Not Cease from Exploration

Monday, October 27, 2014

I really want to like October

I really, really do want to like the month of October.  It has a lot going for it:  cooler (but not cold) weather, changing leaves, that "back to school" routine finally sinking in, Halloween, pumpkin patch visits, fresh apples and the like.  Yet for me, so many other things have happened in October that the month is mortally tainted.  The "things" I refer to are all either personal or work-related, so there's no sense getting into specifics, other than the fact that the month has not always been so kind.

What do you do about such a thing?  I know that there is always the notion of "taking it back", but even with the grandest of celebrations, the memories of ghosts from the past will always be there for me.  While the good mental health side of me learned a long time ago the value of not obsessing over the past, that ability to keep latent emotions in check isn't something that I'd bet my life on, at least as far as internal struggles go.  On the outside?  Well everything would continue to look fine; it's just the inside that will be something of a mess.

Maybe, just maybe, the thing to do is what I have been doing for just about ever October in recent memory:  namely acknowledge that it will always be a tough month for me and simply move on.  It's simply not possible to completely forget, and in completely honesty, I don't think I want to forget.  That sounds rather masochistic, but in reality it's not that I am enjoying the mental demons playing rollerball in my head, but rather eliminating them entirely would deprive me of some pretty hard-fought lessons life lessons learned.

In the end, I'm going to settle for something of a detente with October; I won't ever claim victory, but nor will I fall to defeat either.


(featured promently in the movie Rollerball)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rush Limbaugh is lying (or mostly lying) about 82% of the time...

...so says PolitiFact.com's pundit file.  You can read the analysis HERE.

This in and of itself is pretty fascinating, but consider another statistic:  this same website's research indicates that Limbaugh's pronouncements are completely or mostly true about 7% of the time.

Now I know the typical "DittoHead" response will be something along the lines of...

"grumble, grumble, grumble, leftist media elites*, grumble, grumble, grumble"

...but also consider the same site's rating of liberal media pundit Rachael Maddow (you can read it HERE), which isn't spectacularly better.  In fact, the same scale used to judge Limbaugh shows that Ms Maddow is lying (or mostly lying) 49% of the time.

In the end though, it all comes down to one very basic question that the consumers of news commentary have to ask themselves:

  1. Do I want to learn?   OR
  2. Do I simply want affirmation?

Rush Limbaugh doesn't offer item #1; he's strictly a #2 kind of guy.  So is, by the way, Ms Maddow, but to a lesser extent.

Limbaugh tells his people what they want to hear.  He affirms for them a world view that they find comforting, one in which there are boogeyman around every corner, waiting to take bibles and guns away and somehow convert everyone into homosexuality.  He's man who talks family values and military backed American exceptional-ism.  Give him credit for skill though, as preaching family values and the use of military force is a neat trick for someone who has been married four times and who successfully dodged the draft (citations HERE and HERE).

In the end, I think that if you really want to learn, then it requires just a bit more work than the average talk-radio listener** is willing to expend.  It means getting your information from a diverse set of sources.  It means being open to questioning your own assumptions.  Maybe it means listening to both Rush Limbaugh and Rachael Maddow, as the "truth" probably can be found somewhere in between the two of them.







(*) Given the adulation that Limbaugh receives, the millions he is paid, and the fact that he is a darling of Fox News (the most watched cable television news service) why wouldn't he be considered a "media elite" as well?

(**) In case you are curious, the average listener of the Rush Limbaugh show is an older, white male who is on average 67 years old (citation HERE).  Note that the citation is from 2009, so it's entirely possibly that the average age is even older now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Coiled Spring Introvert

Last Thursday my company had an all-day learning event held at our corporate headquarters.  My role in the event as two fold:

1) I had overall responsibility for the event's planning and execution.

2) I was responsible for kicking the event off, introducing some speakers and providing closing remarks.

Overall the day itself went very well, at least in terms of the feedback I received.

Here's the first of several confessions I have about the event though:  it literally sucked everything out of me.  Since the event, I've felt an off sense of internal vacancy, as if my mind wasn't truly present inside of my head, as if I were in a kind of mental fog.  I've felt emotionally out of balance, and it has been difficult at times to focus (negative side effect:  I didn't do nearly as well as I should have on my graduate class final exam).

As to what caused this, I know that it wasn't the planning aspect of the assignment, nor was it the directing of "stuff" during the event.  More than anything else, it was the public speaking part.  And for the record I enjoy public speaking.  What's more, I don't think it was my opening remarks, nor was it any of the introductions I did during the day.  Rather, I am reasonably sure that these feels of mental fogginess arose from my closing remarks.

Now by way of context, I had planning on making closing remarks all along, but half way through the day my departmental vice president, who happened to be at the event, asked that I include a reference to something in particular in my closing remarks.  It wasn't difficult to include this new point, but it did necessitate my changing the kinds of remarks I has already written.  No bother, as I had some time during another of the day's workshops to think  through my re-tooled comments.  The actual comments, as revised, were pretty good, even by my own personal standards.  Why?
  • My deliver was very sound from a technical perspective.  No verbal distractors (the "ummm" you hear some people say when they are speaking...it results from a disconnect in timing between the brain and the lips), my tone and my inflection were spot-on.  I sounded genuinely passionate.  I was keenly focused.
  • The my revised content married my old comments with the new request in a way that was seamless.
  • I received tons of positive feedback afterwards, including a very nice note from my departmental vice president.
Yes, I stood there in the main auditorium of my company's world headquarters, in front of about 175 of my fellow associates and about 25 guests, and hit a home run.

But again, the whole exercise completely drained me.

Now I had slept well the night before and I was very, very focused throughout the day.  I did all of the things I had to do (including meeting all of the speakers) to make the day a success.  Before my speaking "gigs" I tried to relax and concentrate on the work at hand.  Again, it all paid off, at least in terms of the actual execution.

So why the vacant feeling?

As near as I can figure, it must be a coiled spring effect of sorts.  What do I mean by that?  Well I concentrated so much, I focused so much, I was so present in the moment...my mental spring being compressed...that after the moment was gone...the spring was "sprung"...there was nothing left.  Now I'm also very much the introvert, which means that, while I can do a  great job with the socializing aspects of any assignment (and for this event  there was a ton of socializing), at the end of the day those kinds of things take energy away from me.  That vacant feeling?  I suspect it was the net result of having no real energy left.  Again, the spring had been sprung.  Recharging might take a while.

* * * * * * * * * *

Post Script
I wrote most of the above posting on Sunday but I am finishing it on Monday morning (I have the day off...a wise move, given the above).  I slept well last night and I can feel some of that vacant feeling dissipating, slowly but surely.  Yet more proof of the coiled spring introvert in action.





Saturday, October 18, 2014

1600

This is the 1600th posting to this blog since I started it back on  October 27, 2008.  Now to be technical about things, I have not published 1600 postings; the actual number of published postings is 1579.  The difference represents draft postings, some of which might actually and eventually make it to the light of day.   I'll also add that over the years I may have deleted 2-3 postings.

This equates to an average of about:

  • 266 postings per year
  • 22 postings per month
  • 5 postings per week

I'll note that the weekly number is highly suspect, as it seems like (especially over the past year) I am not posting nearly that much.

Anyway, it's still nice to acknowledge milestones, even if it only means something to me.

Here are a few lessons learned in the course of those 1600 postings.

Popularity:  I can greatly increase my traffic through the use of certain magic words and names in my posting titles.  Which ones?  Well these, for starters:  Limbaugh, Introvert, Scranton School District, and the name of the current sitting mayor of Scranton.  This kind of posting, by the way, is guaranteed to be not so popular.

Traffic Sources:  Google.  Period.  End of sentence.  I'll also add that using a German word or two in posting titles greatly increases my German traffic.  I know, "Thank you Herr Obvious".

Intelligentsia:  Sadly, I am not all that popular with the turtleneck wearing crowd, as 82% of my traffic comes from people using a Windows-based operating system.  Only about 8% comes from a Mac.  iOS adds about another 2%.  Maybe I should knock off the comments about how "Steve Jobs in burning in Hell now, being tormented by the souls of all the Foxconn employees who committed suicide while making iProducts".

Comments:  If I want to generate lots of comments, all I have to do is state an obvious truth or two, such as how slavery was wrong and how the Confederate battle flag is a racist symbol.  Note that I do not moderate comments, but I have threatened to  block comments from anonymous trolls who talk a good game but in the end lack the courage of their convictions.  #Truth.


In the end, this continues to be fun, so I don't see stopping.  Here's to 1600 more.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lewis Black, the ACLU and Voting Rights

This needs very little explanation.



No explanation needed, but let's talk voter fraud for a moment.

Now the fact is that the actual number voter impersonation fraud cases are actually very small in this country.  How small?

Well according to a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Washington Post, in conjunction with a law professor from Loyola University, the number works out to be...

31 out of a billion votes cast.

For you math heads out there, that's rate of fraud working out to...

0.0000000031%

You can read the article HERE.  I think your odds of gaining super-human strength and the ability to shoot lasers out of your eyes are greater than the actual occurrence of voter fraud by impersonation in this country.  But you know what?  Just to be fair, let's take the step of assuming that the Loyola University study is dramatically under-counting voter fraud by a factor of a thousand.  Yes, a thousand.  What would the rate of voter fraud by impersonation look like then?

0.0000031%

I'm still thinking that the odds of me  getting lasers to come out of eyeballs are greater than the actual occurrence of voter fraud by impersonation.

Let's take the argument, just for fun, that requiring a picture ID is a reasonable thing to do in order to prevent that minuscule amount of fraud.  This is one of the go-to arguments made in support of such laws.  Here's my retort:  intersections.  Yes, intersections.

You see, requiring all motorists to stop at every single intersection would no-doubt prevent needless pedestrian deaths, would it not?  Of course it would!  So let's have every state legislature pass a law that requires all motorists to stop at every single intersection, all the time, every time.  Come on, that sounds like a great idea, does it not?  

Well of course the above idea is not a good idea...in fact it's a STUPID idea!  It's a solution in search of a problem...an over-reach and over-reaction of government...but it's the same basic argument made by supporters of voter ID laws.  Could it be that the prevention of incredibly small amounts of voter fraud* maybe, just maybe, isn't the intent of the many voter ID laws?  You can be the judge.

In the final analysis, I do believe that many individuals...outside of the political class that is...who support voter ID laws are doing so because they think it is the right thing to do.  The problem though is that such laws really are not a good idea simply because they represent a big and intrusive solution to an incredibly small (to the point of not existing) problem.  The laws themselves are the real fraud.






(*) Sitting Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, in attempting to defend the state's voter ID law, could not point to a single case of voter fraud that he, as state Attorney General, had prosecuted.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

True Badassery

In these days of talking television heads, blow-hard politicians and radio chickhawks who seem to have no problem putting others in the way of harm, it's refreshing to see someone who is a true badass get the recognition they deserve.  To that end, I present 2014 Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.


How much of a badass?

Well consider this:  she is lives in an area where militant Islamic terrorists basically say "if you teach girls to read we will burn their schools down, kill them and then kill you".  So what does this young lady do?  She goes to school anyway and blogs about the right girls have to an education.  Previously mentioned terrorists then shoot her in the head.  So again, what does this young lady do?  She gets better and basically raises a (figurative) middle finger to the terrorists and (figuratively) says "Hey, Islamic Terrorists, F&^k You!" and crusades even louder for the education of girls.

There is a world full of public toughs who could learn a lot from this young lady.

Well done Malala, well done.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why no one wants to go to church any more

I had saved this article from a few week or so ago from the Huffington Post...

Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore

...with the intent of writing a post around it, and as usual it languished in the draft bin until now.

Two items that I think are related to this topic, via the Catholic Church, are:

  • Conflict surrounding the Baptism of the infant children of gay couples.  You can read an article on the topic HERE.  
  • There is also the Synod on the Family occurring in Rome now; you can click HERE for an interesting read on that event.

Here's what I find distressing in all of this:  The Church may in fact say that two individuals of the same sex can never be married.  The Church can say that two unmarried people should not have children.  The Church can proclaim that only certain kinds of opposite sex marriages are considered valid.  All of that is the right of the Church...their church, their rules.  No one is forcing anyone else to join a specific religious denomination in this country.  However, and related to the above, the Church teaches that access to the sacrament of Baptism shouldn't be denied based on the marital status of the parents, provided that there is an intent to raise the child Catholic (reference HERE).  Failing to follow your own rules seems a bit, well, wrong.  Also, the Church in theory has a "love the sinner, hate the sin" attitude regarding homosexuality in general, yet the rhetoric one hears from conservative Catholics is far from loving.  Want proof?  Go to (conservative) Ignatius Press and search for books using the key word "Gay" and you'll see what I mean.  Heck, I'll even do it for you (click HERE and look at the first book you see).  It's impossible to be welcoming on one hand but then with the other point a finger at  a "homosexual agenda".

I know. there are plenty in the LGBT community that are far from loving when it comes to most organized religions, but it's important to note that they don't get to use the whole eternal damnation weapon either.  ActUp, for example, doesn't claim to speak for God, but organizations that do...be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim...should be held to a higher standard of conduct.  Yes, when you claim to be "one of the good guys" then you shouldn't be shocked when, well, people actually expect you to be a "good guy".  Example?  How about honoring your word to love the sinner more than you simply hating the sin, for starters.  Man, that "turn the other cheek" stuff really is hard to pull off, especially when the other party is so very different than you.

By the way, what precisely is the "homosexual agenda"?  Is it to somehow convert others to homosexuality?  I don't know about you, but nothing is ever changing my (hetero)sexuality, so pardon me while I view that concept with just a bit of skepticism.  Fear mongering should be beneath the dignity of a traditional religious conviction anyway, and yet elements of the Church are all too willing to engage in it as part of an extremely misguided "culture war".

So what is the real "culture war"?  That's the one that centers around item #7 of the Huffington Post article, namely false advertising.  In 1950 maybe that was acceptable; it's not in 2014.  Organized religion, meet the connected world, where your failing to live up to your own proclamations will be noticed and will be documented by snarky bloggers (and such).

I'll end this posting with a more personal note.  In my own religious formation there have been times when I've been to church and it has been very welcoming.  My religious experience in college was a good example (disclaimer:  I was the president of the Catholic Student's group my senior year).  Yet, so many others were very far from welcoming.  These were the churches run as cliques where homogeneous groups of folks would just as soon ignore someone new as say hello to them.  Not all are like this, but many are, sadly I will add.  More than anything else though, organized religion...especially the Catholic Church...harms itself far more than any outside force ever could simply by virtue of its inability to live up to its own high moral standards.

"We have met the enemy and he is us." - Walt Kelly


© Stephen G. Albert, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Atlantic City (in October)

Atlantic City is in the news lately, mainly for casinos that are closing faster than you can say "gambling addiction".  That, in and of itself, is a good reason to visit.  I have another reason though:  I've just always wanted to go to the shore in the Fall.  There's just something about the beach when it's cool outside that I find tempting.  Couple the two together and you have last weekend's "AC Getaway".

As a kid the only two vacations I ever remember were to Atlantic City.  Those were back in the pre-gambling days.  


Now for a kid back in those days, a beach...any beach...was reason to celebrate.  It didn't matter if the beach in question was connected to a rotting resort town.  All I knew at the time was that the ocean was there; all other considerations were secondary.

Fast forward a few decades, and I've kept a special interest in "AC", and not because of gambling, mind you, as I really don't do that anyway.  Rather, it's more a connection my younger days, when eyes truly saw the positive in the midst of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Sometimes I wish I could get those same eyes back (something that many adults wish).  

Last weekend's trip came about simply because, looking at the calendar for the rest of the year, I thought that Ms Rivers and I could benefit from a few days worth of escape.  Be it personally or professionally, the balance of 2014 is mightily booked for both of us.  Given that and my longing for simpler times, AC was the logical choice.  The fact that we already did a summer vacation week at Ocean City MD made the choice a bit easier.  Speaking of Ms Rivers, she also had some special childhood memories of AC, back in the days when her family had just returned from missionary work in the Dominican Republic.  What better a place to transition from a tropical island to the United States than the Jersey Shore of the late 60'/early 70's?

Trip rationale noted, here are a few observations.  In no particular order.  For no particular reason than my own entertainment.

Casinos
Gambling floors were busy at the casinos we visited.  The fact that I think four major casinos have closed in recent memory probably helps the remaining venues tremendously.  Anyway, I've always thought that casino floors have a particular odor about them; think of it as being a combination of cigarette smoke and despair.

By the way, we lost a total of $19.06 in the casinos.  Not too bad for someone (me) who is too impatient to actually figure out how to wager on a slot machine.

I didn't take any pictures of the gambling floors, as quite frankly, they all look alike.  

Hotels
It was interesting driving in to AC on Friday night, seeing some of the casinos completely lit up, like giant Christmas Trees, while others simply stood there, dark and stark.  Not wanting to be actual vagabonds, we did stay at one of the major resort hotels (sorry, since they are not paying me for a mention I will not be providing any free advertising).  The service was good by and large, and the room was fine for the price we paid.  The bed was a bit hard for my tastes, but that's just me.  The room did have a nice view.
(Three casinos, two of which are actually closed)

We wandered into two other hotels and by and large most of these places are pretty much the same, with the exception of the Borgata.  More on that in a moment.

The Food
The food was inexpensive and good.  We had Italian one night and ate at an Irish pub the second night.  The Irish Pub had this sign, which I just had to take a picture of...

Just a twinge of the ironic in that sign, as I know a few NEPA residents of Irish ancestry that seem to take a dim view of current day immigrants.  Restaurant service was so-so, which makes me wonder what it is like when the town is actually busy.

The Boardwalk
We took many-a-stroll on the (famous) Boardwalk, the first being on Saturday morning.  It was pretty much vacant.
It was an eerie kind of feeling actually.  Now in all fairness, it was overcast and rainy on Saturday morning, so maybe we were just the only folks crazy enough to want to be out at the time.  As Saturday wore on the Boardwalk did get far busier.  
For the record, most of the folks I saw on the Boardwalk did not look like degenerate gamblers, although we encountered multiple pan-handlers.

The Entertainment
Saturday night we went to see comedian Brian Regan perform at the Borgata.  For those not in the know, the Borgata is not on Boardwalk, but rather is in the marina section of AC.  It's a little bit of a drive, but worth it.  The show as pretty good, and the Borgata is exceptionally impressive...a world-class, high-end resort.  I can see why that particular venue is apparently doing very well:  it simply out-classes all the competition.

Other Thoughts
A few other random observations about AC in October:
  • Police...always present, but seemingly oblivious to the pan-handlers.
  • Pan-handlers...speaking of people begging for money, if you are a 20-something young man wishing to be successful in the pan-handing game, it probably makes sense to ditch the Abercrombie and Fitch top and expensive sneakers.  Just saying.
  • Grease...my body is still digesting the grease from Saturday morning's breakfast at Bill's.  It was good though (at the time).
  • Beach...was nice.  I as you can see in the photos above, they've taken to planting vegetation along the beach side of the Boardwalk, which I think has something to do with preventing erosion.  I get the need, but  it's not the greatest visual.  As I kid I also remember the beach being somehow lower, as in you had to walk down steps to get to it.  Maybe I'm just confused on that point.

Would we go back?  Absolutely!  It was, all in all, a fun and relaxing time.  I'm not sure I would go during the heat of the summer, but as a relatively easy spot to get to, AC is a nice choice to visit off season.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dear Scranton Leaders

Dear Scranton Leaders,

The commuter tax you enacted was declared null and void by a visiting judge in Lackawanna County.  He ruled that you didn't follow the applicable law by taxing both residents and commuters, just as every other community that has enabled a similar tax has apparently done.  For whatever reason you chose to ignore that part of the law; I just hope that choice was a conscious one, because the alternative is frightening.

So, what's next?  Well for starters, how about a reality check?  Scranton's bills are higher than the money it takes in from taxes and fees.  There are two ways to solve that:

  1. Income - You can continue to try and raise more money.
  2. Expenses - You can reduce your expenses.


So far you've put almost all of your energy into item #1.  Oh, and you've done it poorly.  Oh, and it's a poor idea in the first place.  Why?  Simply put, trying to just balance a budget on the revenue side is a bit like saying to someone awash in credit card debt to "just earn more money to pay your bills".  Sure, that works over the short term, but it doesn't nothing to address how they got into debt in the first place.  That's Scranton by the way.

Yes, I know, you'll say "there is nothing more to cut", but I think's just code for "there's nothing left that painless and easy to cut".  There is a big difference.

Want to know something else?  Most people with a half functioning brain have already figured out that Scranton's biggest expense has to do with personnel costs.  What is it, 60% or more of the budget?  Again, it's not a secret, and your seeming inability to actually to do anything to reduce those costs isn't exactly a secret either.  No, I don't want to see anyone working for the city earning less money, but when personnel costs are such a major part of a budget that is structurally imbalanced, the reality is that something will have to be done in that area.

In the final analysis, an inability on your part to make difficult decisions now* only guarantees that future decisions will be even more difficult.  As I have said many times in the past, Scranton is already bankrupt; what's lacking is the formal legal declaration.


Regards,
Steve Albert



(*) For the record, deciding to tax people that can't vote you out of office does NOT count as being a difficult decision.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee's Theocracy Statement

An actual quote from presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's remarks to the 2014 Values Voters Summit:

"Some of you are frustrated and even upset and angry about America, and I get it. And I say to you, the answer is as simple as it is that the answer to the phones in our hearts that God is ringing. When we register people to vote, when we get them to the polls to vote, when we hire the people that will take our values to this city, and when we fire the ones who refuse to hear not only our hearts, but God’s heart."

Citations HERE (conservative) and HERE (liberal).

Let that last phrase sink in just a bit:  "...and when we fire the ones who refuse to hear not only our hearts, but God's heart."

Did I read that right?  Is the former Arkansas governor basically saying that, in order to work for the federal government, you have to follow "God's heart"?

Now when last I checked:
  • No one really has a monopoly on, nor is there complete consensus around understanding just what is in "God's heart". 
  • Believing in God has no bearing on one's performance on the job, unless the job in question is being a minister or priest (and even then I have suspicions).

While we're at it, just how would following "God's heart" be determined anyway?

  • Attending morning prayer services?
  • Loudly and publicly proclaim Jesus Christ as their "personal Lord and Savior"?
  • Disassociate  themselves from non-believers?
  • Wear cross-bearing armband?
  • Attendance at anti-abortion events?

I could go on, but the point is made.

The bottom line for me is this:  there are some in our society, such as former governor Huckabee, who would like nothing better than to establish a theocracy of sorts in the United States.  Oh, and it's not the atheists who should be the most worried about that by the way, it's those who are religious.   Why?  Because the separation of church and state exists to protect both entities.

I no more want government involved in religion than I want religion involved in government, as both will soil the other:  Government's lust for power can infect and harm religion, just as religion's insistence on absolutist truths will stifle and alienate government from those who are governed.