Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Bully Amongst US

"Why don't people rob banks?"

It is the question I pose to the man across the table from me. A dour man with spectacles he's dressed in a black wool blend suit. The charcoal button down shirt is not adorned with a tie the top button is undone, allowing his collar to sit lazily. His hands folded neatly on the table. He is the assistant superintendent of the local school district. He is not happy to be here nor is he happy about the topic we are here to discuss.

Sitting next to him is the principal of my son's school a mousey woman whose demeanor speaks volumes. Her hands are sitting idly in her lap the shawl draped across her shoulders does little to hide her bony shoulders. Her eyes focused on her lap. Her posture is that of a woman who has endured years of abuse at the hands of another. I wonder if her future rests on the todays outcome or if it is preordained.  

Taking a moment he looks over to the sheriff's deputy and says "I think this is your question."

The deputy pauses shakes' his head and then deadpans "It's a philosophical question."

"Your right it is." I say.

Mr. Berens looks back at me and smiles uncomfortably "You have me at a loss. I'm not sure I am following you."

I nod slowly "Consequenses."  His eyebrow arches in reply.

"When a child is born, we as parents use positive and negative reinforcement to teach them right from wrong. As they get older we teach them the morality of their actions. By the time they are old enough to attend school they have the foundation of what is right and wrong. It is then we enter into an unspoken agreement with the school. From there you reinforce what is acceptable and what is not."

"But when they act out and corrective action is not taken or is not serious enough to correct bad behavior, then professionals like the deputy over there are forced to step in and provide the corrective behavior either the parents or the school did not provide." I said

Berens raises his hands in front of him and says "As I've already stated, we cannot get into the actions we have taken with any students." He said his tone flat and final.

"You know there is a website dedicated to this very subject about the school district? 818 members who all have shared their stories. Gut wrenching stories of abuse, violence, stalking, humiliation and intimidation. All of it at the hands of bullies whose actions have gone unchecked."

He starts to point a finger and respond, but stops and sits back in his chair his expression heated.

"There are many stories in the paper where you are quoted. I have to say you really don't come off that well."  "I care about every student and am committed to their safety and security." He says heatedly.

"A few years ago a student committed suicide on a playground in the middle of the night. You lost a student on a bus. There is mold in the walls, lead in the paint and the pipes. 818 parents have complained about the bullies in the schools and resoundingly all of them have said either no action was taken or not enough." I said, ticking each item off my fingers.

I continued "There is a systemic problem in the country and the fact we have not had an event that has captured the nation's attention does not mean it won't happen. In fact everytime it does happen the schools get a pass from the media because we are so entrenched and programmed to talk about guns and ammo clips."  

I turn to the deputy and ask "How many complaints or instances have there been already this year?"

"More than enough?" He says.

I turn back to Berens "If it were possible to take a poll of all the kids who have just victimized my son I doubt we would find it was isolated to just him."  His eyes slide off mine and flick towards the principal. It's all I need to push him in the direction I want him to go.

"Mr. Berens you have an image problem. What with the mold and lead in the paper everyday and now a website dedicated to the violence in the schools. I have to say the public is losing faith in this administration. You need to get ahead of this and make the bully issue part of a larger campaign."

His eyes brighten "What do you propose?"

 And there it is his base vanity of his nature exposed for all to see.

Sitting a little more forward in my chair I laid out for him what I want him to do. "First you need to have your communications director put out a statement saying in light of the mold and lead and the number of parents who have voiced concerns over bullying you have had enough. It is time to look at all safety and security policies. You say that you are aware the community has lost faith in the school system, but you're committed to improving in all areas. But you can't do it alone the school system needs the support of the community to make meaningful changes."

Rubbing his hands across his face, he looked over at me and said "That is a good idea. You think it will work?"

"It's good politics and will garner favor from the board. You're the face of this issue. You sit for a few interviews and recognize your detractors for working to bring these concerns to the forefront."  "I can't do that some of those people have said very bad things about me."

"You're not legitimizing them, just acknowledging their concerns. But this will go a long way to changing your narrative and it drives a positive message." I said quietly.

"I really like this in fact I need to get with my communications director today if possible and ask her the best way for us to put this out there. Really make a difference. You know there is always room for improvement and we want the community to trust us." He said enthusiastically.

"Make it part of a larger campaign. Let it be known there will be no room for violence at school. Make sure you include the liaison officers in your statement."

"Of course, of course." He said dismissively.

"Just keep in mind the next time there is a complaint you're going to have to really do something different."

He nods in response, but I can see he's thinking more about his image and vanity than taking responsibility. I've gotten through to him because he is at heart a feckless bureaucrat whose ambitions are larger than his current title. Politicians are easy to manipulate, but in this case I don't care because if I can get him to do this then the schools can't run from this any further. Which means the next time my son or for that matter any child gets beaten or preyed upon they are on record.  

Victims of bullying without strong support at home followed by some counseling will eventually either turn to suicide, become bullies themselves or seek revenge through very violent means. Parents who don't get kids counseling or do not engage in their lives wind up struggling with teens who have serious addiction or behavioral problems.    

Help be part of the solution and not the problem be engaged in the lives of your kids and be part of their scholastic careers its up to all of us to put an end to it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Take the Scissors Away

I should have seen it coming, in fact, you could say its my fault. All I had to do was nothing. Simply take my boarding pass and move along. But who am I kidding her words and the vagarious nature of her comments rooted me in place. I chased her comment right to the rabbit hole and then plumbed its depths for all it was worth.

Last Friday I step up, place my boarding pass on the scanner with one hand and with the other I swiftly hand the TSA agent my drivers license. Now for those of you who travel you are aware of the scanners beeping three times for those enrolled in Pre-Check and once for those not enrolled. Never mind my boarding pass says Pre-Check because its the all important three beeps the agent pays attention to. They treat it a lot like the soup nazi in Seinfield. "No three beeps, no Pre-Check!"

I get one beep and immediately begin pointing out I am indeed in the right line. The agent glances over at the screen and then back to my boarding pass. "Why, yes you are. It says so right there on my screen,"

This is where I should have thanked her and went along my way. But because I am preconditioned like Pavlov's dog to the three beeps I push on. "It's supposed to beep three times. But it only beeped once."

She nods and says "Yeah, they changed it."

Stupidly, I ask "Why?"

"You frequent travelers figured out the beeps." She said.

I felt the tug of the hook as it sank deep in my gullet and the instant and unsatisable need to plumb the depths of this particular rabbit hole.

"That your guess or you know that's the reason?" I ask.

Pausing, she tilted her head back and forth like a lost Stepford wife and replied. "Yeah, pretty sure that's it.?

"Which one?"

"I don't understand." She said vacantly.

And then it hits me, I've found the bottom of this rabbit hole. To plumb it further will only invite further abuse to my conscience. Letting it pass I head to the gate thankful catastrophe has been avoided and terrified this is what separates up from the terrorists.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes

It’s fair to say you never know what you may run across in the field or the conditions you’re asked to work in…

Oct 2000
Southern New Mexico

It’s late my peer Jai Lee and I have been going from site to site picking up management cards from a system I was working on. The ring itself is about 700 square miles. Sunset was several hours ago the moon was kind enough to take the night off. The sky is filled with millions of stars in the Milky Way, which looks like fog in the night sky.

The site we’re looking for is a bit off the beaten path. The local ops guy has provided a map drawn on a cocktail napkin. The name of the site escapes me at the moment, but I recall the directions involved a dirt road, a farm house and a tower. “You can’t miss it.” He said as he handed us the napkin.

The road ends. We can go left or we can go right. There is a farmhouse in front of us. Jai checks our map. “It says farmhouse and there’s a farmhouse. Think this is it?” She asks.

I shrug “Could be. Does the map show this intersection?” I ask.

Jai is shaking her head. I look at the farmhouse and notice what could be generously described as a tower located behind what appears to be a tool shed. “Well, it’s got a tower.”

Easing the car forward I park in the driveway. Jai reaches for the door and starts to get out. “Hold on a second.” I said. “Why?” She asks.

“These farmers always have dogs and they generally show up right about the time you're too far away to get back in the car.”

Jai closes the door both of us looking around for Cujo. Seeing nothing we conclude this farm is the exception and not the rule, we both start to get out.

Now I don’t know how we missed him, but miss him we did. No sooner had I unfolded my frame from the car and Cujo comes to life about six feet in front of me. Scrambling for the car I half lunge half fall back into the car just managing to close the door before Cujo the junk yard dog starts picking his teeth with my bones. All I hear is barking and the sound of gnashing teeth as he slams into the side of the car.

I look over at Jai “You were right about the dog.” Jai said. Looking up I notice she is not doing a good job of concealing her amusement at my predicament.

As I start to sit up I realize in my haste I’ve managed to shut my coat in the car door. “Now what?” She asks still laughing. Before I can answer the porch light snaps on and a woman carrying a large scatter gun steps outside. “Knock it off!” She yells. Cujo drops to all fours and saunters back to the porch and I’m pretty sure he too was laughing at my expense.

“You can get out now.” The woman yells. “What are you two doing out here, you lost?” She asks.

Jai slides easily out of the car still giggling. I’m still struggling with my coat and the door. My knees keep hitting the steering wheel. So my exit isn’t as graceful as Jai’s.

“We’re looking for the telephone building.” I hear Jai say as I’m getting out of the car.

“There’s no Qwest building around here.”

“It’s supposed to have a big tower around it. The directions we have said it’s near a farmhouse.” I said, finally getting out.

“Oh, you mean the building down the road. Didn’t know it was a telephone building.”

Jai has now rounded the car and is petting the dog who seems happy to see her. I keep my distance just in case.

She gives us directions sans napkin promising us “Can’t miss it,” and as we start to get back in the car she says “Oh, you might want to be careful its rattlesnake mating season.”

“Ah… it’s what?” I asked.

“Just look for anything that looks like sticks. If it looks like a stick just avoid it. My dog’s been bit twice this year.” Did I mention the large oak tree in her front yard and all the sticks on the ground? Who’s laughing now?

That was several years ago. A few weeks ago Peter Steele and I were down in south Florida. Working a job for a customer. There is a site there called Southbay it sits along US 27 in the heart of the Everglades. The last time I was there I spent most of my time killing wasps.

I punch in the door code and pull it open and was greeted by a 9 foot rattlesnake. Ok, it turns out it was only the skin, but still how would you have liked to be greeted like this in your office? It didn’t help that the air conditioning kept it gently swaying back and forth like a spitting cobra.

We jumped back in abject fear doing the Scooby Doo trying to get away from the door and knocking each other down in the process.

“I elect you go in there and take those OSA shots.” I gasped.

“You’re out of your mind if you think I’m going in there.” Pete wheezed.

“Flip you for it.” I said.

Pete is shaking his head violently back and forth. “No, sir, I am allergic to wasps.”

Wasps he says.

In the end, we used the buddy system to take a picture. Not knowing where or if the snake was still inside we heroically got close enough to accurately document why we could not complete our task.

When we reported our findings to the customer his comment was “L3 says they’re pretty sure it’s the same snake.”

“Same snake?” I ask.

“Yeah, they say every year for the last three someone complains there’s a snake inside and they have to go get the snake dude to pull it out.”  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Paving The Road To Hell

The road to hell is supposed to have been paved with good intentions. But in the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen it was paved by the Presidential primary.  Many candidates who in a normal year would be not only electable, but probably would have been elevated and the discourse that followed would have moved beyond the tumescent fodder, perpetrated by the unscrupulous and opprobrious candidates we have now.

It is a cycle that was thought to be dominated by conservatives who had learned the lessons from the last two elections. The left lost the Senate at the midterms and seemed like they would lose the White House in November. What started as a broad yet strong field of worthy GOP candidates got high jacked and then annihilated by a candidate whose antics and speech patterns rival that of a lounge comic hosting a "B" list celebrity roast on HBO. I've learned many a pundit swear if it were not for the billions in the bank his run for office would have been cut short. But I don't know if I would get that far. The best analogy came the other night when a pundit stated "Blue collar voters identify with him because if they had billions it's how they would behave."
There are two very clear messages this year and neither of them will lead voters or the country to anything other than ruin. The far left is driving a message that gives the middle finger to rich white men and multi billion dollar / multinational corporations. Telling the working poor, minorities, uneducated, and unemployed that their plight is being overseen by the oligarchy only fuels suspicion and hate. But at the same time gives license for failure because if elected the Democratic party will gleefully take from the rich and give to the poor. We have diminished and demonized success to the point where wealth equals oppression. It is not to be striven for.

The right on the other hand has decided to adopt an entirely different route.  Simply put brown people are unfit.  They are the cause for stagnate wages, high unemployment, high priced health care and should be stigmatized by the government. Brown people should be rounded up, shipped out and prevented from coming or returning. It brought to mind another leader not so very long ago who came to power using an eerily similar message.

These messages strike the right cord to the low information voter. Permission has been given to strike out to the perceived oppressor. Facts don't matter, right and wrong gets a pass, policy positions are equated to misdirection and obfuscation. Being investigated by the FBI is water under the bridge. Lying to the electorate is open and substituted for fact. The world at large is as befuddled as We The People.

In this nation, we like to blame the shifty politician for how things are in government. The blame does not reside, nor does it visit our doorsteps. This is not to say I believe elected officials at any level should get a pass on the bills they draft, cosponsor or vote on.  But there was a time not so long ago we both admired and believed in those who both sought and held elected office.  A lot of trust is maintained in those spaces.  There are many aspects and complexities to the power brokering that takes place in Washington. Outsiders look down their noses at those who swap favors for votes. But that is all we do is bicker and complain. Effective change means becoming part of the process.  Getting educated on the policies in dispute and then determining a candidate whom you feel will work for all they represent.

More importantly, however, we cannot tolerate a campaign that seeks to tarnish the office they seek, backtracking on issues and accountability for position changes should be vetted. Because evolving on polices should be expected in the long term. Notice I said campaign and not the candidate? It was on purpose because the elected for the most part are the handmaiden of those who got them elected. This is where the actual power resides.

People who lead campaigns are like professional athletes and coaches. They have been traded, hired and fired at close to the same rates as ball players when free agency opens.  Most have supported one another as frequently as they opposed. Politics is the best breeding ground for nepotism ever created.

But I digress, we are down to a lounge act, socialist, unindicted felon, reincarnated apostle, and John Kaisch.  And come November my vote may get down to a coin toss followed by a prayer and three fingers of bourbon neat for the courage to follow through.