Those college days (Part 1?)

Today as I was having breakfast and reading the NY Times on my Kindle, I had a flashback. Back to Cornell in the early 1970s.

“Back in the day”, as the current phrase goes, we had no internet, no smartphones, a text was what the profs called the novel they were discussing, but we did have friends, newspapers, coffee, and crossword puzzles. And several days a week, at about 10 AM, they all converged at a little place called Temple of Zeus in Goldwin Smith Hall at Cornell University.  The coffee shop was located at the front of the building: enter the main doors into the lobby, turn, and go down the steps to the left to the sunken Temple.

I would meet several of my friends, and we would bring or buy a couple copies of the Cornell Daily Sun, and would then collaborate on its crossword puzzle. If that was completed in time, we would move on to the NY Times puzzle.

Always on paper, always with coffee, and always with a lot of conversation.  Our little group would fluctuate, but generally included myself (a math major), a  history major, an economics major, an ILR student, and a couple others whose majors I do not recall. I use these tags loosely, as 40 years ago this month we were beginning the second semester of our freshman year, and the Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences did not require a major to be chosen until the end of your sophomore year.  We all had a couple years to be generalists, which I believe was crucial.

Whoever was in the group on any given day was not important. What was important was the camaraderie, the mental stimulation (not just the caffeine kick), the opportunity to share schedules and stories, and I can’t leave out the buns and muffins. Once in a while we would even look at the statuary that lined the area.

The Temple of Zeus was also a place where people came to read and/or recite their poetry. Trust me, that was not a common activity in the peak morning coffee hour. Only the really and truly socially and mentally confident would speak out to a room full of people paying no attention. On the other hand, it was not a place for serious study. On top of the hustle and bustle of people coming and going (the room was very narrow, so there was no such thin as true seclusion), one of the ladies working there had a really hard stare that could get to you of you sat too long without purchasing anything.  Coffe and studying could take place in the student unions, but not at the temple.

Having checked the web, as I suspected the Temple has expanded its offerings.

Here is a photo that shows the Temple close to what it was like back in the early 1970s

RMC2010_0407

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Sports? Again

Every week in the local newspaper and local TV news I see and hear stories about high school athletics. Enough!

How about a story once in a while about high school academics?

Failing Infrastructure?

This message won’t speak about roads or bridges or water mains.

It will speak about a 12 day trip my wife and I took to the southwest US last month.

Our first night we stayed in a motel by Nellis Air Force Base.  Highway noise kept us up all night. Ten years ago we spent one night at the hotel at the Hartford, Ct., airport. That time our room overlooked a dozen or so gates and we never heard a plane. Those planes were closer to our room there than the road was to our room in Vegas. It’s possible. Why don’t we do it all the time?

Our next night was at a Western Cabin at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We kind of expected lack of internet, TV, and cell service. We did expect adequate plumbing. We couldn’t use the shower in the morning because toilet contents backed into the tub when the john was flushed. Disgusting. A National Park!

A few days later we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in Scottsdale, AZ.   Here the faucet in the bathroom would not turn off. This is an area where water is precious. I know I told the front desk. I know the maid see it every day. Why does it stay broken?

During this trip we drove an Avis rental, a Chrysler 200s.  Every time I had to go into reverse, there was a rather loud noise, a combination of squeal and squeak.  Doesn’t Avis check their cars out? The noise was ather annoying, and definitely made people nearby aware we were there.

I know some would shrug these items off as no big deal. That is what this country has been doing for a long long time.

It is a big deal.

Let’s get ouir act together and show some pride. Otherwise, we are done.

Do facts matter?

In a discussion with some liberal-minded friends of mine,  it was mentioned, by one of them that our 55 mph speed limit law had been brought into law in the Carter years and overturned in the Reagan years. The subject quickly changed when it was pointed out that the law had begun during the Nixon years and repealed in the Clinton years.

Pension reform in New York State?

I was just reading a news article in our local paper, and it spurred me on to reacquaint myself with New York State’s new Tier VI in its Teachers’ Retirement System.  This is the new tier that raised the age for penalty-free retirement to 63.

This is the same state which, a number of times in the past 20 years (including 2010) instigated retirement incentives to encourage its older employees to get off the payroll. Now it addresses its economic woes with a plan to encourage its older employees to stay in there a little longer.  Who does that benefit? The Retirement System!!

The taxpayers will be paying for these teachers for a longer span of time!!! Less time for pension payout!

After all, the NYSTRS, although OK now in its investments, did not fare too well during the downturn of the past 4 years.  Even though, employer contribution rates are well below the rates from the 1980s. The rate for 2012-13 will be 11.84% of payroll. The rates in the 1980s averaged well above 20%.

The rates did drop in between, to a low of less tghan 1%, but that savings for the districts was used in many, if not most, cases as fodder for raising teacher’s salaries, which had been in the tank.

The more I look at the numbers over the years, the stronger my feeling is that our education funding system has to change. With the exception of capital funding, the system is basically pay-as-you-go. No saving for a rainy day, no real long term planning.

Maybe, in the end, we get what we deserve?

Free?

Last week I played in a golf tournament where everyone received a coupon, supposedly sponsored by a local car dealer, for a free golf club from freeteeprize.com. Thinking I could use a different putter, I went to the web site and found one. Upon checkout, where the “price” was $0.00, the site came up with a $29.95 charge for “S&H”. I stopped right there, and logged on to amazon.com  and found the exact same putter for sale for $33, and found it at overstock.com even less. Freeteeprize claimed it had an $89.95 value. (Interestingly, every club available was also an “$89.95 value”.)