SocraticGadfly: 12/10/06 - 12/17/06

December 15, 2006

An atheist with some integrity vs. an ethically challenged, “faith-based” Lancaster superintendent

I don't accuse other people of lying just because they don't agree with me and point out where I'm wrong.
The "faith-based" superintendent of schools?

The faith-based superintendent of schools twice accuses me of lying in the same October phone conversation. He first said I was lying in my editorial, then, as I was typing notes of our conversation, accused me of writing another editorial as we were speaking and said I was lying when I denied it.

I don’t wear a cross around my neck or carry a Bible in my hands to present an impression of piety, uprightness or honesty.

The faith-based superintendent has at least one high school assistant principal with an open Bible in her office, both violating First Amendment church-state separation and sucking up to the faith-based superintendent of schools.

I keep a company secret until somebody else lets the cat out of the bag.

The faith-based superintendent apparently lies about what happened to me, probably while dancing in celebration.

I am Steve Snyder. The faith-based superintendent of unethical behavior Lancaster schools is Larry D. Lewis.

No, I’m not perfect. But, would you prefer to trust the alternative?

And no, I do not have anything against someone else’s religion, as long as what is preached is actually practiced..

Oh, Larry? When I get back to the office, I still have my e-mails from Austin American-Statesmen reporters from when you were hired. It might just be time to post them here.

More "No, I have NOT been fired"

I'll take a good guess at who started this rumor.

The man who twice on the phone said I was "lying."

The man who said the same thing of Khalid Muhammed a couple of years back.

The man who has probably said the same about other people just because they disagree with him.

I probably don't have to name his name, but his initials might be Larry Lewis.

No, I have NOT been fired

Maybe Lancaster Superintendent Larry Lewis has started that rumor, I don't know.

Since I heard that rumor from someone at the high school, and nothing surprises me any more ...

The truth?

Lancaster Today will cease to exist after the first of the year.

And, I'm being RIF'd out of a job along with that.

I told the folks at Pegasus I would continue to blog about Lancaster to the degree people like y'all continued to feed me information.

I'ts not everything, but it's something.

I'll post more sometime this weekend.

No Lancaster schools on TEA’s cheating watch list any more

As a friend of mine said, “Obviously, they can’t be cheating.”

Pegasus News: still growing

I had the chance to talk to Mike Orrin and Alan Cohen from Pegasus News yesterday.

Expect this site to keep growing.

They said they’re getting almost as many daily website hits as The (don’t forget to capitalize that “T”) Dallas Morning News.

Of course, is that any wonder, with the Snooze’s train wreck of a website redesign? You can’t hardly find anything on there anymore, not that features like their site search worked well in the first place.

But, it’s not just because Belo is bad, it’s also because Pegasus knows what it’s doing.

Proof, on the website hits?

I have a Google News daily e-mail update with Lancaster as the key word. (Hey, either the Snooze or the StartleGram may have reports from Austin or something that get connected to Lancaster, or some federal agencies with Lancaster-related info talk only to daily newspapers. And, yes, that’s true.)

Anyhow, two of the six hits yesterday were from blog posts of mine that Pegasus has picked up.

And, they’re developing new ideas for media partnerships in the future.

Vacation time

I will be gone Dec. 21-25. However, I can check my e-mail, and comment on anything important.

Lancaster, other Best Southwest cities officially get to fight TXU

The Lancaster City Council officially approved city membership in the Coalition of Clean Air Cities, a group founded by Dallas Mayor Laura Miller to battle TXU’s plans to build numerous new coal-fired power plants in the state.

And now, the CCAC has been made an official party to the hearing protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s “expedited” speed-up of attempts to OK the plants.

From a Sierra Club press release:
A broad range of opponents showed up in Austin Dec. 14 to battle six proposed TXU coal-fired power plants in a preliminary contested case hearing conducted by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Those opposing the granting of permits to build and operate the power plants included the Sierra Club and other national environmental groups, new Texas rural citizen groups, the Clean Air Coalition of Cities, the Waco Chamber of Commerce, and numerous individuals from around the state.

The Clean Air Coaltion of Cities includes Lancaster and other Best Southwest cities and other Metroplex suburbs, along with Dallas and Houston.

In the one of the central issues of the hearing, the SOAH Judges allowed party status to the Clean Air Coalition of Cities, which represents city and county governments from across the State and most recently, independent school districts. Begun by Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, the Coalition has raised litigation funds from its members and has grown in recent months to include city and county governments in many areas where the coal plants are planned.

Oh, all that coal that Texas allegedly has? Wyoming lignite will likely be the primary fuel for the plants.

Lancaster High theft story: Is Aaron Kennedy protesting on his own, or being pressured?

Lancaster High’s Aaron Kennedy had a statement from his police report quoted in Lancaster Today’s second story about theft at Lancaster High.
Oct. 30, Aaron Kennedy reported a DVD card and a video card missing from a Dell Optiplex GX620 computer, and said “the parts are easy to remove due to the fact that all Dell Computers cases are snap on exteriors and require no tools to gain access to the interior of the computer.” He also said a complete computer central processing unit and monitor was missing from the same classroom, B211. The same day, he reported another DVD card and video card stolen from the same type Dell in another classroom, C153, a video card from a Dell in classroom C205, two RAM sticks from a Dell in room C210. Nov. 9, Kennedy reported the theft of RAM from two computers in room C247.

Well, whether on his own, or because of pressure from above, Kennedy apparently didn’t like his name being in the story, with quote. He sent me an angry e-mail indicating he doesn’t know much about journalism or quoting people.
My name is Aaron Kennedy, and yesterday December 14, 2006, I was quoted in an article written by Steve Snyder in the Lancaster Today paper. I have never met Mr. Snyder, nor have I ever had a conversation with him or any form of contact. I would like you to publish a correction in your next day’s print stating that this information was false. Furthermore, I would like you to understand how completely disgusted I am that your publication could allow a writer to completely falsify information in order to further his own personal career. In my personal opinion, he has single handedly given writers, and your publication specifically, a bad name. Please ensure that this situation is handled with immediate urgency.

I simply replied that I had quoted him from a police report obtained by an open records request and that therefore no retraction was needed nor would be forthcoming.

I followed that with an ellipsised partial sentence about how I knew the district was trying to control the flow of information.

If he writes back again, he’s going to get a more snarky response.


Update on Lancaster High School theft and non-lockable classrooms

For the follow-up story on the theft, and why the Lancaster School District didn’t get locks on classrooms sooner, see, including the list of follow-up questions the school district refused to answer.

For the op-ed column on why did it come to this state, the effects on morale, and the possible effects on the district’s shibboleth save-all, the International Baccalaureate program, see.

December 14, 2006

Recently reviewed books of note

“Conservatives without Conscience,” by John Dean
Five stars, excellent book

“Regarding the Land: Robert Glenn Ketchum And the Legacy of Eliot Porter,” by John Rohrback
Excellent book by two of America’s leading environmental photographers; their exhibit is still on display at the Amon Carter. Five stars.

“State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III,” by Bob Woodward.
Best of the recent books at pinning the incompetency tail on former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, but why wasn’t more of this in “Plan of Attack”? Four stars.

“Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,” by Thomas E. Ricks.
A two-star hack job that’s too apologetic for neocons, including making the claim that Bush/Cheney had no pre-9/11 designs on Iraq, despite Cheney and Jeb Bush being among the original 25 signees of the American Enterprise Institute’s PNAC. Ignore five-star reviews.

“Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” by Lawrence Wright.
Three-starred book of a four-star book to counteract fluff reviews. A good intro to the roots of al-Qaeda.

“Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West,” by Hampton Sides.
THE must-read new bio of Kit Carson, by the acclaimed author of “Ghost Soldiers.” Five stars.

Lancaster High cosmetology actually failed TWICE

Its 1,930 total square feet is 270 square feet, or more than 10 percent, below the state-mandated minimum of 2,200 square feet — and its laboratory space of 1,125 square feet is below the state minimum of 1,200 square feet.

More in the Dec. 21 issue of Lancaster Today.

Lancaster Economic Development Corporation doesn’t get The Preserve’s demise either

LEDC Executive Director Steve Filopowicz, in his monthly update note for the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce newsletter, says:
LHS will become a 5A school… AND we really will need a second high school within five years,

Possibly wrong on the first count (Red Oak will be 5A before Lancaster, at the least) and definitely wrong on the second.
LISD Superintendent Larry Lewis has been predicating his call for a second high school in part on expected city approval of rezoning for The Preserve, the 800-acre planned development proposed by Steve Topletz of D.R. Horton and other fame.

Well, we really didn’t have that much urgency for a second high school before The Preserve got canned; we have none at all now.

Filipowicz writes the comments as part of a semi-tongue-in-cheek “crystal ball,” but it’s clear the tongue isn’t that much in cheek, and this is serious.

Lancaster High cosmo class is officially 270 feet too small

I received my copy of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation report on the Dec. 6 inspection of the Lancaster High School cosmetology program.

TDLR says the classroom is 270 square feet short of requirement, at 1,930 square feet rather than 2,200 square feet. That's a 15 percent difference, and one which district officials allegedly knew was a problem long before the state arrived.

The state sped up what was originally planned as a January visit, perhaps in part responding to a media query of 2-3 weeks ago as to whether the new class had been inspected yet and whether or not it had a space problem.

December 13, 2006

Boy, did Scott Boras fold his tent on Matsuzaka or what?

After that $100 million bluster, he just gets $52M/6 years for him from the Red Sox.

And why, if he's really that good, did Boras lock him into a.
six-year contract?

Lancaster High School rekeying: A stab at sorting a few things out

And why building a football stadium first was part of what got us in this mess, plus a bit of speculation as to possible liability issues

In my original open records request on the matter, construction manager Elvin Lotten claimed that the school district was not responsible for rekeying classroom locks at Lancaster High School.

Contrary to Jeff Melcher’s thinking that this actually would be the case, that the district would not be responsible, I talked with a commercial architect friend the week I first heard about the rekeying problem. He confirmed that it’s the normal, standard situation for the business or other entity taking possession of such a building to do the rekeying.

That entity, in this case the school district, knows how many copies of each key should be made, who should get them, etc. A contractor, subcontractor or outside construction management company doesn’t have any idea about that.

Well, lo and behold, supposedly the district had not taken possession of the high school yet. While Lotten told us that, he didn’t tell us why.

(And I, in a bit of oversight, left that question off my second open records request. But, there’s always follow-ups to follow-ups, right?)

Well, then, what the flying firetruck was Lancaster ISD and Superintendent Larry Lewis doing opening the new high school for business in August if the district had not physically taken possession of it?

Well, that gets back to his grand scheme for the bond of building the football stadium and practice facility before building the high school itself.

I’ll admit, at the time, I believed everything that was said about the district’s “stadium first” building plan. And, some bond work I think was great, such as renovating the old, old high school for a district administration building, along with the old Rocky Crest school.

Well, it looks like you miscalculated, Larry, or else Gallagher did on its construction timetable estimates. Gallagher and its subs didn’t get the new high school done in time, but because you built it a year AFTER the football stadium, you had no choice but to occupy it even though it wasn’t done.

That, then, gets into liability issues. A couple of people here brought up the Pennsylvania Amish country school standoff, wondering about the possibility of a deranged person coming in the new high school.

But, that’s not the only issue. Think of injury from construction debris. Or an asthma attack from fumes not yet fully vented.

Meanwhile, Lewis and Lotten surely didn’t want to answer my follow-up questions because they will actually put somebody on the spot, thereby putting the next bond election in further jeopardy.

If they have to put themselves or other district personnel on the spot, well, that’s obviously trouble. If they have to name names from Gallagher or a subcontractor, well, since Lewis has already committed to continuing to use Gallagher, that kills the chance of selling the next bond to the public.

I know that. That’s why in my Lancaster Today op-ed coliumn for this week, among other things, I said:
Name names. Assign responsibility.

We shall see if any of that is actually done.

Somebody agrees with my points of view...

Or else I just read that much nonfiction.

I've cracked the top-2,500 mark now among reviewers on Amazon.

In tomorrow's Lancaster Today ...

1. A follow-up story to the Lancaster High Schoo theft/open records story of Nov. 16. That includes the information I got on the request, the fact that the request wasn't completely answered (along with Attorney General complaint and chapter and verse on the relevant part of the Public Information Act), the follow-up questions I asked Superintendent Larry Lewis and Construction Manager Elvin Lotten that they chose not to answer, and the fact that those were going to go on the next open records request, as they have.

2. A column about this, hints at other design issues, high school morale, and how all of this affects the possibility of Lewis' crown jewels -- the International Baccalaureate program -- being successful/getting off the ground.

I might just be a libertarian socialist

There are many more varieties of libertarianism under the stars, Horatio, or Mona Holland or others, than your philosophy hath room for.

Did you know there is green libertarianism? Libertarian socialism? Council communism? Anarcho-syndicalism?

I refer to Wikipedia’s overview of libertarianism.

And, I find that “libertarian socialism” might describe my political stance even better than “social democracy.” In a thumbnail, libertarian socialism believes that a socialist economic system can be established without heavy government lifting, through the actions of trade unions, guilds, councils and other voluntary federations and cooperatives.

The state is (rightly, in my opinion) distrusted as an instrument of capitalism. Most left-libertarian political philosophies, with the exceptions of green libertarianism, focus on labor issues as the key to economic improvement, including the labor theory of value.

So, left-libertarians of the world, UNITE! You have nothing to lose but the chains of rightists spinning myths that theirs is the only actual libertarianism.

I quote Wikipedia:
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who is often considered the father of modern anarchism, coined the phrase “Property is theft> to describe his affinity for the labor theory of value, a socialist value.

Seventeen years (1857) after Proudhon first called himself an anarchist (1840), anarchist communist Joseph Déjacque was the first person to describe himself as a libertarian.[2] In United States because the word "libertarian" is now commonly used by anti-state capitalists, non-authoritarian socialists ot that country often call themselves libertarian socialists to differentiate themselves. In the rest of the world, "libertarian" is a synonym of “anticapitalist.”

We, not you Johnny-come-lately righties, were the FIRST libertarians.

Unfortunately, most Americans, even those who claim to know something about political philosophy, just don’t know what all is out there. (Wiki lists Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn as people who could be characterized as libertarian socialists.)

City manager Landon, Chamber prez Johnson just don’t get it on The Preserve

I overheard Lancaster City Manager Jim Landon and Lancaster Chamber of Commerce President Joe Johnson talking today after the Best Southwest Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Story about ExxonMobil’s localized version of spinmeistering upcoming next week in Today Newspapers and here.)

They were discussing the aftermath of the Lancaster City Coucil’s rejection of planned development rezoning for the 800-acre The Preserve at Monday’s meeting. Both said they expected “piecemeal” development, if standard residential development 50-100 acre lots can be called “piecemeal.” Johnson said that southside residents will never get the large-lot homes they’re wanting this way.

Well, he and Landon are missing the boat in a couple of ways.

First, as long as it keeps its current agricultural zoning, it will get nothing but large lot homes.

Second, Steve Topletz refused to put build-out rate equity standards for large and small homes in his last update proposal for The Preserve. Joe, Jim, why would you trust him to build large-lot homes at all without such a restriction?

The fact that, as was pointed out in Monday’s meeting his “seniors” apartments in the proposal weren’t age-restricted to actually be seniors’ apartments, should have provided further caution to our civic leaders.

But it didn’t.

Sidebar note: Kudos to Mayor Pro Tem Carol Strain-Burk for her “cross-examination” of Topletz consultant Ted Wilson Monday. She controlled the flow of questioning, kept his answers tightly confined and otherwise did a good job.

Laughter is contagious, yes

And now, we may know at least part of the reason why

It appears to stimulate reaction in another person’s premotor cortex. Although the linked study doesn’t mention them by name, I’m guessing that mirror neurons are somehow involved.
“We’ve known for some time now that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behaviour, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too — at least at the level of the brain,” Sophie Scott said.

This would appear to confirm that idea.

December 12, 2006

The truth, not the bad rap, about Hamas

Former President Jimmy Carter says the Palestinian “terrorist” group Hamas has not killed an Israeli during an insurgency operation in more than two years.

As for claims that Hamas won’t officially recognize Israel, Carter says they’re open to dialogue but cannot recognize the currently occupationist/colonialist state.

So, if you’re looking for a different point of view than not only the MSM, but quasi-Zionist supporting blogs of both left and right, about what’s what in Palestine, read the entire transcript of Carter’s PBS interview.

The Baker Commission doesn’t know what’s what on the ground in Iraq

Why? It didn’t interview the the lower ranks of line officers. If it had, it might know that there are about 100,000 contractors mercenary soldiers under the flag of convenience of American service, for example.

From a non-military point of view, though, I have to disagree with Capt. Carter’s support of the Iraq Study Group’s idea of embedding American troops with Iraqi ones on a lower organizational level than is currently done.

I don’t think it will “stiffen” Iraqi troops that much more in that many cases. Instead, I think that most units will melt away just as much as before, or even turn sides. And with diminished, spread-out American force, it’s an open invitation for more of our troops to get fragged in the back.

As for “grabbing the bureaucracy by the throat,” especially since Carter approvingly quotes Eliot Cohen, I wonder if he hasn’t had a sip, at least, of neoconservative Kool-Aid.

December 11, 2006

The Preserve: “Just above the minimum” for Lancaster

But, isn’t that a part of our development code shortfall in general?

Sonia Zielke is right: maybe The Preserve needs to be put on hold until the city’s development code is updated. And, Dick Headen officially took care of that with his motion to deny Planned Development zoning to the 800-acre project Dec. 11.

You may say: Wait a minute. Didn’t we upgrade the development code just over a year ago?

Yes, and we’re still one development code behind the curve.

(Sorry, Jim Landon. But, you should know that it’s true.)

Everybody talks about how the Lancaster School District is at least one bond issue behind the curve.

But, the same is true of the city and development code.

And, arguably, that’s part of why the school district is behind the curve.

Lack of a better development code is a big reason why Lancaster has so many low-dollar houses here and had even more come in 10-15 years ago.

Wait a minute, again. Didn’t this fine city have a commercial real estate agent as it’s mayor about 15 years ago?

Apparently, Margie Waldrop missed the boat on that issue, though. Of course, people on “the other side,” like Nancy Moffett, arguably missed the boat too.

So, we sit at least one development code behind the curve, and with City Manager Jim Landon leaving, it will be three years before anything new is done.

The Preserve is dead -- blogging the Lancaster City Council meeting

Comparing apples to bowling balls

Jerry Sylo is baiting-and-switching, or comparing apples to bowling balls, to compare estate lots in The Preserve’s proposal to the five-acre A-O lots if Steve Topletz can’t get rezoning for the land. Smooth, yes, with that claim, but a 14,000-square foot lot is not a five-acre lot.

Now, that’s not to say five-acre lots would sell. But it is to say that Sylo’s comparisons aren’t even in the same solar system.

But, this is all academic, isn’t it? Thanks to Councilman Dick Headen’s impatience, or whatever, The Preserve has been pickled, sliced and diced, turned into compote and then put out for compost, by a 5-2 count.

That said, Sylo is right that city code has little in the way of design controls – if we’re talking straight zoning. But, again, let’s compare The Preserve to Mills Branch.

Because Mills Branch was also a PD and not straight zoning, it must be noted that it does have design standards, and that, IMO, these standards are superior to what Sylo is offering for The Preserve. Not to say otherwise, about Sylo’s comparing a PD to straight zoning, would be not to mention comparing oranges to bocce balls.

And, The Preserve’s acreage is larger than all three of the original Mills Branch developments combined.

Sylo talks about planting 2,300 new trees. Even throwing out all the cedars that are not on the city’s tree preservation list, and throwing out the scraggly volunteer starters, there’s still hundreds of trees in 800 acres that ARE protected.

So, this offer isn’t much beyond what is required by city ordinance.

As for Jerry Forsee, if he wants to money-drop (instead of name-drop) that his company works on $2-10 million properties, fine. But, would you really build houses worth that much surrounded by $150,000-225,000 houses? I think not. Instead of my previous Lancaster Today comment on gated communities, that putting a gate around a pigsty doesn’t change the pigsty, this would be just the opposite. You’d be gating out a pigsty while still making people living in The New Jerusalem gated community still drive through the pigsty every day.

I hadn’t mentioned the lack of age-restrictions in the “seniors” apartments, though I’ve known about it. Would be nice to have that put in place.

Hello, Steve Topletz. I hope you’re reading, listening, and if not “quaking,” taking serious heed.

And, if “The Preserve” is too fancy a name, we could always call it “Hank Haney Estates,” should you bring this back for another shot.

For more in-depth coverage from a straight news angle, see the afternoon of Dec. 14 or later.

I’m being picked up! Quasi-syndicated, if you will

Pegasus News is a combination of citizen journalism, virtual newspaper and blogger roundup for the Metroplex and it has added me to its mix.

So, comb your hair, brush your teeth and smile for cyberspace.