Not Cease from Exploration

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Snowing Sunday, Part Trois

Post script: Daughter is off to school, stocked up on groceries and gasoline. Dad work done.

The weather report for her trip isn't great, but it isn't horrible either. Quasi-freezing rain right around the Scranton area, and as she travels south, no precipitation until about Leigh County, where it's raining. If she takes her time she will be fine, although we had better get a call once she gets there to confirm her safe arrival.

Snowing Sunday, Part Deux

"...and the snow turned in to rain..."

Or so wrote the late, great Dan Fogelberg.

So it is here, as the snow of this morning is morphing into rain. All the better for Katrina's trip back to K-Town (she hates it when I call Kutztown that). Anyway, by way of update, the following has been accomplished to date this morning:

- Washed the dishes
- Dried and put together all the assorted pie pans and holders that need to be returned to my mother-in-law
- Went down to Big Lots to get replacement compact fluorescent bulbs. Replaced the burnt-out bulbs in the kitchen and send floor hallway
- Changed said bulbs
- Changed the cat litter (lovely)
- Put away cans of soda
- Emptied the garbage

I'm now waiting for Katrina to come over so that I can take her to get gas for her car and a few groceries at the market. The next two weeks are her last of being at school without the benefit of a meal-plan. Could not come soon enough, as it was really tough for her to eat right without having the benefit of the school cafeterias. That's changing for next semester. Hopefully she will get here soon. Ah, she's here now. Time to scoot.

Snowing Sunday

It's Sunday morning at 8:07am as a I start to write this, and I've already been up for about two hours or so. It's strange when you think about it: I've been up now for two hours, and I've really not done much of anything, outside of showering, having a bowl of cereal and reading the news. Ah, such productivity.

Have I mentioned yet that it's snowing outside? It's basically the first real snow we've gotten this season. I am hoping that it turns to rain for before too long, as my oldest daughter needs to drive back to school today, and I don't want her going in this kind of weather. Fortunately she is heading south of here, so the temperatures by and large will be going up, if ever so slightly.

Anyway, it's been an uneventful weekend. I took my oldest daughter out Christmas shopping yesterday morning, right after I dropped my middle daughter off at modeling school (she goes there twice a month). We spent the morning at various bookstores, and ended up getting lunch at the foodcourt at the Viewmont Mall (pizza for me, Chicken for her). From there I spent some time looking at her car (a few minor items) and then it was back to Kingston to return middle daughter home, all be it not home, as I actually took her to a friends house. From there it was a quick change into decent clothes (as opposed, I suppose, to the indecent ones I had been wearing), as there was a wedding reception to attend in Pittston. The reception was for the daughter of our next door neighbor, who also happens to be related to my wife. She's a nice lady, I'm glad to see her happy, and the reception was a fine event. Note that generally speaking, I'm a fairly anti-social kind of guy, so things like wedding receptions don't always "ring my bell", if you will, but like I said, this was a fine event for a very nice person. The day ended at about 11:30pm, with the usual bedtime rituals completed (glass of yummy sugar-free dietary fibre...yummmmm...flossing my teeth, brushing my teeth and finally head-hitting pillow).

As is fairly typical, I didn't sleep great last night. I almost always fall asleep very quickly, within something like 5-10 minutes. It's just the staying asleep that's a problem for me. There's usually too much crap floating around inside my head for me to really relax enough to sleep great. That's the problem for me: sometimes I just can't shut the "noise" down. I think I as up two or three times during the night before I saw on my alarm clock that 6am had arrived. I figure that 6 is a fairly decent time to wake-up, even in the absence of anything important to do.

So now I'm looking at today, which will be consumed with the usual Sunday stuff. This includes cleaning in the morning, taking my mother shopping in the afternoon and probably some work in the evening. Ah, the joy of ritual. Why do I think that one day I'll be this 80 year old man who will get all bent out of shape because the paper wasn't folded right?

The snow has stopped, all be it for just a bit. The outside thermometer says that it's 32 degrees outside. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it stays on the uptick.

Funny, but with all this talk about snow, I've been thinking about Spring actually. I, like my mother, love the smell of Lilacs, so I'm thinking about getting a few bushes for the backyard. Not sure yet where they will go, but hell, I've got time. Maybe I'll get two or three different colors. Something else to think about it. Maybe I'll ponder it further tonight, when I am supposed to be sleeping.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Road Apples, #5

Shopping - I almost never go shopping the day after Thanksgiving; I did once years ago and it was a foul experience, to say the least. Yes, I was dumb enough to be one of those folks who waited for a WalMart to open at the crack-o-dawn. I think I've already covered this in past postings. Anyway, I am taking my oldest daughter shopping today. Let's hope my wallet survives the experience.

I've Got A Feeling - Actually it's "had a feeling" (although the Beatles song "I've Got A Feeling" is pretty good), and it was best described as cruddy after eating Thanksgiving food. It just doesn't agree with me for some reason. My stomach is funny like that; on some level I am sure it's just the natural rebellion of my innards against the abuse I heap upon them by not eating as right as I should. Mylanta and hot tea usually do the trick for me. Note that I don't mix the hot tea into the Mylanta.

Yahoo 360 - I've had a Yahoo 360 page for a long time, and I almost never go there anymore. What I have to do is to copy all of the old blogs there (there are 246 separate entries) that I want to copy and archive onto CD. There are a few there that I want to re-post here, almost most of it is too time-specific to really make much sense in this forum. Just trying to simplify and consolidate my life a bit. I'll probably leave the MySpace page as is, at least for the time being.

It's Almost December - I like December. The month usually goes by pretty quickly, and I have a long list of planning types of things I need to do both personally and professionally. On the personal front, I'm starting to make some changes for the betterment of long-term financial planning. This includes purchasing more Long Term Care insurance (as much as I can buy...just waiting for the health information to come back) and taking advantage of my company's very low stock price by buy purchasing more stock. On the stock front, I've changed the percent of my match that goes into the stock (from 50% to 100%) and I'm diverting 2% of my after-tax pay towards purchasing the stock outright. It is something of a risky move, but it could pay off in a very big way over the long term if the stock recovers (the IPO of the stock was $27.50 & it's traded as high as $100+/- share; it's now around $20/share). On the professional front, I have to really devote some time to thinking about what I want to accomplish for next year, especially in the area of professional development. I need to invest in something that will help me over the long term, not just a few classes, etc. Some kind of professional certification I think.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"God" by John Lennon

The lyrics to the song "God", by John Lennon.

God is a concept,
By which we can measure,
Our pain,
I'll say it again,
God is a concept,
By which we can measure,
Our pain,
I don't believe in magic,
I don't believe in I-ching,
I don't believe in bible,
I don't believe in tarot,
I don't believe in Hitler,
I don't believe in Jesus,
I don't believe in Kennedy,
I don't believe in Buddha,
I don't believe in mantra,
I don't believe in Gita,
I don't believe in yoga,
I don't believe in kings,
I don't believe in Elvis,
I don't believe in Zimmerman,
I don't believe in Beatles,
I just believe in me,
Yoko and me,
And that's reality.
The dream is over,
What can I say?
The dream is over,
Yesterday,
I was dreamweaver,
But now I'm reborn,
I was the walrus,
But now I'm John,
And so dear friends,
You just have to carry on,
The dream is over.


Blasphemy? Perhaps, but that depends on your point of view I suppose. I think Lennon was more talking about all the junk that was imposed on him (and all of us), taking a step back, and basically saying "look, I'm going to believe in me...and that's reality". Interestingly enough, the only other person he believes in (based on the song) is Yoko Ono, who you could argue was a master at manipulating him (which in turn contradicts the intent on the song).

By the way, "Zimmerman" refers to Bob Dylan, whose real name is "Robert Zimmerman".

A final note: I don't especially consider this to be a favorite Lennon song. Among his solo stuff, here are my favorite 5, listed in order:

1. #9 Dream (almost mystical when you hear it...headphones are must, turned way the hell up)
2. Stand By Me (cover of the Ben E. King tune; Lennon sings the hell out of it)
3. Watching The Wheels (we should all have our heads screwed on this well)
4. Whatever Gets You Through the Night (listen for the chorus, with Elton John joining in)
5. Beautiful Boy ("goodnight Sean, see you in the morning"...pure love)

Blog List (& Other Changes)

I've been making a few format changes of late, mainly to keep things interesting for me. One thing I do want to point out is the link to the SDACT Blog, on my blog list.

What is the SDACT? It's the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers, an organization that used to represent Catholic School Teachers in the Diocese of Scranton. SDACT is currently engaged in a struggle to re-gain recognition from the Diocese of Scranton, in the guise of Bishop Joseph Martino. As the product of a Catholic High School education, I firmly and completely support SDACT. More on this situation between SDACT and Bishop Martino on another day, when turkey-hangover and general cruddy-feelings make blog writing easier for yours-truly.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Thanksgiving Post


I think it's a requirement for denizens of cyberspace to write a "I Am Thankful For..." posting on Thanksgiving Day. Being full of Catholic Guilt and German by ancestry, I'm naturally good at following the rules, so of course I'm going to oblige. I have to tell you though, before I start, that my fingers really are not cooperating at their usual efficiency this morning, which is making the process so much tougher.

Anyway, here is what I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, 2008, listed more or less in order:
  1. My Family, Especially My Children - Having children is both a blessing and, at times, a curse. The curse part comes around when they force you to think about yourself in ways that you probably would normally prefer not to...a painful experience, but most growth, in my experience, comes at the expense of pain. I am truly blessed in that I have three daughters who are smart, healthy, who make me proud AND who challenge me in so many ways to be a better person.
  2. My Physical Health - One of the reasons why I am a fanatic about reading and paying attention to current events is that nothing helps you appreciate and place yourself in the context of reality than seeing just how much suffering there really is in this world around you. As bad as our small lives may become, there is always someone who has a burden that is far worse. So too with me, while I wish I could lose some weight, within the greater context of things I am very thankful that I am generally very healthy. The fact that I can see my roses bloom, smell the lilacs in the spring, and feel the cool air of Fall is truly a gift worthy of Thanks.
  3. My Friends - Friendship is something that is somewhat difficult for me to discuss. I really don't have that many close friends that I can, for example, "hang out" with. What's more, I have my own self-imposed rule when it comes to talking about other adults in this (or any other) blog...unless they are a public person, I generally don't refer to them by name or title. I have that rule because, in part, I don't think it's fair to talk about someone in a venue that any anyone in the world can reach without first giving them "editing" rights, and the very nature of a blog is that I would never give editing rights to anyone but myself. [Darn, this is a hell of a windup, is it not?]. Anyway, I am thankful for those who I do call friend, especially that rare individual that I actually may come to with a question or a problem and who always seem to be there for me. You know who you are, and I can never do enough to thank you for understanding and caring about me.
  4. My Mental Health - Being wheelchair bound would be difficult, but I don't think it's as difficult has having the use of your legs but not having a mind that was capable of appreciating that use. I hope that sentence made some sense. What I'm trying to say is that I am very Thankful for good mental health. As I've written about before, I've had to deal with members of my extended family who have struggled with mental health issues, so I do my best to use that as leverage to always work on improving my own mental health. The fact that I know my own mental health is in my own control is a real blessing.
  5. My Country - There is no better place on Earth to live than the United States of America. The US is the land of "Big": Big Mistakes, Big Victories, Big Problems, Big Solutions. This is the place that institutionalized slavery on one hand but then gave birth to Jazz on the other. Here I can be anything I choose to be, as much or as little, as rich or as poor.
  6. My Career - I am Thankful for having a job and a career that provides for my needs and the needs of my family and which also continues to challenge and frustrate me, even 20 into the gig. My job sometimes forces me into places where I'd rather not go, figuratively speaking, but that also helps me grow in ways that wouldn't otherwise come naturally. Sometimes I'll be walking down the big first floor hallway of our building and I'll think to myself, "you are supposed to be here".
So there you have it, I have much to be Thankful for on this November 27, 2008. I hope that I'm blessed with many more Thanksgivings to come, but even if I am not, on this day and at this moment I can look myself in the mirror and say with complete honesty "you are a hell of a lucky guy".

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'Tis The Season To Be Cranky

Some things that I simply don't like...

People Who Don't Read
I don't care if you read Nora Roberts novels or the Wall Street Journal, but just read. Reading is this wonderful gift that makes zero sense to not fully use. Reading keeps your mind sharp.

Lazy People
You only get so much time in this existence, so why not try and make the best of it? Why not fill your time being creative, making things better, improving your mind? Why simply sit on your ass? Now I know that we all need to rest, and that's perfectly ok. But to spend hours on end just sitting around? Hell no.

Negative People
I know...how ironic! Despite the title and tone of this post, I am, by and large, a very positive person. What's more, I (like most people I think) hate to be around negative people. I have people like that in my extended family, and it's not pleasant.

People Who Abuse The System
We have safety nets built into our society for things like unemployment, food for the poor, etc. Nothing pisses me off more than people who take advantage of programs who really should not. Let's get it straight: unemployment is just for people who are laid off from a job due to no fault of their own...period. In this same category we have people who, for some reason, think it's ok to use an Access card to guy groceries but then magically have cash for smokes and beer....that amounts to nothing more than taxpayers subsidizing bad habits at best, stealing at worst.

People Who Are Not Curious
How could anyone live in this wide universe and not at least be a little bit curious about the things around them? There is so much to learn, there is so much to experience. Sheer insanity to not be the least bit curious about at least some aspects of the wider world.

In The News...

...former First Lady Barbara Bush was recently hospitalized. You can disagree with the politics of her husband (by and large I didn't) and/or her son (by and large I did), but you have to admit that this is one classy lady. Seemingly very down to Earth, spunky and very protective of her family, I think she typified what a modern First Lady should be.

Trivia: when I first began working for my current employer, the President of our division was named Scott Pierce, who just happened to be the brother of Ms Bush.

All the best to Barbara Bush for a speedy recovery in time to spend Thanksgiving with her family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Personal Virtue

Vice President Dick Cheney was famous for once saying "conservation is a personal virtue, not a matter of public policy" or something with that same intent. Now I'm not going to question the motives or virtues of Mr Cheney, with whom I do disagree on more than a few things, but it does raise an interesting question: where do personal virtues cross that line where they should be a matter of public policy? Here are some of my thoughts on personal virtues.

Honesty
Honesty is a personal virtue. We are told that we should always be honest, but yet all of us lie at one time or another, and in point of fact being dishonest in some circumstances can probably be considered more virtuous than telling the truth (anyone who has or has had children knows what I am referring to when they eat their child's first culinary creation). Honesty is also a virtue that is a matter of public policy: when you are stopped by a police officer, you are required to be honest when he asks you questions. When you are in court, you are expected to be honest, else you will be charged contempt of court. I'm not lying here, although I will not claim to telling the truth all the time.

Charity
Another contradiction to Mr Cheney, in that charity is a personal virtue, but if you itemize your federal taxes you know doubt realize that the federal government encourages charitable giving via a tax deduction. I don't give enough, which I publicly confess. Years ago I would give to the Church on a regular basis, but that's slowly changed. I know that's not necessarily a good message, but I have a very difficult time supporting my Catholic Diocese when the leader of the Diocese seems to contradict Church teaching on the rights of workers to unionize and the right of all believers to use their God-given brains and hearts to weigh moral issues in an election. Anyway, recognizing that my level of charitable giving as decreased over the years, I've made the decision this year to being contributing regularly to a Charity (St Jude Children's Research Hospital). "Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found" goes the hymn I learned in Church as a child.

Hard Work
I believe in the soul-building value of working hard. Mind you, I don't think that working hard without gain is smart, so I'd qualify this virtue to mean that it's important to work hard as a means to an end. I fall short in this regard all the time, but I temper that personal disappointment with the knowledge that each and every day I can wake up and trying to get it right on a new day.

Conservation
I personally believe in conservation, both as a virtue and as a matter of public policy. Simply put, the public good is served by not wasting resources. Conservation is one of those things that we, as a people, can do to tangibly help those that come after us. On a personal level, I am more or less a fanatic about recycling, as my children can attest. I will go so far as to pull plastic and glass out of garbage cans to put them into recycle containers. Why? It just makes sense to me. It also plays into my thoughts overall about excessive consumption.

Frugality
I recently bought (from www.evolvefish.com) a bumper sticker that says "An economy based on the consumption of fixed resources will consume itself", which I think is a great thought. Maybe because I grew up without a lot I am more sensitive than most of this notion of constant consumption. Now I do like my toys: I even have an MP3 player with wireless Internet access; however my consumption isn't ever spur of the moment and is always done in consideration of what I need and can use vs what I simply want. Have I always done a good job of passing this virtue onto my children? Hell no. But my work in that regard is like someone trying to shovel water: it's just fighting against this all-conquering tide. In the case of consumption, that "tide" is reality all of the consumption-based society in which we live. Our children are taught from an early age by society and the media that consumption can make you happy, cool, popular, well-skinned, etc. It's up to us to get smart, as we grow older, to realize that the "big lie" exists in our consumption-based society: you can not consume yourself into happiness.

Independence
This is probably the most important personal virtue that I think anyone can ever have. I greatly admire people who strive for independence. Note that I said "strive", in that I realize all of us need help every now and then. I try to instill this virtue in my children, both overtly (by telling them that I want them to be successful in their lives on their own) and covertly. Conversely, I find it sometimes difficult to deal with the chronically dependent.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Road Apples, #4

A Day On - I'm taking today off, if for no other reason than I have a lot of days to take off and a few months ago, for some reason, I thought today would be a good day to be off. Does that make any sense what so ever? Like most days off, I usually don't broadcast the fact at home, lest I be given massive lists of things to do, which in turn morphs my day off into a day on. Again, I don't really know if what I just wrote makes any sense to anyone but me, but that's ok, as it's my day off anyway. Regardless, I do have three things that must be done today:

1. I have to get the Cruiser's oil changed. I also want them to install the new, high-intensity headlights I bought back in March. I got these things with every intention of installing them myself, but then I learned that Chrysler, in it's infinite wisdom, requires that you install PT Cruiser headlights via the wheel wells (I kid you not), where there are these two little access panels. Sorry, but I have very big hands and these look like mighty small openings. I'm thinking that the Laser Lube guys will throw these bad-boys in for me for around $20, which will be worth it. The Laser Lube guys are great, by the way. Anyway, the new headlights should be about 40% brighter than what I currently have on the car, and with bad weather approaching, every little bit helps.
2. I have a meeting at noon in the office. Yeah, I know it stinks going in on a day off, but this is in support of someone who quasi-reports to me on this big project I'm working on, and she's really done a great job so far. The least I can do is to go in for a 30 minute conference call.

Oh The Weather Outside - It looks like our first real winter storm is approaching. My only real worry is that my oldest daughter was planning on coming home from school tomorrow (Kutztown). I'll have to call her this morning and tell her to consider coming back on Wednesday. I do sorry about her when she drives.

I'm Still Waiting for My Bailout - The federal government is going to pump billions into a bailout of CitiBank, just like the state and local governments are going to pump millions into keeping a department store (Boscov's) afloat. I agree that the government should help, but I do worry that we are now in essence rewarding failure for big-shots, and still punishing it for small-shots. Maybe, just maybe, this can change the culture of consumption that we have in this country. Maybe, just maybe, when all this is said and done, we will realize that there is no such animal as unlimited economic expansion.

Christmas Is Approaching - and I've got most of my shopping done. I still have some gift cards to pick up, and I still need something else to get my mother. I like having it all done, even though I know there are buys to be had on "Black Friday". About 20 years ago I worked in retail (assistant store manager at a Bon Ton in another part of the state), so I'm very familiar with the "big day". As a consumer, I've only been out shopping early on "Black Friday" once, years ago, to get a present for my mother-in-law. Never, ever again. I had to go to Walmart to look for a TV and a VCR/DVD combination machine. It was like some bizzare cross between shopping and "rollerball". I had old ladies ramming my heels with shopping carts. Scientists could model shark feeding behavior by watching this stuff. Definitely not worth it, even though I do love my mother-in-law.

Big Plans - I don't have my 2008 bonus, but I'm hoping it's at least quasi-ok, as I'm interested in doing some work around the house with it. Normally, my bonus is split between three things:
1. Pay the Property Taxes - Since I don't have a mortgage (I paid that off a few years ago), I have to pay my taxes on my own. It's about $1800 or so in total for everything...I think.
2. Pay Kate's Tuition - The biggest chunk of the bonus goes towards paying my oldest daugther's tuition bill. We get no real financial aid, other than an unsubsidized Stafford Loan, so this is a big expense.
3. Stuff Around the House/Vacation - I'm not big on vacations, truth be told. When the girls were younger it was different, but now everyone has their own interests, so that's not something I'm really all that keen on, truth be told. This year the money will go towards some much needed repairs around the house (last year those repairs included replacing some roof shingles and upgrading the house electrical service), including replacing part of the TV room ceiling...which had some water damage...and I'd like to get a small flat screen TV for my office, where I can couple it with my XBox360 and maybe a PS3. I'd also like to get a new mission-style cabinet for the equipment and to store games, DVD, etc. This would free my existing cabinet for the ever-growing collection of CDs.

Let It Be - I discovered last night that you can see the entire motion picture Let It Be, by the Beatles, on YouTube. I watched about half of it. Damn, Paul was really, really bossy back then. Interesting if you are a hard-core fan, but otherwise I think it would bore most people. I'll probably try and catch the rest of it this evening.

Note for whomever read this: If I were you, I'd be thinking right now "Damn, that's an awful lot of stuff I didn't need to know". Sorry...if I could credit your life with the 5 minutes you just took to read the above, I would. Hell, contact me and I'll buy you the non-alcoholic drink of your choice, just because I feel guilty sometimes for writing this stuff.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mental Health & The Holidays

As I've written about before, mental illness is something I deal with in my family on an almost daily basis. Sometimes the way the illness manifests itself isn't so readily apparent; other times, especially during the holidays, it tends to smack you in the face. As the holidays come upon us, it's time for me to work even harder to keep things in perspective and try to keep the spirit of the holidays alive inside myself.

It's been my experience that, for people who struggle with mental illness, the holidays present an especially difficult time of the year. For many, just the change in routine can be difficult, and coupled with financial pressures (and the need to, perhaps, use material things to prove feelings that can't readily be expressed) makes for a very difficult time. As has been the case for me over the years, the easy thing would have been to just sink into the despair that the holiday season bring to some, but for me it's been a blessing of sorts in that I see even more clearly what really matters. The fact that I can derive joy from buying gifts for my family, unencumbered by the mental baggage of worry and guilt, is something I am very thankful for.

I am not immune to the pressures that mental illness in the family brings during the holiday season. I do get angry, I do get worried with unexpected financial pressures arise, I do get disappointed when others can't seem to enjoy a season that exists for the very purpose of enjoyment. But for me, I have learned through the years that having those feelings is perfectly ok, as long as I acknowledge the feeling and know for myself that my negative feelings don't rule me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Road Apples, #3

Just a few random thoughts running through my head at the moment:

YESTERDAY was a long day. I had to facilitate a class yesterday in Woodbridge on the subject of Career Planning, which translated into 5+ hours on the road (where you have to really be "on" all the time...we are talking NJ roads here), 45 minutes of a meeting and about an hour and a half of actual class time (where I really, really had to be "on"). There's nothing like 60 people staring at you, waiting for something informative and/or inspirational to somehow come from your lips to their ears. Anyway, the class seemed to go well, as I had a lot of nodding heads, more than a few questions/comments, lots of people staying afterwards to chat and, I think, a satisfied executive sponsor. I don't normally do a lot of what you could call "soft skills" classes, so this was a nice change of pace.

IT'S TOO DAMN COLD OUT for November. Twenty one degrees outside this morning. I want my Global Warming, and I want it now!

IN THE HANDOUT DEPARTMENT we now have Boscov's department store. Story link here. I have very mixed feeling about this, but I need time to noodle the whole thing over some more. What bothers me somewhat is that the chain started to get into trouble, I think, when it bought-out Mr Boscov a few years ago and then decided to over-expand. Generally speaking, bankruptcy doesn't always result in a happy ending for department store chains.

I HAVE MONDDAY OFF and I'm actually kind of thrilled. It's been a long, long week. I didn't get to workout much this week, and I think I'm feeling the effects. Work was also trying, as they are a lot of pressing issues involved in a big projet I work on. Generally speaking, I can handle techincial issues on projects fairly well; what saps me of energy is when I have to deal with all the organizational bullcrap that goes with them (territories being defended, people arguing about resources, etc.). It's all so Dilbert-esque.

DID I MENTION that it's cold outside? Just started the car, and it feels like February.

I HAVE A RECLINER in my office that I am torn over. Specifically, I want to get rid of it, but my cats just love to sit on the top of it. What's a guy to do? I can't use the recliner as an actual chair anymore, becasue said cats have deposited so much fur on it that you can't even be near it without getting a coating on yourself. It also takes up too much space (and isn't in keeping my my plans for the office next year). Decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

David Brooks Piece On The Big Three Bailout

I do my best to get a 30 minute workout in my schedule about 4-5 days a week. Sometimes it's easier said than done to actually make it happen, but never the less I do try. While I'm chugging along for 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, I usually read through two newspapers...typically The Scranton Times and USA Today (both of which I buy at work that morning). Anyway, this has two benefits for me:

1. I get much-needed exercise (stress relief, lower blood pressure, etc.)
2. I get to keep up on current events.

In yesterday's Scranton Times there was what I think is the best yet commentary piece of the proposed bail-out of the "Big Three" automobile manufacturers, penned by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Click on the title of this blog (or here) for the article. Personally I think everyone should be interested in this, as what is done in this instance has very wide implications for our nation and our economy.

My own opinion is that Brooks has nailed it. If you or I were to fail to run the financial side of our lives in a prudent manner, we would have to face the consequences of a debt management service or perhaps bankruptcy. There would be no government subsidy of our bad spending and life decisions (gee, maybe buying all the Elvis memorabilia on QVC wasn't such a good decisions after all). In fact, even if you were prudent in running your life, you could still encounter situations (such as a large medical expenses) whereby bankruptcy could be the only option. Yet here we stand, seeing an entire industry that, for about as long as I have been alive, has failed to make sound business decisions with regards to fuel economy, product reliability and labor relations.

At most, Congress should allow the Big Three to use the $25 billion in loans already in place for technology re-tooling for other uses AND attach new conditions that will require the companies to submit to transparent oversight of core business drivers (such as fuel economy and product reliability). The public should also be given a seat of the Boards of Directors of these firms.

Let's stop rewarding failure on the part of the money-elite and punishing failure for the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Likes & Dislikes

In the "probably no one gives a crap" department, here's a list of likes and dislikes from yours truly. This is probably a repeat, but

LIKES
Cats - Maybe it's their "I'll be affectionate, but on my terms" attitude. Maybe it's the fact that they are the ultimate stress managers...ever see a cat sleeping? Now that's relaxation! The are relative clean (except for the litter box) and don't smell. Decent size...not too big, not too small. They also have their own individual personalities.

Non-Fiction - I enjoy reading biographies and pieces on politics, current events, astronomy, etc. I also like my reading in chunks that manage my incredibly short attention span.

MSNBC.com - One of the best news sites on the Internet. Lots of current content sorted by category, with a great mix of text and video. Interesting "Top 5 ____" articles that make for short-but-fun reading.

Mozilla Firefox - The best Internet browser on the market. Intuitive controls that can be customized, lots of features to protect privacy.

Coconut - I love it. Candy...deserts, etc. It matters not. Good coconut cream pie is as good as it gets.

Pennsylvania - Big cities (Philadelphia & Pittsburgh), rolling country side (Lancaster County), forested hills (NEPA). Affordable cost of living, relatively low property taxes and, if you live in Scranton, NYC and Philadelphia in about two hours. The downside is that the economy has never been great, especially in this area.

Governor Ed Rendell - A politician's politician, glad-handing with the best of them, but also a very smart guy who gets stuff done. Has butted heads with just about everyone at one time or another, which isn't a bad thing.

Satellite Radio - A great guilty pleasure, although I can do without the "news in Korean" channel. Well worth the $12 a month.

Contributing to Children's Charities - Call me a softee, but I think there isn't much worse than seeing a kid having to battle cancer. I don't wish illness on anyone, but some of us at least have had a chance to live a decent life; the notion that someone who hasn't had that opportunity being struck down is saddening. That's why I do my best to support charities that help children.

Newt Gingrich - I don't agree with everything Newt says, but I do admire his logic, reasoning and passion. This is a very bright guy who appeals to the head. He only fails when he pushes the "family values" button, which is not a good move with some of the baggage he carries.

DISLIKES
Dogs - I have nothing against dogs, well other than the fact that they can be, well, stinky. We had a dog when I was a kid. Nice pet, but man was she stinky. I'd actually like the idea of having a dog to walk, well except for having to pick up after it. I think I'll pass.

Fiction - I have a very tough time reading most fiction. I actually got into trouble when I was around 12 for refusing to read 'The Outsiders' during a summer program. About the only fiction I've actually ever read was the occasional SciFi novel. No offense to anyone, but I just have a tough time getting into something that isn't true.

CNN.com - Probably one of the worst Internet News sites. A shockingly small amount of content that isn't refreshed very often. Too much video content.

Internet Explorer - Horribly, simply horrible. The world's most hacked web browser. I find the latest version's "icons instead of commands/buttons" interface to be confusing. Just where the hell is the refresh button?

Peanut Butter - I can't comprehend how human beings can consume this rancid crap. The smell alone makes me want to vomit.

Connecticut - Hartford is Newark NJ's mini-me. Incredibly high cost of living. Some very nice people, but I get the impression that it's the worst managed state in the union. About the only nice thing I can say is that it's quainter than New Jersey.

State Senator Bob Mellow - Nothing personal against Senator Mellow, as I am sure he is personally a decent guy, but I don't get the thing with using taxpayer money for things like college theaters and then having them named "The Bob Mellow __________". How about "The Taxpayer ___________" instead?

Commercial Radio - Safe programming, 24/7 Foghat & Freebird, and almost constant commercials. An idea whose time has gone.

Contributing to Political Action Committees - I've never given a dollar to a politician campaign, party or PAC, nor will I ever. By in large, PACs have narrow visions that support narrow segments of society. Some have very worthwhile missions, but I think there are other priorities in life than supporting the right to own a machinegun.

Rush Limbaugh - A guy who was secretly addicted to drugs while at the same time saying publicly that people who use drugs should go to jail. 'nuff said.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Getting Paid for Bad Decisions

I have three daughters that don't always pick up after themselves. Can the government give me a hand with that?

I have four cats, and it's very difficult picking up the hair, cleaning out the litterboxes, finding the tuna wet catfood that they like, etc.. Can the government give me a hand with that as well?

Yeah, I know that those examples are a little trite, to say the least, but I guess the concept is still the same, namely that somehow I need to be accountable for my own bad decisions (whether it be related to teaching my kids to pick up after themselves or in collecting cats), on a small scale, but somehow responsibility ends when the bad decisions get bigger.

Now please don't think that I'm somehow against any and every instance of government intervention into the business world, because I am not. I also realize that the 80's bailout of Chrysler actually made money for the government (Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca actually paid the money back, with interest, early). However, at what point does this end? In the auto industry, we have a HISTORY of businesses forgoing long-term profit in exchange for short-term gain. These people KNEW that gas prices were going to go up over the long term, but yet they still kept spitting out the large SUVs and putting too much of their R&D money into more of the same. A classic example of the worst that American business has to offer: short term profits ahead of long-term success. While Ford was putting out moster sized F-150, 250, 350 (some being so big that you swear they could turn, at a moment's notice, into a giant fighting robot), Toyota was putting out the Prius.

The Greed Heads in corporate offices aren't the only one's to blame here. Add two more to the list:

1. Union Members who believed that they were entitled to employment for a lifetime and who wanted to be paid for obstensively not working (the infamous "job bank" program, whereby laid off workers show up at a center and continue to get paid for not working). These same union members seems to feel that somehow their fortunes are divorced from those of their employers. The easy shot here is to blame management for giving in to the union demands, but as is the case with an unexpected pregnancy, it "takes two to tango". In the end, when it come to labor costs it's all in the math: GM pays about $70/hr for wages and benefits, Toyota pays about $45. Cultivating "us" vs. "them" attitudes may be good for union leadership, but I think it's also a big part of the failure here. While I don't have any ill-will towards workers (who were not designing crappy cars or pushing SUVs...management was doing that), the fact remains that they too believed in this fairy tale of "the never-ending paycheck".

2. Michigan Congressional delegation who were nothing more than puppets of a bloated industry that fought things like higer fuel economy standards like Bush fighting the Endangered Species Act. IF EVER there was a case of money corrupting politics, it's in this state (Michigan) and these elected officials.

So there you have it, poorly run companies, unions detached from reality and members of congress who were puppets of the previous two. And now they want money from all of us? Yes, sure, there can be conditions.

Am I against the bailout of these companies? I guess you've probably figured out that I am.

Many years ago, I found out that my own finances were not in the best of shape. I was in a position whereby someone else was taking care of that stuff, and I assumed it was ok. The greater sin was mine, as allowed someone else to be in charge of that without the support I should have been providing all along. Fair enough. However, once I found out just how bad it was, I took responsibility, didn't ask for dime from anyone, and set to work cleaning it all up. Years later, my house is paid for, and I have a total of $1400 in total creditcard debt. Superman? No. I just took responsiblity for the situation I found myself in and dealt with it. It was painful, it was difficult and it required sacrifice. It required humility on my part. But when all was said and done, I was better off for having dealt with it myself.

In the end, my position is simple: Detroit created this crisis. Sure, recent economic changes have made it tough on auto manufacturers, but well-run businesses have the resources to ride-out the bad economic storms. With the "Big Three" we have classic examples of unmittigated greed...from the board room to the union halls to the halls of Congress. Would bankruptcy create hardship for all involved? I am sure it would, but any solition that doens't involve some pain for all the parties involved (Managment, workers and Michigan Congressional delegation) isn't much of solution.

What's left? Bankruptcy, re-organization and consolidation. There will be much pain, and for that I am sorry. However, if there were to be a bailout, it would simply postpone the pain to a future year. Simply put, no amount of money can solve the fundamental problems here, because the people that run these companies and the workers build the vehicles seem to detached from the reality of the situation: competition that is better at building cars at a lower cost structure. Throwing $50 billion at the industry will not change that fundamental.

Think of the auto industry as suffering from a disease: throwing money at them would be like giving it something for the pain, however it doesn't threat the underlying cause of the illness. What's needed now is surgery.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Things I Grew Up With (some have gone, and some remain)

"There are places I remember,
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever not for better,
Some have gone and some remain."
-In My Life (The Beatles)


Leaving work on Friday, I was thinking about how much of my life was shaped by how I grew up. Now I'm not sure why this particular thought crumb fell into my lap, but never the less it was there. To extend the randomness even further, I was thinking about the things I knew and experienced growing up and how they've influenced and impacted me to this date.

Growing Up (relatively) Not Well Off
I grew up in a housing project, one of four boys raised by a single parent who worked nights to support her children. We were not destitute, but we didn't have a lot either. For example, I still remember when we got our first color TV, because the first thing I remember watching was something about the funeral of Elvis Presley. I was also (relatively) ashamed of where I lived and tried my best to keep it a secret. That was the natural reaction to the peer pressure I felt at the time, I suppose, but it was incredibly wrong never the less. I had nothing to be ashamed of, and now I am very proud of where I came from. I work with plenty of people who grew up in nice middle-class surroundings who don't seem any more well adjusted than me...and in fact some seem less adjusted, truth be told.

Music
When I was young, my brothers and I would often listed to my mother's records. This included the soundtrack to West Side Story (I can still sing "Sgt Krupki" on request) Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits and other assorted albums. What I didn't listen to, for the most part, was popular music of the period. In fact, I remember being in 7th grade and seeing a "Kiss" sticker on someones book and having to asking them what it was. We just really didn't listen to all that much radio back then, and as a result (at least I) really didn't hear much in the way of "period" music. That changed rapidly, and by the time I was earning my own money with a paper route, I was buying 8 Track Tapes and albums. Now music is something that's readily a part of my life and the lives of my children. They grew up listening to me play ABBA and the Beatles, and now they are all old enough to have their own musical preferences. I drew few lines in what they could listen to: I never wanted anything that was disrespectful to women, for example, but pretty much everything else is ok. That's not to say that I actually like listening to the 'Emo' style that my youngest daughter listens to, but hey, it's her choice.

Food
I think my mother made about 7 different things to eat, and that was pretty much it. I think the meals fell into something of a pattern, more or less, although I'm not sure just what the pattern was all those years ago. We always had spaghetti...which I don't like now, although I do like meatballs, and my mother always made homemade meatballs. We would have pork chops....which I never eat now, ever. I just don't like pork, outside of some bacon or a piece of ham every once in a while. We would have meatloaf...and I try my best to make my mother's meatloaf to this very day; in fact, my kids actually like it when I make meatloaf. We would have things like roast beef and chicken (I can still remember my mother boiling the chicken before putting it in the oven), although my mother was very simple with the veggies (I can remember three: Lima Beans, Green Beans and Wax Beans), so to this very day I don't eat a wide variety of them.

Books
We always had books laying around the house, including a full set of encyclopedias. I would love to take an encyclopedia volume and just open it up and read stuff. I think that's where my love of random information comes from. My mother always encouraged us to read things we liked, and there was never any pressure to read things we didn't. To this day I don't read a lot of fiction, but I think that's in part because of how I loved reading about all those random facts in the encyclopedia.

Clothes
Because we were not all that well off, I would describe our clothes as simple. In fact, outside of the one good dress shirt, I really didn't own any shirts with collars for the longest time. I think I bought my own first polo shirt..,it was navy blue and I got it from Sears in the Viewmont Mall. Needless to say, we didn't grow up as members of the fashion elite. Now days I wouldn't say that I'm a "clothes horse", but I do try and pay attention to what I wear. I love stuff from Eddie Bauer...even my basic watch is from Eddie. I like earth tones and things that have a relaxed fit, although I do own a wardrobe that fits with my need to look professional at work (including the required dark grey suit).

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Mental Health

There's no easy way to talk about some issues, and mental health is high up on that list. However, having to deal with mental health issues is something that many people face, both for themselves and for those around them. I'm no different in that regard; I've had family members struggle in the past and in the present with depression and other disorders. Now I'm not going to comment on their individual struggles, as doing so would be both offensive (in the sense that no one from the outside can truly understand what's on the inside) and just plain wrong (as an invasion of privacy). What I will do though, and actually what I think about often, is how having that in my life has changed me.

It's truly amazing just how flexible and adaptable the human being can really be. Complex doesn't being to describe how our minds work. It's my opinion that no where do you see that more on display than in the ways that people react to stress. Now I'm specifically NOT talking about the stress associated with big life events; all of us, for example, would be negatively impacted by the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or child, etc. Instead, I'm talking about that cumulative impact of hundreds and thousands of small events have on some people. So too it has been in my life. The people close to me who have suffered through mental health problems haven't been the victims of massive life-changing implosions, but rather seem to have been slowed down by the accumulation of events, much like (as I suppose) an accumulation of barnacles can eventually slow down a ship. It's much harder to fight something when you don't have a someTHING to fight.

Now the impact of these issues on these family members has been wide and varied, and goes beyond, again, what I'd even consider talking about in a public venue. But the impact on me is quite a different story. To get right to the point, I've found that having to deal with this kind of stress has actually helped my mental health over the years. While growing older naturally has a negative impact on your body...my body isn't nearly as kind to me at 44 as it was at 30, I find myself to be mentally tougher and more emotionally stable than I've ever been...especially (say) 14 years ago. Having seen people have the inability to appreciate the small victories in life has taught me to look for them. Having someone around you that doesn't know how to cope with small stressors in life teaches you the value of learning to handle them yourself. Having people around you that, by virtue of their medical problem, can't seem to see the simply, straight-forward solutions to problems teaches you to look for them in your own life.

You could read into what I'm saying and come to the conclusion that I'm making some claim about perfect mental health on my own part. That's far from being true. I am, quite honestly, a work in progress. There are things that I struggle with each and every day, outlook and attitude being chief among them. But if I've learned anything from having had to deal with mental health issues in my family, it's that you truly do choose your attitude. I know there are people with medical conditions that prevent them from being able to do that, so I'm thankful that I don't suffer in that regard. I'm also thankful, all be in with a small gain of salt, for the fact that I've been able to grow emotionally from some very tough experiences, rather than having these same experiences push me down a path of despair.

All of what I've written above could change tomorrow. Something could happen that would turn my world on it's head. You learn this in dealing with medical problems, and that's just part of the plan. Regardless of what happens though, I do know that any short term suffering for me personally will in fact be just that: Short Term. I've learned that you can get through anything and be better off on the other side. For those of us who have that ability, it's truly a gift.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When I'm 64

This is taken from something I wrote a while ago that I stumbled upon while cleaning out a flash drive.

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64"

Here's what I want my life to look like when I'm 64:

I want to be retired from my current employer (but for how long??), and working a few hours a week doing something that I really enjoy. I really don't know what that would be, other than it not involving smiley face stickers at WalMart.

I want to be as healthy as I am now. I know that time will have taken it's toll on my body, but it's my hope that all the equipment will still be in working order and that I will have gotten my act together in terms of eating right.

I want to read more. I want to consume all the books I should have read a long time ago, including all the classics.

I want to have grandchildren that I can spoil rotten and then return to their parents. I especially want a grandson. No offense to my daughters that I love very dearly, but having a grandson would be very neat.

I want the opportunity to travel more. Nothing fancy, no trips to Monaco. I just want to see all the places I've missed over the years.

I want to have the time to volunteer more. I want to help for the sake of helping.

I want to spend time taking pictures, both of the big things around me and the small things we sell the time by seldom really notice.

I want to put plastic models together, just like I did when I was a kid.

I want to hang out with friends more, even if it's just to play pool.

I want to write long, well thought out letters to the newspaper editor about the important topics of the day. I don't want to be one of those people who complain for the sake of complaining, but rather someone who offers insight and solutions based on reasoned experience.

I want to wake up each and every day to an open window that faces the rising sun so that I can bask in, enjoy and appreciate the dawn of a new day.

I want to laugh my ass off, as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As Fruity As It Sounds...

...I actually have a health coach. I know, that sounds horribly yuppie-esque, but it's something my employer offers to all employees. I've resisted it for years, but I finally gave in and started to use the service. My first experience with the health coach wasn't very good, truth be told: she had an accent and seemed to be just reading a script. As a result, I was less than motivated to actually keep my phone appointments with her. However, Catholic guilt being what it is, I called back and finally got a new coach who:

a) Has a good command of English
b) Also seems to be working off of scripts, but at least makes it sound like she doesn't

The scripts part is interesting, because as a professional trainer, I can pretty much tell when someone is reading printed material, regardless of how good they are. Now given the subject matter, someones health, I'd expect anyone other than a doctor or a nurse to be working from a script. Anyway, my new coach, Jenn (from San Diego no less) seems to be pretty good at making it seem extemporaneous.

Anyway, my last appointment was yesterday afternoon, which was very good timing, as I had just gotten blood work back. The blood work news was almost all good:

Total Cholesterol was 175 (a little higher than my normal 165), which is still pretty good

HDL/Good Cholesterol was 51, which is good

LDL/Bad Cholesterol was 95, which is ok

Triglycerides were 146, which is ok

Glucose was 84, which is excellent

Even my blood pressure was pretty good, at 132/78 (in fact, that's so good that maybe the nurse made a mistake...). Note though that I've been better at exercising, so that could be the reason why the BP was actually ok. And for the record, I don't use any tobacco products and I don't drink (well, maybe one drink a year), so the news on balance isn't all that bad.

Anyway, all the good news aside, I still struggle maintaining a healthy weight, and that, in my mind, is joined at the hip at my ability (in inability) to manage stress very well. So that's where the discussion yesterday went: I need to control stress a bit better and that, I think, will help me control some of the unhealthy eating. Now my next session with Jenn is next Monday (I think...my schedule is "complicated"), so my take-away was that I would write down instances when I felt under stress. The theory is, I think, that identifying the situations will help me better control the stress. Now I already have an entry for this list, but I do have to write it down.

All told, I was pleasantly surprised by this session with the coach. Who knows...it might actually help.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pictures

I spent about two to three hours last night going through all of the picture & video files that I have, spread out among various files and folders, consolidating them all onto my 6gb Seagate Flash drive. I also ended up trashing about two hundred files, most of which were .bmp copies of .jpg files (my old scanner used to scan just as .bmp files and then I'd save them as .jpg). The net result is that now all of my picture files are in one spot, which is a good thing. I just need to be more disciplined about keeping my stuff organized.


This particular picture was taken early this past spring during a walk through downtown Scranton.


I do like taking pictures, by the way. Like a lot of things I do, I'm not entirely serious about it as a hobby, but never the less I think I do it well enough that I can be happy with the results. Of particular interest to me are older buildings, although if you look at the number of files I have by category, the folder called "My Girls" has the most.

One of the biggest photographic projects I ever did was to document the demolition of the old Hotel Casey. All told, I probably took about 70 pictures of the hotel coming down. Most of them are burned onto a CD, but I do keep a few on the drive. If you are interested in the topic, let me know and I'd be glad to share the pictures. Here's one when about 60% of the hotel had already been taken down:
The hotel was originally constructed as an 'L' shape facing Lackawanna and Adams. A wing was added onto the hotel later to create a 'U' shape. What you see above is the remainder of the first floor corner and the added-on wing.

Now these pictures were taken with an old Olympus 1mp camera. It was the standard equipment for cameras at the time, including 3x zoom. My current camera is a Sony DSC-H7 8.1mp camera with a 15x zoom. It all all sorts of bells and whistles, including complete manual adjustments, night shooting and sports/burst shooting mode. It also takes great movies (and with the 15x zoom, you can use the movie camera from, say, the back of an auditorium). I've always found the picture quality of Sony's cameras to be just excellent.

I can see getting more into this as I get older. Again, like a lot of things, I don't do this necessarily to be good at it, but rather it's just something to feed my "attention span of a retarded gnat" head.

Speaking of attention span, I had better get some, as work fast approaches.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Road Apples, #2

Just a few miscellaneous thoughts running through my head at the moment...

Of Dreams and Computer Programs...Ever have a dream or thought that runs through your head so much at night that you can't sleep? That was me, last night. I kept having this reoccurring dream that I simply couldn't stop thinking about. It reminded me of my days back in college, when in basic programming class you would write some code that would end up creating this loop: an over-and-over again cycle that has no end in sight. The dream/thought was incredibly stupid, related, I think, to something in the entertainment news the other day. Anyway, after a night of tossing and turning, I finally gave up at got up this morning around 6am. After a shower, cleaning cat dishes/feeding said herd and some news reading, I'm finally mentally getting to the point where I think I can function. The truly ironic part in all of this (and with me in general, I suppose) is the fact that God blessed me with brain that's always working...it just usually isn't working on important things.

And the Newest Car on the Information Superhighway is...my older brother, who I helped finally get on-line yesterday afternoon. I actually helped him get a laptop about a month or so ago, but he had problems actually getting on-line. Problem solved yesterday, as the issue had to do with a user account name (and the fact that the dial-up ISP was sending him his bill...via email...which was a problem, as he couldn't get on-line until yesterday). Anyway, as someone who has been on-line since the early 90's, I'm really glad to see him take the plunge. Rich, it's official: the Internet isn't, in fact, a fad. Side note: Between my mother, my brothers and I, we have a total of 13 cats (5 for Rich, 4 for me, 2 for my younger brother Chris, and 2 for my mother), which sounds pretty freaky when you think about it. Mind you, I never set out to have 4 cats, but that's a long story.

In the "You Know You're A Geek When" Department...I ordered alphabetical tabs to help organize my CD collection yesterday. I found them at an on-line store, something along the lines of 'organize.com'. They are not exactly what I wanted, but they are the only thing I could find that was close. What did I want? I keep my CDs organized alphabetically, so I wanted something to help me re-shelve them when I take one or two out. Truth be told, I have about 20 that need to be put back in the case, but I've just been putting it off. Maybe this will help motivate me.

What's I'm Currently Listening To...In the car, I've been playing a lot of 'The Pretenders' lately. I love the material from the first three albums. Among the earliest of the material is 'Message of Love', which is as good as bass, guitar, vocals and drums can get on record. One of my favorite albums of all time, bar none, is 'Learning To Crawl'. At home I've been watching YouTube videos of 'The Clash'. Both groups show you that sometimes something really good (late 70's/early 80's rock) can come from something really bad (much of the disco of the 70's).

What Do Cats Think About...when they simply stare off into space? They must be thinking about something. I mean why would anything be created that simply sits there and stares without anything else going on? On some level I do think that cats think. The whole cats vs. dog, who is smarter debate is an interesting one. I read an article a few years ago that discussed that same issue in fairly granular detail. As I recall, the answer as to which was smarter depended on how you define the term 'smarter'. For example, dogs have far greater social skills than cats (not a surprise to cat owners out there who are used to being regularly ignored by their pets), which makes them want to do things that please their owners. These social skills can be leveraged in ways that can get the dog to perform tricks, like fetching a stick or rolling over. That doesn't make the dog 'smarter' because it can play fetch but a cat can't...it's more like the dog wants to fetch the stick because it wants to please someone; on the other hand, a cat is more than capable of performing the action of fetching a stick, but it simply has no desire to please anyone but itself, so it doesn't. Helping matters for dogs is the fact that they have been socialized with humans for a far greater length of time than cats have. Cats have the advantage in terms of what I could call 'survival intelligence', meaning that a cat is far more likely to be able to live and thrive on it's own than a dog can, but that doesn't point to much in terms of raw intelligence either. I think the bottom line is that both animals have roughly the same level of basic intelligence, but how that intelligence is expressed, and how we react to it, is different.

Well, I've been putting off paying bills and performing other necessary tasks for long enough, so I best get to them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Impact of Religion on Politics

In a pastoral letter to parishioners in October, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton, Joseph Martino, obstensively told local Catholics that they had a moral obligation to vote for the candidate with the strongest stand against abortion. Without mentioning either candidate by name, Bishop Martino was telling people that they had to vote for John McCain, and if they didn't, they risked their eternal salvation.

Now please note that Catholics make up a majority of Lackawanna County voters. In fact, there are probably two Catholic Churches in the county for every other denomination. That said, the following are the official Presidential Election results for Lackawanna County:

Obama - 67,112 (62.6%)
McCain - 39,198 (36.6%)
Source: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Clearly, a majority of Catholic voters had to have voted for Obama. So what does that mean for Church authority?

First, I respect the Bishop for speaking out on moral issues, and I understand that it's his prerogative as a religious leader to add his perception of "moral weight" to these moral issues. However, it's seems to me that Bishop Martino doesn't respect the ability of adults to make their own moral judgments.

Second, I believe that most people are opposed to abortion as a form of birth control. However, that's not the position of the Catholic Church. The Church believes that abortion is morally wrong all of the time. There is no exception in Church teaching for allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest. While the Church as the right to teach what it wants, many people are wary of moral teaching being turned into public policy. My version of morality may be different than yours. I oppose abortion on demand, but I also don't think the government should have the kidn of reach required to force a woman who has been brutally raped by (for example) their father to carry a pregnancy to full term. For me, that's a moral issue for the woman, and I am very fearful everytime a government attempts to regulate the intimate details of our lives.

Finally, Bishop Martino may believe that he has unincumbered authority, but in reality all real authority comes from those upon whom it is exercised. The election results speak to how that played has played out in Lackawanna County.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Firsts

A few random firsts...

First 8 Track Tape: ABBA's Greatest Hits, Volume 1
If you are in your mid-30's or younger, you probably don't know what an 8 Track tape is, but that's okay. Think of the 8 Track as being like a cassette tape, only bigger. Anyway, I bought it at a record store in downtown Scranton, back in the day when such things existed. I'm not sure why I picked that particular 8 Track tape, but I do remember playing it over and over again. I ended up having several 8 Track tapes actually, some of which (including two by ABBA) I now own on CD.

First LP: Blondie Parallel Lines
I'm not even going to bother explaining what an LP is, other than to say it also goes by the name "record". Anyway, after I bought my first real stereo (at long-forgotten named discount department store in Dunmore), I needed a record to play on it, and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" was popular, so I bought it. I ended up buying many, many more albums over the years. My mother actually had a large number of LPs growing up, and I remember many an hour spent listening to "West Side Story" on the home stereo. "You're never alone, you're never disconnected, you're home on your own, company suspected, you're well protected".

First Crush: 6th Grade
The girl was named Patty, and at the time I actually, kinda, sorta actually fit in. Don't worry, by the time puberty hit full-on, all that would change. Anyway, she was a nice girl and I had absolutely no clue as to what I should or could do about the crush I had on her. I suspect that these days that's not the case.

First Date: My Junior Prom
Honestly, I think this was my first real date. My God, it took so much courage on my part to even ask the girl to go with me, as I had such a crush on her. Oh, and I was so nerdy, dorky, etc. To make matters worse, I wore (I think) a white Tux. Note that at the time I was very tall and very thin, meaning that I ended up looking like a Q-Tip. Anyway, the Prom was el-busto for reasons that to this day are too many to count and too painful to recall. Somewhere there is a picture of this. To my date...Sharon...all I can say is this: "I'm Sorry!".

First Car: 1974 Plymouth Duster
It was a light green in color, except for the front quater panel, which was orange (actually it was green and rusted originally, so I got a used orange one from DeNaples junk yard). No carpet. AM radio. Reverse that really didn't want to work most of the time...think reving the motor and a giant "thud" when it went into gear. I shared the car with my brother Rich.

First Computer: Commodore Vic20
I bought this pig from someone in Mechanicsburg while I was in college. It had something like 1K of memory. It did nothing. I repeat, nothing. No disk drive. No hardrive. I think I wrote little programs that would tell it to make sounds. I now have watches with more processing power.

The "It" Moments

Hearing so many people talk yesterday about the impact of the Obama election made me recall the times in my life when cosmic forces just seem to align in a certain way to produce profound change. For lack of a better title, I'm calling such events "It" moments. Now I'll say right off the bat that, while I am proud as an American that we've broken a racial barrier in electing Barack Obama as President, I don't consider that event to be one of the "It" moments in my life. So what have been the "It" moments in my life? Well here are a few:

Age 15-16: Summer Camp
I worked as a dishwasher in a summer camp for two seasons. It was just a terrific job. I was young, hardworking and not affraid. The job was perfect for me; although it didn't pay much ($60/week as I recall, but I got all the food I wanted plus free lodging), I had a blast. I remember sitting in my cabin with the older people I worked with, listening to album 1. side 1 of The Beatles White Album. I think it was here where I discovered the real joy in being independent and how being alone wasn't alwasy a bad thing.

Age 19: Going Away To Collect
I went away to college for my Junior and Senior years to Penn State Harrisburg. As was the case at summer camp, I think this was impactful for me because once again I had to be independent, and I had the chance to see possibilities beyond in myself and the world around me that I had somehow missed before. That's not to say that the whole experience was sunshine, smiles & rainbows..."It" moments aren't always that way be definition...but never the less it profoundly changed me. I remember my first visit to the campus (with my friend at the time Tom), thinking once I got there that "this was the place". To this very day I still dream about Penn State Harrisburg...about being there...about going to class...about experiencing that life again, one more time.

Age 23-24: Birth of My Oldest Daughter
I am very glad that I didn't wait until I was older to become a father. Having a child changes you in ways that are at best difficult to explain. Until then, it's tough to imagine, for example, willingly giving up your life for someone else, but when you have chidren, it's as if all of the very rules you govern yourself by change in a moments notice. Watching children grow, from helpless infants to arguing teenagers & beyond is truly one of life's great experiences. Sure, the struggles are nothing short of tremendous on many levels. I'm still not sure how I'm going to afford college tuition when I have to going to school at the same time. However, one of the things you learn as a parent is that the answers come....they always do.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ah, The Night Before

We said our goodbyes, ah the night before

("The Night Before" by The Beatles)


So what happened the night before? I think you saw it expressed in where the two Presidential candidates held their respective rallies:

John McCain held it on the grounds of a fancy hotel, the Biltmore, in Arizona

Barack Obama held it on the grounds of a public park in Chicago

I think that pretty much sums it all up. Where Obama spoke during the campaign to a broad public, McCain was speaking to the people who would stay at a place like the Biltmore.

What did McCain say to younger people, struggling people, people who felt they had been left behind? What did he say to the average college student that would inspire them to vote for him? McCain spoke to a predictable Republican base, but that's simply not the majority of America. My hope for the Republican party is that they take a good, hard look at what who they are and where they stand and find a message...or messages...that inspire people to vote for them (not simply against someone else).

I don't know what the next four years will bring, but I do know this: Last night America proved to the world that we have the ability to move beyond our sometimes self-imposed prejudices. We've decided to move from our self-imposed isolation in the world, a world where we claimed the moral high ground while not acting like we had the moral high ground, to a position where we can say "look at what we do, not just at what we say".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Who I Voted For And Why

Knowing this has zero influence on anyone, I thought I'd share who I voted for, and why.

President - Barack Obama & Joe Biden
Why? Obama was not my first choice for the Democratic nominee; in fact, he was technically my third choice. On the positive side, I think his position on healthcare is far better than that of Senator McCain. In fact, doing nothing would be better than what Senator McCain proposed on healthcare. What's more, Obama has shown himself to be very capable of being cool under pressure and handling criticism very well. The guy has skin that must be six inches thick. In addition, Joe Biden is a Scranton native, so that's always a plus. On the negative side, I think Obama's tax proposals will cost far too much. He's counting on spending the $10 billion a month we blow in Iraq on domestic priorities...when we shouldn't be spending the $10 billion at all. In the end, he was the better of two choices for me.

Oh and a word on Sarah Palin. If Governor Palin could be thrown off her game in an interview with Katie Couric ("What magazines do you read?"), how would she handle herself against the Chinese or Russians? Palin seems like a nice person, but she's clearly not ready for national office. Her choice as a running mate by Senator McCain spoke poorly of his decision making.

On a related note, here's a link to a terrific opinion piece by NY Times columnist Marueen Dowd. Must read stuff... November 2nd MD Piece.

Congress - Lou Barletta
I voted for Republican Lou Barletta over incumbent Paul Kanjorski for one primary reason: Kanjorski seemed arrogant in the face of questions about his funneling earmark money to his family. He seems to typify everything that's wrong with Congress today, including an odd sense of entitlement. Also, assuming Senator Obama wins the Presidency, I think having more moderate Republicans in Congress will be a very good thing. Now I do have issues with Barletta, starting with his seeming inability to understand that it's the Federal Government (not the City of Hazelton) that is responsible for securing our borders. However, I'm willing to give him a chance.

As a side note, while I'm not in Congressman Chris Carney's district, I do hope that he wins. He's proven himself to be very capable, principled and tough.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting For A Candidate (not Against a Candidate)

Support whomever you want for President tomorrow, however I have one suggestion: actually vote FOR that person, not simply AGAINST their opponent.

What does this really mean? Well...

...understand the policies and ideas of the candidates. Read what they put out on their websites. Read articles in respected publications; this would include both right leaning (such as the Wall Street Journal) and left-leaning (such as the New York Times).

...ignore sounces of infomration that you know are completely biased in one direction or another. Rush Limbaugh is not a good source for information about Senator Obama. Keith Olbermann is not a good source for information about Senator McCain.

...understand what's important to you. If taxes are a concern for you, then pay attention to the tax policies of the candidates.

...ignore the crap about Obama being an "Arab/African/Non-Citizen/Flag-burner/Muslim" just as you should ignore the crap about McCain being "Crazy/PTSD suffering/Adulterer/Mod-connected", as none of it is probably true and all of it belongs on a Jr High School playground,l not a serious discussion about who should lead the country.

...listen to others, including family, friends and religious leaders, but don't let them take the power ONLY YOU HAVE to make YOUR decision.

...look at the records of the candidates and see how they have voted in the past on the issues that matter most to you. Here's a link that can help - OnTheIssues.org

...lastly, listen to and see how the candidates have condudted themselves during the campagin. Have they been honest? Are they talking about issues or simply throwing mud? Do they seem passionate?

In the end, I really do believe that every vote counts. However, because of that, every vote should be cast FOR SOMEONE, not simply AGAINST SOMEONE ELSE.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Creative Loafing

Some of the places where I spend time on-line...

Cult News Network
A daily listing of articles on cults, religious extremists and general fruitcakes.

Am I Annoying Or Not
I always check out the recently added celebrities. Basically a site where you can vote on whether you find a particular celebrity...current or historical...as being annoying (or not). I don't vote on it, but there is terrific trivia value in the short bios posted.

Tee Shirt Hell
Don't click on the link if you are easily offended. I buy from the site every once in a while. There is some damn funny stuff there.

MSNBC
I think it's the best site on the web for news. The page is easy to navigate, there are virtually never any dead links, the stories change throughout the day and they are quick to post breaking news.

DrudgeReport
Matt Drudge is at his worst when he pushes too hard on the right-wing button, but it's a great site never the less. Breaking news is posted very rapidly. This has been my homepage for years.

Break
A cool site for silly-assed videos. Lots of car crashes and stupid kids getting messed up while riding skateboads. The viewer comments are sometimes funnier than the videos. The picture galleries are always entertaining.

Urban Dictionary
Want to know what 'Santorum' means in urban slang? This is the place. In addition to being pretty funny, it's also very informative.

Operation Clambake
Everything you always wanted to know about the "church" of Scientology. Very, very scary stuff.

Song Facts
Want to know the inspiration behind the song "Everythign I Own" by Bread? That and much more can be found at this site. I could spend hours here.

The Scranton Times
Hometown newspaper.

Hulu
Where I go to watch old (and new) TV shows. I highly recommend it. Another place where you can spend hours. Don't bother linking unless you have a high-speed connecdtion.

SonyStyle
I love Sony's products. Check out the closeouts and other special values. You can get some great stuff at great prices. This is where I buy virtually all my personal electronics.

Local Message Boards - DohertyDeceit, PilcheskyDeceit & NEPAMedia
Definitely in the category of "you have to live here to understand this crap", but if you're from NEPA, you might find some of the postings interesting.

LOL Cats
If you are a cat fan, then you'll enjoy this site. If you're not, then you'll simply think it's stupid.

Strange Days Indeed

Last night was the time to set the clocks back ("Spring Forward, Fall Back" as my mother says), so in theory that gave all of us an extra hour of sleep. Note I said "theory", as it didn't especially work for me, but then again I don't have what I would call a good relationship with sleep.

I hate sleeping. I wish I didn't have to sleep. Truly restful night of sleep? I can probably count on one hand the number of times per year I actually sleep really, really well (without the aid of something, like sinus medication) and wake-up feeling refreshed. Sleep doesn't like me and I think it's a waste of time. Last night was no exception. I tossed and turned, constantly thinking about the time change (Why?? What does that matter!!) and had dreams about the Presidential election (I can't recall the details) and about my youngest daughter Rebecca living on her own in an apartment much like what I had in York PA. The Rebecca dream was the most vivid...hours later I can still recall being in the dream and walking down a red cobblestone alley in route to her apartment to help her with something.

Now as I previously noted, there are things I can take to help me sleep. In fact my doctor gave me something, but I only rarely take it. I'm funny that way about medication in that I'm a firm believer in only taking medication that you essentially need. Helping matters in the "not taking too often" department is the fact that whenever I take anything to help me sleep, I always wake up feeling groggy, like I'm 21 again and had just spent too many hours drinking too many different things.

I think when you add it all up together, I'm just not one for turning my mind off, if you will. Truth be told, I'm not always doing something, but I'm always thinking of something. Maybe everyone is like me, or maybe no one is like me in that regard. What I can't do that I know others can is to really clear my head in order to sleep well. When my head hits the pillow for my usual begrudging 5.5 - 6.0 hours of sleep, I usually fall asleep in about five minutes, if for no other reason than exhaustion.

So there you have it, yet another blog about how much I hate sleeping. For the record, last night I went to bed at 10 (really 11) and got up at 6 (really 7). Confusing, huh? Yet another reason to hate sleeping.