Not Cease from Exploration...a blog by Steve Albert

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In a shocking development, the new Scranton City Council member is...

...an older, politically connected white guy.

Reference HERE.

Yes, the powers that be, responsible for filling city council vacancies, figured out that the kind of thinking required to get the city out of the pickle that it has been in for decades is pretty much the same kind of thinking that got the city into the pickle it has been in for decades.

Oh, and did I mention that the guy Mr Evans is replacing was an older, politically connected white guy?

It's all kind of like an alcoholic figuring out that the "cure" for alcoholism is to simply keep drinking.

Here's a thought:  how the city has been run has not been working.  Continuing to put people in power who will do nothing but maintain the status quo will only result in more status quo.  In the case of Scranton, that means the inevitable death spiral towards bankruptcy will only continue.

Now I am sure that Mr Evans is an honorable man, a nice man, a man who means well.  I don't know him personally, but I know of his reputation, which is that of someone who is pretty much just like all of the other members of council.  Is that what the city REALLY needs in this day and age?

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who is not connected to...and beholden to...entrenched political interests.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who doesn't view the world through the lens of a older white guy.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who understands what it means to financially struggle while living in a city like Scranton.

In the final analysis, assuming that this story is correct, Scranton City Council has once again failed its constituents by making political connection the single most important qualification for office.  To quote the line of a song I know...

"...and we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do"


Monday, July 21, 2014

(This Introvert's) Worst Job Ever

Well it wouldn't be my worst job ever, as that would have been the day I spent working at McDonalds.  No, I'm talking about the worst job I've ever had at my current (and for the past 25.5 years) employer.

Now to properly set this up, I'll mention that I'm an introvert.  Make that really introverted.  As in "about as introverted as you can get" kind of introvert.  In fact, I am such an introvert that I have joked in the past that my ideal job would be a Bridge Troll*.  Being an introvert, interacting with my fellow humans takes a lot of energy out of me.  In fact, on this very day (Monday, July 20, 2014) I had to do a lot of interacting with other people, which has left me tired and somewhat cranky.  And so I digress.

Anyway, I was pondering what my worst job was over the past quarter century.  What was it?  Easily, it was the year or so I spent working in Accounting.  Specifically, I helped develop an asset to liability proof process for the separate accounts my employer offers to customers.  This means that I spent all of my time with my nose in Excel spreadsheets working on and with numbers.  I absolutely hated it.  I was good at it, but I hated it.  No offense to anyone that works in Accounting, but the fact that I could do it...the fact that it didn't involve interacting with other humans...meant that I really didn't find it challenging.  Again, I am sure that there are plenty of jobs in Accounting that are challenging, but for me, the biggest challenges are the ones that I have to over-come on the inside.  The fact that I didn't have to challenge myself by interacting with countless other humans made the Accounting job really stagnant.

Yes, in as much as having lots of "on" time with my fellow human beings takes a lot out of me, it's truly a good kind of tired.  Think of it as being the kind of tired that a runner feels after a marathon.  Or a boxer feels after a long fight.  Sadly or proudly, I seem to have grown accustomed this almost daily kind of tired.  Well most days I have; like today, there are still times when the introvert in me screams "No Mas!", but just like that boxer, I'll be ready to get back in the ring tomorrow, guaranteed.




(*) It actually makes for the following very interesting line:  "I really don't like people, which is why I work in Human Resources."




Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Praise of Weird Al

Yes, Weird Al Yankovic is poised to possibly have the number one album in the country tomorrow.  Story link HERE.  How great is that?  Given the horrendous state of popular music these days, I'm glad to see a CD full of stuff that you can actually listen to and enjoy without hearing about drugs, ho's or other assorted pieces of street crap being popular.

In celebration of this momentous event in human history, I humbly present my five favorite Weird Al songs (and related videos).

#1 White and Nerdy


#2  Jerry Springer


#3 Amish Paradise


#4 Smells Like Nirvana


#5 Canadian Idiot

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

They Are Children


Is this what the debate about the children on our border has gotten to?  An angry mod surrounding a bus full of children?

Regardless of one's political leanings, we can't forget this essential fact:  there are innocent children who have crossed our border.

Innocent.

Children.

Not drug mules.  Not a plague of disease invested infiltrators.  Not a barrage of future welfare cases.  Children.  Children who didn't make the decision to trek hundreds or a thousand miles to the border; how could they have?  Most 10 year old children I know don't venture more than two blocks from home, let alone cross the length of Mexico.

Even someone like Glenn Beck, who I confess I have mocked many times, sees that there are innocent children involved (Link HERE).  While I am sure that Glenn Beck will be dead wrong about many things in the future, he is absolutely correct in this case.  Compassion, not vigilantes on the lookout for busloads of children, is needed now.

Yes, there are policy issues that need to be resolved.  Yes, there needs to be a thoughtful discussion about what will happen to these children.  But in the end, we can't forget that they are still children.  Innocent children.  I'll end with this with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18, verse 11:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Long Goodbye

What's worse?

When someone you care about leaves suddenly and you never get a chance to really say goodbye?

OR

When someone you care about slowly degrades over time, until they reach a point when they are no longer the same person you once knew?


I've had to deal with both in my life, and I really don't have a perfect answer.  Maybe there isn't even a good answer, let alone a perfect one.  Maybe both are a means to an end, knowing that the journey will not be pleasant either way.  I do know that age brings the ability to handle either better, although I do suspect that the degradation part/choice is far more cruel for all parties concerned.

"Degradation", now there is a word and a half.

I think that as we all grow older, we have to make a fundamental choice in our lives.  The first choice is to grow wisdom with age, facing the future as an opportunity to leverage our life-experience to learn even more.  The second choice, I suspect, is to cling onto the past as if life is just lived in the rear-view mirror.  Ultimately, maybe this is the key difference between those who grow or those who decay in front of our eyes is this:  our choices as to whether or not we want to learn more.

Now I'm not so naive as to think that all learning is a positive experience.  Just stick your finger into a powered light socket to understand what I mean.  And that is just physical pain.  In my experience, physical pain is far easier to overcome than the emotional variety, but that's just me.  Anyway, emotional pain has a tendency to gain deeper roots in your head; think about it:  we all remember the feelings associated that relationship which ended in a particularly bad manner.  That toothache from two years ago?  Maybe not so much.

Back to choices.  Yes, in the end, this is about choices.  As those great Canadian philosophers of modern progressive rock, Rush, once said:  "if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice".  They were right.  Viewing the present and future as full of opportunities to learn is a choice.  If you fail to make that choice, you are choosing, in my estimation, the path of decay, and your family and friends will have the honor of watching you slowly rot over time.  Maybe zombies are real after all.

None of this is easy, and I don't think it there is such a clear line of demarcation between the choices we make in the short run.  Yes, I think we all make short-term decisions that are sometimes not in our best interest, but that's the nature of small decision making.  If those small choices take us off the path of learning and growth it's usually pretty easy to correct ourselves, especially if we have family and friends who are there to provide perspective.  What's more, I think people who are inherent learners in life are good at auto-correcting when it comes to bad choices.  In time though, I do think the lines between growth and decay become pretty clear. for everyone.  It's as clear as the choice between, for example, alcoholism and sobriety.  I know that it's not easy to overcome alcoholism, by the way, but it can be overcome.  That's a choice.

No amount of philosophy helps though when it comes to watching someone we care about rot before our very eyes.  It's a kind of long goodbye that all of us probably hate in more ways than one, especially when it simply didn't have to be in the first place.  That's the "rub", if you will:  we don't make overt choices about things like getting Alzheimer's, but far more we do make choices about how we respond to much of what is around us and inside our heads.

Me?  As clearly imperfect as I am, I fully intend to go to my grave reading, learning and experiencing life to the best of my ability.  My children will not see me rot in front of them as I grow older.  I just wish the same where true for others.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

22% of College Athletic Departments Are Responsible for Investigating Sexual Assaults

Yes, ponder this:  in several instances, the people responsible for promoting college sports are also responsible for investigating alleged sexual assaults by student athletes.

Link HERE.

So, when there is a conflict between the promotion of college sports and allegations of sexual assault, what's more likely to happen?

1. A thorough and non-biased investigation of the incident by individuals with an in-depth knowledge of the law, victims rights and the rights of the accused will occur.

Or

2. A "sweep it under the rug" operation by school insiders designed to protect the sports program.


Call me crazy, but I think "2" is probably more likely.  Heck, I even have an example:  Penn State (and we see how well that one worked out).

Look, this isn't all that complicated.  It's really not.  If someone (be they male or female) makes an allegation of sexual assault on a college campus, the police need to be notified and they need to conduct an investigation.  This would be an investigation that the school  (including the athletic department) would be expected to completely cooperate with, for the record.  That's it.  No more.

We need to take school athletics, be they at the high school or college level, down a peg or five, as the glorification of athletics leads to glory for a small few, but ultimately can harm the many.  These sporting activities are, after all, just entertainment for everyone except for those who play.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pope Francis, Forgiveness and Divorce

From the July 7, 2014 edition of the New York Times:

"VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children."

Link to the full article HERE.

It's worth noting that the two predecessors of Pope Francis have also asked for similar forgiveness.

Let's insert the seemingly unrelated issue of divorced (and non-celibate*) Catholics receiving the sacrament of Communion.  Basically the Catholic Church teaches that a man and a woman who marry in the Church but then get a civil divorce are still married.  By failing to remain functionally married, they are considered to be in a state of grave sin, and therefore can not receive Communion.  Now simply repenting the sin is not enough, as a failure to stop sinning (continuing to be civilly non-married) creates a state whereby such divorced Catholics can never rightfully receive Communion.  Put another way, even if they say sorry, they continue to sin, therefore no-go on the Communion.  It's actually a pretty logical argument.

Now let's transpose the issue of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and the enabling of such acts by Church leaders.  This is truly a grave sin, and as a result Pope Francis (as noted above) has asked forgiveness, as has his predecessors.  Repenting the sin should not be enough though, as there has been a failure to stop this very grave sin (and resulting cover-ups) and these acts no doubt continue to this very day.  From (the very conservative) Catholic.com:

"...it seems clear that the desire to handle things quietly was often motivated by a desire to preserve the personal reputations of the priests and bishops involved rather than by pastoral concern for victims. Even worse, punishment of abusive priests was sometimes staved off by the threat of exposing other priests and bishops if the matter were pressed."

Citation HERE.  To be blunt, even if Pope Francis says sorry, the sin continues as long as those who perpetrated or enabled the abuse remain in authority and unpunished.

See the contradiction?  One one hand the Church condemns and punishes one group for sinning, but yet simply says "sorry" and begs forgiveness for it's own sins (and still continuing to sin) while basically expecting business as usual in the Church department without sanction.  Heck, very concept of "sanction" has been actively fought by some Church leaders through the covering up of abuse.

Now there is one glaring wrinkle in my logic, namely that the Pope does not intend for the sin of child abuse (and enabling, on-going cover-up) by clergy to continue, yet a divorced Catholic most likely intends to not remain celibate.  However there are two factors that need to be explored when comparing these issues:

  • Actual Intent? By having Bishops and other Church leaders actively engaging in the covering up of abuse...and in many instances actually thwarting the civil punishment of perpetrators (remember, child abuse is a civil as well as a religious crime)...one can make a strong case that there was/is at least a passive intent to perpetrate the abuse.  How could there not be?  If a Bishop knew that "Father X" abused children, how could he possibly believe that simply moving "Father X" to another parish would somehow stop the abuse?  Roman Catholic Bishops are highly educated individuals who are more than capable of understanding just what an inclination towards child abuse actually means, namely that abusers find children to molest, regardless of the parish assignment.  
  • Harm?  In the case of the divorced Catholic, even the Church would agree that the harm is to the soul of the individual, while in the case of the sexual abuse of children, the harm is to the mind, body and soul many...and to the very fabric of the Church itself.  One is a personal sin, the other an institutional and a personal sin.  The argument of "well divorce harms children too" is not universally valid here, as sometimes divorce is in the best interest of children; besides, the Church's rules about divorce apply to formerly married couples without children as well**.

In the end, my central point is this:  If the Church begs forgiveness, then the Church must be willing to offer forgiveness as well.  If the Church asks this forgiveness knowing that the sin of child abuse/cover-up continues, then it should be willing to offer similar forgiveness to divorced Catholics, knowing that what it (pretty much alone) views as a sin*** will continue as well.  It's also worth noting that other religious traditions, including those in many of the Orthodox Rites, do not hold similar positions to the Catholic Church (see THIS citation) when it comes to divorce, remarriage and the reception of Communion.

Double standard?

You be the judge.  Seriously, you be the judge.

Unlike the Church, I am not telling you what is right or wrong.  I do not claim that this posting has been divinely inspired.  No "ex cathedra" here by any means.  No synod was called to write this posting.  I only claim to be trying to think through, all be it in a rather public kind of way, what I know are complex issues in a reasonable and thoughtful manner, pointing out that anything run by humans (Churches and blogs alike) are subject to flaw.





End Notes

(*) For sake of argument, I am going to make three very reasonable assumptions for this posting:

  1. That a Catholic who receives a civil divorce will not remain celibate for the rest of their life.
  2. That most divorced Catholics do not go through the annulment process.  The best statistic I can find to prove this point comes from THIS source, which shows the ratio of remarried Catholics (without an annulment) to those with an annulment is about 4.5 to 0.4.
  3. That in the case of a civil divorce, both parties normally and ultimately agree to the outcome.


(**) It can be argued that the Church doesn't view a marriage without children as being entirely valid; see THIS citation.



(***) The Church alone has decided that getting a civil divorce is a sin.  That's a decision not made by society at large, but again by the Church.  Think of it this way:  it owns the game, therefore it makes the rules.  It could just as easily say a civil divorce granted for "X" reason is automatically grounds for a Church annulment, but it chooses not to (by couching that choice as what it alone deems to be the will of God).  On the other hand, there is no question as to whether or not the sexual abuse of children is in fact a sin; in fact it is an act that runs counter to both Church and civil law, which has been a major point of contention in the on-going abuse scandals.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Everything Wrong with the Scranton School Board (in one short paragraph)

From the Scranton Times, July 3, 2014 edition:

"Mrs. McGuigan, a member of the minority, also questioned whether Mr. Casey, Mr. Douaihy and Mr. Martinelli should be involved in negotiations. Mr. Douaihy and Mr. Martinelli are retired Scranton teachers, and Mr. Douaihy’s wife, Mr. Martinelli’s daughter and Mr. Casey’s mother are all Scranton teachers."

Article link HERE.

By way of context, the school directors noted above went to meet with the state appointed arbitrator involved in board and (teacher's) union negotiations.

So what we have are three sitting board directors who have close family members that would benefit from a contract favorable to teachers.  In fact, Director Douaihy would personally, financially benefit from such a contract.  This is, in fact, wrong on so many different levels.

Please, someone try to defend this nonsense.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Inflection Point

Preface - This was written more than a year or more ago, but I never got around to finishing it until now.  I'm dedicating it to my late mother, Doris J. Albert.

* * * * * * * * * *


The math-heads out there probably already know what an inflection point is, but for the rest of us, a definition can be found HERE.

A point on a curve where a sign changes; for me, that point would be from a negative to a positive.

Allow me to digress.  

As I noted on here many times over the years, my life has been through a series of changes.  Now some times life brings you change; think of the death of a loved one for example.  Other times, change looms over you, as in you know it's there, and while you may do your level best to avoid it, it never goes away until executed (or you feel like you have been executed).  I think that we all have some of both in our lives, truth be told.  Well I know we do, as everyone has changed thrust upon them.  I also believe that we all have opportunities for change lingering over our heads.  Sometimes we grab the change, sometimes we ignore it.  I know people, for example, that have spent decades ignoring the real need for change in their life.  

Whether we are ready or not, the need for change is always there.  It's as part of our environment as the air is, and I'd argue just about as vital.

What's fascinating for me is that the second kind of change (the change looming over you) is something like the current in a river:  it takes you places, and sometimes not the places you expect.  The trick is to:

a) Get in the river

b) Not fight the current

Far easier said than done, especially if you're not well equipped for such adventures.

As for me, I was born and bred into an environment that passively resisted change.  It's not so much that I was told "change is bad" as a kid, but rather, I wasn't really taught to, if you will, be willing to get in the (above referenced) river.  I think part of that was basically just parental bandwidth, as when you are a single parent raising four boys (all a year apart, mind you), it probably takes all you've got just to feed, provide clothing and prevent general anarchy among your children.  And with four boys, there was a lot of anarchy.



Simply put, I just don't think my mother had the ability to teach us much in the way of nuance.  For us, it was really all about working hard (our bedrooms were always neat and clean, as was the rest of our apartment), lots of Catholic guilt, and mostly trying to avoid getting yelled at by Mom.  Now in the grand scheme of things, "lack of nuance" beats the crap out of, well, getting the crap beat out of you.  And all of us were in fact well fed and fashioned with the finest clothing from the 70's.

(Me, on the far left)

But we (well really "I", as I can't speak for my brothers) were never the less ill equipped to handle bends in the river that life throws your way.

How did I respond to all of this when I got older?  By putting myself into environments that were markedly similar to how I was raised.  I basically muddled my way through change, brooding over how to manage the "looming over you" stuff.  Change was a threat, something to be avoided.  For the longest time I did just that...as I was raised to, and as I was conditioned to...I avoided change for as long as I could, then I just walked though it like someone walking over hot coals.  I was lucky though in the sense that I seem to have been born with the genetic coding for inquisitiveness, which eventually began to expose me to different ways to think about change (as well as a myriad of other things).

So how then did I end up jumping in the river of change?

Well I am not entirely sure I have learned how to jump in the river.  I do know that I am less apprehensive about it.

Anyway, wearing my professional hat for a moment, I can tell you all with 100% certainty that adults learn best through experience.  By "experience" I specifically mean those points where new knowledge is tied to old knowledge and that knowledge is then tied to actions that cause a result.  Think about learning a new language for a moment:  you learn how new language equivalents to your current language words (knowledge), you then practice them (action) and then you go on vacation and order baguettes in a French restaurant (result).

Taking the above in to account, for me I haven't learned anything grand...no secret formula for managing change better...but instead have simply learned to give myself permission to try.  "Try" as in...

...trying to always see the new possibilities when things around me change
...trying to default to a positive attitude at all times
...trying to temper my desire to "win*" at everything
...trying to remember that, while change may be challenging, it's far better than stagnation
...trying to remember that I have a perfect record in living through change

In the end, it's the simplest things in life that are usually the most profound; simple as in "don't be as afraid of change as you should be afraid of things not changing".




(*) Probably the most insightful thing anyone has ever said to me in my entire life came from my late mother; when I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, she told me that part of the problem was that "you don't like to lose"...and she was right.  I don't, but I suspect the trick is to both know when it's smart to actually compete in the first place and to remember that sometimes you "win" but not coming in first.



Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day, 2014 (a non feel-good posting)

Now the thing to do today would be to post a picture of a flag and maybe a patriotic quote or two.  But I am not going to do that; instead I am going to take a moment to honestly assess what it means to be an American in 2014.  Here goes nothing -

Your Neighbor, The Anti-Christ - We have degraded so much as a society that it's now encouraged to demonize those you disagree with on just about any issue.  If you are pro-choice you are a baby-killer; if you are anti-abortion you are against women's health.  It's the politics of winning, running amok. Note to file:  when everyone insists on claiming the moral high ground, there ends up being no moral high ground for anyone.  It's this mentality that has given rise the the ridiculous "Occupy Movement" on one hand and the equally ridiculous (and dangerous) Tea Party on the other.

Here's Some Democracy Down Your Throat - We now insist...no we demand...that other people set up democracies even though we arguably don't have one ourselves anyway (mainly because we are too lazy to vote).  It's a pretty simply proposition actually:  Democracy only works when people actually want it, and it's nothing more than arrogance on our part to think otherwise.

It's Off-Budget - We have politicians on one hand that insist on offsetting every bit of domestic spending with cuts but don't seem to mind spending trillions to fund foreign wars on the other.  See above:  we have to stop insisting that the rest of world wants to be like us (which I think is at least some of the reason why some really don't like us or our way of life).  If it were up to me, there wouldn't be blank checks written out for anything...domestic or otherwise.

Bread And Circuses - More adults probably watch professional sports than vote.  Forget about demonizing the Koch Brothers (Right) or George Soros (Left):  we have met the enemy and it is ourselves.  Want to really "fight the power"?  Then vote, and bring someone with you next time.

Praise [insert the name of your favorite deity]! - What to know what's NOT in the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution?  Give up?  Okay, here you go:  the word "Christian".  The word "Christian" is not mentioned in either founding document.  There is only a reference to "God".  Now why is that?  According to some, our founding fathers were all born-again, conservative Christians, but these folks are simply wrong.  Our founding fathers were not born-again Christians; if anything, they were mostly Deists who were suspicious of organized religion.  They didn't want the United States to be a "Christian" nation (again, if they did, they would have said so...a very conservative point, I might add); rather they wanted the United States to be a nation where any and all could worship or not worship as they see fit.  Many seem to forget this basic fact, simply because it plays into their own personal narratives built around demonizing people who are not like them in the first place; see the Tea Party for an example in action.