Not Cease from Exploration

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Report & Quotes, Jim Palmer's "Notes from (Over) The Edge"

I just finished reading this book...

(you can link to Amazon.com to buy this book HERE)

...and I have a few thoughts.

Why this book?
I was reading something that I think my Facebook friend Mike Sporer posted a few months back that intrigued me.  What I expected was a book that would disassemble Christian belief systems.  That wasn't necessarily what I got.

Did I like it?
I'd give it about 3 out of 5 stars.

Would I recommend it?
I depends.  It might make sense to try reading Mr Palmer's first two books first.  I'm not sure I'm going to go that route, but we'll see.

What was compelling about the book?
I'd say three basic themes stuck with me after finishing the book:

  1. The notion that the way to God is found within each of us.  That sounds kind of new-agesque, but the book it self doesn't promote what I would consider "new age" philosophies.
  2. Our souls represent the Truth; human experience is just something we experience for a certain period of time in our existence.
  3. Religious traditions, dogma and the like don't do anything to help us see the truth within ourselves.  In fact, they are sometimes destructive in that regard.

What wasn't so compelling about the book?
One basic criticism:  Mr Palmer simply repeats the same themes over and over and over again.  I few times I would read the book and basically yell "I get it! Can we move on now?".  I fairness, Mr Palmer does note that this book represents his collective thoughts, written in a notebook.

Here are a few select quotes that can give you a flavor for the book:

Page 26 - "Jesus never said he would save or free anyone.  He did not say 'I will set you free.'  His exact words were 'When you know the truth, the truth will set you free'."

Page 41 - "...you have a body but you are not your body."

Page 44 - "You have a self-concept or self-image, which you made up in your mind, but it has nothing to do with your original Self.  The concepts you hold about yourself are learned.  Not one of them is actually your original Self."

Page 48 - "Truth is not something outside waiting to be discovered, it is an actuality inside to be realized."

Page 61 - "Show no preference to whom you can express compassion.  Have compassion for all human being equally."

Page 83 - "The very moment you entertain the notion that peace and harmony are something you don't have that you must acquire, you have assured that there will be no inner peace and harmony.  The seeking itself will be a disturbance.  It is not necessary for you to seek inner peace and harmony because you ARE peace and harmony."

Page 87 - "Your original Self assumed a mind and body for a human existence.  Your body and mind will decay and one day stop functioning.  End of story.  That's part of the deal with being human, which you signed up for."

Page 129 - "But the idea that obedience, faithfulness and spiritual maturity should result in God blessing your life with favorable circumstances is false.  If this were true, God really missed the boat when it came to Jesus, who experienced levels of physical, mental, emotional, and psychological pain that few people ever have or will."

Page 135 - "Modern Christianity mostly revolves around the teachings of Saint Paul, and not Jesus.  The central seeds of Institutional Christianity contain little or no teachings of Jesus."

Page 136 - "The whole notion of Jesus bringing a new hierarchy ruled by the chair of Saint Peter is a grave distortion of the whole character, life, and teachings of Jesus.  Jesus' central message was about the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of men."

Page 139 - "Jesus never said...I have come to bring you a new religion..."

Page 170 - "Fear, guild, punishment, condemnation, and shame are never a legitimate means for engendering religious devotion.  Though they can be very an effective means of control and manipulation, or for achieving compliance, they are an obstacle to true enlightenment, and do great harm."

Page 171- "The fundamentalist 'Christina Gospel' damages children by telling them that they are born into this world intrinsically bad and repulsive to God.  They learn that their sinfulness is to blame for the brutalization, torture, and death of God's son."

Page 188 - "Religion made half of us afraid to die, and the other half afraid to live."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The hens are walking down North Washington Avenue in Scranton

Ever hear the expression "the hens are coming home to roost?"?  Well when it comes to Scranton's financial situation, they are now just a few blocks away from city hall.


This is the end.  There aren't enough assets to sell.  The Auditor General is just confirming what many have been saying all along:  Scranton is functionally bankrupt.

When the pension plans run dry, which they will, retirees who were sold a bill of goods...namely pension benefits that city leaders knew (or should have known) were unsustainable...will take legal action that will lead to a bankruptcy declaration.

Will it happen in 3 years?  I'm not sure.  The city could find something else to sell, or lease back, or hold a hunkering large bake sale for that matter, forestalling the inevitable for a bit longer.  In the end though, the gravity of Scranton's finances, where far more is spent than which is taken in, will force this issue to come to a boil.

Gloom and doom?  Hardly.  More like a reality that successive city mayors and council members have patently ignored for decades.

Mark my words:  this will not end well.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

High Anxiety

As I write this I am operating on maybe two hours of what would best be described as "low grade" sleep.  My stomach feels like it is becoming a super-massive black hole.  My neck is sore.  What's it all about?


High anxiety.

I am embarking on a new endeavor, and after my first experience I am feeling like I was just told I have three months to live.  It's all so horribly, horribly illogical; I don't feel well and I loathe the fact that I can't really articulate why I don't feel well.  

What if I can't do this?

What if I fail?

Who will be disappointed?

What if I embarrass myself?

What if I'm not as good as others think?

What if doing this takes up all of my free time?

I could go on and on and on, and the questions wouldn't make any more sense.  Yes, even I know the answers to the above questions:

Q: What if I can't do this?
A:  In fact I can.  Others have and I can too.

Q: What if I fail?
A:  There isn't a "fail" here, there is only a "try".  If it ends up not working out, then so be it.

Q: Who will be disappointed?
A:  For the people that truly matter in my life, no one.

Q: What if I embarrass myself?
A:  I already have a doctorate in embarrassing myself.

Q: What if I'm not as good as others think?
A:  It doesn't matter what others think, only what I think.

Q: What if doing this takes up all of my free time?
A:  It will not, and besides, I can make this work time wise.

You see though, therein lies the problem:  I know the answers but yet I still feel this way.  I suspect that, in the end, the only "cure" is to march forward.  Maybe, just maybe, what I am afraid of is simply being afraid.  That's a tough statement to make coming from someone like me, but as I often say, "it has the benefit of being true".  It's at times like this that I fall back on that great philosopher of modern times, Sylvester Stallone.



I can't think of a good way to end this posting, so I'll simply, well, end it.

Here's to trying.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The summer that was...


It's Sunday August 24th as I  begin to  write this, and while the meteorologists out there may disagree, for most purposes the summer of 2014 is coming to a close.

How was yours?*

Mine?  Well, in a word, "busy".  Maybe too busy actually.

There were two formal vacations:  Ocean City, Maryland and Southwest Harbor, Maine.  Both were nice and relaxing (while there), but I also think it made for a summer that was a tad bit too hectic.  Looking back, I probably should have taken a "staycation" as well.  It would have been nice to simply bike more and explore the new territories a bit.  It would have also been nice to get in some fishing, but that fell victim to time pressures (so much so that I didn't even bother to get a Pennsylvania license this year).



There were big family events:  My oldest daughter moved back to Pennsylvania from Missouri, via North Dakota.  Long story for her to tell.  My middle daughter moved to Massachusetts where she is starting graduate school.  Did I mention the horrid drive up to and back from Amherst?  Oh, yeah, I wrote an entire posting on it.  My youngest daughter continued to "make the donuts" throughout it all.

There was simply being in a new house this summer:  My first summer in the new house, with the wonderful Ms Rivers.  The house has been surprisingly cool throughout the summer, so much so that there were only perhaps 3 or 4 days when we ran the house air conditioning.  We did manage to get in a few summer projects, including some major work in the yard, where about 15 feet of hedges was dug out by yours truly, making addition space by the garage available for some future purpose.  We also has the kitchen ceiling fan replaced, some hallway lighting added and a new living room light installed.  There are about 1,456 other things left yet to do, including re-vamping the porch outside of my office (from whence I write this) but a decent dent was made never the less.

There were changes at work:  I am reporting to someone new, although I continue my 14 year streak of not being the same state as my reports-to manager.  I did the math on this, and it turns out that I end up reporting to someone new about ever 3.5 years (on average).  With every new person you report to you gain new perspectives and opportunities to learn.  The bottom line throughout it all is that my ID badge continues to open the doors every Monday morning, so all is well.  I am truly blessed to work for a great firm that treats people well and where I get to do interesting stuff.


Now looking forward to next summer is always fraught with danger, but never the less Ms Rivers and I have, and by the looks of things there will be a lot going on, but hopefully we can adjust the pace just a little bit here and there.  Learning from what life gives you is important, and sometimes the lessons are far more subtle than direct.  The trick, I suspect, is to be in a calm enough frame of mind to actually experience the lessons in the first place.









(*) For the record, in close to 1600 postings, this is the first time I've ever asked a "reader" a question.  Not that such trivia matters, but I just wanted to point it out.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri

Just three thoughts:

  1. "He might have stolen cigars cigars" as an allegation simply doesn't justify the death penalty.  Now did he beat that police officer within an inch of his life?  That could change the narrative.  Regardless, can we PLEASE STOP DEMONIZING BOTH individuals until an actual investigation has concluded?  
  2. "That poor boy was shot so I need to steal a 52 inch flat screen TV."  When you write it out it makes even less sense.  Note to file:  it's still looting, even if an innocent person was shot.  Please, no one complain in ten years about the lack of jobs and businesses in Ferguson, MO.  
  3. "These people don't..." and "Those people don't..." Note to file:  Whenever someone, you know, like Bill O'Reilly*, starts a sentence like that it's actually code for "[Insert minority name] don't...".  This is coming from a man who flies into a rage at the mere mention of the word loafah; just think what HE WOULD DO if the police were racially profiling well-dressed, angry white guys?

(Image credit to THIS page)



(*) Actual quote can be found HERE.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In the future she can say "My Old School"

**Monday Morning, August 18th****
I love this song by Steely Dan...


...with apologies for the quality, but it's the best sounding of the clips I can find for this song that also includes a "vintage" performance by the band.

"...when you put me on the Wolverine up to Annandale".  

In the song, "Annandale" probably refers to the town of Annandale on Hudson, home to Bard College, where I believe that the founders of Steely Dan, Donald Fagan and Walter Becker first met.

Whenever I think of college I think of this song for some reason.

I'm thinking of college a lot these days for several reasons, none the least of which is the fact that my middle daughter is heading up to Amherst to begin her graduate studies in Biology.   Smart young lady to say the least, but then again her two sisters are bright bulbs as well.  I take no credit for that by the way; at best I'll probably say that I didn't harm matters all that much.

One of the things I will, by the way, take credit for is the fact that I am helping to move much of my daughter's stuff (well her stuff and the stuff of her roommate) to Amherst.  500 miles in a 12 foot Penske rental truck.  Oh, and I have crappy to-non-existent depth perception.  Score!  Luckily I have a co-pilot in the guise of my youngest daughter.  Such thing are important, if for no reason than to keep me from going crazy at the level of concentration required to keep the truckster on the straight and narrow over I84.  By the way, I did purchase the optional insurance for  the truck, you know, just in case.  

In another thought, you have to give credit for folks, our children included, who are willing to take big chances.  Be it a big change at work, moving away to college or an entirely new job, we have to acknowledge that it takes guts to try new stuff.  We "older folks" sometimes fall into patterns where we stop doing big things, which is a shame.  I know that for myself at least, it takes effort to do the big stuff.  It's as if the emotional gravity that wants to keep me grounded gets significantly stronger the older I get.  I suspect that's true for others as well.  And so I ramble.

Anyway, the Amherst bound truck sets sail shortly.



**Tuesday Evening, August 18th****
It was pure, unadulterated Hell.  Hell I tell you!  One of the worst experiences that I've had in years.  I refer, of course, to driving a 12' rental truck for over 10 hours yesterday at highway speeds.  The kind of thing that Dad's do for their daughters.  Pretty much only for their daughters.

I almost crushed a poor Chevy Spark.  Got blindspots?

The tire low pressure warning light went off 45 miles into the trip, giving me visions of a burst tire and careening off an I84 embankment.  Luckily it was a bad sensor.

This truck had light steering.  Very light.  Light as in the slightest correction sent it plowing into whatever direction it was pointed to at the very moment.

I was able to average about 60 miles an hour on good roads.  This meant that I did about 50 in Pennsylvania.

My knees were literally locked into place after pulling into the truck rental place last night.  My left foot was numb.

I set a "World's Steve Record" not not taking bathroom breaks on the trip back:  just one stop between Amherst and Pittston.  I was so busy concentrating on not getting killed driving the truck that apparently my urination system simply stopped working.  I think my left leg ended up filling with urine, like some kind of weird inverse catheter bag.

All told, it was a long day.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Web-Shame 101, Scranton Style: Why some folks just shouldn't be allowed on the Internet

There is a group organizing a boycott of businesses in the City of Scranton over a recently enacted (well, kinda sorta enacted) commuter tax.  The tax itself is a bad idea, but the boycott is even worse.  See THIS posting.  Anyway, in response to a Facebook group advocating for the boycott, another group sprang up:  Boycott the Scranton Boycotters.  You can link to the Facebook page for this group HERE.

Here's where it gets interesting:  the group actually advocating for a boycott of Scranton businesses (have I mentioned yet how STUPID of an idea such a boycott really is?  Oh, I did already...) apparently thought that the web-address 'www.boycottscranton.com' was unavailable.  Turns out that wasn't the case.  Even worse?  Guess who discovered that the domain was actually available?  If you guessed "the boycott Scranton boycotters" then you would be correct.  All of which leads us to the following:


Today's lesson is on Web-Shaming.
(photo from LOLSnaps.com)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Road Apples, #151

Desktop Order...I'm always looking for ways to better organize stuff, to make room for things, to just generally more efficient.  Along those lines, I found this neat little gizmo on Amazon -


- which allows me to get my 21" monitor off the desktop, giving me some much needed room.  It's a great stand actually...it came assembled in the box, is very sturdy, works exactly as advertised.  Highly recommended.  You can find it HERE on Amazon.com.

Robin Williams...apparently had Parkinson's disease, one of the symptoms of which is depression.  See THIS link.  So much for Rush Limbaugh's theory that liberalism killed the late actor/comedian.  Now of course "El Rushbo" is claiming that he was misquoted/picked on/etc.(his usual Jr High school girl post-getting caught crying routine), so just find a transcript of Limbaugh's original rant and decide for yourself.  As for me, I agree with Jon Stewart -


There are times when I wish I was actually interested in using Twitter.

Great Move...Well maybe not so great once it is done, but I am helping to move my middle daughter to UMass, where she will begin her graduate studies.  It's a privileged of dadhood to help your children in major life events, and helping create a future "Dr Albert" is certainly something that is good to be a part of, at least for me.  As for driving a 12' cube truck 4 hours?  Well ask me after the move. 

First Movie of the Pluto/Charon Dance...you can see it HERE.  The actual New Horizons flyby is scheduled for July on 2015 and I can hardly wait!  It's this kind of thing that I wished society would do more of; this is humanity at just about it's very best.

Cellphone Experiment...I have written before about my poor relationship with sleep (as in I hate sleeping and sleeping hates me), so I am game to try just about anything that might make sleeping easier/more enjoyable/possible.  The latest change?  I've decided to banish my cellphone from my bedroom at night.  It is now relegated to my office for overnights.  The underlying idea is that having your cellphone by your bed is bad because it encourages your brain to be "on" all the time...or something like that.  Anyway, it's been about two weeks of phone banishment (I did keep it near me while sleeping in Maine thought), and I really can't tell much of a difference in my sleeping pattern.  I have noticed this though:  it's a nice thought not to reach for a phone when you wake up first thing in the morning.  It just feels better, less harried.  I am thinking this is a permanent change.

The Good Man Project...is a Facebook feed that I get and truly enjoy.  I highly recommend it for male-centric reading.  You can find it HERE.  I make a genuine effort to only subscribe to pages that I really find useful/entertaining/insightful, and The Good Man Project meets that criteria on many levels.  

My Current Read...is Jim Palmer's Notes from Over the Edge...; you can find it HERE at Amazon.com.  I am not quite half-way through and it's been somewhat slow going.  He seems to repeat the same concepts over and over, at least during the first 110 or so pages.  I have high hopes though once I get past the current chapter.  After that?  I just got Brene Brown's I Thought It Was Just Me....  I own both the paper and audio books for Dr Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection, which I thoroughly enjoy and which I have recommended to others at work.  Dr Brown's specialty is the area of shame research, which is fascinating in and of itself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When People Leave

I commented to a former co-worker that the news of Robin Williams death reminded me of another well-known persons death, namely that of Dr Hunter S. Thompson.  In the case of Hunter Thompson, it was also a suicide, although from what I understand HST was in more physical than mental pain at the time he decided to end his life.  It seems that we count on some folks to just be around us forever, and when they go, it's as if something was ripped away from our lives, as if by force.  The reality though is that these folks were never "ours" to begin with, and their death is simply a reminder of that fact.  In both cases though (Williams and Thompson), we are blessed to have bodies of work for us and for our children to enjoy in the ages to come.

While not a pleasant thought, it's also worth noting that as we grow older, we give some people the opportunity to have an even greater impact on our lives.  For those blessed to have wonderfully supportive parents, I am sure that this point hits home even more so.  I suspect it's the connection that matters.  While certainly not the same as a parent-child connection, I connected with Hunter Thompson in high school; reading his work made me realize for the first time in my life that it was somehow okay to be a little on the odd side.  Yes, I am odd, and that's okay.  Anyway, I enjoyed much of what he wrote over the years, as it reinforced that special connection created years before.  Similarly, I suspect that there are younger folks who may have connected with Robin Williams at first through his wonderful work on the Disney movie Aladdin.  Me?  I really loved Moscow on the Hudson, Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and a few other movies.  I also loved listening to his stand-up routines.  Connecting through laughter isn't something that should be taken lightly by the way, as I think laughter is this kind of lubrication for the soul...it simply makes you work better at whatever you are doing (now, in life, etc.).  Losing that connection is tough, as I had to come to grips with knowing that I won't be able to read any new "Hey Rube!" columns and now I will not be listen to any new stand-up.  As noted above though, both individuals left the world with bodies of work to enjoy.

Maybe one of the lessons from all of this is the acknowledgment that all of us have an obligation to create connections.  Not to be ripped away at some point in the future to cause pain, but rather to somehow, in big ways or small, to make the lives of others better.  If you are a parent you get to do that every day.  If you are not, well, then you get to explore other avenues.  Regardless, we all eventually exit this world, but we all don't make a positive difference in lives of others.  The true "difference" though is that we can't control one, but we can control the other.




Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams & Mental Illness

(Image source HERE)

I had originally planned on going to the movies after work today, but after three strikes of trying to get company, I was out.  Instead I opted for doing, well, basically nothing.  Well "nothing" consisted of watching various mindless YouTube clips about atheism.  Why atheism?  Well "why not?" is probably my best defense.  Anyway, it was during one such trolling expedition that I heard the news that Robin Williams had died.

You can read more HERE.

I've always enjoyed Robin Williams' work, especially the rapid fire extemporaneous stuff you would see him pull off while on a talk show.  Genius, pure genius.  I've read some criticisms of Mr Williams, namely that he liberally stole material from other comedians, but never the less the guy wasn't lifting jokes when he would (for example) have the crew on the Today show laughing out loud.

If news reports are correct, then Mr Williams apparently died at his own hands, having suffered from severe depression of late.  Now I've written about mental illness several times on this blog, as I've had family members and others close to me who have suffered, sometimes greatly, from similar challenges.  Words like "terror" come mind when you get the phone call telling you that someone close to you has just tried to commit suicide.  You don't forget it and you don't get over it.  Ever.  And it's times like this, for me, that dredge those feeling up again.  

I hate those feelings, for the record.  There is a dark complexity to mental illness that is both difficult for me to understand but yet familiar.  I need to be clear here:  Personally I think we all suffer, to one degree or another, from some mental illness.  Heck, there are things that I do which I know to be completely bat-crap crazy.  But those things are far different than the dark places where the life-ending mental illness, of the kind Mr Williams likely suffered from, reside.  I think those places are inside my head too, but they are way, way, in the background.  They are there, but yet far away.  This is one of the reasons why it has been extraordinarily difficult for me in dealing with family member who have suffered from severe depression, namely that for whatever reason I can always keep myself out of the dark places, yet while never understanding why others could not.  

Why me and why not Robin Williams?  I don't know.  It's certainly not a function of money, talent or intelligence.  I think the late Mr Williams probably had me beat in all three of those categories.  No, I just think that some of us just end up with this almost paradoxical mental health reaction to stresses in a way.  When those dark places rear their ugly heads, there is just something in me that instinctively knows how to push them back.  It's as if they are on a very tight leash.  Even in the darkest of hours.  Thinking back to late 2010 I was a wreck, in many, many ways, yet as bad as I was, the thought of falling into a one of  the dark places of depression was as unlikely as my learning to play the piano (or learning to speak French).  Again, why me?  I guess the short answer is "I don't really know".

Regardless of what I think, Robin Williams has hopefully arrived at a destination where there are no dark places.  


Rest in Peace O'Captain, My Captain!