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Monday, October 26, 2020

12 Down, A Few More To Go


Tuesday, October 27th is the 12th anniversary of this blog's creation.  You can see the first post, way back in 2008, HERE.  Since then, the blog stats tell me that:

  • 2062 is the number of published posts
  • 112 is the number of draft posts
  • 7,000 is about the average number of page-views I get per month
I'd give you the total number of page views, but the counter wasn't working correctly for the first two years (it was something I did...and I end up re-setting it), but I suspect it's about a million.

In all that time I do think the quality of my writing has improved...practice will do that...even if the quantity of my posts has decreased.  Speaking of quality, some of this stuff I wrote I just can't re-read, as it would honestly be too painful.  That noted, I normally don't take postings down, except when there may be a career consideration for me.  What's in the 112 draft postings is a collection of half-baked ideas and things that, as previously noted, might have upset a potential employer at the moment interviews or such were going on.  I suspect that I could probably re-publish about two-thirds of those draft postings, but that would probably be too much work for too little benefit. 

The above is, well, pretty darn boring to everyone except for me.  But what the heck, it is the blog-o-versary after all.

Probably the more interesting story here is how my life has changed over the past 12 years.  If anything, and in retrospect, one of the things that this blog does is captures little slices of my life.  While a lot of what's written here isn't necessarily about me, it's certainly reflective of me and where I was at that particular time when it wrote it.  In 12 years my life has changed pretty dramatically.  I'd like to tell you that am dramatically happier now, but that wouldn't be entirely true; yes, many of the aspects of my life are dramatically better now, but yet some of the things that drive me haven't changed all that much.  If anything I now understand some of those drivers a bit better.  Actually translating that understanding into action is harder though than it sounds, so let's just say that over the past 12 years "I have met the enemy and he is me".

Going back to the future.

In 2008 it felt as if I could barely breathe as if there were so many things that I was trying to balance all at the same time.  In a way, having so much going on in 2008 created a kind of mental pathway around having to deal with some fundamental problems in my life.  It seems though that some things in life can not be denied forever, and for all intents and purposes, my world imploded around this time in 2010.  "Dark" does not give this time in my life justice.  Yet though, what happened then was necessary.  Even just writing this brings back unhappy feelings into my head.  Gee, thanks blog.

The aftermath of 2010 was a kind of re-orientation of my life.  Make that a messy and sometimes painful re-orientation of my life.  And now I get to look back and see just how much progress has been made since 2008.  In complete honestly, in October 2008 I could never have imagined my life in October 2020.

One of the truisms of life is that things really do happen at the right time, but unfortunately we only get to see...and understand...and feel...that in retrospect.  At no time in my 56.5 years of this Earth is that more true for me than right now.  Number 1 on that list of "things happening at the right time" is my wife, Ms. Rivers.  I wish I could just make up my own word to describe her and what's she done for me (if I did, it would be some big German/Russian/Klingon sounding thing), but I am barely functional in existing English words; adding to the language is too big of a stretch for my abilities.  What I can say is this:  In many ways, she is my hero.  Like most heroes, she has managed to be there just at the nick of time for me, often saving the day and giving me just what I need.  Her heroic powers include a level of calm that is nothing short of awe-inspiring and she also has an almost magical ability to see the good in me, even when I am completely and utterly oblivious to it myself.  Simply put, she believes in more than I do.  She also made me a part of her extended family, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Looking backward at recent history until now, it seems that maybe now I have found a place of relative stability.  Well as stable as life gets in the middle of a pandemic.  Anyway, looking at the next 8 to 10 years to come, what I see is the opportunity to tackle what represents a kind of "final frontier" of my life, a set of learned behaviors and responses that have never served me well, other than power some survival instincts that have out-worn their likely usefulness.  Cryptic enough for you?  How about this:  I now have the opportunity...the time...the breath...the attention...to seek answers to some very fundamental questions about how that "space between my ears" processes the world and drives my actions.  I can work on simply becoming happier.  

As I said, a lot has changed.

Whatever the future holds, I'll no doubt continue to chronicle little pieces of it here.  As always, I do it by and for myself, as this has always been my one truly selfish indulgence over the past 12 years.  And I welcome anyone else who wants to come along on the road (as noted above, to a kind of Shambala*) with me.


(*) Click HERE to find a definition of "Shambala".

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Squirrels Don't Walk In Straight Lines


This isn't a posting about squirrels, although I may get around to that one day.  Instead, file this under "random observation".

October has not always been kind to me, a fact that is noted several times over the past 12 years.  Given that fact, one would think that October 2020 would be particularly horrible.  Or, to paraphrase my sister-in-law, "when does the locust plague start?".  But yet here I am, and so far October has been okay to me.  I started a new job that seems to combine all of what I have been looking for over the past few years:  An organization that does good for the world, a position where I can make a difference, autonomy, and a supportive and enlightened leadership team.  Part of me wants to tread cautiously here, as I don't want to somehow create bad juju for myself.

"When it's good, it's bad"

A trusted advisor (and everyone should have a trusted advisor or three in their life) has told me repeatedly that I am wired for a particular response of "when it's good, it's bad".  This is a shorthand description for someone who grew up always having to look out for the next shoe to drop.  I know, that still kind of nebulous, but outbursts of anger were not an uncommon occurrence in my childhood.  Not by me, mind you.  When that happens, well, you tend to focus less on the "what's good" and more on the "I have to get ready for the next bad".  This isn't all bad by the way; I learned, for example, to develop some very good observational skills.  Trust me though when I say that this is not a good way to run your life, and I have no doubt that decades of heightened anxiety over subconsciously waiting for the bad to inevitably happen probably has taken its toll in a lot of ways.  So be it.  None of us can ever change the past, but we can always learn from it.

So here I am, and maybe, just maybe, as I tiptoe into changing some mental stimulus-response wiring, when it's good it really is good.

There is, by the way, plenty of good to go around.  In addition to a new professional gig, I have a healthy family, adult children that I am exceptionally proud of, a nice place to live, and a spouse that loves me for who I am.  And cats.  I have cats.

Here's to all of us learning, growing, and re-wiring, no matter how old (or young) we find ourselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

189 Days...

 ...is the span of time between leaving my last job and my hopefully last first day at work.  

By way of background, "leaving" sounds a bit like I just left the office and just decided not to come back.  That wasn't the case.  What is the case is that I, like far too many, had my employment negatively effected by COVID-19.  In fact, I think my last departure was as hard on my former VP as it was on me.  Anyway, in the real world things happen, and it's less important to dwell on the past and more important to focus on the here and now.

I am, by the way, going to dwell a bit on the past regardless.  Well, at least selectively.

When I think about my 189 days, a few things come to mind.  Let's start with bare-knuckled emotions.

Frustrating

Anxious

Disheartening

Did I mention Frustrating yet?

(at times) Anger

Disappointment

Apprehensive

I'll note that in the bowels on this blog, years ago, I mentioned before that I am the world's worst unemployed person.  The past 189 days proved that to be true time and time again.  There were some bright spots over those days, including some important house projects getting completed (re-doing our front porch, installing an outside outlet, a ton of landscaping, re-organizing our garage, building some new storage, etc.).  Those were good, but they were not enough.  While I really enjoy working outdoors, it's best as a way for me to get my mind off of other things, not be the primary focus of my mind.  This is in keeping with my almost constant need for stimulation.  

So why all the negativity, as noted above?

The job search process normally tends to be a terrible experience.  Add in millions of new folks looking for work and the inherent disruption of no close contact and you get something of a perfect storm of stink.  It was so bad that I honestly have no desire to go through it again.  Ever again.  Generalizations aside, there are a few very specific things that really make the process of finding a new job pretty terrible, such as when you seem to have a good rapport with a recruiter but then they basically go silent, without any explanation, and stop replying to your messages or returning your calls.  As someone working (again) in Human Resources, I view that as being something that's just not right, and to the extent I have any authority over recruiting, it will never happen under my watch.  Mind you, I don't think that every applicant needs to be acknowledged (the recent college graduate applying for that recently available CFO position, for example), but if someone meets the stated qualifications of a position, they deserve some kind of communication.

* * * * *

I'll digress even further here to relay an actual experience of mine that I consider to be just about the worst of the 189 days:

  • An HR/Learning & Development position was posted by a technology company on a major job board
  • I met all of the stated qualifications
  • I submitted my resume and completed an exhaustive on-line application
  • I received a communication that the company would like me to complete a series of online assessments
  • I think to myself "that's a good sign", and "sure...how long could it possibly take?"
Regarding that last bullet, the answer was 3.5 hours.  The online assessments took three and a half hours of my time.  That, however, was not to be the punchline:

  • I completed all of the exhaustive assessments, covering problem-solving, HR practices, etc.
  • After feeling accomplished at having gone through the process, I gladly hit the final send button
  • I was greeted with a message that basically said...
"Thanks.  We'll let you know if we want to proceed."

What that actually meant was that I spent 3.5 hours and I had no way of following up on the status of my application.  No recruiter to contact.  No company email.  Not even a rejection email.  Just radio silence if I wasn't selected.  That was (and is) both horrible and disrespectful.  Part of me wanted to somehow bill them for the time.  Nothing like asking someone to go above and beyond but yet not having the courtesy to at least tell them "no".  This particular company bills itself as being very selective in who they hire, which is all well and good, but I sincerely hope that they treat their existing employees far, far better than how they treat their employment candidates.

* * * * *

Another example from my 189 days is what I'll call "the sales pitch".  It works something like this:

  • I, like many others, noted on my LinkedIn profile that I was "looking for opportunities".
  • I would get a very friendly message and connection request from another professional.
  • The conversation would start with a lot of sympathy for my plight and plenty of questions about my background and how my search was going.
  • After a few days, the sales pitch would always come.
The "sales pitch" inevitably had to do with either a sales position or a franchise opportunity.  Mind you there is nothing in my LinkedIn profile that actually gave any indication that I was interested in sales or franchise opportunities.  For the record, I have nothing against either career avenue.  What I do have a problem with is the insincerity on display to myself (and countless others) that was really nothing more than a lead-in gimmick. 

In addition to the standard "sales pitch", I also experienced two variations:

  • The Handoff - This is when you get a message from an executive who contacts you (per above), says nice things about your background, and then tells you that he's going to forward your name to his spouse/partner/etc. who may have an opening for you.  There may even be a check-in where this individual follows up with you to see if their spouse/partner/etc. has gotten back to you yet (they haven't...yet...but that's part of the plan I suspect).  You do hear from the spouse/partner/etc. after a few weeks and after an exchange of pleasantries, they talk to you about their company.  Feeling a bit suspicious and wondering why you aren't hearing any specifics about the job opportunity itself, you start to ask detailed questions, discovering that they are looking for...wait for it...salespeople.  
  • The Helping Hand - This is when you get an out-of-the-blue message from someone working for a well-known company saying they know how hard the job market is and that they'd like to forward your name to a recruiter they know.  You don't hear from the recruiter, but you do hear from the original person, who pledges to follow-up with their recruiter friend.  Eventually, the follow-up conversations steer towards the financial services product they want to sell you.  In my particular instance, the "kicker" was the fact that the last follow-up message I got from this individual made two very big mistakes.  The first?  Never refer to me by just by my last name ("Albert, this is...") in a voicemail message.  The second?  At least try to remember some of what I told you in prior conversations.
These experiences were (and are for others on an on-going basis) disheartening.  If you are trying to recruit salespeople or sell a franchise opportunity, please be upfront about it.  Feigning concern as a lead-in to a pitch is just a terrible thing to do in times like this.

* * * * *

Hopefully, by now the picture of just how jarring this process has been for me has been painted.  As someone who values control, this was one of the most out of my control periods in my life.  What I could control was the process by which I looked for a job, and I did my best to be disciplined about the whole thing.  That attempt at a disciplined approach resulted in my making 72 different employment applications.  The breakdown by the source of the lead is as follows:


The sometimes brutal realities of a 2020 job search noted, there were plenty of positives to my 189 days, none the least of which is how my job search ended.  To really explain that, I need to go back to the year 1999.  It was in later 1999 when I decided that my career needed something of a change.  I was successful at what I was doing as a Customer Service Team manager, but the work itself just didn't seem to be all that important to me.  Working for a large company, I was able to find another role, in Human Resources, managing a Training and Development team.  Fast forward a few years from then and I basically decided that this (Human Resources) was going to be where I "hung my hat" for the rest of my professional life.  That kind of commitment sounds nice, but in reality, it was less a visionary statement and more a kind of messy battle plan that took years to bear any fruit.

This is the part where I am supposed to have the pithy statement about the power of perseverance, but I'm not going to do that, as there were many times when I wondered just what in the heck I was actually doing.  What looks like in hindsight a "well-orchestrated plan" was actually neither well-orchestrated nor much of a plan.  Instead, I just tried to string things together with what I had to work with, plus a lot of work.      

Anyway, the messiness of the past duly noted, I've landed in a place where my imagination years ago though I should be.  Like most things in my life though, the path between the past and future wasn't exactly a straight line.  Maybe one day I will truly appreciate that fact.

My "not exactly a straight line" career progression couldn't have happened without people who supported me, in big ways and in small.  Every check-in and every word of encouragement meant more to me than I can adequately describe.  So too did every job lead, as regardless of whether or not it panned out it was still a vote of confidence in me.  My biggest cheerleader was my wife, Ms. Rivers, who also benefitted during my 189 days via the frequent runs to Dunkin Donuts for a small iced coffee with two cream and one Splenda as well as the twice a week lunch of (the famous but frozen) Victory Pig pizza.  I'll miss both myself by the way.

So now I've come to the end of this posting.  I am supposed to say, I think, that this is not an end but "is a beginning".  All well and good, but the reality is there always was "a beginning" in play anyway.  Maybe a smarter or more insightful person might seek some kind of deeper meaning in all of this; as for me, I'm just relieved.  And I'll leave it at that.


(*) For the truly (or mildly) curious, you can always check out my LinkedIn profile for more about the professional me.

Monday, September 14, 2020

From Russia, with Vitriol

I saw a graphic similar to this in one of my Facebook groups:


I believe that it was actually taken down after myself, and several others complained.  

So, why did I complain?

First, the group in question is about anthracite coal mining.  Not politics.  Not the NFL.  Not patriotism.  Not the president.  Not Joe Biden.  It is about, for me, a subject that I have had an interest in for most of my life.

(photo from the site of the former Hughestown Breaker)

Sadly, I am sure this kind of stuff creeps up in other groups as well.  

Second, there is actually zero.point.zero connection between NFL players and 9/11 first responders.  

The creator might as well said "Not one Russian Orthodox Priest ran into the WTC..." or "Not one member of the Trump family ran into the WTC..." or "Not one Turkey Breeder ran into the WTC...".  This is nothing more than stringing two thoughts that some people feel passionate about together simply for the purpose of inflaming tensions.  Nothing else.  

Third, this has all the hallmarks of being a part of the Russian campaign to just generally destabilize the United States ahead of the November 3rd general election.  

I will note that I find people who are preachy distasteful, but I'm going to do it myself anyway:  Don't fall for this nonsense, and when you do see it and call it out for the Russian garbage that it represents.  

You can greatly admire the first responders on 9/11 and find the "taking a knee" protests by NFL players inappropriate.  I do the former, but not the latter.  They aren't, however, even remotely connected.  The 9/11 first responders didn't rush into buildings because they were patriots...they did it because that was their job, and they are heroes for risking their lives as such.  Conversely, it's my opinion that NFL players who "take a knee" are not unpatriotic; heck, you can make the argument that protesting in order to make the United States a better place is an example of patriotism at work.  You can also disagree with me about the NFL players, but you can't disagree with the ridiculously disjointed nature of the graphic.

Regardless of who you support in the November election, no one is well served by playing into disinformation campaigns created by enemies of this nation. 

We should be smarter than this.


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

World Suicide Prevention Day - September 10th


After a certain age, you get the benefit of looking back at your life and you're able to see those points where events touched you down to your deepest core.  These are places where you mentally and emotionally have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.  Thinking of my own life, there is no better example of this than having experienced people close to me attempt (and in one case succeeded* at) suicide.  At these points, well, life lays you bare.

I can't speak as someone who has attempted suicide myself.  That's just not part of who I am, regardless of what I've had to face in life.  I suppose that's a good thing, however, every now and then I do get thoughts of "well why me?", where I wonder why this gift (if you want to call it that) wasn't shared with some important people in my life.  It almost becomes hallow in a way, a form of survivor's guilt that while bad, is clearly better than death.  Put another way, it's as if I can intellectually understand why people attempt/commit suicide, but I can't feel why they do it.

None of the above is an attempt at requesting pity or creating a moral equivalency between the "here" of being impacted by suicide vs. the "there" of actually committing the act.  In point of fact, I get to write this posting but yet, for example, my brother isn't around to read it.  

All I can speak to now is what I've experienced and what I've tried to learn over the years.

Speaking of experience, there is nothing that can prepare you for that first call of "This is ____________ your ___________________ attempted to harm themself..." (or words to that effect).  Enough times and you become numb to it, which is its own special form of punishment, once the guilt at becoming numb begins to set in.  No one should ever treat an attempt at suicide as being anything less than the life-altering event it actually represents.

Experience noted, what have I learned over the years?  A few thoughts:

  • Life truly is precious.  It's just not possible to prospectively comprehend what it's like when someone leaves your life after taking their own.  There are no words that do it justice.  All that's left are old pictures, almost ghost-like memories, and the occasional vivid dream.
  • We are all unique.  Each of us deals with the drivers of suicide in different ways.  For some, those drivers don't have a high degree of power over our lives.  For others, they seem to be a constant voice from a dark corner offering a solution that, in hindsight, is actually searching for a suitable problem...a problem which, for all but the terminally ill (perhaps) doesn't actually exist.
  • It creates ripples.  Maybe a way to describe the impact that suicide has had on my life is to explain it as being something that created ripples.  These ripples have the staying power to last years; maybe until the end of my own life (from old age, hopefully).  Sometimes these ripples re-appear when I see or experience something that brings back a jarring memory or two.

Lastly, and at the risk of sounding a bit more preachy, I'll add this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Whether the "YOU" is someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or someone who has just such a person in their life, the biggest lie of suicide seems to be the idea that "no one can understand how I feel".  While that may be true on one level...no one can ever literally climb into another's head and experience their life from that perspective...it is patently false from another, namely that a 100% 1:1 connection on an emotional and experiential level is not required for successful mental health treatment and wellness.

So please, if you read this and know of someone struggling with significant mental health issues, try to help.  See below.  If you are struggling to deal with the aftermath of suicide, know that you're not alone and that there is help for you as well.    


Life is worth living.

* * * * * *

Resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Grief Support for Loss Survivors

Left Behind After Suicide

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Real Warriors (Active & Inactive Duty Military)

Stand for the Silent (Youth & Young Adult)


* * * * * *

(*) "Succeed at suicide":  The irony is that the only successful suicide is the one that fails.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Scranton Times: Legalizing Marijuana Editorial

The Scranton Times posted an editorial on August 29th regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Pennsylvania.  You can read the editorial at the following link:

https://www.thetimes-tribune.com/opinion/editorial/at-minimum-debate-wolfs-pot-proposal/article_fa135465-3fbe-51c9-97b9-9bb2c3d7579e.html

If the link doesn't work/is behind a paywall, well don't worry, as you're actually not missing much.  Basically, the newspaper makes the point that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's proposal for the legalized recreational use of marijuana should be debated by the legislature.

What definitely can't you read on-line?  That would be my comment regarding the editorial because The Scranton Times would not publish it.  I'm not sure why; my best guess is that they are using some kind of AI to screen postings based on keywords, and I must have flipped the switch.  That facet of this story is more interesting from a process/technology perspective than anything else.  Part of me can almost envision the Asian technology services company selling the newspaper's leaders on this incredibly smart AI cloud-based comment screening software that would be "foolproof" and save them money.  Based on my comment, well, it may not be so foolproof after all.  In any event, that ball-o-thought is noted below.

* * * * * *

Two thoughts:

(1) Personally, I think using marijuana is pretty damn stupid unless you have glaucoma or your chemotherapy causes you to lose weight (and you actually need a case or three of the "munchies"). Again, just my opinion, but intentionally getting high is a sign of personal weakness and an inability to deal with the real world. I'll note though that I feel the same way about those who constantly get drunk, something for which NEPA has a well-earned reputation. Simply put, it seems to me that marijuana use probably isn't all that worse than drinking alcohol (and for the record, I don't do either).

(2) The editor(s) mention tax revenue when comparing to the legalization of marijuana to gambling, but they miss a central point: Gambling revenue was supposed to measurably reduce property taxes. Instead what actually happened was that gambling revenue more or less became a kind of slush fund that allowed politicians to sponsor local projects, etc. Granted that some of this work was needed, but gambling wasn't sold to the population as a way to fund parks...it was sold as a way to reduce taxes. I'm not going to touch the issue of property tax rebates, as while getting a rebate is great, in reality, it's just a cynical ploy for politicians to say that property taxes are being reduced when in fact they are not*.

* * * * * *
(*) Think of a property tax rebate as being a 10% off sale at Boscov's. That shirt still costs $25, but for now, you get it for $22.50. The price though is still $25, and at any time Boscov's can end the sale and charge you the full $25.

* * * * * *

I do worry about the recreational use of marijuana.  As noted above, I get that it's probably not worse than alcohol, but that's a thin argument to make for legalization.  There is also an admittedly selfish component to my thoughts about legalization:  Honestly, I find the smell of it repulsive.  I can see the day when just walking down the street my nose might be assaulted by the rancid stench.  

A bit more seriously, I had (emphasis on "had", as in past-tense) a brother who suffered greatly from substance abuse issues, which ultimately cost him his life.  Now I don't necessarily buy into the gateway drug argument against marijuana, as by that logic, smoking cigarettes could also fall under that category.  What I do wholeheartedly believe though is that substances designed to do nothing other than temporarily alter reality actually serve no useful purpose in life.  You see, that's the thing about altered realities:  They always lose to, as referenced in the play Rent, "actual reality".  For some, that notion of a temporary-but-altered reality is good enough.  The problem though is when the altered reality becomes so much more preferable than the real thing.  Having yet one more roadway into the temporary realm of unreality doesn't help society.

In the end, I suspect it is inevitable that marijuana use will become legal in Pennsylvania (and eventually the entire country).  Fast forward a few years after that and the campaigns against buzzed driving will start in earnest, along with additional resources to deal with the psychologically addicted.  It will be a movie we've already seen time and time again under the title of alcoholism.  This is basically a slow-moving train to nowhere, with the only real beneficiaries being those who find a way to legally monetize temporary excursions into the land of make-believe.



Friday, August 28, 2020

50 Shades of Elvis

Well, actually more like 8.

File this one under the category of "For no reason other than to just entertain me".


I'm convinced that, when you talk about the late Elvis Presley, it's simply not right to describe him in the singular.  In point of fact, I think there are actually 8 Elvises(1).  Allow me to explain.

Elvis #1:  Growing Up Elvis
This is the Elvis before there was an Elvis.  The blonde Elvis.  The Elvis with the burgeoning and almost un-natural attachment to his momma.  This the Elvis up until he made that initial recording at Sun Records (for, you guessed it, his momma).

Elvis #2:  Initial Fame Elvis
This is the "shaking his hips on national television and causing a commotion" Elvis.  The Elvis when most people think about Elvis.  The "Love me tender..." Elvis.  This is the epitome of all Elvis.

Elvis #3:  Army Elvis
This is Elvis when he joined the United States Army, stationed in Germany.  The Elvis who, while old enough to be in the Army, developed an almost un-natural attachment for a 14-year-old named Priscilla, who would later go on to be his wife " 'cilla".  This is the "your career is over" Elvis.  

Yet, life could not keep an Elvis down.    

Elvis #4:  Movie Elvis
This is the Elvis that made countless crappy movies, where Elvis always played a quasi-heroic outsider type who manages to save the day through elaborately staged 50's-era rock and roll songs.  Having seen a few Elvis movies myself, I defy anyone to binge-watch all of the Elvis movies and come out of the experience with most of their sanity in-tact.

Elvis #5:  '68 Comeback Special Elvis
This is the black leather-clad Elvis who, tired of repeating the same movie over and over again like some endless run of Home Improvement episodes, decided(2) to get back to his roots.

Want more '68 Comeback Special Elvis?  Click HERE

Elvis#6:  Vegas Act Elvis (a.k.a. In The Ghetto Elvis)
This is the "okay, I am a singer again, so now what?" Elvis.  The Elvis who wasn't capable of being a contemporary of artists such as The Beatles.  The Elvis who apparently discovered plus-sized rhinestone jumpsuits and had a flair for belts only slightly smaller than your average World Wrestling Federation champtionship belt.  The Elvis who fancied himself a gun-tot'n real G-man and developed an unnatural affinity for, of all people, Richard Nixon.

("Nilvis" from Wikipedia)

This is also the "In the Ghetto" Elvis.  Seriously, listen to the song.  This song should be an auditory aid when teaching the concept of insincerity to junior high school students.


Elvis#7:  Dead on the Throne Elvis
This is the Elvis who died on the toilet at age 42.  The Elvis who technically suffered from cardiac arrest as a cause of death, but given the circumstances, including his insatiable appetite for certain drugs, it's not much of a stretch to come to the conclusion that Elvis actually died from chronic constipation(3).  That's a crappy way to die(4)

More on the death of Elvis, all be it a sanitized version, can be found HERE.

Elvis#8:  Revisionist History Elvis
This is the Elvis of Graceland.  The Elvis of countless impersonators.  The Elvis of legend and lore.  The Elvis that didn't have an unnatural affinity for his momma, didn't date a minor, didn't have Col. Tom Parker strong-arm songwriting credits away from actual song-wrinters(5) and wasn't the demanding customer of proto-Dr.Feelgood drug-dealer Doctor Nicky(6)


A final note of sorts:  
I don't dislike Elvis.  I really don't.  I grew up listening to some of his music, and as noted above, I've seen far too many Elvis movies (a.k.a. Elvis#4) in my life.  I'll also note that, when you look at what this guy packed into a life of 42 years, well, it's nothing short of truly amazing.  

However (and you knew there was a "however" coming), the notion of what Elvis represents does bother me.  This includes what's already been mentioned in this posting plus his cultural appropriation (and sanitization) of The Blues and the willful ignorance of those who admire him.  Yes, I know we are all flawed as human beings, but if you are going to stake your livelihood on being such a public person, you had better be prepared for the accompanying scrutiny.  When you look at the life of Elvis, well, it's actually not always such a pretty picture.

Thank You.  

Thank You Very Much.


* * * * * *


(1) The correct plural of "Elvis" is "Elvises", not "Elvii, although I will note that "Elvii" would sound much better.  Citation HERE.

(2) When using a phrase like "Elvis decided..." it's important to remember that, outside of say dating a 14-year-old while an adult, Elvis didn't make a ton of actual decisions himself.  The man behind the curtain was his manager/svengali, "Colonel" Tom Parker.  More on "The Colonel" can be found HERE.

(3) Modern medicine is a great thing.  While many medications provide a tremendous service to us, some work, in part, by disrupting the connections between nerves and your brain.  A side effect though is that they also disrupt some of the nerve signals in your digestive system, resulting in, among other things, chronic and debilitating constipation.

(4) With apologies for the bad pun, but come on, this is a posting about Elvis Presley for Pete's sake. Potty humor is to be expected.  Sh*t, I did it again.

(5) Basicly, Elivs' manager would force songwriters to give Elvis partial songwriting credit in exchange for recording their music.  Citation HERE.

(6) Dr. Nicky refers to the real-life doctor George C. Nichopoulos, who effectively was the Official Elvis Dope-Dealer.  "DrFeelgood" refers to a terrific song by Motley Crue (see hyperlink).









Wednesday, August 19, 2020

It's Not A Pension Plan

Just a quick clarification for the masses.  



Often times, when politicians (in particular) want to paint a rosy picture of the economy, they will point to the stock market and talk about employee's "401(k) Pension Plans" increasing in value.  Well call me a stickler for details, call me a cynic, and call me someone with many years working in the retirement plan business.  Just don't feed me that particular line, as it's simply not true.

The untrue part 401(k) Plans are not "Pension" plans.  Technically, they are considered "cash or deferral arrangements" according to the Internal Revenue Code.  This means that they do not provide any guarantee of benefits of any sort; employees basically just get out of it what they put in, plus any employer contributions (which are not mandated), plus any investment gains.  Or minus any investment losses.  These contributions and investment results, if positive, are tax deferred until a later date.  Basically, the employee bears all of the risks.

The above means that if an employee doesn't voluntarily put away enough money, well, technically speaking, they are "screwed".

A true part 401(k) Plans were never intended to be replacements for actual pension plans.  By way of definition, a true pension plan is one where an employee would work for "X" years and get a lifetime monthly payment, for example, of "Y dollars", based on their pay and years of service.   Basically, under a pension, the employer bears all of the risks. 

The vast majority of companies in the United States no longer offer true pension plans.  Most do offer 401(k) plans.

So how did we get into this pickle?  Call it another victim of an ever-increasing desire to reduce corporate expenses.  Basically, the tax code makes having a true pension plan unfavorable for all but a very small number of employers.  The details of why that is the case are out of scope for a blog posting, but if you want to read more, click on THIS LINK from Investopedia.com for more information.

A bottom line of sorts:  If you work for an employer with a true pension plan, well, that is terrific.  If you don't, and the employer offers a 401(k) (or 403b or 457) plan, then by all means participate and contribute as much as you possibly can.  Also, because these plans rely on you to make investment decisions, take advantage of any professional advice offered by your employer or your own financial advisor.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Conditioning the Air

I've probably mentioned once or twice over the years that I grew up poor.  Now not "we ate lard sandwiches and had holes in our shoes" poor, but definitely on the lower end of the economic scale.  This was something I was painfully aware of as a kid, where "painfully aware of" means that I was ashamed of it.  Now I could go down a rabbit hole on that one, and maybe I will one day, but for now, the thing that spurred this whole thought in my head was air conditioning.

As a side note, according to the United States government (via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), July 2020 was the warmest month ever.  Reference HERE.  As in the warmest, on average, for the entire planet.  Having spent July 2020 doing a lot of work outside (I have some free time; see HERE), this fact does not surprise me one iota.  

Anyway, growing up my single-parent mother worked the night shift.  Trying to sleep during the day is tough; trying to sleep during the day when it's hotter than Daisy Fuentes, circa 1988, is nearly impossible.  The solution for my mother was a set of dark curtains and, during the summer, an actual window air conditioner (I'm going to say AC from now on, as I'm already tired of spelling out "air conditioning").  That was a luxury which was more or less a necessity for her.  The rest of us lived in a completely un-air-conditioned environment.  Granted that this was the 1970's and very early 1980's, but it was still hot in June, July & August while living in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  

We survived.

Now I'm not going to turn this into a "kids today are soft..." kind of rant, because this isn't about kids.  While the cost of air conditioners has gone down dramatically since I was young, your average 10-year-old in 2020 probably still doesn't have the means to buy their own AC unit.  The extent to which I think AC is over-used these days, well, that's squarely on the shoulders of the adults in the world.

These days, our home as two ductless and two window AC units.  My office, from which all of this spew originates, is not a room where we use AC.  That's on purpose, by the way.  While getting hot and sweaty isn't on my short-list of fun things to do, I just don't like being in a room with AC for an extended period of time.  To me, fresh air, even if it is on the hot side, is far better than the alternative.  I do have a pedestal fan running in the office now, but I'd like to think that is just moving around the fresh air, as opposed to "conditioning" it.  One of the ductless AC units is in our bedroom, and we do use it if the night is going to be on the warm side.  This is in part because of the fact that I have, for my entire life, been engaged a running cold war (no pun intended) with sleep, so there's no sense in handing the "can't sleep" side some extra ammunition.  

Back to the point at hand.  Maybe I truly am the crazy one, but I look at almost hermetically sealed homes with a bit of disbelief.  Windows are truly fine and functional, and there are few things better than a summer breeze and the smell of nature in the air.  The improvement of simply making it cooler inside seems like it comes at just too high of a cost when you chronically miss those things.

By the way, next year's breezes here should include the smell of the honeysuckle I planted and have been dutifully caring for since April.  


Free advice:  Open your windows and actually smell the fresh air.

And wear a mask when you go outside for Pete's sake.




Friday, August 7, 2020

Voting By Mail & Social Media Flamethrowers

You've probably seen this little ditty floating around social media:


Personally, I think it's a great example of the kinds of things foreign agitators are doing in order to sow seeds of doubt in our political system.  The fact that the president has "mail-in vote fraud" as a standard talking point doesn't help either.  

Personally, I think the very idea of comparing voting to shopping is a load of rubbish.  Here's why:
  • Civil Responsibility - I don't have a civic responsibility to go shopping.  I do have a civic responsibility to vote.  In fact, I'd call it a civic obligation.  Comparing voting to shopping is simply ridiculous.
  • Choice - I can get toilet paper at any number of places.  If Walmart happens to be unusually wackadoodle on a particular day, I can go to Walmart light, a.k.a. "nameless __________ Dollar store".  I have no choice come election day.  I have to go to the one and only place where the government says I need to cast my ballot if I am to vote in person.
  • One Day of the Year - I can go shopping at Walmart 7 days a week if I so desire.  In fact, if I go into Walmart and see that it's too crowded, I can simply come back the next day.  No harm is done.  Primary election voting however is only one day during the year.  The powers that be have also seen fit to make it on a work-day for most.  This means that, for many folks, they may not be able to come back to a polling place if it is crowded.  None of us can come back the next day and vote.
  • Health & Safety - Walmart, for example, makes some kind of effort (laughable as it may seem at times) to keep their stores clean and to enforce mask and social distancing rules.  I have no idea though whether local poll and government workers will do the same on election day.  If the enforcement of mask-wearing by local governments is any indicator, we could be in for some trouble come election day at polling places.
The final point is the most important one for me.  I am, generally speaking, a pretty healthy guy, all things considered, & high-milage noted.  However, I did develop asthma in my 40's.  Among other things, this means that on those rare occurrences when I do get a cold (for example...which occurs about once every 18 months or so), I get really sick.  Sick as in I end up having to take steroids for a few weeks.  Trust me when I say that two weeks of feeling greasy and bloated is not all that much fun, but it's better than hospitalization.  What's more, COVID-19 is no Cold, and I'm not about to throw months of being extraordinarily careful about hand-washing, mask-wearing, and avoiding crowds away just because of some Russian troll farm-produced and widely circulated a social media piece.

By all means, vote in person if you are moved to do so.  That's your right, and honestly what's most important here is that you simply do vote.  However, an entire state (Oregon) has been voting by mail for years now without any issues.  In fact, the president himself and, as I understand it, all of the senior members of his administration, have regularly voted by mail without issue.  A mail-in ballot goes through the exact same United States Postal Service channels whether it is an absentee ballot or a mail-in ballot.  

The bottom line is this:  The arguments against voting by mail don't stand up when you think about it logically, which is precisely why these kinds of things are designed by Ivan and his comrades to elicit an emotional response.  I'm voting by mail in the November election because it's simply safer for me to do so and because it is proven to be a secure way for me to exercise my civil obligation.  

Don't be so willing to take social media bait.  

Think about these things logically, not emotionally.  

What we should be passionate about here is encourage everyone we know to vote in November, be it in person or via the mail.