Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter

What is Easter? 

For the kids among us, it's Easter baskets and more chocolate than likely anyone needs.

From my religious upbringing, I can certainly explain as well as any layperson (well, make that better than most laypersons) what the holiday represents.

None of that seems to work for me anymore.  Mind you, I do like chocolate, but quite frankly I need to eat less, not more.  Same goes for three-quarters of the other things I eat these days.  As for the theology of it all, well, I'm having a tough time the theology of most organized religions these days.  Strict adherence to rituals or literal interpretations of text written before there was even a printing press just don't seem to make sense to me.  Then we also have the manifest failure of organized religion on several fronts, well documented, it seems, on most news days.

Anyway, this isn't intended to disparage organized religion.  If anything, I truly do applaud anyone who has faith; if that comes from rituals, books or traditions, well, good for them.  Whatever works.

So, again, what is Easter?

Best I can figure these days, Easter is about resurrection; it's about coming out of the other side if you want to call it that, from a place where there didn't seem to be all that much hope.  That's an easy sentiment to write but a difficult sentiment to put into action.  Trust me, I know this for a fact.

I've been in need of a kind of Easter.  The specifics as to why aren't all that important.  What truly matters is that in some ways, it's been a bit of a difficult row to hoe over the past year or so.  I can't claim any kind of resurrection, but it does look like I am may be coming out on the other side of it all.  Of course, in the finest of Steve traditions, I haven't gotten what I wanted, but I do seem to have gotten what I needed.  Cryptic?  Damn straight it is.  Sometimes life is cryptic though:  We have some idea of what we think we need, but then the universe throws something else at us.  It's the kind of thing that David Foster Wallace once beautifully described as follows...



Here's to resurrections and truth and freedom.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Road Apples, #178

Dear News Outlets...You're not doing your collective jobs when, at any given time, half the content in one of your stories consists of copied Tweets.  I don't care what people think about a particular story.  I just want the story.  If I want to read tweets I will go to Twitter.  Please stop.

Culm Bank...I spent time recently wandering around an old culm bank.  If you don't know what a culm bank is, well, click HERE.  There's a longer posting in the works about my visit.  There is also a larger, cautionary tale in places such as this when we think about the natural gas extraction business happening throughout Pennsylvania.  More to come.

Work from Home...I don't like to work from home.  Well, I do sometimes work from home...in the evenings and over the weekend...but making it part of the Monday to Friday routine isn't something I have done much of in the past.  This is mostly because I need a kind of buffer between me at work and me at home, and a long commute does that trick rather nicely.  Anyway, that's going to change, at least over the short-term.  I actually had a decent work from home day this past Friday, so I'm going to do it again over the next few Fridays.  We'll see what happens.

Game of Thrones...I have never watched the show.  Ditto for Breaking Bad.  And countless other things on television.  I put television shows into four categories:
1) Educational - Shows that I enjoy because I can learn something.
2) Mindless Fun - Shows that involve unwashed Alaskans (for the most part).
3) Offensive - Anything involving "Sister Wives", "Breeders", and "Real Housewives of _______".
4) Other - Everything else that I can't be bothered with (for the most part).

Game of Thrones is in the 4th category.

Scranton School District...Follow-up from THIS posting...I heard back from one SSD Director who said that the family relationship I referenced in the posting wasn't known or disclosed during the vetting process (or lack thereof ) for the newly appointed director.  Add that to the list of things that the SSD needs to do better.  Rumor has it that Silicon Valley has invented a cutting edge new piece of technology to help the governmental bodies identify potential conflicts of interest:  It's called a CHECKLIST.

Spring...I'll admit it:  I feel better in a lot of ways when Spring finally arrives.  Part of it is the fact that I just enjoy being outdoors.  As a kid, we spent a lot of time outdoors, all throughout the year.  Another part of this is the fact that I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with working in the yard.  The grass is too high...you cut it...and there is an immediate improvement.  That kind of feedback is often times missing in my professional life.

Firefighter Under Investigation...There is a Scranton Firefighter under investigation for potential involvement in a recent multi-vehicle crash.  You can link to the story HERE.  I mention this because I was thinking the other morning about how we have to be very careful using the word "hero".  No one, in my estimation, is a hero by virtue of their occupation.  Not firefighters, not policemen not soldiers.  Someone is a hero because of what they actually do in a particular situation.  For example, a firefighter that risks his life to save a child in a burning building is a hero.  A firefighter than goes into a burning building as part of putting out a fire isn't a hero...he is trained to fight fires...that's what he does.  Anyway, The firefighter in this story shouldn't be held to a higher or lesser standard of conduct based on his occupation.  Judge him based on his actual conduct, not his day job.

Colonoscopy...Probably not the most pleasant of subjects, but what the heck, I'll go there anyway.  If you are over age 50 you should get a colonoscopy every 5 years.  If you have a family history of colon cancer you should have the procedure performed more frequently.  I started having the procedure done in my mid-40's due to some other issues, and now have three under my belt.  The test itself is a non-issue; the worst part is the IV insertion and the prep the day beforehand.  Those are but a minor inconvenience when you consider just what this test can do for you, as in it can save your life.  Seriously, talk to your doctor about this test.  You can learn more about the procedure at WebMD.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Scranton School District - "It's the expenses, stupid"


During Bill Clinton's first presidential run, one of his chief advisor (and dead-ringer for Skelator), James Carville, was famous for saying "the economy, stupid" as a way to keep the campaign focused on the issue(s) that matter the most.  I keep hearing that phrase in the back of my head whenever I read about the Scranton School District's (SSD) decades-long fiscal crisis.

By the way, it's less of a "fiscal" crisis than it is a crisis of ineptitude.

One of the things you read in the local press about the SSD's financial picture is the fact that the district is dramatically short-changed when it comes to state-provided funding.  That's actually true.  The reasons behind that are outside of my scope for this posting, but it's worth reading about if you're interested.  However, I think there is danger in focusing too much on the SSD's funding level. 

Now, should the state funding formula be changed? Sure, it should. But placing too much emphasis on the income side of the ledger is an enormous mistake. Ask anyone who ever had excessive credit card debt: Additional income sometimes just feeds additional excessive spending. 

Given the SSD's long history of horrible governance:
  1. Nepotism - Some things never change, even in the midst of a crisis.  A case in point is the fact that the most recently appointed SSD Director just happens to be the brother-in-law of the district's transportation director.  This would be the same person who, shockingly, also oversees the (twice no-bid) busing contract.  Why wasn't this family relationship disclosed during the selection process for the new director?  Board members should be on record as to whether or not they knew about the family connection prior to the appointment vote.  This is the same newly minted director who owed the City of Scranton over twenty thousand dollars in back taxes and garbage fees (citation HERE).  Why does this matter?  Simply put, the SSD has a long history of making appointments and hiring decisions based on political/familial expediency, not actual talent, which in turn permeates incompetence throughout the organization.
  2. Failed Fiduciary Responsibilities - The SSD has a horrible track record when it comes to creating and exercising reasonable fiscal (and other types of) controls.  Whether it's a twice enacted no-bid busing contract, poor information technology asset management or paying benefits to non-employee who just happened to fix select administration member's vehicles for free, the SSD has repeatedly violated its responsibility to prudently manage taxpayer resources (for more details, read THIS).  
  3. Inconsistent Labor Relations - The SSD and the Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT) have an interesting relationship.  At times adversarial, for sure.  At times quid pro quo, as the SFT has known about the scourge of nepotism, but yet looked the other way when it knew that the best-qualified individuals were not always being hired.  There is also a history of the SFT endorsing grossly incompetent individuals for SSD director positions (see the above points).  The SFT has a bad habit of blaming the SSD administration only when it's convenient to do so and looking the other way the rest of the time.  As the old saying goes, "if you lay down with dogs, don't then complain about getting fleas".
...I have absolutely no doubt that more money would have either resulted in simply delaying the current crisis or perhaps spawning even worse decisions making.  Think about it:  Would the no-bid busing contract have been challenged if the SSD were flush with cash?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  What is certain though is that the SSD would be under far less scrutiny, which would be a very, very bad thing.

By all means, Pennsylvania's public school funding policy needs to change, but for Scranton any more funding needs to come only with significant oversight attached.