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Monday, June 29, 2009

Learning to Flinch

The title, above, is from a Warren Zevon and has absolutely nothing to do with anything I plan on writing - I just think it sounds "cool". It's an interesting take-off on the more deeply meaning concept of "Learning to Fly", which if you want something of a heady song with that title, listen to the Pink Floyd number (which happens to be a favorite of mine; I think it's from the album "A Momentary Lapse of Reason").

Anyway, I'm looking down at another week following a weekend that was pretty busy. On top of my list annoyances is the fact that my back has been bothering me, at times pretty badly. Years ago I had some pack pain that was eventually cured by a Chiropractor. I tried to get an appointment with this same Chiropractor, but that wasn't in the cards, so it's off to a new one for me at 11am. Let's hope that, between what he can do and my own common sense, I can get to the point where standing straight up is an option again.

Speaking of common sense, my eating habits have none. I'm going to start this week reigning that back in. My weight has soared over the past year or so, and while there have been a lot of excuses (extreme stress at work, etc,), in the end I am the one who is accountable for what I put into my body. It's about time that I grew the hell up and started eating like an adult. Growing old, as they say, sucks.

On that happy note, it's time to start the week.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Getting It Wrong

I know, I promised that I would only have one Michael Jackson comment, and I've tried keep to that, I swear. But I do hope that some of the news outlets decide to get this story RIGHT.

What do I mean by RIGHT?

Well first, certainly do talk about Jackson's life, etc. The fact is that he has been influential in popular culture over the past thirty or so years. There are things to celebrate here, even if you are like me and don't particularly care for his style of music (the last MJ song I liked was "Ben", the one about the killer rat).

Second, do talk about how this man died. Americans LOVE to rubber neck whenever we see an accident, we always look at road kill, we are entertained whenever someone seemingly important drops so mightily.

Finally though, to get this RIGHT, we need to take a serious look at the uniquely American Culture that creates this freak-show. Some of the elements of this culture include -
  • Worship of the Celebrity - Forget doctors and nurses that save people's lives, many Americans instead worship some young man or woman who can sing (or rap). Clearly, we have our priorities majorly messed up. Some actually believe that a celebrity is somehow worthy of more...whatever more is (be it money, adulation, etc.)...than those of us who live common lives. They aren't. The true worth of a person far too complex to be measured by a media popularity contest under the guise of "celebrity".
  • Worship of the Dollar - Michael Jackson, more so than most, personified the notion that having money is this kind of "game". Clearly, he was incredibly disconnected between the effort required to earn money, and the effort required to spend money. Apparently while he was not working all these years and instead being sued by the families of little boys, he was still living like a prince. His attitude about money is almost akin to that of what you see in a teenage girl who does not work: they just expect to have it.
  • Worship of Self - Michael Jackson, apparently, was obsessed with altering his appearance to look less African-American and look more like, well, something else. Look, I write this as an overweight, tall, gawky middle-aged white guy with a bad back, a receding hairline, eyes that are always flying off in different directions and a nose that is both too large and which is slightly bent to the left. In other words, I know about physical imperfection. Yet I've managed to survive all these years with the knowledge that "hey, I may not look like George Clooney, but I can tolerate what I see in the mirror"). Michael Jackson, a guy who wrote a song called "Man In The Mirror" apparently could not stand what he saw in the mirror. His apparent disgust for what he saw, and then his unmitigated worship of self took him to physical-altering places that created something of a monster at the end.
Yes, Michael Jackson has taught us an invaluable lesson: talent, fame & wealth don't equal happiness; in fact, when it came to Michael Jackson, those things just magnified problems he probably had for a long time.

Here's to celebrating all of us who are imperfect but yet still manage to live our lives, smile every once in a while, sing a song or two and try to do the right thing. We may not be a "celebrity" like Michael Jackson, but I can virtually guarantee that, for the most part, we will be happier.

I'll end this with the lyrics to a song that I think clearly GETS IT.

ROCKSTAR (by Nickleback)

I'm through with standing in line
to the clubs I'll never get in
It's like the bottom of the ninth
and I'm never gonna win
This life hasn't turned out
quite the way I want it to be

(tell me what you want)

I want a brand new house
on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in
And a king size tub big enough
for ten plus me

(yeah, so what you need)

I'll need a, a credit card that's got no limit
And a big black jet with a bedroom in it
Gonna join the mile high club
At thirty-seven thousand feet

(Been there done that)

I want a new tour bus full of old guitars
My own star on Hollywood Boulevard
Somewhere between cher and
James Dean is fine for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I'm gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I'd even cut my hair and change my name

'Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
Livin' in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny cause we just won't eat
And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
with her bleach blonde hair
and well..
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar

I wanna be great like Elvis without the tassels
Hire eight body guards that love to beat up assholes
Sign a couple autographs
So I can eat my meals for free

(I'll have the quesadilla... ha ha)

I'm gonna dress my ass
with the latest fashion
Get a front door key to the Playboy mansion
Gonna date a centerfold that loves to
blow my money for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I'm gonna trade this life
For fortune and fame
I'd even cut my hair
And change my name

'Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
Livin' in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny cause we just won't eat
And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
with her bleach blonde hair
And we'll hide out in the private rooms
With the latest dictionary
in today's who's who
We'll get you anything
with that evil smile
Everybody's got a
drug dealer on speed dial
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar

I'm gonna sing those songs
that offend the censors
Gonna pop my pills
from a Pez dispenser
Get washed-up singers writing all my songs
Lip sync 'em every night so I don't get 'em wrong

Well we all just wanna be big rockstars
Livin' in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny cause we just won't eat
And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
with her bleach blonde hair
And we'll hide out in the private rooms
With the latest dictionary
in today's who's who
We'll get you anything
with that evil smile
Everybody's got a
drug dealer on speed dial well..
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Only Michael Jackson Comment...

...I don't know what's more tragic: the life of Michael Jackson, the death of Michael Jackson, or the cadre of assorted freak, loons and weirdos that are now being interviewed about Michael Jackson on cable news 24/7. Peace Mr Jackson.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Swallowing My Pride...

...I've come to the conclusion that, at least at work, I've had to swallow what little pride I have left that so often I've actually grown accustomed to the taste.

The Union "Flip" Side

I've often written here in defense of the right that I think Catholic school teachers have to form an (independent) union, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm an absolute fan of labor unions.

Case in point: This Article.

The article manages to point out a perfect storm of inept, bureaucratic government combined with a Draconian "the teachers job is more important than everything else" union mentality.

It doesn't have to happen this way. In other parts of the working world employers manage to create processes that efficiently deal with allegations of employee misconduct without paying the accused to sit around and do nothing (or even worse, sneak off to a bar and get snookered).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Road Apples, #33

This Week I am under a lot of pressure to get most of the development work done on training for a new application installation happening in July. It's "do-able", but it will require some extra hours of my part. Nothing I am looking forward do, but these days I suppose we should all be thankful for what we have, especially when it comes to employment.

Thankful - Which brings me to the next point. Are difficult economic times justification for putting a desire to do better on hold? I'm sure that in the minds of some employers this is perfect cover for the "shut up and be glad you have a job" mentality. Well I think that kind of persona probably uses that line all the time, but it's just that in times such these, the threat actually has some teeth to it.

Also This Week marks the start of the summer schedule for me, meaning that I go into work earlier because I don't have to take children to or from school. That's a double-edged sword, as I end up working even harder for nothing more. Wait, I'm sensing a theme here in the works. Perhaps this shouldn't have been a "Road Apples" after all.

In PC News - Norton has given up on removing the W32 Trojan from my computer, as it apparently has wrapped itself up so far into my operating system that it's not repairable by them or any other mortals. Yes, they have suggested I contact Microsoft for a solution. In the interim, I'm going to have to stop using Google, which is now basically useless anyway, as the Trojan simply re-directs my search results into other things anyway. However the new Microsoft search engine, Bing, is not impacted by the worm at all, so I've been using that for the past two days. It's a great tool actually.

On The Dental Front - This Thursday I get the metal screw put into my head as part of the implant process. I can't say that I'm actually looking forward to it, although it will be nice to have it behind me. I am told that this part isn't too difficult. We shall see.

Side Note To Myself - As I get older and the parts start to not work so well, I have to remember that none of that is an excuse to be mean, nasty, negative, surly or otherwise difficult to be around. Life is far too short for that kind of thing. It's a shame that some folks just are not capable of understanding that, at any level. As has been the case for me on many occasions, I've been blessed with many examples in my life of what not to be. It's ironic that when I was growing up, I always was so envious of these "perfect" families that I saw on TV, thinking that my life was crap because I could never exist in that realm. What I've come to realize is that having everything doesn't guarantee perfect happiness. Granted I wouldn't mind some of that good stuff coming my way sometimes even today, but still, I am grateful for the lessons that I've been able to learn in life.

In The News - It looks like protests continue in Iran, North Korea is still threatening war (Wait, is that really news? After all, they have been threatening war almost non-stop for as long as I can remember...), and President Obama is having a difficult health care reform sell. Ah, to live in the modern age. Regarding Iran, I think those folks have all the guts in the world for standing up the way they do; here's to hoping that they remain in solidarity and eventually force the change that everyone except the religious leaders in Iran seem to want. On health care, well that's a different topic for a different post, but I will say this: Health care is already rationed in this country, so I'm not sure how much worse anyone could possible make it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On Father's Day

David Gates, the chief songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from the 70's soft-rock group Bread wrote the song "Everything I Own" about his father. The song itself has been covered by many others, including Boy George, and, as I understand it, a Jamaican musician. I think the song's lyrics are as fitting a tribute as can possibly exist on a Father's Day.

You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you

I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give ev'rything I own
Just to have you back again

You taught me how to love
What it's of, what it's of
You never said too much
But still you showed the way
And I knew from watching you
Nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can't let go

(Repeat chorus)

Is there someone you know
You're loving them so
But taking them all for granted?
You may lose them one day
Someone takes them away
And they don't hear
The words you long to say

(Repeat chorus)

Just to touch you once again

I've always found this song very touching, not because it reminded me of my father, but because it reminds me of the father I try to be to my daughters. I probably fail more than I succeed, but in life I've always believed that it's the effort that counts more than sometimes the result. Even more importantly, I always keep on trying.

As for my own father, growing up he was never there, physically or otherwise. At the time that always made me very angry. Now I've come to realize that he was trapped in a viscous cycle of mental health ills, promoted by a series of bad decisions, including too much medication, too much alcohol, too much denial and a sea of guilt. If for no other reasons than those I don't drink, only take medication when absolutely necessary, and I do my best to stay mentally fit. I also now make the choice to believe that in his own mind he always wanted to do the right thing, even if he was never really able to actually do so.

Happy Father's Day in Heaven Dad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sick Computer

Alas, my laptop is infected with a Trojan Horse, and despite the hours of work by the folks at Norton in India, it is still sick. I'm going to see if a Vista reinstall helps things. Could be an interesting evening to say the least.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Excellent Covers

A lot of deep-thought posts this week, so I think it's time for something a tad bit, shall we say, "lighter". That noted, here are my favorite cover versions - i.e., famous songs covered by a different artist. The list isn't in any particular order.

Song Title:
Raspberry Beret
Originally By:
Excellent Cover By:
The Hindu Love Gods - The Hindu Love Gods were basically 3/4ths of REM (sans Michael Stipe) plus Warren Zevon. It's the same song but with a heck of an edge and some cheeky singing by Zevon.

Song Title:
My Sweet Lord
Originally By:
George Harrison
Excellent Cover By:
Billy Preston, Eric Clapton & Others - If you are a Beatles and/or George Harrison fan and you don't own The Concert for George, then get off your butt and immediately buy it. It is, by my reckoning, the best tribute show ever. Preston is simply moving on this version.

Song Title:
Across the Universe
Originally By:
The Beatles/John Lennon
Excellent Cover By:
Rufus Wainright - Hear it for yourself here. Just a great a performance, sung enough like Lennon to make it familiar but different enough to keep you interested. I once saw Wainright and Sean Lennon perform this during a John Lennon tribute show.

Song Title:
Without You
Originally By:
Excellent Cover By:
Harry Nilsson - This is an example of the cover being markedly better than the original, and I'm something of a Badfinger fan to boot. Nilsson's singing on this song is a "one in a million" kind of effort; there probably aren't any artists in popular music today that could pull this off the way Harry did all those years ago.

Song Title:
To Sir With Love
Originally By:
Lulu (written by Don Black & Mark London)
Excellent Cover By:
10,000 Maniacs + Michael Stipe - This was performed, I think, for the first Bill Clinton Inauguration ball in 1993. Natalie Merchant has an outstanding voice.

Song Title:
Let's Stick Together
Originally By:
Wilbert Harrison
Excellent Cover By:
Bryan Ferry - Harrison is famous for the song "Kansas City", although Let's Stick Together was released as a single on or about 1962. The Ferry version of this song is very cheeky, but very, very catchy.

And a few covers that I can't stand...

Aerosmith performing "Come Together" (Beatles)
This was done for the horrible Sgt Pepper's movie staring the Bee Gees. The original has this kind of "industrial" edge to it that makes it so different; the cover is just Steven Tyler doing his act. Nothing special.

Earth, Wind & Fire performing "Got To Get You Into My Life" (Beatles)
I love the horn arrangement on this cover (far better than the Beatles version), but the overall performance just doesn't cut it for me. McCartney's original singing, which I think is his take on Motown, almost seems more "soulfull" (all be it over the top) than the E,W&F version.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's The Little Annoyances In Life...

It's Monday morning at about 7:30am and it already feels like I've been up for a day. That's not a good sign.

Anyway, one of the first things I do every morning when I come down stairs is to turn on my laptop. Being a Windows (Vista in my case) user, I've built my schedule around the seemingly forever boot-up time that the operating system requires. That's annoying, but rumor has it that other operating systems (is it the pear? oh, apple...) just simply start when you turn them on. One of these days I'm going to have to explore that further. Once my Vaio gets going and I log into my account, I have Firefox use The Scranton Times as my homepage. That brings me to another point of annoyance: The homepage for The Scranton Times doesn't look like it's been updated at all since Sunday.

Wait, we are talking about a NEWS PAGE here on the Internet.

Few things bother me more in the "information age" than stale news. I loathe precisely because the content is stale. I generally speaking think that slants horribly to the religious right, but I still visit the page a few times a day precisely because they do frequent updates (although they fired outstanding columnist Roger Friedman in April...strike against them). I love MSNBC because they also update their content very frequently. I still even visit the Druge(Obama Evil)Report because Matt knows when to throw up a decent headline.

Come on Scranton Times, you can do better than this! I know that there is a lot of talk and thought going into how local media can actually make money with an Internet presence. I'm cool with that, even if it means charging for content. What I'm not cool with the same Dairy Farmer story being the headline now for over 24 hours. Charge me something to view your content, but for *gosh* sake please at least have something worth paying for up on the site.

Okay, I'm not sure if I feel better after that rant, but it is over with, I promise. Funny, but I often write these things as if I'm talking to someone else; in reality, I'm talking to myself. The fact that anyone else would even think to read this dribble is beyond me. Although I do probably update about as much as The Scranton Times does!

In other news, Father David Bechtel has written something for me to post here on Catholic teacher unionization. I'll have that up later today or tomorrow. Any delay is solely due to my wanting to noodle over how I want to respond. As I mentioned in a reply to him this morning, I'm leaning towards having his text posted and then putting up a separate reply the next day. I also need to come up with a suitable disclaimer of sorts, in that I'm in no way, shape or form even capable or qualified to speak for Catholic teachers.

On that note, it's time to go to work to probably be annoyed silly.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Placing Blame for Mental Illness, Scranton Style

"I am not going to place blame, what will that accomplish? However, I do have to wonder why the family did not take action?"

- Anonymous Internet message board poster, on the death of a Scranton resident who suffered from mental health problems

Okay, I've been fighting the urge to comment further on this, but lines are being crossed here that shouldn't be crossed.

Now (as I've mentioned before) I have members of my family who currently suffer from mental health problems, ranging from mild to almost debilitating depression. I mention this not for want of sympathy or anything of the sort, but rather to note that I've seem the family side of mental illness - similar to that of the family of the Scranton resident shot by the police - all be it without the tragic ending. Yes, I've even had experience in my family with a "302 call", and I'll say that the officer in question (a Scranton police officer) handled the situation with incredible tact, compassion, professionalism and understanding.

In other words, I know what I'm taking about.

That out of the way, the family of the recent shooting victim is in no way, shape or form to blame for what tragically happened to this individual. Even in the midst of severe depression, an individual is accountable for their own actions. Does suffering from severe depression cloud some one's judgment? It surely does, but they are accountable never the less, up until such time as they are deemed to be incapable of handling their own affairs. We want to believe that there exists these clear lines between health and illness, sanity and insanity, but in my experience no such clear lines exist. It's the complexity of these issues that make them so difficult to deal with at times, that and the frustration of seeing what needs to be done on your end, but not being able to get that individual to see it on theirs. That's a frustration I live with each and every day of my life.

Blame the family? That's a nice little piece of blamestorming, but it denies the complexity of the problems at hand. That's a case of looking for a scapegoat. That's a cop-out from facing the reality that we don't do a very good job in this country of facing issues of mental health in and then dealing with them. In this case it is entirely possible that there is some responsibility to be born by the Scranton Police Department (SPD) for the actions they took; I'll look for the report by the State Police to help determine that. However, even if the SPD is to be held responsible for the tragic death, we can't forget that there were choices made by the victim in question that are part of the equation. We sometimes don't want to face this, but sometimes bad things happen because we make bad choices, and that's not unique to mental health problems. Yes, this is all difficult to swallow, it's dirty, it's something we don't want to face, but it's reality.

A family can sympathize, a family can support, a family can suggest, but in the end the family can't live for the person that suffers from mental health problems.

Road Apples, #32

It's Sunday - so I get to do all the ritual Sunday things I typically do. This includes exciting things like running the vacuum cleaner and picking up garbage. Just how pathetic is this? Well consider the fact that I got up, on a Sunday morning, at about 5:30am and yet there was no real reason for me to have done so.

Letterman vs Palin - I see where David Letterman is in something of a feud with Governor Sarah Palin. Now if anyone ever questioned the governor's intelligence before, now you have proof. Letterman is a comedian. Debating him on any issue makes about as much sense as my debating fiscal policy with any of my four cats. Part of what Letterman said was stupid at best, in extremely bad taste at worst; this is, however, what comedians do. The good Governor should maybe spend more time on running the state of Alaska and less time debating the tastefulness of a "Letterman Top Ten" list.

Cracks - I did manage to finish sealing some cracks in the concrete in and around the front of my house yesterday. If I were more ambitious I would work on filling in some cracks on the left hand side of the house, where I have an old sidewalk that goes to the back yard. I'll add that to the never-ending list of things I want/need to do but probably will not actually ever do. It's a long list.

Iranian Elections - Yes, the problem with a democracy (even a quasi-democracy like Iran) and the democratic processes in general is that it never guarantees anything. The United States learned that lesson the hard way with the election of pro-Hamas candidates during the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election. We now get reminded of that again with the re-election of President Ahmadinejad in Iran. I mean how dare the people of Iran defy the Western world and re-elect someone we don't like? Now don't get me wrong, as I think some of what President Ahmadinejad has said, particularly when it comes to Holocaust denial, is down right scary. However they don't let me vote in those elections. If we want to live in a world where democracy flourishes, then we need to be willing to accept things we don't agree with.

Yesterday - I spent about three hours yesterday cutting grass at my mothers house and then my own. It was hot, hot work. I think the relative humidity at noon yesterday was something more usually seen in the jungles of South American than this part of the world. I also got a little bit of sun on the back of my neck. I guess I should worry about the "getting sun" thing; when I was a kid you just took sunburns for granted. Now days, it seems that every sunburn brings you one step closer to fatal skin cancer. Life was indeed simpler growing up in the 70's.

Things I Need To Do Today - In no particular order...
  • Return some documents to my brother that I had faxed for him last night and today (yes, I have a fax machine).
  • Replace a light switch at my brother's house (same brother as above).
  • Take my mother shopping and write out checks for her.
  • Get a new string trimmer head for my mother's weed whacker; my younger brother normally does the yard-work at my mother's house, but since his stroke that isn't going to be happening for a while. As I've been doing it I've noted that the head on her trimmer is really in bad shape.
  • Get some new socks at Kmart.
Yes, this is how very thrilling my life truly is.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Michael Jackson's Ear: How Very American

Fascinating story yesterday in the Daily News. You can link to it here.

It seems that Mr Jackson has had so much surgery on his nose that his "doctors" have been forced to harvest tissue from his ears in order to have the parts to continue their good work. Man, if this doesn't creep you out, then I don't know what would. I mean he almost has Vulcan ears now. That's not even human.

Anyway, taking a step back, this should give us all pause on a few levels.

First, having talent (I don't like his music, but I admit that Mr Jackson has some talent) doesn't guarantee anything in life. Certainly not happiness or even basic mental stability for that matter. I know, there have been many geniuses (although I don't consider this guy to fall into that category) who have been deeply troubled, it's hard to find such an extreme example where someone basically pays to be mutilated.

Second, in my experience the world can be divided into two camps: those who know that money can't buy happiness (include me there) and those that somehow believe that it can (I have people in my immediate family that fall into that camp). At one time Mr Jackson was horribly wealthy, but yet apparently so distraught with himself - despite millions of adoring fans - that he felt compelled to physically re-do himself. All that money and yet he couldn't even look himself in the mirror without being disgusted at what he saw. What good was all that money? Sure, it bought him lots of trinkets, but none of that "stuff" could seemingly ease the pain of his own self-perception.

Third, Mr Jackson is walking proof that we all need people in our lives who will tell it to us straight. I am fortunate in that regard, as I have someone like that, but you get the impression that Mr Jackson does not. "I'd like to have my nose done to the point where it is falling off" - "oh, that's a great idea Michael!". This point is related to my second: having unlimited resources can sometimes mean that you have unlimited yes people around you, and your ability to stay grounded in reality diminishes by the zeros added to your bank account.

We Americans like to believe that success is it's own reward, and that the only direction that matters is up. How very untrue. Yes, success can be it's own reward, but in some instances - this in particular - it's clear that success is also it's own punishment. Success, in the absence of a grounding in reality and an acknowledgment that we all need people in our lives to help us see and interpret what is around us, can clearly be more torturous than glamorous.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Neo-NAZI Attacks Holocaust Museum

Story link here.

The guard that was killed, Stephen T. Johns, was a six year employee of the security company that protected the museum, and left behind a young son, also named Stephen T. Johns. In an interview on GMA, the younger Johns called his father a hero.

Now I wonder how the Rush Limbaugh's and Michael Savage's of this world will spin this? This is, after all, the extreme product of their tirades. Are they in any way, shape or form personally responsible for this kind of thing? Of course not. However, when you preach a constant gospel of "Obama Evil", "Obama ending US _____________", you have to know that some people are going to take that, couple it with their already insane ideas about race, religion, etc. and eventually find "the end justifies the means" rationale floating in their heads. The same is true for the abortion doctor killer: his actions were emboldened by a extremist agenda that preached a constant spew of hatred.

Does this mean that right-wing talk radio should be censored, moderated, "equal-timed"? Absolutely Not! What it does mean though is they have to be publicly held up for their views for all to see. I'm a firm believer that sunlight is truly the best disinfectant, so let's make sure that every extremist nut, be they right or left wing, is fully bathed in light.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Road Apples, #31

Extended Family Health Update 1 - Well my mother came home from Mercy Hospital on Saturday, but is still in some pain. I'm thinking this will be an almost constant thing now for the rest of her life. That's sad, truly sad. My mother worked very hard all of her life, both as a kid growing up on a farm in West Virginia and as an adult single-parent, working nights to support her family. There's something horribly wrong about this being the 'reward' for a lifetime of efforts.

Extended Family Health Update 2 - My brother was discharged from CMC yesterday and sent to in-patient care at Allied Services, which is an institution that does rehabilitative medicine for people who suffer strokes, accidents, or other impairments. My mother has actually been there a few times after some of her brain tumors (she has had something like 7 of many that I've lost count). Joe doesn't seem to have much impairment resulting from his stroke, but I guess they want to make sure. Personally I think it's a great idea. Better safe than sorry with this stuff.

Police Shooting - Still no official word on the results of the police shooting of a Scranton resident, although I believe that the report was delivered to the Lackawanna County District Attorney yesterday. I continue to believe that the officers in questions should be assumed innocent until there is compelling evidence to the contrary; that said, this investigation needs to be made public, if only to squash some of the insane rumor-mongering that is going in in various dank corners of the Internet.

I Love Thunderstorms - Just wanted to add that, given the time of the year. I find nothing more thrilling than a storm after a hot and humid day.

In The "Creepy Life Lesson" Department - I overhead one side of a telephone conversation the other day and was certain that I knew what it was about, with "it" being something that would scare the heck out of me. Well low and behold I had the whole thing absolutely wrong, so wrong in fact I wasn't even close. It just goes to show how much the mind jumps to conclusions about things, and how dangerous that can really be. Score one for being wrong.

In "$hit Just Keeps Getting Stinkier" Department - Attorney Robert Powell has plead guilty to various sundry things related to the whole "let's send kids to jail for cash" scheme perpetrated in Luzerne County. I'm not even going to create a story link to it, as the mere thought as to what these bastards did makes me physically ill. I hear there is more to come on this, which is a good thing. Judicial corruption in Luzerne County is like cancer & it has to be treated that as as well - surgery, radiation & chemotherapy are all needed. Destroy every last possible "cell" of that disease down there. What they did, sending kids to jail for profit, is so horrible that I can't think of a punishment (other than the death penalty) that is too severe. If there is a God, He/She/It will ensure that these folks rot in Hell for their actions.

Monday, June 8, 2009

If You Were Here Today...

And if I say I really knew you well
What would your answer be.
If you were here today?
- Here Today/Paul McCartney

For whatever reason, as I was walking out of the grocery store this evening I thought to myself "if I were to die tomorrow, how would I be remembered?" I know, that's a morbid thought and there is probably some deep-seated psychological reason for even entertaining the thought. Anyway, and for whatever reason, here's how yours truly would hope to be remembered - if I was "here today".

He never ever intentionally tried to harm anyone.

He never asked anyone to do anything he was not willing to do himself.

He was always interested in learning new things.

He never considered himself to be above anyone else.

He took time out to not be so serious all the time.

He was always challenging himself to try and do the right thing.

A Good Dad
Who tried to do what was right, even if that wasn't always what was easy.

A Good Investment

NASA will be spending over $600 million dollars on the Kepler Mission to find extra-solar, possibly habitable planets. The mission web-page can be found here.

Now I can see some arguing that this is not the time or the place to be spending money on something like this. I could not disagree more. In fact, this is precisely the time to be investing resources in basic science such as this. Why?
  • This Is About "The Big" Question - I'm a fan of all the sciences, but this is truly "the big one" in terms of scientific questions: just how likely is it that there is other life in the universe?
  • This Is About About Inspiration - I think that one of the goals of truly good science is to inspire others, not just with answers to big questions, but with projects that get people to think more broadly than they ever thought they ever thought they could. I often wonder if some 13 year old girl out there, reading about the Kepler Mission, will end up one day piloting a ship to Mars or better yet, discovering a communications signal from another planet.
  • It Defines Us As Americans - Americans have never been afraid of big challenges, and as noted above, this is about the biggest challenge of them all.
  • This One Is For The Long Term - This might sound incredibly strange and weird, but if our species is to exist for truly the long-term (as in hundreds of millions of years or more), we will need to find other homes. The Earth simply will not be able to sustain life forever. Now at this stage in our development it's not possible to go to any other extra-solar planets, but this kind of endeavor has to start somewhere; why not start with "is there any other place to go"?
So here's to answering big questions, dreaming big dreams and expanding our horizons.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Road Apples, #31

New Hampshire Allows Gay Marriage - Story link here. I am very glad to see this happen. Hey, all of us deserve to be happy. Opponents will decry that homosexuality is "unnatural" and that this will harm society. Bull$hit! I personally find the mere thought of two men being physically intimate to be repugnant at best (but that's okay, as I am sure that there are gay males who find intimacy between a man and a woman to be equally disturbing...), so much so that I can't believe for a moment that anyone would do that simply as a matter of "choice". No, I think that there is a relatively small percentage of the human population who is simply wired to be homosexual. That doesn't make those individuals better, worse, smarter, dumber or certainly less deserving of stable long-term relationships than the rest of us. "Unnatural"? I think that for the small percentage of people who are homosexual, it's about as "natural" as one can get. Now I may find homosexual acts to be by far and a way not by cup of tea, but you know what? I think they have a right to do whatever the hell they want in the privacy of their own lives, as long as it doesn't involve harming children or interferes with my ability to enjoy my life. That's about as American of an attitude as I think one can have. So here's the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all of us, no matter who we choose to stup.

Brother Update - My brother continues to make good progress at CMC and will most likely be sent to in-patient rehabilitation at Allied Services early next week. Interestingly enough, in the course of trying to figure out why he, at age 43, had a stroke, the doctors discovered that he has a small hole in his heart. That could have contributed to the stroke, but they are not 100% sure. In other family-health related news, my mother is coming back from rehabilitation at Mercy Hospital on Saturday morning. She does seem to be much better, which is a very good thing. Also in the good thing department is the fact that my need to do nightly "Scranton Hospital Tour" will be diminished. I can't say that I'm sad to see that end.

I Need To Paint - The downstairs of my house hasn't been painted in a million years (or something like that). Maybe I'll finally get off my lazy butt and get going on that this weekend, or at least get the paint to get going on that this weekend. I'm not sure of the color to buy, but it will probably just be something fairly light, maybe even off-site. I also need to do a lot of crack-filling, cleaning, etc. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Smoking - In reading up on stokes this past week, I found that smoking is a major contributing factor. My God, how much more worse does this need to get? I'm seriously struggling to figure out why people do this - some smart people no less. Look, I know that a lot of things one can do are dangerous in some way; hell, eating french fries can kill you I guess, but even the worse fried food has some redeeming quality to it, even if that's in supplying carbohydrates. Can we simply ban this? Walking into the hospitals I was often forced to run the "smoker gamut", walking through and around the huddled masses enjoying their drug-o-choice. Why? Why?

Scranton Police Shooting Death - Still no answers as to the cause or circumstances of the shooting death in Scranton that I mentioned a day or so ago. While I'd like to see the facts come out as a matter of curiosity, I'm sure that the family of the late Ms Williams needs some kind of closure to this issue as part of their grief process. Let's hope that they are briefed on the investigation results first, have a chance to ask lots of questions, and find some comfort in hearing that the incident was fully reviewed before anything is made public. They deserve as much.

The Song Running Through My Head At The Moment - is "Raspberry Beret", the Prince song, as performed by the Hindu Love Gods. Well worth checking out if you have a chance. The Hindu Love Gods were Warren Zevon and three of the four members of REM. Peter Buck is a great guitar player.

Yes It's Friday - It has been a trying week, to say the least. Despite everything else happening around me, I'm also trying to get back into a 4 to 5 day a week regime of working out at the gym at the office. That can be difficult, given my schedule, but I just have to try. I'm not getting any older, and recent events seem to point me in the direction of "you need to be healthier". Fortunately I still have the stamina to spend time productively at the gym without having a coronary myself. Getting back to the work stuff, I have a lot of my plate at the moment, but if everything works out the way I think it should, it will be manageable. I know "if everything work out the way..." is a dangerous condition to put out there, because it seldom does, but never the less I need to keep a positive attitude.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Favorite Guitar Solos

I actually listen to what I think is a lot of music, although it's not always as varied as I'd like it to be. Anyway, I was listening to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" the other day, thinking about how great David Gilmour's playing is on that song, so it got me to thinking about the greatest guitar solos of all time. Now I'm not anywhere near a guitar expert, aficionado, etc. so it goes without saying that I really don't know what the hell I am talking about. That noted, here are my top ten guitar solos of all time:
  1. Layla/Eric Clapton & Duane Allman (note...I HATE the acoustic version of this song)
  2. Comfortably Numb/David Gilmour
  3. Stairway To Heaven/Jimmy Page
  4. White Room/Eric Clapton
  5. Pipeline/Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughn (Two big song-length solos. Never heard it? Watch here. Well worth a listen.)
  6. Intruder~Oh Pretty Woman/Eddie Van Halen
  7. Back In Black/Angus Young
  8. Something/George Harrison
  9. Enter Sandman/Kirk Hammet (although I love the rhythm parts by James Hetfield)
  10. Powerful Stuff (Live Version)/Jimmy Vaughn (See video below...this blows me away)


Anyway, here are the poll results from Guitarist magazine...

Readers' Poll from Guitarist magazine, January 1998

  1. Hotel California - The Eagles (Joe Walsh and Don Felder)
  2. Eruption - Van Halen (Edward Van Halen)
  3. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
  4. Crossroads - Cream (Eric Clapton)
  5. Voodoo Chile - Jimi Hendrix
  6. Parisienne Walkways - Gary Moore
  7. All Right Now - Free (Paul Kossoff)
  8. Since I've Been Loving You - Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
  9. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen (Brian May)
  10. Sultans Of Swing - Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler)
  11. All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix
  12. Shine You Crazy Diamond - Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
  13. Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
  14. For The Love Of God - Steve Vai
  15. Still In Love With You - Thin Lizzy (Gary Moore)
  16. Child In Time - Deep Purple (Ritchie Blackmore)
  17. Still Got the Blues (For You) - Gary Moore
  18. Goodbye To Love - The Carpenters (Tony Peluso)
  19. Purple Haze - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  20. Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler)
  21. Need Your Love So Bad - Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green)
  22. Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N' Roses (Slash)
  23. Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd (Ronnie Van Zant)
  24. Layla - Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton [and Duane Allman])
  25. White Room - Cream (Eric Clapton)
  26. Red House - Jimi Hendrix
  27. Black Magic Woman - Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green)
  28. Rosanna - Toto (Steve Lukather)
  29. Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan
  30. November Rain - Guns N' Roses (Slash)
  31. The Wind Cries Mary - Jimi Hendrix
  32. Ladies Nite In Buffalo - David Lee Roth (Steve Vai)
  33. Hot For Teacher - Van Halen (Edward Van Halen)
  34. La Villa Strangiato - Rush (Alex Lifeson)
  35. Killer Queen - Queen (Brian May)
  36. Addicted To That Rush - Mr Big (Paul Gilbert)
  37. Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
  38. Brighton Rock - Queen (Brian May)
  39. Get The Funk Out - Extreme (Nuno Bettencourt)
  40. Nothing Else Matters - Metallica (James Hetfield)
  41. Inca Roads - Frank Zappa
  42. You Do Something To Me - Paul Weller
  43. Crazy Train - Ozzy Osborne (Randy Rhoads)
  44. Marquee Moon - Television (Tom Verlaine)
  45. Tunnel Of Love - Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler)
  46. Live Forever - Oasis (Noel Gallagher)
  47. Telegraph Road - Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler)
  48. Out In The Fields - Gary Moore
  49. The Final Countdown - Europe (John Norum)
  50. Little Wing - Stevie Ray Vaughan
  51. Bad Love - Eric Clapton
  52. The Riverboat Song - Ocean Colour Scene (Steve Cradock)
  53. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana (Kurt Cobain)
  54. Cause We've Ended As Lovers - Jeff Beck
  55. Beat It - Michael Jackson (Edward Van Halen)
  56. Dead Or Alive - Bon Jovi (Ritchie Sambora)
  57. Another Brick In The Wall - Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
  58. And Your Bird Can Sing - The Beatles (George Harrison)
  59. Green Tinted Sixties Mind - Mr Big (Paul Gilbert)
  60. These Are The Days Of Our Lives - Queen (Brian May)
  61. Yo Mama - Frank Zappa
  62. Rocky Mountain Way - Joe Walsh
  63. Paranoid Android - Radiohead (Johnny Greenwood)
  64. Something - The Beatles (George Harrison)
  65. Dry County - Bon Jovi (Ritchie Sambora)
  66. Surfing With The Alien - Joe Satriani
  67. Mr Crowley - Ozzy Osborne (Randy Rhoads)
  68. Jump - Van Halen (Edward Van Halen)
  69. Love In An Elevator - Aerosmith (Joe Perry)
  70. Light My Fire - Jose Feliciano
  71. Alive - Pearl Jam (Mark McCready)
  72. The Loner - Gary Moore
  73. Kid Charlemagne - Steely Dan (Larry Carlton)
  74. Summer Song - Joe Satriani
  75. Big Trouble - David Lee Roth (Steve Vai)
  76. Resurrection - Brian May
  77. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles (Eric Clapton [and George Harrison])
  78. I Want It All - Queen (Brian May)
  79. Stargazer - Rainbow (Ritchie Blackmore)
  80. Sunshine Of Your Love - Cream (Eric Clapton)
  81. Rough Boy - ZZ Top (Billy Gibbons)
  82. Road To Hell, part 2 - Chris Rea
  83. Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield
  84. Paranoid - Black Sabbath (Tony Iommi)
  85. Foxy Lady - Jimi Hendrix
  86. The Forgotten: part 1 - Joe Satriani
  87. Lazy - Deep Purple (Ritchie Blackmore)
  88. The Supernatural - John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (Peter Green)
  89. Bold As Love - Jimi Hendrix
  90. Mother Knows Best - Richard Thompson
  91. Cry For The Nations - The Michael Schenker Group
  92. He Man Woman Hater - Extreme (Nuno Bettencourt)
  93. Samba Pa Ti - Santana (Carlos Santana)
  94. No-one Said It Would Be Easy - Sheryl Crow (David Baerwald)
  95. Echoes - Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
  96. She's Not There - Santana (Carlos Santana)
  97. I Am The Resurrection - Stone Roses (John Squire)
  98. Song 2 - Blur (Graham Coxon)
  99. You Love Us - Manic Street Preachers (James Dean Bradfield)
  100. A Kinder Eye - Allan Holdsworth

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scranton Police Invovled In Fatal Shooting

Story Link Here.

This is getting a lot of attention on both talk radio and the Internet, which should make most people wary to begin with.

First, by way of disclaimer, I actually knew the victim of the shooting, although not well. Growing up I lived in the Midtown Apartments in downtown Scranton (the same area where the late Ms Williams was from). I can't claim to have known her well, as she was a few years older than me, but I did spend some time with her younger brother and sister (David & Ellen). My heart goes out to the family during what must be a horrible time in their lives. Ms Williams was only 52 years old, which in this day and age is far too young to pass along.

Second, there are tons of back-seat drivers coming out of the woodwork on this case, which is a shame. This is a tragic event, and I can not help but believe that the police who were involved have been deeply impacted by it. I know, the impact they feel is far less than that of the family of the deceased, but never the less I am sure it is impacting them. There is one indisputable fact though that we all need to bear in mind: We don't know all the facts, and until we do, I personally feel that we dishonor the lost life of Ms Williams and the reputations of the police officers in question by second guessing events.

Third, there have been media reports that Ms Williams may have been struggling with some mental health issues. As I've written about in the past, I have members of my family that to this day struggle in this area, so I know first hand that these kinds of issues don't fit neatly into little media-sized sound bites or paragraph chunks. That's all the more reason for anyone who wants to engage in...

" should have happened like this..."
"...what they did was wrong..."
"...she should have..." take as step back and tone down the suppositions. When it comes to mental health issues, second guessing is the cheap and easy way out. The families of those who suffer from mental health problems know from first hand experience that by their nature it's difficult to impossible to fully understand what drives someone to act in the ways that they do. We may never know everything that happened leading up to this tragic event.

The bottom line is this: Let's allow the Pennsylvania State Police to conduct the complete investigation that I know they are capable of performing and then let's draw some conclusions. Allow the family to grieve and allow the investigative process to work. Respect the memory of Ms Williams. Presume that the officers in question are innocent until their is proof of their guilt. In other words, let's all try and do the right thing.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Radio & Responsiblity

Two radio program hosts at local news station WILK have been indicted on fraud charges over the years, with the latest being involved in a scheme where over $600,000 was stolen from investors. Now does the radio station in question, WILK, bear any responsibility in these cases?

While I think these are complex issues, I say that they do. There is a terrific column by Scranton Times columnist Stacy Brown that is a must read on this topic. The full article is linked here, but I'll also paste the first few paragraphs immediately below:

Disclaimer not enough in advertising

Fraud charges filed last week against Jamie P. Lake mark the second time in two years a WILK radio talk show host and advertiser has been accused of deceiving listeners.

Those who run the station said neither WILK nor its parent, Entercom Communications, bears responsibility because Mr. Lake and former talk show host Scott Binsack, were advertisers and not employees.

"We run a disclaimer prior to the shows telling listeners that the views expressed are not necessarily that of WILK or station management," said Ryan Flynn, Entercom's general manager. "James Lake was an advertiser on WILK, nothing more," Mr. Flynn said. "He paid for commercials and paid for long-form infomercials on the weekend."

The station's disclaimer also noted that the shows were "paid" programming, Mr. Flynn said.

Media responsibility

Media experts, however, said the station does have a responsibility to make sure that what is broadcast over its airwaves is true and accurate.

Note that this kind of issue doesn't just manifest itself in investor or home builder fraud schemes; WILK is also well-known for broadcasting "miracle cure" paid program-length advertisements on the weekends. These programs sell all manner of vitamins and other concoctions designed to treat all that ails you. Yes, WILK is home to your 21st century equivalent to the traveling snake-oil salesman every Saturday morning (interestingly enough, on Sunday mornings they broadcast the "Dr Dean Edell Show", which regularly de-bunks these miracle cures).

Does WILK bear the brunt of responsibility here? No. They can not be responsible for policing every word uttered through their transmitters. Should they be completely responsible for what their paid staff says on-air? Absolutely yes, but as far as paid programming is concerned, it's simply not reasonable (in my opinion) to hold them to that same level of accountability.

Does WILK bear any responsibility here? Yes. Like it or not, many people who listen to WILK may not always be able to separate the "news" presented as news vs. the paid programming designed to sound like "news". WILK will have you believe that the little disclaimer at the beginning of paid programming is more than sufficient to separate the "fact" from the "fiction" programming. Unfortunately when you compare the 20 seconds of disclaimer vs. the 45 minutes of paid lying-advertising-disguised-as-news, the lying part wins.

What should they do? I have a few suggestions:
  1. Never allow WILK on-air staff to participate in any paid programming that sells product. That, in my mind, is a violation of the trust we place in the media. I don't care if some vitamin cure product worked for Sue Henry, as it doesn't mean it will work for everyone, and some folks WILL confuse her talk-show persona with her advertising pitch-person persona.
  2. Require the paid advertisers (not just the station) to repeat a disclaimer about the program in question not being affiliated with WILK at the beginning of each segment.
  3. WILK has to exercise some good judgement when it comes to paid programming. If a product makes an outlandish and unproven claim about being able to cure some kind of disease, then simply put WILK shouldn't be airing it. I know, there are laws against this sort of thing already, but if you have ever listened to these programs you know that these kinds of claims are in fact made, sometimes in a sublte way, but they are made.
  4. Restrict the hours where these kinds of programs can air. If WILK wants to allow the "vitamin miracle cure" to buy air time, make that air time in the middle of the night.
I know, much of this is pie-in-the-sky stuff, but so be it. That's what armchair quaterbacking (and blogging) is all about.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Road Apples, #30

My Youngest Brother was moved out of the ICU yesterday, and they will begin evaluating him for any functionality loss. If there has been damage, then it's wasn't too bad. On one hand, having a stroke at age 43 is not a good thing, but at least it appears (at this stage) that he will be able to make an almost complete recovery. My mother continues to make great progress in Physical Therapy at Mercy Hospital.

Abortion Doctor Dies - Doctor George Tiller, a doctor who performed late-term abortions, was gunned down in a church in Wichita, Kansas. Story link here. Ironic that he was killed in a church. I've read some things from rabid abortion foes, such as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, that almost excuse this senseless act. Now I can see how, if you are that much against abortion, that the kinds of procedures performed by Dr Tiller would incense you; however gunning a man down in a church in front of his wife (Dr Tiller's wife was singing in the choir when the act occurred) does nothing other than paint a picture of abortion foes as being extremist nuts. As I have said before, good people can disagree on this issue. Let's hope that we can all find some common ground and get to a place where there is no need for abortions. That includes, in my mind (but not that of the Catholic Church) the wide availability of contraception.

GM To Get $30 Billion More - I just shake my head in disgust whenever I read about the GM situation. For decades, a succession of GM leaders (such as Roger Smith) drove the company into the ground by producing poorly engineered, poorly assembled products. The arrogance of it all. Word as it that Chrysler is dramatically cutting back on perks given to retired executives; let's hope GM does the same. Where is the accountability in all of this? What the whole situation, involving banks and car companies, amounts to is the government (really the taxpayers) basically fixing the mistakes of a bunch of millionaire CEOs. How ironic: the CEOs that are so much above the working folks of this country are being bailed out by the government, funded to a degree by the working people.

Sunday - Yesterday was just one of those bad days I suppose. I spent all morning cleaning make a mad-man, cleaning the bathroom, cleaning out the litter pans (and hosing them down before re-loading with litter), running the vacuum, doing dishes, etc. The afternoon was spent doing things at my mothers house (including fixing some steps), then doing the "Scranton Hospital Tour 2009" between visiting my brother and my mother. On top of it all my allergies were really bothering me, so I had to take something to alleviate the symptoms. All of that combined into a perfect storm of exhaustion. How exhausted was I? Well I ended up watching a marathon of "Ice Road Truckers" on the Hitler (History) Channel until about 9:15pm, at which point I couldn't keep myself wake any more so I went to bed. I feel better today, but the day is still young, and God only knows what can happen.

The Week Ahead - I am hoping this week is a tad bit less intense than last week. Not only were there some horrible events in my family, but it was very stressful at work, for a variety of reasons. I know, much of that is inside my head, as opposed to being outside in the world at large. But still, some help, as opposed to the opposite, from the rest of the world would be appreciated.

On A Note Positive - One of my rose bushes is in full bloom. I have to take a picture or two. I've won, for now, the battle against the aphids, although I have a woody bush that has more than a few on it; the funny part about that is they attack the plant early, but I think that as the summer progresses, the stems and leaves get too tough and they end up leaving it alone. Now right next to this bush is another bush,a boxwood that seems to be immune to any and every insect. Strange stuff, that mother nature.