 days ago, I struggled professionally.  My new job, what happened about 90 days ago, is going well.  Before then?  Less so. Dramatically less so.  In fact, I'd say that the period of July 2018 to July 2019 was the worst time in all of my professional life.  There's almost something ironic about that statement, in part because during this period I had a terrific boss (who I would gladly work for again) and wonderful fellow team-mates.  Everything else?  Well let's just say I wasn't a good fit for the organization, and the organization wasn't a good fit for me.  If ever there was an employer-employee mismatch, well, it was then.

Looking back over this above referenced period, I can't yet see how that tension has helped me grow.  What I see instead is a kind of scar, covering up damage where I began to question my professional value and the choice I've made over the years.  Maybe that's the point though:  Sometimes the sole purpose of a difficult experience is to simply prepare us for something else...something better...maybe a ritual purification(3) of sorts.

* * * * * *

(1) Actually learned by me, for the most part, from someone who was very difficult to work with many years ago.

(2) Hunter S. Thompson:  

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

(3) Reference HERE.



Sunday, October 13, 2019

Road Apples, #180

Vaping Commerical
An actual line I heard during a vaping commercial (on Sirius satellite radio) "...gave me the nicotine satisfaction I was looking for...".  Given that nicotine is a highly addictive drug, I can imagine similar commercials (if they were allowed) "...gave me the Meth satisfaction I was looking for...".

Speaking of Nicotine
I was listening to an interview with young Miley Cyrus the other day (you can listen to it here), and my gosh, her voice.  She sounds like Lucille Ball at age 65.  Let's put it this way:  If lung cancer could speak, it would sound just like Miley Cyrus.

Photographs
Among the things that have been missing in my life over the past year or so is photography.  I just don't take many photographs these days.  I need to change that one of these days.  I've gotten several compliments on my photographs (used a computer wallpaper) at work, which should be at least somewhat motivating.  Here's one of my personal favorites, taken in the Fall of 2009.


The News
I still don't listen to the news.  I just can't.  It's just too difficult for me to hear, too, at times enraging.  We have a President that tweets like an angry junior high girl.  With apologies to junior high girls for the stereotyping.  If you are a fan of the President, well, so be it...but I think we can all agree that the country would be better off if he kept his fragile, thin-skinned, vindictive feelings to himself.

reMarkable Tablet
I've been using a reMarkable tablet now for about 9 months or so.  The verdict?  Well worth the investment.  This is a great product that enables me to keep a wide variety of notes on different topics all organized and within a small footprint.  What's more, the notes are backed up to my desktop and can be exported to pdf files.  Just as cool?  I can import documents and notate them.  You can find out more about reMarkable HERE.

Not Really Remarkable
I received this email several times in September (the worst stuff blocked out with ###):

* * * * * *

Confidential message for: ############.com

Recently you visited one of the porn websites I attacked with my Xploıt.
When you started watching videos it executed payload on your device and
installed a ʋirus I developed.

As soon as I ίɳfected your ɗevίce, it started to act like a remote
desktop with full read/write access.
I gained access to your files, your email, contact lists and most
importantly - your camera!

My ʋirus started recording your web browser and your camera every time you
########## during last 2 weeks.
While my ʋirus is not perfect it managed to record 6 videos clearly showing
you ###########..

Call me whatever you want, a criminal or a dick, but this is just my job.
I do this on regular basis and I recorded hundreds of people, but you are
SPECIAL.
Why? Because of the aberrant and perverse videos you were watching while
########## - you know what I mean!

Now I am your master, and you are my slave..

Let me ask you a question.

How would you feel if I upload to pornhub all the videos with you
########## and send the links to everyone on your contact lists -
including your family and business partners?

You don't want me to do this, right ?

There is only one way you can stop me from exposing your fantasies. You have
to pαy.

Let me be straightforward with you.

You know what Bitcoin is, right?
Buy 2,000 USD worth of Bitcoin and send it to me immediately.

You can buy Bitcoin in many places like Coinbase, CoinMama, Binance..
Google for 'how to buy cryptocurrencies'. You can use your credit card or
bank transfer.

I am giving you 3 days to complete this payment, after which I will start
uploading and sending your ########## videos.
Just imagine your family and collegues reaction to those videos 🤣

Save your life now!
Transaction details are below:

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Send exαctly 0.200312 BTC

to this Bitcoin address:

* * * * * *
What's kind of funny about this is:
1) I don't visit sites like that, to begin with.
2) 95% of my computer usage at home is with my HP desktop, which doesn't have a webcam.
3) For the remaining 5% or some of the time when I use my laptop, I keep my camera covered (I have a little siding cover purchased from Amazon).

I do wonder how often emails like this actually do result in people paying scammers.  For the record, the above text is fairly standard stuff according to the actual bitcoin folks (reference HERE).

Columbus Day
Tomorrow is Columbus Day, making it a holiday for some, but not for me.  It's actually an odd holiday, given the fact that Columbus didn't, in fact, discover America (more like he re-discovered it).  Then we have the whole unsavory aspects of what he ultimately brought to the new world.  Proof positive that progress is often times a painful process with a high body count.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Just a song before I go...

...to whom it may concern...

(from THIS song)


Live from some (not so) out of the way kiosk at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.  It's already been a long day, with my waking up at 4am-ish for a flight out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The plan is for me to get back to Scranton by around 2:30pm or so.  Then again, based on the last data I've seen, there is a 1 in 5 chance of that arrival time not being true when flying out of this airport.

Anyway, one of the things I've had to personally come to terms with over the past 3 years is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I never thought much about this until recently, with my prevailing attitude has been one of "this is what happens to soldiers when they return from the war".  That sentiment is true, I am sure, but I never thought that it would impact me.  However, I can see now that the events surrounding my brother's death have impacted me in just such a way.  Even writing this is difficult in part because I am loathed to admit any kind of mental or emotional failing (other failings are fair game).  I still, all these years later, need to be superman, even though my (figurative) days of rescuing are long gone.

What does the above look like?  How do I feel about it?

There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about my late brother.  Sometimes they are fleeting thoughts.  Sometimes they are reminiscings about times past.  Sometimes they are the vague kind of future dreams that we all have of some happy ever after in our old age.  What there isn't is anger though; I am not angry at him.  I am angry...and always will be angry...at a person or two that enabled the worst in my brother.  Mostly though, I feel a certain sadness about it all. 

A few years prior to my brother's passing we (my brothers and I) were there when our mother died in the hospital.  In fact, I think that it was Chris who was holding her hand when she finally slipped away.  I have no sadness at or for that event, as my mother had suffered enough.  It was, in an odd sort of way, good that she had passed away.  Life was always a difficult endeavor for our mother, oftentimes filled with anger and disappointment, with physical pain and dark memories of the past.  All of that is gone now.

So, why the difference in feelings and reactions between my brother and my mother?  Looking back in as objective a manner as I can, I know they were both in physical pain.  My mother being riddled with the lasting effects of multiple brain tumor surgeries, exceptionally poor vision and arthritis.  My brother with shoulder pain that required a certain degree of sobriety to treat, a degree that he was never able to achieve.  They were both in emotional pain as well. 

The odd thing about my brother is the fact that I never felt that part of his emotional pain was dealing with his substance abuse.  In fact, over the last few years of his life, that abuse had become an ingrained part of his life.  It has become a kind of organ unto itself, no longer being external to his existence.  He just seemed to accept this as part of who he was, only making efforts at sobriety at the urging of others.  It was as if he had decided that whatever emotional pain he was feeling needed these substances to be kept at bay.  He never told me this directly, mind you, but I had so many conversations with him where this subtext was so clear that even the dullest among us could clearly see this particular forest from its trees.  In the end, my brother had convinced himself that substance abuse was the only way to live a pain-free life, failing to see that this "cure" was actually the real disease.

Seeing the above, and maybe just as important (sort of) understanding the above is something of both a blessing and a curse.  I have thought and thought and thought about all of this time and time again.  I've used all of the logic I can muster to try and understand that which is inherently illogical.  Yet throughout all of my reflection, I'm not really left feeling that much better about it all.  I haven't "made peace" with my brother's death, but part of what I've learned since January 5, 2017, is that this may never be the case.  What I have come to terms with, thanks to much reflection and help, is that I accept how I feel about all of this; put another way, I've made a kind of separate peace about my feelings relative to those events.  Thinking about my brother can make me decidedly sad, but it's okay to be sad when thinking about losing someone close to you.

The above is an important kind of lesson, especially for me:  Life is a series of opportunities to learn and grow.  Some of the most important lessons though are also some of the most difficult to learn.  One of those difficult lessons for me is that sometimes the things I am good at in life (logic, control, problem-solving) aren't always the things I need in life.  Sometimes logic makes it worse.  Sometimes we simply have no control.  Sometimes we encounter problems that just can't be solved.  And all of this is okay.

Monday, September 30, 2019

There's Nothing Glamorous About Business Travel...

...and it's getting worse.

Just a quick word or two from the road, as I make my way to Fairfield, Iowa for a few days worth of work.  My current location is gate E20 at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Anyway, I've been traveling for work-related reasons now for something like 30 years.  My first business trip involving an airplane was in 1989, and it was to Boston.  I should note that was my first time ever traveling by airplane.  Since then, well, let's just say that there have been many trips.  The good news in all of that time past is that I'm still alive to tell this tale, and by and large, nothing all too horrible has happened along the way.

There have been bumps along the business travel road though.  I had to once stay overnight at the airport in Detriot.  Then there was the 1am drive from Harrisburg to Scranton in a one-way rental car that I have to practically beg to get (because of a whole series of flight delays).  In the grand scheme of things though, it could have been worse.

What stinks about business travel?  Well, a few things come to mind:
  • Airplane Seats - Airplane seats are utterly horrible.  Unless you are in First Class or have the same physical dimension of, say, Tinkerbell, you are not going to be comfortable.  Making matters even worse is when you end up with a dreaded window seat (which I had from Scanton to Charlotte this morning).  With an aisle seat, you do have the option of extending one leg.  You can also get up and go to the bathroom, affording you the ability to momentarily unfold your legs like a newly emerging butterfly.
  • Airports & Cleanliness - Keeping an airport clean must be a herculean job.  In a larger airport that is open 24/7, emptying trash and cleaning bathrooms is a never-ending task.  It doesn't help that many folks are simply, well, pigs.  Case in point:  I'm sitting here typing on a surface that has at least three layers of spills.
  • Food - I don't care which airport you go to...the food is going to be over-priced and not all that great.  
  • Running - By and large, when I am traveling for business, my schedules are tight (today is an exception in that I have a 2+ hour layover), so the entire exercise is about getting off a plane, finding a bathroom, finding another gate, and running there.  What makes it worse?  Well, that would be when you travel through an airport like Chicago O'Hare, running to a new gate only to discover that the flight has been delayed anyway.  For there record, O'Hare is a horrible airport for connecting flights.  Last time I checked, the on-time percentage for O'Hare is 81%, meaning that there is about a 1 in 5 chance that your fight will not leave as scheduled.
Speaking of airports, here are my least favorite airports, listed in no particular order:
  • Chicago O'Hare.  See above.  There is also the fact that the rental car location seems like it is located in Indiana.
  • Philadelphia International.  The place is literally laid out like a cheese maze.  One good point though:  It has very convenient garage parking, and driving into and out of the airport is relatively easy.
  • Atlanta Hartsfield.  Very, very big.  You need to take an underground train to get anywhere.
I don't envy the people that work at airports.  Some travelers get downright horrible.  Granted, having flight plans disrupted is nothing to be happy about, and airlines seem to get a certain amount of joy out of torturing their customers, but airport staff have no control over the weather, airplane mechanical issues, or seats designed with the under-5 foot population in mind.  Yet they are, by and large, good sports at taking care of the travel-disrupted.

On that note, I need to get ready for my next flight.  This time around I have an aisle seat, so at least I'll have one leg cramp.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Cost of Betrayal, NEPA Style

...and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.

- Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 26, verse 15



Dunmore (PA) borough council voted this past week that the Keystone Sanitary Landfill is not a structure for purposes of zoning, and as a result can go forward with a plan to create a real mountain made of (mostly) out of state trash.  You can read more about this HERE.  This will allow the landfill to remain open for more than four decades into the future.

I'll note that I have nothing personally against the family that owns the landfill.  In fact, as supporters of the University of Scranton, they helped fund scholarships that enabled my soon to be Ph.D. middle daughter to earn her B.S. in biology.  What I do have a problem with though is allowing something that will harm the environment of this area of centuries to come. 

Taking a step back, Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) was the world's center of anthracite coal mining for almost a century.  The area still bears the environmental scars from this activity, even though most of the regions coal mines were closed by the time I was born in 1964.


The coal mines made a few people wealthy and left many areas in ruins.  I personally also think that this activity helps contribute to the higher cancer rates in this region(*).  It's against this backdrop that four members of Dunmore borough council voted to allow the landfill expansion.  The key question is this:  Why?  Really, what's the underlying reason in support of the landfill?

While the landfill is a highly engineered structure (by its own admission), the fact remains that no amount of planning will prevent some level of groundwater contamination by the decaying consumer and commercial waste at the site.  What's more, the landfill itself sits upon abandoned deep mines (you can see for yourself HERE), which in this area tend to be filled with water.  The landfill also produces methane gas as the trillions of bacteria treat its contents as a kind of "all you can eat garbage bullet".  Some of this gas is captured and used for energy production, some of it is also burned off.  Some of it inevitably escapes into the atmosphere.

Yes, we need to put our garbage somewhere.  However, in NEPA, we shouldn't have to also deal with the garbage of other states as well.  At this stage, we've done enough in the area of sacrificing for the greater good, again going back to the coal mining days.

In the end, the records will show that four members of Dunmore's borough council decided that some benefit known only to them was far more valuable than the health of an entire region.  For their figurative 30 pieces of silver, they betrayed an entire region.




(*) A few citations:
Northeast Regional Cancer Institute data
NEPA Cancer Rates Continue to Rise
Pennsylvania Ranks Third in Cancer Incidence


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Follow-Up

(from THIS site)

I'm referring to this posting about Scranton School District (SSD).  Here's what I've learned:
  • The hired teacher is related to Director Lesh through marriage, although not in his immediate family.
  • I was told that Director Lesh had nothing to to with the individual's hiring.
  • The SSD Board was not told about the more distant familial relationship.
  • The hiring would fall outside of the SSD's (arguably laughable) anti-nepotism policy*.  
Like many things in the SSD's administrative history, this instance seems to just skirt the boundaries of impropriety.  Technically the policy was not violated, but it does tell a story that this particular hire was not questioned during the last board meeting.  I mean it's not as if the SSD has had problems with this in the past (I'm being sarcastic...it has been a problem; see this posting from August 23, 2013).  

As I've noted before, given the significant legal and ethical lapses of the SSD Administration in the past, one would think that the SSD Board would have gone the extra mile and disclosed the relationship, even if it did not technically violate the policy.  I do realize that there is a lot of the SSD Board's plate, but part of that is because prior versions of the SSD's administration failed to pay proper attention to both the letter and the spirit of the law. 

By the way, unlike the SSD's Conflict of Interest policy, there appears to be no real sanction or consequence if the board were to not follow the Anti-Nepotism policy.  Why is that?  Well, I suspect that's the case because the Anti-Nepotism "policy" isn't really a policy...it's actually a guideline.  The distinction is important because a policy effectively says "you must do this"; a guideline says "it would be kind of nice if you did this".  The Anti-Nepotism policy guideline is actually a "trust us, we'll do the right thing" kind of document. 

In the end, this is not the SSD's final hour, and I'll confess some sense of dismay at the Scranton Times for failing to report on the issue.  As soon as the name "Lesh" appeared in the board meeting notes, the individual's hiring should have been put on hold pending a review.  That isn't required per the SSD's anti-nepotism policy guideline, but it would the right thing to do for what has historically been an ethically challenged organization. 




(*) You can find all of the SSD's policies by following this link.  Here is the text of the anti-nepotism policy guideline (red text by me):

Purpose

The district prohibits nepotism in the selection, hiring and assignment process.

Definitions

Nepotism means the hiring of relatives of the Board or Superintendent.

Relatives shall mean father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter, grandchild, nephew, niece, first cousin, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, or aunt.

Delegation of Responsibility

As soon as the Superintendent becomes aware that a finalist for a full-time position is a relative of a current Board member or the Superintendent, s/he shall notify the Board. All candidates shall be required to complete a written form disclosing any relationship with any current Board member or Superintendent.[1]

Guidelines

Nothing in this policy should in any way reflect on the teacher selection process, provided that in the event a relationship is identified between a member of the selection committee and a candidate, the member of the selection committee who is related to the candidate, shall be disqualified from participating in the selection process.[1]

No persons shall be assigned, or reassigned to a position that requires that the employee directly supervise or be supervised by a relative. Should such a relationship occur, the employee to be supervised shall be transferred to another position with no diminution of his/her employment status. In the event such a transfer is not possible, a nonrelated supervisor shall conduct the employment evaluation. This policy and its implementation shall not cause the resignation of any Board member or discharge of any employee should a relative be elected or hired/transferred to a position of supervision.

It is the intention of the Board that this policy not prohibit the selection, promotion or transfer of any person in the employ of the district prior to the date of the adoption of this policy.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

If a Tree Fell in the Woods (or if a Relative were Hired in the Scranton School District)...

With apologies for the impossibly long title.

(photo by the author)

During the September 3rd meeting of the Scranton School Board (the Board/SSB), something unusual happened, namely that Director Lesh actually attended.  This has not been a regular occurrence over the course of 2019.  Something else happened that may not be unusual in the history of the Scranton School District (SSD), namely nepotism.  Emphasis on the word "may" by the way; more on that in a moment.

During the above-referenced meeting, the Board hired Ms. Dawn Lesh as a fifth-grade teacher.  Reference HERE.  If you've heard that last name before then congratulations...you have a functioning short-term memory.  Yes, Ms. Lesh has the same last name as Director Lesh, who just happened to show up for a meeting.  To vote for Ms. Lesh, among other business.

Note that the SSD has been a hot-bed of nepotism.  Case in point:  The former business manager, who admitted to one felony as part of an on-going corruption probe (reference HERE), has a spouse working for the SSD.  That's one of many familial relationships in the SSD.

Problem established, is Ms. Lesh related to Director Lesh?  I don't know.  Strangely, the family relationship...or lack of family relationship...was not referenced at all by the Scranton Times.  Not in the report from the meeting.  Not in any reporting since the meeting.  I even contacted two reporters at the Scranton Times to inquire about this omission; one got back to me and said that they wanted to ask Director Lesh about that, but he is rather stealthy when it comes to press accountability.  The second reporter hasn't responded to an email I sent a few days ago.

Why am I even writing about this?  Two reasons:
  1. I love Scranton.  I was born there, I (now) work there, and no matter where I live, Scranton will always be my home.  I want the city and the SSD to be successful.  
  2. There's a reason why the SSD is awash in friends and relatives...namely that over the years no one cared while successive leadership regimes treated the district as a personal/family employment agency.  That lack of concern is a symptom of cancer that has rotted the SSD for decades and has left the SSD on the verge of a state takeover.
The above noted, if Ms. Lesh is not related to Director Lesh, then she deserves to be free of the tarnish by association.  Being a teacher is hard enough these days, especially in Scranton and she deserves the public's support (as do all of our teachers).  She also deserves a public affirmation that her hiring was based on talent and ability alone.

If Ms. Lesh is related to Director Lesh...as a daughter, daughter in law, niece (by birth or marriage) or any other familial relationship...then this a new low for a school district known for new lows.  In fact, I would argue that this is the worst insult of all, as the SSB recently voted for a recovery plan that will negatively impact taxpayers for years to come.  Implicit in the recovery plan is the idea that the SSD is changing for the better; blatant nepotism is among the worst of the "old" SSD sins.  This would be a step back for a school district that is already backed up to a cliff of its own making.

By the way, nepotism is always wrong In every instance and manifestation.  Giving a relative a job, no matter how well qualified they are, reinforces the idea that public service exists for the personal enrichment of the powerful and well-connected.  It also denies the SSD the talents of individuals who just happen to have the wrong last name.

Enough said.

The taxpayers of Scranton, those who have paid (and will continue to pay for) the for SSD's corruption in the past deserve to know if that corruption is still a thing of the present. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

When adults fail...

...we shouldn't use children as cannonballs and/or decorations.

Soon to be former Scranton School District (SSD) Greg Popil wants to send all of the students in the district to Harrisburg to protest for higher state funding.  You can read about it HERE.  This is a horrible idea on multiple levels:
  • How can a financially distressed school district afford to send 10,000 kids and teachers on a four hour round trip?
  • What happens to those kids who don't want to go?
  • What happens if parents don't want their kids used as political decorations?
  • Just where would you put 10,000 kids in Harrisburg?
  • How do you feed 10,000 kids in Harrisburg?
I could go on...and on...but the point is made.

Speaking of points, here's mine:  It's not the job of children to obtain fair funding for the SSD.  That's the job of the adult members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, individuals who should have known that this has been an issue for years, but yet have allowed it to continue (by way of background, the SSD receives far less money from Pennsylvania than other comparable school districts).  So far they have failed, miserably I might add, to solve this issue and yet basically no one in any position of authority has been publically willing to call them out on their horrible performance.  I get that these are powerful individuals, but I can't help but see the irony of students being evaluated on their work but yet we don't want to evaluate the adults on theirs.

Am I being too hard on our elected officials?  Is it not their fault that the Pennsylvania Legislature is dominated by members of another political party?

My answers to the above questions are "No" and "Too Bad".  I'm sorry that this is a tough problem to solve.  However, Pennsylvania's legislatures are among the best paid in the country.  It's time they earned their keep.

Some think that sending kids to Harrisburg to protest the SSD's state funding would be a great lesson in civics.  I think an even better lesson in civics would be for our local legislators...both from the PA House and the PA Senate...to explain to the students why they are unable to solve this seemingly simple problem and why other elected officials believe that they are worth less in funding than students from, say, Erie Pennsylvania.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Children of the Corn

"He who walks behind the rows"

"Outlander!"


My late brother Chris and I would sometimes randomly quote movies we liked, including the above references to Stephen King's Children of the Corn.  Another favorite movie to quote was Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (a truly disturbing movie, for the record, which explains why we liked it so much when we were in our early teens).  Anyway, I was thinking of the "He who walks behind the rows" line as I was in Iowa, driving to Cedar Rapid from Fairfield.  The thought was so motivating that I actually stopped to take a few cellphone pictures.



This was something of an Iowa homecoming for me, as I had traveled to the state quite a bit during the years 2004 through 2014.  Iowa is, in some respects, the anti-matter New Jersey:  Not crowded, wide-open spaces, exceptionally friendly people and a big sky.  By "big sky" I mean this idea of a sky that is a kind of big dome over your head, circling around to the horizon in all directions.  When you live in a place with tall hills/mountains, it just seems like the sky just isn't quite so big.

Oh, and there is the air.

The air here feels different.  Mind you, that notion of different has a certain range of motion, in the sense that, for example, as I was driving by a General Mills facility there was a kind of funk the air, a sweeter version of what I experienced while driving by the manure facility on Tuesday evening in route to Ottumwa.  Outside of those human-induced invisible clouds of funk, the air in Iowa just feels better.  That's something I would never have noticed, say, ten years ago.  However, having developed asthma somewhere during the last decade or so, I've become acutely aware of how clean the air around me is, and how that might impact me.  The impact, by the way, isn't all that much, especially given things like rescue inhalers, but it's an annoyance...and source of future health pondering...never the less.

Iowa would be a perfect place for me if it was next to the ocean.  It's worth noting though that there are no perfect places.  What's more, future moving decisions will be driven more so by proximity to children than air quality.  What I will say is this:  Had I been born in Iowa I would likely never leave.

The trip, by way, was a good one.  I met lots of great people with my (still relatively new) employer and I have an open invitation to come back any time I am needed.  It's a good feeling to know that what you are doing is valued.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Aqualung

"Aqualung" is the name of a song by the band Jethro Tull*, popular when I was a teenager.  It could also be, tongue and cheek, what happens you "vape" too much, at least according to those who defend the practice.  The quote marks around the word "vape" are there because I think the very term sounds ridiculous.  Anyway, in this context, Aqualung would be from inhaling too much water vapor, which proponents of "vaping" claim the practice actually involves.  If all "vaping" involved just inhaling water mist, well then they would have a point.  Then again, if that were true I wouldn't have a posting to write.

All of this comes about as are a result of a series of well-publicized health issues that at least on the surface appear to be tied to "vaping".  Examples include:

I could go on, but the point is made.  Since I've been reading these articles over the past week or so, I decided to do a little digging into how those who defend "vaping" view this information.  The chief "pro-vaping" theory out there is that, at least for those who have recently died, the cause of their demise likely has to do with these folks inhaling some kind of synthetic THC (the active ingredient in Marijuana).  Along with that theory comes a heaping-helping of claims that this is all a plot on the part of Big Pharma and/or tobacco companies to suppress "vaping" as an alternative to smoking tobacco (or, in the case of "vaping" Marijuana, the health benefits that seem to follow every Internet discussion of that particular plant).  In these cases, it's easy to get caught up in the confusion of it all.

Maybe it's worth just a minute or two of time to take a step back and taking a broad view of this whole "vaping" thing.

First, is "vaping" objectively better for someone than smoking cigarettes?  It sure is.  Then again, eating a diet consisting solely of deep-fried pork rinds is also better for you than a diet consisting solely of Hemlock.  Both will get you killed; all that differs is the timing.

Second, our lungs are designed for one thing, and one thing only:  Breathing the air that exists around Planet Earth.  That's it.  Nothing else.

Granted, if "vaping" only involved breathing in water vapor, well, it would probably not be all that harmful.  The problem is that we all know that the addiction fun of "vaping" comes from the stuff that is also heated along with the water vapor.  That stuff, by the way, is effectively unregulated.  Yes, Johnny Cool over outside the office building could be "vaping" pure vanilla flavoring or he could be "vaping" vanilla-flavored benzene.

The other important element that I think gets lost in the whole "vaping" discussion is the role of addiction.  Specifically, it seems that most folks who "vape" are actually using it as a delivery mechanism for the poison nicotine.  Oh, and yes, nicotine is poisonous, so when someone smokes or "vapes" they are actually introducing small amounts of poison into their body with each inhalation.  As if that were not enough, nicotine is also highly addictive.  How's that for a combination:  A highly addictive poison.

The bottom line is that "vaping" is bad for anyone.  It is simply not safe.  You could argue that it is safer than smoking cigarettes, but that's ultimately an argument of the lesser of two evils;  what's lost on some though is the fact that both choices are still, in fact, evil.

If you smoke, please stop.  I sincerely mean that, as this world needs all of our talents; none of us are truly expendable because of an addiction that offers nothing in return.  If "vaping" can help you stop smoking, well then that seems like a reasonable way to end one deadly habit, as long as it just doesn't replace it with another.  If you "vape" please at least ween yourself off of the nicotine and purchase your supplies for a reputable dealer.  Better yet, just stop.


(*) The song Aqualung isn't a favorite of mine, but it does bring back some 70's fueled-memories.  A really great Jethro Tull song is "Teacher".