SKULDUGGERY AT THE CAPITOL

According to architecture magazines, Harrisburg has one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the country. The dome, inlaid with gold filigree and beautiful paintings is something that visitors never seem to get over. The building is beautiful. What goes on in the building is not.
Both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s office are Republican. That has not really meant much in the past. As a lobbyist for education, there has always been a kind of hands off the political machinations with education. My, how times changed.
There are two chairpersons on each legislative committee, the majority, in this case Republican and minority, this time Democrat. Both of these gentlemen are as far from being firebrand politicos as you can get. They are in my terminology, “gentlemen.” Paul Clymer, the Majority chair is a straight-laced kind of person who brooks no bad language, rough argumentation and studies each issue separately. I may not agree with Paul, but I know that he comes to his conclusions honestly. However, when education issues of some import are discussed both the administration and the leadership bypass Paul.
Jim Roebuck comes from Philly and is a higher education guy. He went to Central High School in Philly (the equivalent of Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech in N.Y.C.). He is learned, a pro-education guy and represents Philadelphia. His city has not been doing well in recent years and Jim has been trying hard to make things better. He is not always supported by the African American Caucus in the legislature, but he goes about doing the right thing.
Unfortunately, the education committee and most of the other committees have been politicized. Private interests are now getting close to a billion dollars off the top of education funding. They have pushed for laws that make it easier to get at that money and take off all the accountability and transparency that we have now (which isn’t much). Their goals (and evidently the administration) is to privatized as much as possible and do away with public education.
When you say that, you stimulate the ire of some folks who see this as an improvement for kids in poverty, it is also supposed to be innovative. It is neither. It is an utter failure. If you are data driven look at the SAT scores of our charter schools here in PA (how about some in the 300’s on both math and reading).
The end of the budget season in an election year means lots of dough changes hands. If you didn’t work all year long and had clients who had dough to throw around, this would be the time to market your skills. How about a $65,000,000 tax break for Shell Oil company for years to come ,for creating a plant to mine natural gas here in the Marcellus Shale. There are so many questions of why you would pay people to come here, when there is nowhere else to go and they will make billions.
We are also in the process of not doing what all other natural gas and oil states are doing- taxing at the well head. We are doing little to improve the economic solvency of our poor people in rural areas. The local municipalities will get little dough to fix the roads or other infrastructure needs directly relating to the gas wells and the trucks. This is not even looking at the environmental impact.
You would think that we would move forward and build gas (natural gas) stations to fuel our buses, school buses, railway system, cabs, trucks, etc.). I wonder if there are not enough dollars floating around to grease palms.
In some ways, I feel sorry for the rural Republicans. They are caught in a bind with this administration. Having been threatened enough times, they are now gun shy about going against the administration. It has been a struggle even to get to a budget number, much less a budget. The gum’s budget has kind of gone down in flames and the state senate has a whole new budget.
Whether the house can hold off the anti-public education bills (and there are many and that is the strategy), I have no idea. However, I do know, where there is money to give out, movement is speedy. Keep tuned for the final result.

THE ORGAN RECITAL

A good friend of ours once told us that as people get older, they gather together in their homes, in restaurants, on boats, in foreign countries, and in Florida and compare illnesses and medications. I now believe what she said to be true. There is an old joke that goes something like this. Three men are stranded in the desert without any liquid to drink. The German fellow says, “What I wouldn’t give for a good beer, I am parched.” The Frenchman retorts that he would give anything for a glass of good French Cabernet Sauvignon. The Jewish guy says, “I am so thirsty, I must have diabetes.”
As funny as that may sound, aging has a funny way of changing conversations. In the cave days, my friends and I talked about our common interests- ball games, education ( yup, everyone is an expert), our families, etc. Now our conversations are divided into three parts; symptom recognition, medication identification, and medical procedures.
Symptom identification usually begins with a recitation of the onset of the symptom, vis-à-vis; “I just started to cough. It lasted for a month. There was no reason for the cough. It just came upon me for no reason. I didn’t have a cold or anything, just a constant cough. I began to think that I was in my death throes.”The speaker is usually interrupted by someone else who had the same symptom. “I had that a few years ago. It lasted a long time. At first I thought it was my medication. My doctor said that it could be a polyp on my vocal chords that would impede my singing after a while. It lasted a year. In all that time, with all of the ENTs they could find nothing. It went away by itself after I stopped using my wife’s deodorant.”
Medication identification requires scientific knowledge. Its catchall phrase is, “Better living through chemistry.” It does something like this. “Hey Sam, you really look great. What has been happening? My internist gave me some new blood pressure medication that seems to be doing the trick and I really feel good. I’ve been taking it for two days. It’s called Neohydrophonium Oxide. That’s the generic form which costs a whole lot less than the name brand, Farmished.
The following chorus of head nodding and knowledgeable discussion about the pharma company that makes the drug and its place on the stock market then ensues. One person usually has something bad to say about the side effects of the drug. “I took that crap for two months and I got the worst case of diarrhea that I have ever had. Each time I went to the bathroom I used up a whole role of toilet paper.” That is usually the level of conversation about meds. However, know this- without them we probably wouldn’t be around to complain.
“So I went to the specialist and he told me that I had to have this procedure done on my shoulder. My rotator cuff had rotated too far and that I would be out of the pitching rotation for a month (a common joke). I worry about the rehab period because Sally and I intended to go to the Far East and see the sights and eat lots of Chinese food. I am hoping that this all blows over.”
Comparisons of procedures is difficult because most of us have had different ones- hip replacements, knee replacements, hearing aids, heart procedures, etc. The most delightful time is when two people have had the same procedure done in the same hospital. If you have had the same doctor, that is pure orgasmic joy. The conversation then goes something like this. “You had Martello for your procedure?” “Yes I did and he was wonderful. Did you have Free Willy do the shaving of your body hair before the procedure?” Yes I did and how about that nurse who undressed you, wasn’t she a knockout. I kept on looking down at my gown to see if my woody was waking up. Fortunately I was able to calm myself.”
This can now go on for hours including such finite things as the quality of the wheelchairs, the food, the middle of the night medication, the distance to the bathroom and the texture of the soap.
The organ recital then ends kind of abruptly. Most of us are either asleep or getting there.

BREAKFAST WITH IBRAHIM

A few years ago, a diner opened in the little burg of Linglestown about 3 miles from our home. If you turn right out of our development it is a straight shot. We enjoyed going there for breakfast mostly and sometimes for other meals. The owner’s name is Ibrahim.
In the past year and one half, we have gone there because the dystopian burghers of Linglestown decided to put a roundabout ( English version of traffic circle) just in front of the diner. It almost drove Ibrahim out of business. However, he is not someone to give up and he stayed until everything was completed. His regular customers continued to come, but walk in trade was zero.
Ibrahim is a late 30’s father of four, all girls. His wife goes to college and his mother n law is there to sit for the smaller children. Their names encompass the religions of the world. He would like to have a son, and name him Noah. He is pleased with his four daughters, although one of them drives him bonkers. She is a great student, but asks her teacher many many questions. She is going into second grade.
When I came into the diner, he greeted me like along lost brother. He sat with me during breakfast and had his own lunch at the same time. We spent over and hour and a half talking about Egypt, where he comes from. He is happy that Mubarak is gone but fears that the country must start with the ground up to reach its full potential.
We also spoke of the new restaurant that he is opening very close to us. It will be kind of Mediterranean/American. He will have special nights and advertise widely. I am sure that he will be successful. He told me that he only hires people that are friendly and nice. He is a smiling gregarious kind of guy who treats him customers royally.
Does this sound like the old days that conservative people are always talking about. Maybe it is, but he is also an immigrant, as are his whole family. He left most of his family back in Egypt where they suffered the outrages perpetrated during the Mubarak regime and the uprising. He is here to make a success of himself and he will.

THIS NEW $%#@&? PHONE

I knew I should not have gone to the Verizon store. I have no right being there at any time. The bright faced sales people and technicians have no time for bunglers and new users of their latest marvels. I could not stop myself from, at least taking a look at these new phones- droids, smart phones, etc.
My wife, Carol, had recently switched from our regular dumb phones to an Iphone and seemed to be having a ball. She plays games with our grandchildren and friends and is able to get her email and the latest news instantaneously. I became intrigued. What I did not know, is that she has spent days on the phone getting all of these wonders aligned with her ability to push tiny little letters and numbers.
As I approached the young man behind the counter, I knew that was predestined to buy one of these contraptions (whose name, I still don’t know after a week). The young man patiently explained what the various phones were and what their functionality was. It was all pretty glorious at the outset.
The first stumbling block is that we have a private server. We have been with this company since its inception in 1997. It has served us well and we know all of the people who own the place and even their children. Our email reflects our private provider and we have had no troubles with email or the internet that the company has not fixed in a jiffy.
When the young man tried to program in the server information, he was stumped. I tried to explain the usernames and passwords and he kind of looked at me as if I was speaking another language. We really did not get my email set up and I thought that I would be able to go it by calling Verizon. No such luck. All technicians had no success.
I watched carefully when the young man programmed my voice mail. Just press the voice mail icon and hold down the one and add the last four digits of your phone number. It worked in the store and did not work at home or anyplace else. After another phone call to Verizon, I finally got someone who knew what I was talking about and he walked my through it.
When I went back to the Verizon store for the third time, I was a bit more testy. After all, I had begun this computer stuff, online teaching and various other avant garde things at the beginning. I would not let this small rectangular do dad buffalo me. I was now determined to make all of the things work despite my fat fingers and lack of patience.
I waited at the desk while some other people bought specialized plasma tv’s that they could use as screens for their phone calls. I watched in horror as a 17 year old girl pretended to be about five while smooching her dad into getting her the newest phone model because she had smashed two other phones, “by accident.” The technician’s manner was always calm. All problems would be taken care of in time, just sign these small lettered documents.
Then it came my turn. I proffered my phone and said, “My email is not working and you also gave me some bum information about voicemail.” He did not show any emotion. He asked me for every conceivable piece of information about emails and passwords. I gave him everything that I had. After about 20 minutes, he admitted that he did not have a clue what was wrong. I told him that I had purchased the phone for the very simple reason that I wanted to have email and internet on my phone for my activities. I learned from lobbyists that the way to get instant info was to have an android or blackberry or smart phone.
I got no satisfaction. I went home in a funk and glared at the small rectangle hoping that it would disappear and I would have nothing more to do with it. I struggled with throwing it out the window and wasting the 79 bucks that I had spent on my “free” phone.
At 11:30 that night, I realized that I had one more out, my server company. I left a message on their answering service and appeared there the next morning. Ryan took my phone and said that it would not take him longer than a minute to fix it, and he did. I even found out what was wrong. He then showed me some other things that I could do and I was out of there in 15 minutes.
You know, don’t you, that there is no more getting a service manual with these things and that you either print it off the web or order it (same with my car). I guess they don’t think anyone over 21 will be using these phones.

SALLY’S LIFE TILL NOW

We keep in touch with many of our 1200 scholarship kids, to see how they are doing and see if there is anything that we can do for them. We had a Dunkin’ Donut date with one of our scholars. who was part of the Prep School Scholarship Program. She graduated from the prep school and went to Ursinus College and then on to Lycoming College. In between those times, she and her young man friend managed to have a baby. The baby is now 2 ½ years old.
Sally is 22 years old and is in a very deep quandary. She is a bright articulate attractive person who is now emptying bedpans in a local hospital. She has some intentions of going to school. She has moved out of her husband’s apartment and is now living with her parents who watch her child when she works.
She opened up to us about her marriage (her parents made her marry after her pregnancy) and she was hopeful that her boyfriend would grow up after they got married. He did not. He quit school to get a job in a warehouse and now has no intention of improving himself. He had a few years of school and might have finished, but decided not to.
Her financial state is not good at all. Her parents will ask her to pay rent soon and she is not sure how she will do it. There is a program at a local college that will help someone like Sally, if they have no husband and have full custody of the child. She does not have that situation. She is struggling with no one to turn to.
She then remembered that Arnold and Carol are still around. We met with her and listened, which is what she really wanted. We all came up with some different ideas. We offered to go to any of the schools with her to see if we could help. We would understand if she followed through with any of the ideas. She did and emailed us the next day.
I wish we could tell you that we have been successful in many of these situations before. The success rate is not that high. However, we still maintain a relationship with these young people with a promise that if they could get straightened out, the scholarship program could get reinstated and they could get some dough. Bless our patron Gerry Lenfest for his generosity.

TAKING YOUR CHILD ON A COLLEGE VISIT

Within the next few weeks, we will be taking our 16 year old grandson on a tour of 8 colleges in one week. The places we are going to visit were chosen based on interest, location, size of school, and personal interest. It is something that we have done many times before with our own children and with many of our scholarship winners because of lack of parental resources and time.
Since the youngster usually has no idea of what to look for or what he/she would like to major in or almost everything else, it is an advantage to have someone who knows the questions to ask. We have fulfilled that role for many years. It is not because we are so smart, but have visited so many schools, we are familiar with the programs and the presentations made by the schools.
The one thing that a college goes to entice you to come there (and that is exactly what they are doing) is to have you take a tour. The impression of the college is mostly based on the tour guide and how he/she acts. We once took an African American scholarship winner to a traditionally black school. This young lady did not come from the city and was overwhelmed by Washington D.C. and its environs. The tour guide was a Valley Girl clone and completely turned off our student. It was not a good match.
There is no pushing a young person to go to a particular school. They have to see for themselves and made the final decision. Yes, everything depends on money, but the nature of the school will determine whether the student will succeed or not. Send a rural kid(less than 100 in his/her) graduating class and you are courting disaster. There are sometimes more people in a Penn State bathroom than in the entirety of some kids’ graduating class.
These days, you must make an appointment to take a tour or have an info session. If you are lucky, your child will be awake after the info session and ready to take a tour. If the tour only includes classroom buildings, then it is a dud. If it includes, the student union, gym facilities, cafeteria and other eating establishments and a dorm room, it is a winner. We have gone to a school where the dorm rooms were off limits. That was a disaster.
The first stop will engender no questions from your child. By the 3rd of 4th school you will be surprised at how smart your child has become. Don’t allow the tour guide to get too far ahead. Be a front row person and you will get extra information. Don’t be afraid to ask, what seem to you to be, silly questions. We had one student who asked if showers were mandatory and when should she take them.
Whatever happens on the trip, you will be surprised at the end. If your child is an athlete or a musician or a computer nerd, or a closet theater person, and none of his/her questions are answered, your trip was for naught. Tour guides always ask what your major will be. Most kids have no clue. Just say something close and you will get extra info. Scholarships grants and all kinds of financial aid questions will be answered at the information sessions.
How do you know what schools to go to? Get one of these Barons or Peterson Guides and look through it with your student. Try and narrow it down to big/small school, urban, rural or suburban, hours away from home by driving distance, some idea of what the youngster wants to study and questions about co-edity.
There will be questions about same sex schools (not too many around anymore), co-ed dorms, single sex dorms, integrated sex on the same floor and other kind of personal things. There may even be questions about a roommate. Please do not be surprised at the things that your child finds important, including how successful the football team is. Get out there and learn.