Not Cease from Exploration

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lackawanna County Buying the (former) Globe Store

I wrote this on Thursday; since then Lackawanna County has voted to purchase the building.

* * * * * *

One of many articles on this topic can be found HERE.

This is one of those "not sure" kind of deals, at least from my perspective.

The good?
If it ultimately saves taxpayers money via office that can be proven in an external audit...then this is a good deal.  Conventional wisdom says that you're almost always better owning real estate than renting it.

The bad?
The "good" part works only if you assume that the county does in fact consolidate all of its offices.  Pardon my skepticism, but I wonder if that will actually happen.  Politicians...especially local ones that tend to switch parties like the seasons and who never met a camera lens they didn't big projects that are paid for with other folk's money.  I worry that the appeal of a big project will overshadow the only economic reason to actually do this in the first place.  What's more, this shouldn't be an excuse to expand the size of county government.  Government needs to be just big enough to provide for the safety, well being and public infrastructure of the citizens is serves, and no larger.  Northeastern Pennsylvania though has had something of a history of treating government like an employment agency for the well-connected, especially at the city and county level.  That simply perpetuates a "down trodden unless connected/trickle down from local politicians" mentality that I believe actually harms the local economy.  As I often tell people from outside the area, when I was growing up the very best jobs in northeastern Pennsylvania were at "da Depot" or at the Post Office.  How sad is that?

The indifferent?
If there was even a chance that a private enterprise would buy the Globe Store building and return it to the tax roles I'd say this whole idea is, well, stupid.  From what I've read though, it's not as if there are competing offers on the table.  The building is an icon for Scranton and deserves to be occupied.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Politics, April 2016

Greetings from 33,000 feet above sea level, somewhere between Los Angeles and Philadelphia.  Yes, I paid a relatively insane amount of money for in-flight wifi service, but it's a long flight and I had a good week, so what the heck.

I've really, truly been disgusted...yes, the political season this year, both at a local and a national level.  This season embodies so much of the worst in politics...

...rabid followers
...a "win at all cost" competitive environment
...adults acting like children

Some of this I squarely blame on Donald Trump.  This is a "man" who has mocked the disabled, likened Mexican immigrants to criminals, advocated for a religious test for immigration (only for Muslims, as if that were somehow determinable by a special appendage only found on Muslims), called for the United States to "carpet bomb" ISIS (knowing darn well that this would kill hostages and the forced brides & children of these monsters), etc.  I could go on, but that narrative has already been played out well enough.  I don't dislike anyone who is supporting Donald Trump...I merely feel bad for them, as they're acting without thinking.  We need less of that in this country.

Some of it is the fault of the system at large.  I am shocked at the outrage being directed towards the delegate system for electing Presidents in the United States.  Guess what?  It's not new.  I'd say that folks should have maybe stayed awake in high school Civics class, but that would be wrong because I strongly suspect that this probably isn't taught for the most part.  I wasn't taught to me in high school.  Anyway, this system is patently wrong, period.  The idea that a majority of a population can vote for a candidate (even Donald Trump) and yet that isn't reflected in how delegates ultimately act in selecting a party candidate is sickening.  Why even bother having the election?  Simply have party bosses select delegates and then have the delegates make the selection

Speaking of political parties, some of this is their fault.  The United States is one party away from a one party state.  Both political parties are more interested in ideology and winning than they are in actual governance.  I can simply point to budget posturing by both parties as evidence.  Both parties engage in shenanigans and bogus "magic" math when it comes to spending our tax dollars.  Both parties have their sometimes irrational sacred cows that exist mostly just to rally their base voters rather than actually create a better country for all; for the Republicans it's defense spending, for Democrats it's public education.  I do support both defense spending and public education, but both are in severe need of radical change.

Locally things aren't much better.  Lackawanna County has a "Tea Party Patriot" county commissioner who somehow believes that her Facebook comments should be held separate from her pronouncements as an elected official.  Guess what Ms Cummings?  Your words...spoken or typed...matter and have consequence, regardless of where you utter then.  It's time to stop acting like a 12 year old who shares Facebook pronouncements as a means to impress friends in junior high.  Oh, and by the way, Ms Cummings, who identifies herself as a Christian, should be very familiar with what Jesus commanded of his followers (as noted in the Gospel of Mathew, chapter 5, verses 43 to 47):

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?"

Walk the Christian talk Ms Cummings or get off the road.

It's not all gloom and doom.  I was glad to see representative Frank Farina lose in the primary election for one simple reason:  His inconsistent stand of the expansion of the Keystone Sanitary landfill.  I got the impression that Rep. Farina wanted it both ways:  He wanted voters to think he wasn't in favor of expansion while simultaneously not upsetting the politically powerful (and financially politicians) owners of the landfill.  Bad move.  Landfill expansion is the single most important issue facing elected officials in northeastern Pennsylvania and in my mind there is zero room for inconsistency.

The political season isn't even in full swing yet, so no doubt things may get much worse.  Maybe, just maybe, enough voters will be also be disgusted with the process such that there may actually be some real change in this country.  We can start with the elimination of the electoral college and the undue influence two political parties have over who gets elected to national office.  Another start would be for national and state governments to end all financial support for the political parties.  We all want informed voters to make decisions in this country, but part of achieving that goal has to include reducing the over-sized role that just two sets of political party bosses have on governance.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Birthday Posting

Random (and not so) observations on a birthday.

* * * * * *

I'm actually working on my birthday today, traveling on company business no less.  The last time I worked on my birthday? was a horrible day, as Eastern Airlines had declared bankruptcy and I had the joy of answering questions from "salty" mechanics about the status of their pension (something that, having been with the company almost 5 months, I was hardly in a position to do anyway).  When the day was done and after having debriefed by manager at the time, his response was classic:  "Know what your biggest mistake was today Steve?  You worked on your birthday.".  I've taken the day off ever since.

"Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories" (John Mellencamp, "Minutes to Memories").  Ever since turning about maybe 45, I honestly don't know, off the top of my head, my exact age.  It's almost surreal, as I have to actually think about it for a moment.  Good thing that 2016 is an even year, as it makes doing the math in my head (1964 to 2016) easier.

Growing up I don't recall ever having a birthday party.  That was fine with me, by the way, as back then (and now) I'm not much of a party person anyway.

Speaking of growing up, I have three brothers and we're all year apart.  I'm second from the top.  Once I figure out how old I am (see above) it's simple math to determine how old they are; the only hard part is trying to remember actual birthdays.  I have a horrible time remembering dates.  All dates, and it's not just about getting older either...I've always had this problem.  I think it has something to do with my span of attention in that unless something dangles in front of me I tend to not pay too much attention to it at the moment.  Dates included.  Especially.

One good thing about getting older?  I think you learn what truly is important in life...or at least you gain something of a better perspective.  Gifts and such are nice, but it's times like this when just a short message means a lot.

Growing older things begin to physical break, stress, fall out, thin out, hurt, ache and just generally not function as well.  Me (especially) included.  It's easy for that to be discouraging, but I try to keep it in perspective:  It could be...and probably will be...worse at some point. The point then?  I suspect it's that we all need to live in the moment.  Appreciate being able to walk, even if it's a tad bit uncomfortable, as you may not have that ability in the future.  Also appreciate those ailments that can actually be treated.  Life (and modern medicine) has given me more than one "do-over", and for that I am eternally grateful.

Speaking of "do-overs", in life I've learned that they aren't just about physical health and modern medicine.  Life gives us almost infinite opportunities to fix that which is crappy, re-align that which is out of wack, and chart a new course when the old one is taking us over a cliff.  You just have to be willing to:
a) Be honest...mostly with yourself...about the current situation.
b) Be willing to take an educated risk that the new maybe better than the old.
A life centered completely around "risk avoidance" doesn't seem like much of a life at all.  Life should be about thoughtful risk management.  Jumping out of plane is bad, unless you learn how to skydive and have a parachute, then (some) think it's fun.  Not me mind you...I don't like heights.

Speaking of thanks and thankfulness...Thank You to all who have wished me a happy birthday.  It means a lot.  I'm just glad it only happens once a year, as there's only so much attention I can actually handle at any given time.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Just about the perfect song

Lots of smart and articulate people will be writing eloquent things about the artist Prince, who passed away today.  I'm not going to do that, well not much.  Instead I'll simply say this:  One of my favorite songs of all time...something that I never tire of listening to...something that's as close to popular music perfection as anything ever the song "Take Me With U" from the Prince album and movie Purple Rain.  

I'd listen to this on a cassette as I drove down I81 in my 1974 Chrysler Newport, heading back to college in 1984-1986.

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Exploding Tangents

"Exploding Tangents" was the second thing I thought of to title this posting; the first was "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", but then I looked that up and figured it wasn't a good idea.

Mind you I don't really know what "Exploding Tangents" means.  It just sounded neat, and I've already over-used Procol Harum song lyrics.

If anything, my life has been far from explosive over the past days, weeks, etc.  It's been more like a slow simmer of sorts, which from time to time nearly boils over.  Sometimes that boil comes over into postings here, but I try to keep that in check.  The key word in that last sentence is "try" by the way, not always "succeed".

Self-indulgent?  Maybe so.  Heck, maybe I need to be a bit more self-indulgent.

Point blank, it's just been damn stressful lately.  Work.  Health.  Extended family.  School.  A mental disposition on my own part that makes me great at giving advice but nothing sort of awful at accepting it.  And I've had a nagging cold/allergy/asthma thing going on now for weeks.  Don't get me wrong:  The doing of these things on my plate in a way is the easy part.  In fact there is nothing on my plate at the moment that I can't do, with gusto no less.  It's the sum total of them though that gets to me sometimes.

I'd say that I take on too many things, but that's not true.  I've always been one for having too many things going on.  I have, after all, virtually no attention span to speak of, admittedly, so I'd probably feel worse if I didn't have this constant stream of stimulation.  Got catch-22?  I seem to have a knack for craving that which is probably least good for me.

Yet through it all, I strongly suspect, is the fact that the stuff which seems like poison is in fact the same stuff that helps keep me immune from poison.  Johnny Cash had it figured out in the song "A Boy Named Sue" (written by Shel Silverstein).  Go figure.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Random Assortment of Crappy Things...

...that have happened lately.  Note that this isn't an all inclusive list.

Broken finger.

One Word: Work.

Not enough sleep.

Two Words: Cracked toilet.

Three words: My Brother's Taxes.

Cold that has turned into Asthma issues.

Replacement to cracked toilet that didn't fit.

Less than stellar feedback on a recent research paper for school.

An income tax bill that's more than the combined value of my first four cars.

* * * * *

Now in fairness there has been some good news as well.  Maybe just not enough for the mojo to remain in equilibrium.

I'm still get to be married to this lady.

I'm going to see Wicked on Saturday.

A former colleague just landed a great new job.

I get another shot at research paper redemption Saturday after next.

I got some 'roids to deal with the Asthma...which means that I will gain temporary super powers but also become temporarily very greasy.

* * * * *

I'll confess that some of the above (on the bad list) was getting to me, but then some Facebook magic appeared in the form of this little ditty.

I need to remember to do a better job of "putting down the glass".

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Famous Person Dinner

It's something of a standard question asked, occasionally, of common folks during interviews:  If you could have a dinner party with a group of famous (and not so famous) folks, who would you invite?

Well for starters, while I'd like to invite my entire family, the reality is that I have to keep this to a reasonably sized list.  So no offense intended for anyone left off the list.

Here are my guests:

My wife.  I know, she's only famous in my book, but how could I have a famous person dinner without her?  Besides, someone needs to keep me on my toes.  And answer my questions about what fork to use at any given time.

Emily Dickinson.  She probably wouldn't be much of a conversationalist, but then again neither am I.  Maybe she could read one of my favorite poems.  Just not one of them that mentions "bees".  I'd also love to know how she came up with much of her work.  Did the poems just flow out of her?  How much did she edit her work prior to calling it a completed work?

Hunter S. Thompson.  I'm probably the least gonzo human being on the planet, yet I can think of few authors who have influenced how I think about things in general more than HST.  As I've noted here many times before, The Great Shark Hunt was the first time I ever read something that basically told me it was okay to be smart and a bit weird at the same time.

David Gates (the musician).  I've been a fame of David Gates' work for about as long as I've been really listening to music.  I actually got to see him perform years ago, and it was a memorable experience.  He also has a great story: Musically inclined from birth, moves from Tulsa OK to Los Angeles to make it big in the music business.

Berkeley Breathed.  In some ways, Mr Breathed is like an anti-Hunter S. Thompson, but yet they both have (or in HST's case, had) a wickedly funny sense for the ironic.  Bill the Cat is simply genius.

(from THIS website)

Bloom County more or less helped me get through the first year of my first job out of college.  I would buy the morning York, PA newspaper in route to work just to read Bloom County.

Howard Stern.  It's not often that we get to experience a true genius in our own lifetimes, yet that's what it's been like for me, over the decades, listening to Howard Stern's radio shows.  Be it cringe-worthy (and there are many times when I turn him off) or knee-slapping hilarious, Howard basically created a form of radio that didn't really exist prior to his gaining prominence.  Note that if he wasn't available, the substitutes from his show would be, in order:  Fred Norris, Baba Booey or Jackie Martling.  Sorry Robin.

Cokie Roberts.  Man, how cool would it be to talk politics over dinner with Cokie Roberts?  Like many on this list, Ms Roberts is someone I've been listening to for years.  She's a trusted voice in a sea of voices that are mostly not trustworthy.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Doing the heart rate fandango

(Attempting to be metal...not a good move for an ABBA fan)

Yesterday was something of a culmination:  Nearly 60 days after it was determined that both my heart rhythm and rate were majorly screwed up, I was to have myself shocked back into some sense of normalcy.  Now just make things interesting, I started to come down with my "once every 18-24 months" cold on Tuesday.  Honestly, I just wanted to get this over with, so there I was on Wednesday morning, hoping that a sore throat wouldn't impede my cardiologists ability to zap me into normal.  As it turns out I likely didn't sound too sick (I was trying to not sound sick, for the record) or they didn't feel like rescheduling me either, so after a quick consult after arriving it was deemed that I was fit to be treated.

The worst part of the experience?  That was the waiting, which all told isn't the worst thing I ever had to endure.  Major kudos of the incredibly professional cardiology staff at Geisinger CMC, as they were nothing short of terrific.  I barely felt the IV going in.  "Ray", one of the procedure nurses, even got my 70's reference to holding a hotdog between my fingers as I was being zapped.

(200 joules and a Ballpark; from THIS page.)

The treatment was successful and now my heart seems to operate according to factory specs.  Granted I couldn't feel that I had a problem before anyway.  I will admit though that the inside of my chest does feel different since the procedure...if feels "lighter".  Then again maybe that's the cold.  Who knows?  Oh, and my chest itches something fierce where the paddles were applied.  

From here, well I have more appointments ahead and potentially a sleep study to try and figure out if poor sleep is contributing to all this madness.  I'm also going to be on a blood thinner for the long haul, which on one hand isn't all that bad...I don't randomly spurt blood at the slightest nick and/or cut...but on the other hand kind of stinks, as I'm limited to what cold medications I can take now (read:  Basically very few, as most has some impact on heart rate).  

There will be more weight loss (I'm at 20 & counting), far less caffeine and some consciously better work at stress reduction.  In the grand scheme of bad health news, I am getting off rather easy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

500,000 or so... views since I started this in 2008.  Actually I probably crossed that line a while ago, as I didn't start the counter until well into 2009.

The number isn't all that important by the way, at least not as an absolute value.  There are pages that get that many hits in half a day after all.  What really matters, at least for me, is that I really and truly enjoy doing this writing gig.  In fact, I'd do it if no one was reading it.  Songwriter David Gates explained it well in "The Guitar Man":

"Then the lights begin to flicker and the sound is getting dim
The voice begins to falter and the crowds are getting thin
But he never seems to notice he's just got to find
Another place to play"

I'm not even in the same dimensional plane of reality talent-wise when compared to Mr Gates, but I understand his sentiment.

Art?  I don't think so.  The day that anything I do is considered art will be the day when it will start rain fire, with cats and dogs living together (thanks Dr Venkman).

Passion?  Maybe a little.

A voice?  Most definitely.

Ego?  Not really.  Quite frankly, must of what I've written over the years wouldn't pass muster in a junior high creative writing class.  At a crappy junior high no less.  That's okay by the way.

Regrets?  None.  I've mentioned before that I almost never read old postings.  Some are down-right cringe worthy from several different perspectives, but yet I still won't delete anything I've written.

Proud?  In some ways yes.  When I started writing this I set some ground-rules for myself, mostly unwritten, that I can rightfully say I've followed all these years.  That's good.  What's also good is the fact that I tangibly see how I've gotten better at expressing myself over the years as well.  That's the "almost" in "almost never read old postings" part, by the way.

Maybe, just maybe, it is all about expression.  I readily confess that I find more than a few elements of basic human interaction to be painfully difficult.  I am terrible striking up a conversation with someone.  I feel horribly awkward in many social interactions.  I'd much rather speak in front of 200 people than have to mingle at a party.  Yet I can do this in a reasonably okay manner.

Now I know I've said that I don't much care if anyone reads these postings, but yet how could I can be anything but thankful that many have over the years?  Another paradox of sorts in a life full of paradoxes.

So thank you, whomever and wherever you are, for reading this posting.   And thank you to all those who have read any of the 1,759 previously published postings.  It's been worth it for me...and...if I've entertained or stimulated or cheesed you off, well then maybe it's been worth it for you as well.  Honestly, I'll take any reaction.

See you at a million.

- Steve

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Re-post: At the Garden of Gethsemane

Note...I re-post this around Easter time most years, mostly because I have always found the underlying story of faith to be very insightful and inspiring, even as my own faith waxes and wanes.

The original posting was from 2009, or so I think.


One of the most insightful (at least for me) biblical stories is found in the Gospel of Matthew, and deals with Jesus Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane. In case you are not overly familiar with the story, it takes place the day before the Crucifixion. The details aren't so important to this discussion other than Christ goes to this garden to pray, knowing full well that He would be betrayed by Judas, turned over to the Romans, and ultimately put to death.

Now what's so insightful about that?

Well according to Christian teaching, Christ...being God...knew that by going to Gethsemane He would ultimately be put to death. At any point He could have changed His path and spared His own life, but He chose not to. He consciously sacrificed His own life, if you believe in Christian teaching, for the greater good of all mankind.

To this day, people make conscious choices for the greater good that ultimately lead to their death. For example Father Mychal F. Judge, a Franciscan priest, went into the south tower of the World Trade Center after it had been hit by an airplane to minister to the wounded. While history doesn't record whether or not he thought he would die, it's pretty clear he knew what he was doing was exceptionally dangerous.  I'm sure there are dozens of stories, year after year, of our soldiers making similar decisions.

In the final analysis, some of us will be faced with our own "Garden of Gethsemane", where we need to make a choice between self-preservation or the greater good. Ultimately that is the most personal of decisions that anyone can make, and furthermore I doubt any of us are prospectively capable of saying what we would do if put into that situation.  Present time simply can't adequately model that for us, which maybe is a good thing.  There is, however, no greater love that can ever be expressed than through the thoughtful and conscious act of sacrificing oneself for the greater good.