Not Cease from Exploration

Monday, June 26, 2017

Of loss and feeling cheated

Preface:
I’m going to apologize in advance for any funkiness with regards to the font and/or text size, as I am working with a hodgepodge of not-so-finely coordinated tools this week, involving much copy and pasting, a tethered cell phone internet connection and probably several other things I am forgetting at the moment.

* * * * * *
Sunday, June 25, 2017
The older I get, the more I appreciate the lyrics in some of Roger Waters' Pink Floyd songs.  For the benefit of the un-initiated, some of his songs (such as the incredible “Wish You Were Here”) deal with the loss, if you want to call it that, of band founder Syd Barrett.  You can Google the details if you want.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

I’m on a much needed vacation this week, and part of the “much needed” part, I think, comes from a need to mentally deal with loss.  It’s not as if I haven’t already tried; well, in point of fact, I haven’t really tried.  Part of me doesn’t really know how to deal with this stuff.  I have a lifetime of mostly avoidance when it comes to dealing with such things, going back to when I was a kid and my mother would be yelling at the top of her lungs and I would find some safe place to weather the verbal storm.  Some skills, if you want to call them that, stay with you for a very long time.

The loss, for what it's worth, is really two-fold:  My (former) job and my brother, both of which I thought/had hoped would be with me for far longer.  Both of which, I will also add, provided me with plenty of cues that they wouldn’t (be with me far longer).  In both cases, my ability to deal with strong emotions by mostly not feeling them has been on full display for only me to see.  For the record I know this is unhealthy, but in an almost odd quasi-parallel to my brother, I’m not sure I know how to stop.  At best, over the years this blog as been one of the few ways I can try to sort things out in my own head.  Sad but true, you just happen to be along for the ride.

I want to also add that part of how I feel is a certain kind of disgust at myself.  The worst possible thought bubble I have about others is that “they are weak”, which is precisely why, I think, I struggle dealing with my dual losses:  I simply don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be that “weak” person who can’t get over stuff.

To the extent I have dealt with anything it was been my loss of a job, poured mostly into my new job.  I feel a kind of frenetic whirl as I am at my (new) job, so much so that there have been a few days when my chest has literally been pounding as the day ends.  I am shocked and almost dismayed at the level of concentration I put into it, so much so that I almost feel like a different person.  In some ways, it just doesn’t seem like me; at best it’s this turbo-charged on steroids version of me.  It’s like this heavy suit I put on when I go to work and take off as I leave Jessup, Pennsylvania.  To make matters truly surreal, I have simply wonderful co-workers…they are professional, exceptionally well qualified (as well qualified a team as you find in any organization, bar none), and hard-working.  In fact, I couldn’t ask for a better group of folk to work with, which adds a kind of exclamation point to the notion that how I feel is a kind of manufactured (in my own head) reality.  Yes, I landed well, but far too often my thoughts go back to the one-way 30 second video conference call that ended my nearly 28 year prior career. 

To that last point, I don’t even recall what she said in the 30 second video stream, other than the outcome.

Monday, June 26, 2017
I had hoped that my brother would have been around for much longer.  Part of me envisioned spending more time with him as we got older.  We had talked, for example, about going in an exploratory hike around the old Rocky Glen amusement park.  I knew he would be able to retire early, as he had worked for the federal government for most of his life, and that this would afford him some level of comfort.  The idea of maybe going on vacation with Chris and his wife had crossed my mind as well.  With Chris, or so the Chris I like to remember from years past, there was a kind of independence.  I didn’t have to worry about him, or help him, or otherwise be the “smart, successful one”, something that pains me on so many levels.  Of course, as the years went by and his illness began to consume his life much like a cancer, all of that went out the window, and I was left at the bitter end being someone who did in fact worry about him, as well as helping him out financially (which, I will add, was a mistake…but a mistake I would make over and over again).  Chris was one of the few people in my life that I truly had a shared experience with, who could understand some of the dynamic that shaped our mutual and perturbed views on life.

I feel robbed, that somehow life has needless cheated me out of two important things, and for the life of me, I didn't really ask for all that much in the first place.  I functionally didn’t have a father growing up.  I had a mother who was incredibly bitter and angry much of the time.  Was it too much to ask to at least have all of my brothers?  Apparently it was.

Growing up, Chris and I were both every different, yet we also had so much in common.   In an odd sort of way, it’s as if we were both cut from the same cast, but we both drifted in opposite directions.  My brother was a smart guy in every sense of the word.  If he set his mind to something he achieved it.  With rare exception, he was successful at just about everything he attempted in life.  He was persistent and passionate, two qualities that I greatly admire in anyone, let alone my brother.  He was also supremely confident…from the outside…so much so that he could be accused of arrogance.

Where we drifted apart, it was, I think, in how we handled the stresses of growing up in our dysfunctional environment.  Where I drew inward, he lashed outward.  My coping skills included over-thinking and rumination, while his mostly included rebellion.  Chris was, without a doubt, a rebel with a cause, with that “cause” being fighting back against an upbringing that he somehow viewed as having cheated him.  He ran away to the Navy and I ran away to college, but since I was the far more cautious of the two, I waited two years.  We both knew that something was off in our childhood, but neither of us had the skills to actually understand, let alone cope, with the circumstances.  And I’m still looking.

Perhaps what I saw in my brother was a final chance of having someone around whom, as we were both older and wiser, would be able to help finally and fully unpack our shared childhood.  I’ve been cheated out of someone who understood, at a very basic level, this far too difficult to explain shared experience.  Chris was someone who, in the absence of real answers, would at least be able to offer some affirmation that it wasn’t “just me”.

In the end, I know that, deep down, I am still truly blessed, and that everyone carries their own cross in life, even if some are far heavier than others.  Mine may, in fact, be relatively light.  Still, maybe my hope had been that my dues in this part of life were prepaid in years past, that somehow at this point things would less dramatic.  Note that I never wrote the word “easier”, because I get that part:  No one ever says that life is or should be easy. 

So here I sit, on a back porch overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on a very sunny Monday morning.  There is a breeze in the air, and a boat in the bay putting down or pulling up crab pots.  My legs are a tad bit sore from a 6 mile + bike ride (with my mother-in-law, no less), but otherwise I am fully functional.  If ever there was a place where answers could be found, it's likely here.  At the very least, it feels peaceful.  Maybe...just maybe...that's what I really need right now:  Some peace.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

When the "I am emotionally indestructible" body armor comes off every once in a while (such as now), you can probably get me to admit that little things such as Father's Day are meaningful.  Hearing from all three daughters (and having dinner & quality time with one) and receiving a card from my stepsons was very nice, even if today was something of a whirlwind of activity.  For me though, fast-paced days are probably the best days I can have, if for no other reason than they serve the invaluable purpose of getting me out repetitive cycles of thinking about things and towards simply just living things.

Speaking of Father's Day, I was talking to my youngest daughter about being a father, and she told me about someone she knew who was afraid to be a father, mostly because this young man didn't have a good role model growing up.  I could relate to that on one level, and one of my brothers chose to not be a father for pretty much the same reason.  However, I always took the opposite approach:  My father was a tremendous asset to me as a parent for one simple reason:  He shows me what not to do.  Looking back now over a span of something like 50 years, I can only recall now a few interactions with my father...

...that time he took me to a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  I can still smell the beer, cigarette smoke and urine hanging over the place like some death cloud.

...that one time I remember him being in our house on Pine Street.  I didn't appear to end well.

...the time he gave me a bottle of shampoo as a gift.

...the few times I (and my brothers) would meet him in some flop hotel where he would dole out $75 to each of us.

...the times when I would take my mother to visit him in the veteran's home in Dundee, New York.

Not exactly Leave It To Beaver kind of stuff.  Still though, in life, we are given a set of circumstances, and what we choose to do with those circumstances defines who we are as human beings.  I never occurred to me to not be a father myself because of how I was raised.  I did, from time to time, worry that I didn't exactly know how to be a father, but along the way I met a few good men (such as my ex-wife's late father) who provided me with good examples to follow.  When I didn't know what to do I simply did my best, hoping that positive intent would trump flawed execution.

Back at the present day, I continue to do my best as a father, which means that I continue to probably make plenty of mistakes, all be it well-intentioned ones.  While that sounds like something of a downer, I can say the following with complete certainty:  In a life where showing up is half the battle, I've already succeeded in learning from my own father, as I did, in fact, actually show up.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mindfulness

We have an initiative at work related to wellness, and while I do confess that I've struggled with parts of it (the initiative...and...well...wellness as a whole), at my core I know it's a good thing.  A really good thing.  As part of this initiative, the HR team gets together every other week to talk about what we're doing to promote wellness within our group.  Now there are other elements to this, including group competitions, and theme days (Fruity Fridays), but I'm not going to get into any of that; if you're interested in this from a professional standpoint you can always contact me via email.  Anyway, one of the things we're striving to do as a team is to have an informational topic (related to wellness, of course) discussed during a bi-weekly meeting.  Being something of an idiot/glutton for punishment, I volunteered to speak at the next wellness get together on the topic of mindfulness.

The "idiot" part, above, is more than just simply Trumpian hyperbole...there's something of a basis in fact, as while I know a fair amount about mindfulness, I struggle mightily with it.  Given close to 2,000 postings, I know I've written about this topic before, and will likely write about it again.  So sue me.  The point is this:  I have to give a little talk about mindfulness on Friday.

I have some ideas as to what I'm going to say.  Probably the bigger question though is this:  Why did I volunteer to do this in the first place?  In some respects, you can forget "struggle mightily"; I would say that I actually suck at it.  Maybe this makes me an ideal candidate to talk about mindfulness, as I'm something of an exaggerated version of everyone who struggles with a mind that wanders off of the present moment like seagulls just happen to wander into a dropped pizza slice on a Jersey boardwalk.

By way of a virtual time machine, I spent a lot of my child and young adulthood struggling mightily with worrisome thoughts about both the past and the future.  I wasn't fond of where I came from, and I was constantly worried that someone would "find me out" as being the fraud I was in the not-too-distant future.  In fact, being a father at an early age (mid-20's) was something of a saving grace for me, in that it almost forced me to back away from so many destructive thoughts and instead focus on taking care of business for my family.  Of course, back in those days, it wasn't called "mindfulness".

Fast forward in the virtual time machine to when my children were no longer children, and I had to face a kind of existential crisis of my own, much of which is documented in the early days of this blog.  It was at that point, struggling mightily with a few things, that I actually began to read about the importance of being who you are, about how utterly useless ruminating about the past was, and how much of one's life is wasted worrying about the future.  In a kind of very real sense, I needed to be told these things (but smart people who have written books), just as we are all told very fundamental things early in our lives.  It's just that this fundamental thing didn't make it to me until I was something like 46 years old.

"But Steve, you always seemed like you had your act together."

The key word in that sentence is "act".  I very much moved through life making it sometimes by sheer force of will, all the while dealing with perceived inadequacies, both real and imaginary.  My superpower back then was perseverance.  What I wanted was something cooler, like lasers shooting out from my highly dysfunctional eyes; instead, I got self-inflicted shame and pervasive worrying (oh, and perseverance).

So yes, I did learn quite a bit about mindfulness.  About not wasting my precious time on Earth worrying about what might come.  About compartmentalizing thoughts centering on the past into two basic buckets:  Things that could help me appreciate the today and...well...garbage.  I've also learned how mindfulness shows up in our daily lives.

What's the most important thing I've learned about mindfulness?  That's actually a simple question to answer:  Mindfulness isn't a place...or an achievement...or a badge of honor...or a rank...or a guru status.  It's not something you are able to master, at least not in how I think about such things.  No, mindfulness is a practice.  There is no goal, other than to simply practice it.  Practicing it more doesn't necessarily make me better at it by the way.  In fact, of late I've been struggling with the practice, but this is yet more proof that it is a practice in the first place.  Expressed another way, "trying to practice" actually is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness, at its heart, is the simple act of simply being.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Body Count

This weekend I had the home to myself, as my wife and my stepsons were in Massachusetts visiting family members.  I would have gone, but I'm saving up my vacation time for an upcoming trip (the trials and tribulations of the new employee).  Anyway, the timing was actually pretty good, as I had been meaning to do work on our second-floor porch, which just happens to be about 6 feet from where I type this very posting.  A quiet house meant that I could make a lot of noise...and grime...with only the cats to offend.  The actual work, by the way, went well.

By way of digression, we really liked the second-floor porch when we bought the house, but it was probably the most shabby part of the structure.  Structurally, by the way, it's in very sound condition.  However, the screening seems to pre-date the Korean War, and as a result, it just had to go.  While just replacing the actual screens would have been okay, I preferred, as I usually do, to take a far more difficult route, namely to rip out the screening and its framing.  The underlying idea was to go from 7 panels of screening to 4, improving the amount of light, airflow, Feng Shui, etc.

(front facing panels, before)

(front facing, new framing)

Oh, who am I kidding:  I just like to play with tools and break things.  Where "things" hopefully don't include body parts.

I do, in all candor, have a habit of injuring myself with most household projects that involve things that are heavy, sharp, or otherwise even remotely dangerous.  There was the time, for instance, where I literally filleted my leg as I was cutting drywall (afterward I learned "never use your leg as a cutting board").

Anyway, I did, in fact, remove all of the old screens and associated framing, as well as building the structure for the new screens.  See above; I actually made more progress than what you see in the photo.  My wife does most of the painting work in the house...well the painting that requires decent eyesight to execute...so things are pretty close to being turned over to her for phase two of the project.

As far as breaking things, well, no broken bones.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  Well, there's this...

(with apologies for showing an unadorned body part, and yes, I dropped lumber on my foot)

...and a few cuts to my fingers.  One of the cuts was on the bleed-y side, so much so that I ended up having to undue some electrical work (part of the project involves replacing a porch-mounted flood light), as I started to bleed all over the wires.  Can you imagined how that would have smelled had the power come on?  The bruising and bleeding comes a bit more easily these days, thanks in part to modern pharmacology's wonderful blessing of next-generation blood thinners.  

For the record, I'm actually pretty good with electrical work, and, believe it or not, have never accidentally so much as lightly shocked myself.  For the life of me, I'm not entirely sure how this is even possible.
 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bad News on the Doorstep

There was a tragic event in my neck of the Pennsylvania woods this week, details HERE.

It's not worth me telling the story of what happened, mostly because I don't know.  Well, I know something horrible happened, I know there was violence, I know that are likely mental health issues at play.  I know enough to reference this for the posting.  I don't want to know anymore.

It's simply too difficult for me to process this kind of thing, at least now.

Speaking of now, I'd like to think of myself as a mentally tough individual, and perhaps that's true on most days and/or months.  It's certainly true some of the time, but even I can get overloaded when it comes to death and despair.  Since the passing of my brother, well, it feels as if my emotional bank account has been running at something of a deficit.  At most, I can feel deeply for the families of those who died in this story, including the perpetrator of this horrible crime.  It's easy to be angry at this young man...the perpetrator...but he was certainly someone who was suffering as well.

There is a kind of irony to this posting actually when you think about it:  I feel emotionally vacant at times, in part because of the death of my brother, and this young man was likely exploding with emotion such that he caused deaths.

A friend on Facebook posted an update related to those who suffer from mental health issues, which is certainly a right and noble thing to do in this circumstance.  It's that posting, and my reply to it, that drove me to this space.  My overwhelming thought?  There is just so much collateral damage that comes from dealing with mental illness, and true to form, the closer you are to it, the more damage it inflicts on you.  When you are in that circumstance it can become exceptionally difficult to know just what is the rational thing to do.  Logic and proportion fall sloppy dead*.  It's the ultimate puzzle full of pieces, some of them missing, and no picture on the box for guidance.

As I noted in my reply to that Facebook posting, my heart goes out to those suffering as a result of this horrible event.  May they eventually find some peace.




(*) With a nod to the Jefferson Airplane.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A (Stern) Catholic Upbringing

I've had this posting in my head for a number of years, and for whatever reason, it's been percolating even more so lately.  That's probably a sign that I need to "work out the poison".  For the record, I write this as someone who probably owns more books on religion and religious thought that most non-clergy folks.

(A small sampling)

I mention my small book collection not because I want to impress...or whatever the opposite of impress is...anyone, but more so just to make a point, namely that I do think about the bigger things in life (this life and maybe the next one) often.  And I do seek answers, although I also confess that for the most part, my searching tends to yield more questions than anything else.

Much of how I see and seek things in the area of faith and religious thought comes from how I was raised.  My mother, born a Baptist (or so I believe) converted to Catholicism in the early 1960's.  While pretty busy as a poor single parent, she never the less insisted that her boys attend church ever Sunday.  We were also altar servers for many, many years, and three of us Albert boys attended a Catholic high school, more or less in spite of my mother's ability to actually pay for it.  From a religious formation perspective, I think we got the standard drill, or as Mother Angelica would later call it, "Catechesis".  For me, it was so well ingrained that I was able to become the president of the Catholic students group my senior year of college.  So where did things fall off the rails?

Thinking back to when I was far thinner (both in weight and in critical thinking skills), the over-riding word that would describe growing up Catholic was "stern".  In our parish, we had a stern older priest who didn't actually seem to like kids all that much.  The parishioners didn't seem to like kids all that much either.  I remember stern lectures from the pulpit about the noise made by kneelers going up at inappropriate times, about folks who would leave the church right after receiving communion, about countless other items.  For a church building that was actually (in hindsight) pretty beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, it was not such a beautiful place to be in, truth be told.

The standard rub you hear about Catholics, by the way, is that it's too much about rules and regulations.  A kind of "paint by numbers" mentality towards the hereafter, whereby if you just do the right things, if you go through the right motions, somehow your celestial punch-card will be sufficiently full as to allow you to sit on a cloud after you die.  I get that criticism, and on one level I even agree with it, but it was never the thing that really made my Catholic upbringing so unattractive in the rear-view mirror.  The retrospective has afforded me the luxury of seeing a much bigger paradox:  For a place that somehow celebrated a loving God, it was just not a very happy or loving place.  As I said, a stern place lead by a stern priest, and full of stern and unwelcoming people.  As a young kid, it wasn't shocking that I also viewed God in this kind of stern light.  Now I did meet more than a few wonderful priests both back and since then, but as a young kid, the happy and engaged priest was the exception, not the rule.

A byproduct of my Catholic upbringing was a kind of latent fear of being anything other than, well, a Catholic.  While I've always loved reading about other religious philosophies (as a teenager I read every single book the Scranton Public Library had on the Mormon Church), even as a kid I could never make the leap away from being a practicing Catholic.  I was in my 40's before I stopped going to church on a semi-regular basis.  Why then?  I suspect it was more to do with a lot of the pressures I had back then in my life, with the underlying nut being that this thing that was supposed to bring me comfort...namely a religious faith...didn't.  As I've written on the blog before, there was also the issue of divorce that I had to later contend with, but by the time that issue crept up in my life, well, the ship had already sailed.

There's been a lot written (including a very insightful Pew study you can link to HERE) that goes into detail about the decline of organized religion in the United States.  Maybe what I've written here is mirrored by others, and quite frankly I don't have the time or the energy to see if that's actually the case.  In a sense that line of thought really doesn't matter anyway, as while religion is a collective action, it is also inherently a deeply personal one as well.  My 40 years of trying to find at least one answer in the faith of my upbringing left my pretty empty handed, but certainly not bitter.  If anything, I have tremendous admiration for those that actually do find answers (or at least comfort) in their faith.  That's a super-power that I lack.

It would be easy from the above text to think that I'm angry or disillusioned with organized religion, but that's actually not the case.  In fact, I think I have more admiration for organized religion now than I ever had in the past.  While as a kid what I saw was a sea of sternness, now I actually know people that find answers and comfort in their faith, regardless of the actual faith (including Catholics).  That's a good thing.  Me?  I'm just going to keep reading.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Scranton Sewer Authority Sale (Move along...Nothing to see here folks)

(Photo credit HERE)

Ponder just how fishy the whole Scranton Sewer Authority deal has become, what with a sitting mayor being less than enthusiastic about a full disclosure of legal fees...legal fees that just happened to be paid to some law firms that also just happened to contribute to his re-election campaign.  For example, the Scranton Times noted in its May 27th edition that an attorney whose law firm received about $200,000 in fees from the Scranton Sewer Authority sale also just happened to give $5,000 to Mayor Courtright's campaign just this year (citation HERE).  As noted by the Scranton Times, this is in addition to the over $14,000 in contributions given to Mayor Courtright's campaign from this same attorney over the years.

This leads me to a perfectly reasonable question:  Is it possible that the $5,000 in contributions were just recycled proceeds from the $200,000 in Sewer Authority sale legal fees?

Making matters even more maddening is the decision by the Sewer Authority board to not ask the State Auditor General's office to conduct an independent audit of the sale.  Gee, now why would they not want such a thing done?  Oh, and the audit itself is needed because of the Sewer Authority's refusal to provide full disclosure of just what the seven figures in legal fees incurred during the sale actually paid for; per the Scranton Times, the legal work records provided by the authority to the newspaper were so redacted as to be practically useless in terms of actual information provided.  The official reason for the redactions is that the information in question involves attorney-client privilege.
Stop here for a moment and note that this was a sale of a public entity, where the sale proceeds went to public governments (Scranton and Dunmore).  If anything, the public itself is a client in all of this mess.  The legal fees, by the way, were in excess of three million dollars (citation HERE).

Another perfectly reasonable question to ask:  Was any of the legal work in question related to lobbying efforts in support of the deal?

Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright is DEAD WRONG in defending a lack of transparency when it comes to the Sewer Authority sale.  I challenge any supporter of the Mayor to provide a reasonable defense of LESS TRANSPARENCY in this deal (and I will gladly publish that defense, word for word, in this blog).  When faced with legitimate questions about just what over three million dollars in legal fees paid for, well, Mayor Courtright's response is that the public just needs to understand the deal (citation HERE).  Call me crazy, but perhaps the public would better understand the deal if there was a full disclosure of just what was received for all of the legal work performed.

The public has an absolute right to a 100% accounting of every penny associated with this sale; anything less simply screams the old-school, backroom, pay-to-play politics that have been typical of Scranton's municipal government for decades.  The sale itself may, in fact, be a perfectly good idea, all be it one now tainted by a shameful lack of transparency.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Road Apples, #172

Courtright Gets It Wrong...The Scranton Times pretty much nails it in an editorial published today (you can read it HERE), rightfully criticizing the Mayor of Scranton for this steadfast defense of secrecy and his defaulting to the tried and true Scranton politician line of "trust me I know what's best".  I'm curious as to how anyone...really, seriously, ANYONE...can defend the lack of transparency related to lawyers fees associated with the Scranton Sewer Authority sale.  Yes, I understand the concept of attorney-client privilege, but this is the sale of a PUBLIC ASSET, so every aspect of the deal should be fully transparent.  

Truly bad phishing example...I do find it funny when phishing emails are actually written in broken English, of the sort that you'd hear spoken in some awful 30's era Charlie Chan movie.  Here's a recent example...
"...just sign in from a new device, we just make sure that you are doing this activity."

Popcorn...I have a love-hate relationship with popcorn.  In moderation, I am fine with it.  In excess?  Well, let's just say that the words "explosive abdominal decompression" come to mind.  Of course, when I go to the movies, as I did on last Saturday to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the word "moderation" isn't on my mind as I am chain-eating a bag full of the greasy stuff, courtesy of Movies 14 in downtown Wilkes-Boro.  I will never learn.

Mother's Day...Last Sunday was mother's day and for all the mothers out there, well, a belated here's to you!  There are few harder jobs in the known universe than being a (good) mother, and sadly it seems like the bad one's get all the press these days.  My mother passed away in 2013, and while in retrospect I had a very difficult upbringing, it's never the less fitting and proper that she be appropriately acknowledged.  Here's to you Mom, wherever you are...

(circa 1977, in Atlantic City NJ; Mom, Chris, Joe & Steve)

Rubberbanding...I'm finally starting to get out of my rubberband feelings (see HERE), although I suspect that I'm going to have odd feelings about free time for a while yet to come.  What helps is having a full slate of home projects to focus on; first up is some work on our kitchen, where wallpaper has been steamed off the walls and things are getting ready for some painting.  For the record, if you have wallpaper in your house BUY A STEAMER!  It dramatically reduces the time and effort required to remove old wallpaper and it doesn't smell like fermented urine either.  After the kitchen is done I have a project for my home office in the wings, which fortunately involves a road trip to IKEA.

What's I'm Currently Reading...I pulled a few quotes from David Foster Wallace to use in some work I'm doing, so it's only natural that I'd want to read another of his books.  I'm just starting to read Consider the Lobster and Other Essays.  My only negative feedback?  The type in the paperback edition is very, very small.  

President Snowflake...A good read by Tony Schwartz (who wrote Art of the Deal) for the President, can be found HERE.  Some of what Schwartz wrote mirrors comments by Howard Stern regarding how much the President must hate his job.  The truly ironic part?  It's Trump's ardent "Alt-Right" supporters that like to call liberals "Snowflakes", but yet is there a bigger, more delicate snowflake out there than Donald Trump? 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scranton School Board Primary Election 2017

I still follow politics (more or less) in Scranton, and of all the races out there, the most interesting, by far, are those for open positions on the Scranton School Board.  With that in mind, here's a point of consideration for all you Scranton voters out there:  

YOU ARE CRAZY IF YOU VOTE FOR ANY CANDIDATE THAT HAS A FAMILY MEMBER WHO WORKS FOR THE DISTRICT.  

Granted that the mental health professionals out there (including my daughter Stinky) probably take offense to my use of the word "crazy" so how about "incredibly foolish" instead?  

Here's my logic for the above:  When these folks take office and they have to vote for either...

a) The fiscal health of the District

OR

b) The fiscal health of their family

...what do you think will win out in the end?  I can tell you who will lose...the taxpayers.  Yes, conflict of interest is a real thing, in spite of what many local politicians will have you believe.  Granted that the local school board in my neck of the woods isn't much better, although I'm reasonably sure that the president of our school board at least graduated from high school.  Now I know, the current Scranton School District board president Sheridan has a G.E.D., but just let that one sink in for a moment...the president of a school board failed to graduate from high school.  How is that not like nominating someone who dropped out of basic training to be head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?  

(The U.S. Joint Chief's of Staff; all completed basic training)

For the record, having a G.E.D. doesn't speak to president Sheridan's intelligence...or the intelligence of anyone else with a G.E.D. for that matter.  What it does speak to though is his (specific) commitment to life-long learning and fitness to lead an organization that is designed to deliver formal education to children.  Call me crazy, but I somehow think that the folks running an educational system should have a vested interest in...and committment to...education.

Speaking of the President of the Scranton School Board, he too has a conflict of interest (in my opinion), namely that he is also President of the Scranton City Democratic Committee.  Given the choice between doing what's right for taxpayers OR bolstering his political party, what will Mr. Sheridan do?  I don't believe that these kinds of conflicts arise all the time, but consider this scenario:  A less-qualified by highly loyal party operative is looking for employment in the district and finds an open position.  The competition for that position is someone who lacks local political connections but is better qualified for the job.  Who wins?  Come on now, we all know that answer, and the Scranton School District is saddled with yet another life-long, politically connected employee.  It's a perverse "Circle of Life" kind of thing, but this time featuring weasels instead of lions.

The Scranton School District is headed for a state takeover, and while painful, I also think it's necessary.  Simply put, the Scranton School Board is incapable, mostly by virtue of competence (as in the lack of), of managing its way out of the current and long-simmering financial crisis that stands at more than $33.6 million.  The current board did not create this crisis, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania contributed to it in a significant way*, but in the end, this same current board has continued a long history of mismanagement and nepotism that goes back decades in Scranton.  They choose not to make tough choices so tough choices will be made for the next board.


* * * * * *


(*) There has been much written about Pennsylvania's public sector pension crisis, and I'll not add to that here, other than to say it's my opinion that the whole mess is a classic example of entrenched politics at it's very worst.  Legislators wanted richer pensions, and to get them they basically bought off the politically powerful teacher unions.  I don't blame teachers for getting better pensions; heck, who wouldn't want that?  Instead, this is a textbook example of why there shouldn't be career politicians in the first place.  Again, when personal interests of the elected compete with the public good, who usually loses?



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Message from Penn State President Barron (and a comment from me)

I am a proud alumnus of Penn State and a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association.  In addition, I've financial contributed (in a very meaningful way) to the University for many years and I was a member of the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society Board.  Having established my connection to the University, I'm not speaking out of turn by noting that it's been a troubling few years for Penn State.  While Penn State changed my life for the better...and for that, I will always be in debt to the University...I've found myself disagreeing with many of decisions made by the school's administration over the years.

The death of Timothy Piazza shines an important light on one element of Univesity life that needs to change:  The Greek Fraternity/Sorority system.  A University should be a place for opened doors, for exploration, for the expanding of horizons, for opportunities to meet and interact with all manner of people.  It shouldn't be a place where you go to hang out with people that are just like you.  It shouldn't also be a place where bad behavior is institutionalized and, sadly, rationalized as being somehow "good", somehow offset by some volunteer work.  A university shouldn't be a place for exclusive social clubs.

It's time to end "frats" as they currently exist.  They are relic from a long ago age that needs to be buried once and for all.  Simply tinkering around with their governance will not create meaningful change, as that's been tried before in many other venues.  Just as you can't expect a squirrel to avoid your birdfeeder, you can't expect frat houses to be anything other than exclusive drinking clubs.  It's simply what they are...it's what they do.

Will my alma mater take the lead on this issue?  Likely no.  Like football, the Greek system at Penn State enjoys a special kind of protected status that shields them from even the most reasonable of criticisms.  As a result, I'm simply left shaking my head in disgust at Penn State one more time.

You can read the official University statement on this issue below.


* * * * * *
Dear Penn Staters,

The recent tragic death of student Timothy Piazza has shaken and impacted all of us in the Penn State community. Our hearts go out to the Piazza family and friends during this tremendously difficult time.

We are reaching out to you today as you may observe Penn State being more vocal on this serious matter. Due to the complexity of this issue, the University believes it is important to offer perspective and background to those reporting.

Further, as the May 5 grand jury findings in the investigation of former members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity have now been released, you may have questions, or others may come to you with inquiries. We wanted to:
  • Share a link to the statement distributed late last week from my office on the grand jury findings;
  • Reiterate the commitment Penn State has had for more than a decade to focus on the Greek-letter community and issues that have impacted these groups nationwide, including the introduction of educational, enforcement and other programs, as well as policies that clearly spell out consequences;
  • Highlight the unprecedented steps Penn State has taken over the last few months. We have developed a resource with critical context - Penn State Update, which:
    • Underscores and contextualizes the national issue with extreme alcohol abuse, that also impacts our community
    • References actions taken earlier this year by the University
    • Indicates resources available
There are no easy solutions, but the commitment remains strong. As mentioned in previous communications, Greek-letter organizations are self-governing private groups on private property, and thus instituting change is quite challenging and complex. The University welcomes and needs the partnership of alumni, parents, national organizations, and all other partners involved. Support and engagement are necessary in order to ensure immediate, vital and sustainable change.

An atmosphere needs to be established that protects and promotes the well-being and safety of all students in the Penn State community. Our efforts are focused on curbing dangerous drinking and other high-risk behaviors, and to bringing out the best of Greek-letter organizations and the communities they create.

Please feel free to use this information resource and share with others as appropriate.

Regards,
Eric J. Barron
President, Penn State