Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks, 2015

I once read an interview with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, where here talked about how he enjoyed writing songs that had lists in them (think Brain Damage from the Dark Side of the Moon), which makes me feel better about the number of list postings I end up publishing.  I'd like to say "great minds think alike", but I know better.

Anyway, Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on things, so reflect I will.  Using a list.

I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Ms Rivers.  As I have often noted, I can think of no better argument for the existence of a Higher Power in the universe than the fact that she came into my life at just the right time.

I am thankful for my three wonderful daughters.  Whether they are teaching needy children, researching bacteria in primate feces or planning on a career centered on helping others, each makes me so very proud.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a stepfather to two wonderful young men.  I hope I can make their journey into adulthood just a little bit better.

I am thankful that all of my siblings are alive.

I am thankful for the very close to half million visits to this blog over the years.

I am thankful to my late mother, Doris Albert, for instilling in me a desire to always keep learning.  That's the one thing I think I do very well.

I am thankful for the career that my employer has afforded me for over a quarter century and for all the people I have worked with over the years.  Who I am is a direct result of trust my employer has had in me and the wisdom that has been imparted to me from others.

I am thankful for the authors that have taught me important things over my lifetime to date.  Every book has been a brick in the structure of who I am.

I am thankful for the restorative power of music in my life, as every point in my life has had its own soundtrack.  While I have zero musical abilities myself, I am fortunate to have ears that work reasonably well.

Lastly, I am thankful for the mistakes I've made in life.  Why?  Well first, none have (obviously) been fatal, which is a very good thing.  Second, it's in falling down that we all learn the value of getting up; simply being up all the time teaches virtually nothing.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Speaking Fear for Power

Few things actually disgust me in life, but the trajectory of the 2016 Presidential campaign is getting close.  I speak specifically of some candidates who seem to spend most of their time talking about everything we need to be afraid of, including and especially immigrants and those who are of a different religion.

It's all so very disheartening, and yet it's at this time that I'm reminded of a a prayer I learned as a child.  Fitting, especially, for those candidates who claim the mantle of Christianity, and yet don't seem all that interested in acting very Christ-like.

So for those who would turn away the sick and the disheartened...all in the name of acquiring personal political power...the best that I can offer is the following.

I confess to getting too wrapped up in these very poisonous debates.  I'm going to work hard, very hard, at keeping myself out of this moral cesspool.  I'm not going to argue with anyone who makes the choice to bring more injury, more doubt, more despair, more darkness, more sadness into the world.  I will, though, remind some that these are choices.

Life is too short, and I'm not inclined to even utter the names of those who, by their very actions, defile the word "Christian".

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Biggest Professional Frustration?

It's approaching year-end, which means the dreaded "Year End Performance Appraisal (a.k.a. PA)" season.  Yes, people who work in HR probably hate them more than anyone else.  More on that in a future posting.  Anyway, the PA season makes me think more than usual about my professional life.  One thing that sticks out?  Well it's the (professional) thing that frustrates me the most, namely the importance placed on self-promotion in the hyper-competitive business world.   Oh, and I stink at self-promotion.

Am I feigning modesty?  No.  Look, I have absolutely no problem listing a multitude of personal faults, Hell, any number of my postings could be turned into a "Steve bashing Steve drinking game", so if faking modesty was one of them, I'd readily and repeatedly cop to it.  I simply grew up in an environment where boasting wasn't exactly encouraged.

Am I actually pretty modest?  Yes.  It's an odd kind of thing though.  Ms Rivers will tell you that I don't like being stared at, yet I do a fair amount of "in front of the audience" kind of stuff professionally.  The difference is, I suspect, the fact that while I am in front of a audience speaking, I am controlling what's going on.  No such control exists when I'm randomly being looked at, and that's difficult for me to handle.

I'll also readily admit that there are a few things professionally that I do well.  Some things very well.  As I mentioned to my manager once, "I can't figure out whether I am some kind of evil genius or idiot savant".  Maybe I'm both.  It's as if my professional life could very well be one giant scene from the brilliant Peter Sellers movie Being There.

One thing I do well is thinking about things in ways that are different than most folks.  Therein lies part of the paradox for me, namely that I could say something incredibly profound...or stupid...and it could very well be that both are equally true.

Anyway, lacking in self-promotion skills knowingly puts me at a disadvantage professionally.  Like it or not, the corporate world is about competition, be it for customers, ROI, promotions, raises, "air time" in staff meetings, recognition or money.  For this I am poorly equipped, at best.  For the record I will note that I also find it repugnant when others go overboard promoting themselves.

What do to?  Mostly nothing.  Seriously, mostly nothing.  By and large I'm not going to hoist the flag of better promoting myself as a development objective for 2016.  I know me, and I am comfortable with me, even with the knowledge that my lack of skills in this particular area puts me at a distinct disadvantage.  I don't want to be that person with the enormous ego who is constantly trying to top everyone else, also known as a "Topper"...

(from THIS page)

If the worst that some can say about (the professional) me is that "he's pretty modest" then that will be okay.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


By now the world has heard of the attacks that occurred yesterday in Paris, France.  In reading the various reactions the fringes are screaming loud and clear...everything from...

"thank Bush and Cheney for ISIS (and, by proxy, this attack)"


"it's all the fault of the immigrants...kick them all out".

In many ways, our reactions to events like this speak loud and clear as to who and what we are as human beings.

I remind myself that it's easy to fall into the trap of revenge, but that never works out well in the end.  If one does exact revenge for a horrible act, what's left?  Even more dead people to mourn.

Yes, there should be justice.  Those that planned this attack need to be held accountable, and to the greatest extent possible, rendered such that they can't execute future attacks.  But that's different than revenge.  Revenge creates a cycle that becomes self-fulfilling.  Revenge is like a candy that you just can't stop eating, until ultimately you get sick.

In the end though, times like this remind me of the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King...

...there's already enough darkness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Internet Graphic of the Week, #1

With no intention of doing this every week, but there are enough of them out there to warrant a posting every once in a while.

* * * * * *

There's about a tenth of a degree of separation between people that play fantasy football and those that, say, attend Star Trek conventions (dressed like Klingons).

Saturday, November 7, 2015

I wish I had a dime for...

...every time I've hit my head in an attic, basement or other low-ceiling place.  The top of my head feels like a lunar landscape.

...every time I've told myself "okay, it's your day off, so you're going to do something fun, right?" and then proceeded to do a lot of things...none of which were fun.

...every time I've said "I will not put off reading for school", while I instead write blog postings.

...every time I've planned to get to bed by 10pm.

...every time I've promised myself that the next time I felt like I was in a mental funk I was going to do ______________ (insert any one of a dozen different things, strategies, etc.), none of which I ever end up doing anyway.

...every time I've told myself "you don't need more socks" and "it's not necessary to have a year's supply of Avon men's deodorant on hand" as I start looking at socks and order 16 more deodorants.  In my defense, I really like...and highly recommend...Avon deodorant.

...every time I've promised myself to not start reading a new book until after I've finished the current book.

...every time I've said that I don't really care about blog hits, right before I check my blog hits.

...every old picture of Jesus I've seen that that makes Him kinda, sorta, look like Superman.

(actual framed picture from the Antique Mall, Plains, PA)

(from THIS site)

For the record, most serious scholars believe that Jesus actually looked like this...
(from THIS site)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Things a 51 year old white guy learns (from Mediatakeout's Facebook feed)

Mediatakeout on Facebook

In no particular order, for no particular reason.

  • However many rappers you think exist is wrong; take that number and multiply it by about 125 to get a more accurate count.
  • There are a lot of fights in fast food establishments.
  • Someone named "Meek Mill", who is from Philadelphia, is having a feud with rapper Drake, who is from Degrassi High.
  • Rappers have a shelf life somewhat shorter than that of your average can of tuna.
  • Every single fight in every single school is now recorded via cell phone video.
  • "Atlanta Housewives" is a real thing.  And they fight too, just not in fast food establishments.
  • Rapper Rick Ross is different than Rap Mogul Suge Knight.  
  • Spelling isn't being taught in schools, and auto correct is apparently broken.
  • 'Lil Wayne is apparently very sad these days.
  • Never, ever wear your weave to a fight.
  • BAE does not stand for "British Aerospace Marconi Electronic Systems", rather I think it means boy/girl friend.
  • The young folks love to fight on Twitter (as well as in fast food establishments).
  • There is genuinely some sad stuff going on in the world today.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Shamokin Is Dying (a.k.a. the long-term impact of depopulation)

It's not just stories like THIS that I'm referring to either.

(from THIS site)

Shamokin is an interesting place.  I've actually been there once or twice in my life.  Not necessarily a destination, but it does make for a decent metaphor when speaking about the decline of hard coal country in Pennsylvania.

First, some basics:  Shamokin is a town Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.  It is situated on the western side of Northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.  Traditionally, anthracite coal was mined deep underground, with the actual work of mining being very dangerous and fairly low paying (historically speaking).  Anthracite coal production began to decline before World War II and effectively ended in the early-mid 1960's as other fossil fuels (such as oil and natural gas) gained prominence as heating sources.

Two sets of statistics tell you a lot about Shamokin.  First is population.

As anthracite coal production declined, so too did Shamokin's population.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (source HERE) Shamokin's population in 1930 was 20,247.  By 2014 the estimated population had declined to 7,233.  That's something of decline, but what makes it even more stark is when you compare this change to another statistic.

The second important set of statistics relates to housing values.  According to City-Data (source HERE), in 2013 the average value of a house or condominium in Shamokin was $39,409.  By way of a few comparisons:
  • The average retail price paid for a 2015 Chevrolet Suburban (according to Edmunds) was $64,700.
  • The average value of a house or condominium in similarly sized (and fellow anthracite coal town) Nanticoke, Pennsylvania for 2013 was $90,258 (source HERE).
  • The average value of a house or condominium in Scranton, Pennsylvania for 2013 was $108,900 (source HERE).
  • The average value of a house or condominium for the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was $164,200.
So what we have is a steeply declining population where there is a significant amount of housing stock being left un-used, which then further drives down the value of the homes that remain.  Local television station WNEP produced a story about a year or so ago that documented the decline of towns like Shamokin from the dual perspectives of declining population and a surplus of buildings.  What results is a town that is literally rotting in front of our very eyes.

None of this is to cast aspersions against the residents of Shamokin or those that strive to make it a better place to live.  Rather, I do think it's a sadly interesting study in how a town in the United States can be so completely and totally dependent on a specific industry.  Detroit also comes to mind, although not nearly as close to home.  There is a deep sadness to all of this, a kind of dark fog that likely will never lift and which will continue to consume ever more parts of Shamokin and the years pass quickly.

What will be left, in say 2050?  I don't know, but in the absence of another specific industry boom, likely it will be "not much".

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Four things that shouldn't be for-profit, and two that should

For the record, I write this as someone with more than a quarter century working in the private, for-profit, sector.

Primary & Secondary Education
Taxpayers fund education with the understanding that money will go towards supplies, teachers and smaller classrooms.  That tax money should never go towards a return on investment for private charter school operators, no matter what the underlying intention.  Now I do think there is a place for private, not-for-profit education. 

Taking Care of the Disabled
As a society, I firmly believe that we all have an obligation to take care of those who genuinely can not take care of themselves.  This includes those with mental and physical disabilities.  Every single penny...every one...of money intended to support these individuals should go towards that support.  Making money off of the care of those with disabilities is immoral.

Public Safety
The objective of police and fire protection is, well, protection, not profit.  In the private sector, when a manger has to make a decision between doing something for the greater good or making a profit, well, making a profit will win far too many times.  That simply can't happen when lives are on the line.

Do we really, truly want a corporation to make money off of incarcerating individuals?  Just where will that profit margin come from?  Granted, I don't think a prison should not be equivalent to a stay at at hotel, but I also don't want an operator to make a profit by skimming off the top of necessary services, like healthcare and education for prisoners.

What should be for-profit?

Selling Booze
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has no business being the sole seller of liquor in the state.  It makes absolutely no sense.  So why does Pennsylvania do it?  Well it's not to prevent underage drinking, as underage drinkers can already get beer (for example) from private sellers.  What's more, there are far more dangerous things that Pennsylvania doesn't have a monopoly on selling, such as firearms.  No, Pennsylvania's liquor monopoly exists solely to protect unionized liquor store employees.  Pennsylvania needs to get out of the liquor selling business by off-loading the state system of stores to private sellers, requiring that existing labor contracts be honored until they expire.

Garbage Collection
Collecting garbage is a dirty but necessary job.  Why does the government have to do it?  Note that in some places, such as the town where I live, the government doesn't actually do it.  Somehow my private hauler seems to be able to collect the trash with the same efficiency that the City of Scranton did when I lived there.  Having private trash haulers compete for business helps to keep prices down, which is something that doesn't happen in municipal garbage collection.  Now the argument could be made that "well privatizing garbage collection will only encourage dumping by residents"; to that I offer the following challenge:  Please go to just about any out of the way vacant lot in Scranton and you will see that the dumping already happens.