AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

Sitting in the Big Bear Motel in Cody, Wyoming, I cannot but be super impressed with what I have seen since last Monday. Carol and I decided to get out of Dodge City and head West for a month. We started in Harrisburg and spent our first day getting to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From there it was to Rockford, Illinois, and then to Madison, Wisconsin to visit our nephew Larry.
Larry and his two girls toured us around the city and the campus. Never knew that Madison surrounds a beautiful lake and that there are all kinds of water sports and then ice sports in the Winter. We toured the U. of Wisconsin Campus (I wouldn’t mind going there) and the State Capitol. Yes, we did see the protesters singing their songs of defiance. It was quite a sight. I hardly knew any of the songs. I was waiting for the Talkin’ Union Blues.
From there on a long trek through Minnesota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The trip was wonderful and Sioux Falls has these great quartzite pink rocks and a waterful and some really nice restaurants. It is a town of over 150,000 and has a great history. Carol and I spent some time looking over their history books.
South Dakota is an artist’s dream. The land is flat buy somehow it piques one’s curiosity. We left Sioux Falls and landed in Mitchell and its famous Corn Palace. It is weird and wonderful. They change the pictures every year and yes all of the pictures are made of corn cobs and corn stalks.
However, the most wonderful thing of all was what happened when we tried to find some place to eat breakfast. We were told that Signatures was a good place by two very old ladies at the Corn Palace. We found the place which was kind of a casino and restaurant and when we went in the waitress said that they used to serve breakfast, but stopped a year ago. She consulted with her boss, Jim and he said, go ahead and make these fine folks breakfast. Jim and Rhonda, the waitress sat down with us and told us about Mitchell, themselves and that part of the country. It was a wonderful experience. When he asked for the bill, Jim insisted that it was his treat, but give Rhonda a tip. We exchanged cards and will keep in touch (really).
We then went on to three days in Rapid City S.D. The town was wonderful, the restaurants were wonderful. We had a ball with the waitresses and were toured around by a bus driver with a great sense of humor. He took us to Mt. Rushmore (awesome), Crazy Horse ( also awesome) Needles, Custer, Hill City, Custer State Park and other places. Morning began with a chuckwagon breakfast and ended with a chuckwagon dinner on a tin plate and singing and wisecracking by the Wranglers, one of whom is in the South Dakota Music Hall of Fame. They were terrific, including a girl fiddle player who was a junior in high school.
We left Rapid City this morning and drove across the most beautiful land that I have ever seen. We crossed the continental divide and went over a huge set of mountains which took about 90 minutes, pretty much all in 4th and 3rd gear. We arrived in Cody Wyoming this evening expecting a western singer out front in a few minutes.
Where else could you find such a breadth and scope of people and land. Those of us who are stuffed in cities are not prone to be proud of the open spaces, the cowboy hats (they flip up on the sides, so that rain water slides of the front and back), the sheer joy of the prairie, mountains, cliffs of gold and the warmth of the people. From the wonderful folks at Progressive Park in Cleveland, to the owners of Big Bear Motel in Cody, I tip my hat and am reinvigorated by it all.

FIRE THE SUPE

Two days ago Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Superintendent of the Allentown School District, was fired or demoted. He had been supe for all of 413 days. When he was hired he was given a five year contract. His appointment was seen as a great victory for the school district because he had been the Secretary of Education and was at the forefront of increasing test scores around the state. He was seen as a successful educator because of his previous success in Johnstown.
Now he has been given his walking papers, demoted for a year, given a $50,000 bonus to resign and that is the end of his tenure. At the same time Dr. Luis Gonzalez of the Central Dauphin School District took a vacation. He has one year to go on his contract. He was told that he was not going to be rehired. When he returned to the central administration building, his office was bare and he was told that his new office was in an abandoned school building. He went to his new office and found an empty room, no furniture and no paint. He was promised a desk and chair and that the room would be painted.
As similar thing happened to a former Superintendent of the Reading School District, who came back after the Christmas break and found his office had been moved to a room above the high school gymnasium.
The superintendent of the Gettysburg school district was given a new five year contract. After two months, he was placed on administrative leave and told, with much prodding from the superintendent, that he had a negative management style and that he should leave.
Maybe I am picking out folks that have really not done a good job. I have often been accused of cherry picking. I don’t think so. I have done 30 superintendent searches and have seen unqualified applicants, weird people and a whole bunch of qualified folks. I may say with a great deal of pride that I have had only one superintendent fall off the job ( get canned). That was also a strange circumstance.
I was hired by a small school district because of my relationship to the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS). My associate, Joe Bard and I went through the interviews with a well thought out procedure. We had a way of calculating what the school board wanted in a supe and gave each trait and skill a numerical value. The board chose 6 finalists. There were two evenings of interviews. The numerical values were calculated and discussed. At the end of the second evening, the school board had numerical values and notes to ponder. I went to the men’s room and came back a few minutes later. All of the school board members and Joe Bard were putting on their coats. I asked what was going on. The board president told me that they had agreed on the final candidate.
I knew that the final candidate did not stack up to some of the others that the board had seen. His number values and verbal discussions put him about 4th on the list. I tried to get some feeling about whey they had chosen him, they had nothing to say. Eighteen months later, the new supe retired.
These are just a few of the stories of why we do not do any superintendent searches anymore. Joe and I and Carol have pretty much had it. There is not enough money in the world to sit there and see school boards make huge mistakes.
The foregoing stories of superintendents being fired let go, humiliated, humbled, drummed out of education are just part of what is going on with education. The massive number of mandates, law suits and conflicting pressures has reduced the tenure of school superintendents around the nation to about three years. The number of applicants for the jobs has diminished considerably.
There are now very few supes, such is Bill Miller in Tyrone who has been there since 1971, or Denny Murray of Altoona, who has been there forever. More likely we have Arlene Ackerman of Philadelphia who is now negotiating with the school Board or control commission to let her go after a few years.
Yes, some have tried business people, or generals, or other smart and leadership type people with the same result. It is not the people, it is the job and the constant changing of the guard with school boards. When I was hired as a school superintendent in 1977 there were 144 applicants. You are lucky if you get even 20 in a top notch school district.
Just keep the pressure on and no one will want the job, no matter how much they are paying.

RALPH BRANCA IS JEWISH

For many of you the title of this blog will mean nothing at all. For those of us who suffered through the most tragic time in Brooklyn Dodger baseball history, this was the signal event that represented Dodger frustration. The Dodgers were more than a baseball team to most of us. It was a way of life. Doris Kearns Godwin repeated the slogan of our borough, “Wait till Next Year in her autobiographical book about her youth.
In 1951, the Dodgers were the toast of the National League. They had everything going for them. They had broken the color line and a new group of ethnics (African Americans) joined the myriad of ethnic groups rooting for the Dodgers- Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella. They were 13 ½ games in ahead in August. By September the Giants were winner 37 out of their last 44 games. They were tied at the end of the season and had to go to a three game playoff.
The Giants won the first, the Dodgers the second. In the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Giants at bat the Dodgers were ahead 4-1. The Giants were up against Don Newcombe, the Dodgers ace. When Newcombe gave up a run, Ralph Branca was brought in to face Bobby Thomson, “ The Staten Island Scot.” With two men aboard, Thomson hit a homerun into the short left field stands and won the ballgame for the Giants.
Branca had now become one of the most infamous players in baseball history. He was raised a Roman Catholic and sought the advice of a Jesuit priest to help him with his tragedy. No one who knows baseball can ever forget that one pitch on that fateful day. Some claim that it was the beginning of the end of the Dodgers in Brooklyn, even though they won their first World Series in 1955.
To find out a few days ago, that Branca’s mother was a Jewish woman from a Jewish family who never told any of her children has caused somewhat of a conflict within the Jewish baseball community ( I never knew there was such a thing). Alan Dershowitz, eminent attorney and Harvard professor says that Branca is not really Jewish because he wasn’t raised as one and did not pitch “Jewishly” (whatever the heck that means- was Sal Maglie therefore Jewish because of his guile).
Some are happy to see the list of Jewish players in baseball grow by one. There have been about 150 Jewish ballplayers, the most famous of which are Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. There are others who will fight to prevent Branca from being enshrined in the Jewish Hall of Fame.
Most of us understand the relationship between being Jewish and feeling guilt. Some have said that as Jews, we feel profoundly sorry for Branca and will now try and absorb some of the guilt. Jews tend to be very much aware of anything negative about Jews around the world. There are probably some reasons that I am missing, but one seems to be that persecution of Jews is always somewhere in the brain and does not come out until a Jewish name is associated with something bad that has happened with a Jewish name appended to it.
Bernie Madoff is as prime example of this effect. In some way Madoff’s crimes were mitigated by the fact that he screwed so many Jews including the Board of Yeshiva University. Even as a kid in the early 1950’s some in my family were ashamed that so many of the basketball players indicted in the point shaving schemes of the Schwartzbergs and Sallazo were Jewish- Roman, Cohen and Dambrot and others.
When the Son of Sam was apprehended, and was named Berkowitz, there were many questions about how a Jewish kid could do such a thing. Once again, the feeling was ameliorated when it was discovered that he was adopted.
Hard to understand this constant feeling of being responsible for every Jewish misdeed by any Jew around the world. Now that Nevin Shapiro has walked onto the scene with his relationship with the University of Miami’s sports program, it begins again.
Now comes Ralph Branca.

RONALD T. BOGUS COMMENTS ON THE CANDIDATES

( Ronald Theodosius Bogus is the Congressman from the 436th Congressional District in the State of Anxiety. He has constantly badgered me to have another of his opuses placed on this blog. He feels that I have injured him in some way back in Anxiety when he was the state representative. I allow this foolishness about once a year).
I guess that Hillman is mellowing in his old age and after his heart surgery. That procedure astounded me because I was sure that he had no heart. After all of the malicious things that he has said about me all of those years, I often wondered. Enough about him and more about me and my opinions. I did win the seat and I am now in my second term as Congressman in the 436th district. I have sponsored a number of bills with lots of clamor, but few results.
My anti-anti-anti- immigration bill was viewed by my Whig caucus as expeditionary. I suggested that all immigrants to this country over the years since the Constitution was written be made to register at their local Courts of Common Pleas. Those now registering would be made to do 2 years of community service in the country from which they or their families came. I got some support, but not enough to get it to a committee or to the floor for a vote.
My bill to make all of the countries who have borrowed money from us since the Civil War and not paid us back, pay it back immediately with interest compounded. This payback would probably reduce our national debt by a significant amount
I have been following the candidates for President very carefully. Our own set of candidates- Barnegat Blummis and Wilhelmina Fortesque are people after my own heart. I could vote for either of them. Their views are coterminous with mine and they are both active octogenerians. Both have fine backgrounds as hand models for various glove companies and skin lotions.
The other crop of candidates, including the President do not thrill me at all. When President Obama was elected I was sure that he would really go to the left and increase the size of government and take over all of the large industries in the U.S. That would have caused a storm and we ( the Whigs) would win the Presidency in 2012.
The other candidates are more of a yawn than in most years. Governor Romney has had few ideas since he was governor . He has changed his mind so many times, I am not sure if he is Barry Goldwater or Hopalong Cassidy. Mr. Gingrich has too much hair, as does his wife. When they are on t.v. together, the snow is blinding. I also think that his Contract on America came to late to save our country.
Governor Palin is someone that I really enjoy. Her views are novel and sparkling. She has a great smile and a story to tell. I am not sure what that story is, but I love to listen to her, Great Grizzly Mama that she is. She is the darling of our small state of Anxiety. Her drawbacks are few but magnified by the reactionary press. She does not know history or geography. Those traits can be easily remedied by courses from the University of Phoenix. I applaud her.
This new guy Governor Perry is not someone that I trust. He smiles too much and gives the appearance of a consummate masseur. He is constantly touching and rubbing people. He has an affinity for touching children and young people in the face and on the head. I don’t want my President to be that familiar with the people.
Congressman Paul is someone that I know personally. He is the arch libertarian with just a dash of retrograde amnesia. His statements and positions over the past few years seem a bit distant from what he said ten or so years ago. His views are a bit too liberal for my taste.
Senator Santorum is a mystery to me. His last run for public office was a defeat by some guy called Casey. Not sure who that was, but he lost. He seems to be someone who takes stands on issues that I am not interested in. He sends me all kinds of emails. I rarely understand them. They seem to be written in some other language than English. He also gets mad pretty easily. That’s another thing that I don’t like about Perry.
Michele Bachmann is a nice lady who represents all of the proper family values. She always listens to her husband and does what he says. I’ve been trying to tell my wife the same thing. I have asked her to listen to the Congresswoman and hear what she says. I admire her for not using a teleprompter, that’s a real first. I usually speak off the cuff and that’s good enough for me. To heck with electronic crutches.
Pawlenty has pulled out. I didn’t like him very much. He had no position on mostly everything and he came from Minnesota. Have they ever won a Super Bowl? At least President Obama comes from his adopted city of Chicago and they won a Super Bowl. I’d rather be in Hawaii in the wintertime than Minnesota.
Now Herman Cain is at the top of my list. He could make a mean pizza. That’s an accomplishment in this day and age. His sauce and cheeses are incomparable. He is a successful businessman with a good speaking voice. He would make a great president.
Don’t even know McCotter, even though he is in Congress. He got 35 votes in the Iowa Straw poll. Did he even campaign in Iowa?I hear tell that Congressman Paul Ryan might throw in his hat. I wish that he would throw his head in too. That budget that he whomped up was so complicated that he even had some Whigs astounded by its difficult computations. Don’t want an egghead in the White House, we already tried one of those.
As for Jon Huntsman, I don’t know a thing about him and that tells the tale. Where has he been and what has he said about our current problems with the economy, the values in our country, the decline of fine food and the lack of appreciation for personal hygiene. Where have they gone and when and under whose leadership will they return?

DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS- PART I

You know how you take a mind flush book on a vacation and expect that you will read through it in a short time and forget most of the plot and the characters soon afterward. Carol and I just got back from Bethany Beach- a week with our children and grandchildren. We had snatched up a couple of books before we left, one of which was suggested to us by my friend Mike Vereb.
We should have known that the book was more than its title. Mike is continually reading books that are very serious and are not on the New York Times Best Seller List. This time he chose one that everyone, who is educated, is comfortable with their lives economically, and feels that they are middle or upper middle class should read.
Please don’t ask what any of the classes mean. I couldn’t figure it out when I was in a sociology class and I can’t figure it out now. All I know is that it has something to do with dough and social status ( maybe education). It the kind of book you read that says to you, “ You are a dumb and unknowing jerk and why didn’t you realize this all of these years.”
According to our fifteen year old grandson, many of our values are centered around having worked with poor and rural people. I was not sure what he meant by that, but after reading this book, I think that I now understand.
You may have used the word, hick, redneck, clodhopper, cracker or some other epithet when talking about people from rural areas. The term, “trailer trash,” has come to mean poor white people that you might never invite to your home. All of these terms, while mostly said in a jocular way, are deep seated prejudices against people who are not educated, live close to poverty and do not listen to NPR.
Yes, I’ve said it. I don’t listen to NPR and that’s maybe what is wrong with me. I have had some serious arguments, with at least one of my friends, when I have said that NPR is elitist and pretty anti-rural. That may not be the whole story, but the people described in Deer Hunting with Jesus feel just about the same way.
They are pretty much tired of the world being run by Harvard educated people, California hippies, ACLUers, and folks who hate NASCAR and country music. These are folks that belong to thousands of fundamentalist churches, hunt for meat ( and sport) and support many conservative causes across our country.
They are tuned in to FOX news and the many conservative talk show hosts and believe all that they hear. They are not frightened of war and send many of their children off to foreign lands to defend our version of democracy. They do not fear any enemy and will put up their dukes for issues that us wusses would not.
Their movement onto the political scene may have begun in the 1970’s and led to the election of Ronald Reagan. They are direct descendents of John Calvin and his theocratic view of the world. They are mostly Scots-Irish, though many do not have any idea of their ethnic background.

TAKING CHANCES

The problem with taking chances is that no one can really give you any sane advice. All they can do is explain, from their own experiences, and maybe some others, how it works. Even the wildly successful people cannot really tell you why it is they took a chance. Each situation is so vastly different that comparisons are often specious.
Are all successful people those who have taken chances? Probably not. There are those who have meticulously planned out their lives and careers and have lived to see their dreams come true. Whether they are in the majority or not, I have no idea.
Over the past eleven years, we have had the privilege of working with H. Gerry Lenfest, the progenitor of the Lenfest Foundation. We have worked to send rural kids to college and to prep schools. He has laid out close to a billion dollars since the year 2000 in charitable ventures. He says that he is not interested in systems change, only changing the lives of individuals, whether in rural Pennsylvania or in Africa.
He began his career by working for Walter Annenberg, the owner of a media conglomerate and former Ambassador to Great Britain. Gerry was the publisher of Seventeen magazine in one of his iterations. In 1974, Gerry asked Walter Annenberg if he would sell his fledgling cable company to him. Annenberg said he would for $100,000. Gerry didn’t have that kind of dough and went to a few friends to see what they could do to help.
At a dinner of these friends, Gerry learned that his friends were pulling out of the deal to loan him the money. In a conversation in the kitchen of the home that he was in, the wives told their husbands that they had promised Gerry the money and should give it to him. That is how it all started and ended up with Gerry selling his firm to Comcast for 7.5 billion bucks in the years 2000.
That’s called taking a chance. We have all taken chances in our lives in so many things-our work life, our personal life, our financial life and an overwhelming number of times, things worked out. As a friend of mine is used to saying, there are no decisions that most of us make in life that turn out poorly.
There are two people that I have come across recently that were faced with the decisions to take a chance. One is the daughter of a friend of mine, who was going to apply for an administrative position in her school district. The position was not going to pay her what she was making at the time, but there might be a chance for success later on.
She did not get the job, but was offered another, less lofty job, which she negotiated into a something good for her. Within a day, a series of events occurred that will probably enable her to take the job that she originally applied for. She could not have known these things were going to happen. However, the chance that she took enabled her to be at the right place at the right time.
Another person is still struggling with her situation. She is independently employed in the grant writing business. Times are not great at the moment in her chosen field. After much soul searching, she put her name out there on the web and got a hit from a private school for handicapped children as a grant writer. At the same time, her own business seems to be growing and she does not know what it is she wants to do.
She could take a chance and continue with her own business, or she could still pursue this new opportunity (she has passed the first hurdle). She is now in the middle of a wealth of riches, with another job presenting itself. What chance is she willing to take? Whatever decision she makes will be a good decision.

VACATIONS

As educators, we didn’t make a whole bunch of money. We pretty much scrimped until our forties. We spent most of our money on travelling and vacations, first by ourselves and then with our children. Because of this, we did not get our first new furniture till our twentieth year of marriage. So, who cares? We always had a great time on our vacations.
Our first big vacation occurred in 1965 and it was funded by Carol’s parents. Guess what, they came with us. We saw many of the great Western National parks, Los Angeles (the first day of the WATTS riots and we were in a motel right there), San Francisco, Hearst Castle, the coastal highway, and visits with cousins.
Funny thing, we were glad to get back. That was pretty strange, since we were so happy to leave. What is it that happens on vacations that makes you want to quit and return home? Are you not having a good time? Are you so ingrained in your daily doings, that the vacation is not at all comfortable?
I do know that being on vacation can be very tiring. There might be time changes (going to foreign countries), lots more walking than you do at home, lots of other physical activity, even if you are a gym rat. There may be packing or unpacking a great number of times, or long mileage on the road in your own car, or one that you have rented.
By the time your vacation is over, you sometimes want just to sit down in a comfy chair and close your eyes. However, there are things to unpack, clothes to wash, children to get ready for school, bills to pay, pets to get back from somewhere, phone calls to answer, family things that have happened.
Because we have our offices in our home, we generally come back to an unfathomable bunch of mail, emails, requests for meetings and problems of various sorts. By the time we unpack and get our mail done, it is usually time to go to sleep. We generally plan for one day of downtime before we begin our “real” lives.
Recently, we have taken to going on vacations with friends or our children and grandchildren. Somehow, that seems to be a bit easier. There are burdens to share and lots of time to relax, as your friends or family do some of the vacation tasks, such as figuring out where to eat, where to go and what to buy in the tschakie shops.
As we get into our “Golden Years,” we become happier with the small things on our vacations- sitting in town squares and listening to music, dancing, going to supermarkets in foreign countries, exchanging dollars and seeing where you get the best rates, looking for places that tourists don’t usually see, speaking with locals whether in Mexico, or in Cleveland.
In a while, Carol and I will be going on a trip that we have wanted to do for a long time. We will get into our big black van, with all the accoutrements and head west to see the things we missed in 1965. This time, we will not visit relatives or see the Pacific Ocean. We will start out visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and go from there. We have always wanted to see Mount Rushmore and Deadwood and all the Badlands and Yellowstone. It will be a slow drive with lots of bathroom breaks, switching of drivers and nodding off in the lands of wheat.