Not Cease from Exploration...a blog by Steve Albert

Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's Saturday...

...and I am damn glad.

It was a long week, mainly made so by my stressing over getting my insurance license continuing education credits in and filed. By way of background, I have a Pennsylvania insurance license for life, health, and variable annuities (not property & casualty). I don't sell insurance, but years ago I serviced customers who had what the law considers to be insurance (as opposed to investment) products, which required that I get an insurance license. While I don't need it for my job now, I am allowed to keep it, mainly because it helps to create this concept that I'm somehow more qualified to do my job than I would be otherwise. Not sure if that makes any sense, but there are practical reasons why I do keep it, including that it helps to fill my resume and it would be good to have if I ever needed to look for another job.

Anyway, I finished the reading, took the tests and passed. I was so glad to get it over with. Since my license expires on February 4th, I needed to get everything in to the State by Friday, which meant earning the CE credits before close of business on Thursday. I passed by second test (taken on-line) at about 11:45am on Thursday.

Now I did take courses which weren't much of a reach for me: Pension Plans and Employee Benefits. The pension plan stuff I knew; some of the benefit plan stuff I didn't, and quite honestly, knowing the tax allowance for van-pooling isn't high up on my list of things to learn before I die. What matters though is that it's all done. Finished. Completed.

I get to worry about this again in two years.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Completely Random Things...

In browsing blogs the other day I saw a list of completely random facts about the blogger. Seemed kind of cool, akin to those silly MySpace Q&A things. Anyway, since I'm still far too wired up to go to bed, here's a completely random list about all things me.


I don't like odd numbers. If I am setting the volume on a radio or adjusting the width of an Excel column, I never set it to an odd number. I have no clue why.

I think peanut butter is disgusting. Seriously, it is the most vile, putrid, rancid smelling crap that was ever created. I'd rather eat dog feces.

I hate sleeping. I've written about that quite a bit here actually.

I've never owned a "new" car in all my life. The closest I ever came was buying a truck with 17,000 miles on it. The economics of buying used just make so much more sense.

I have an extremely hard time reading fiction. Unlike some of my friends, I simply don't find fiction interesting. I do enjoy reading books about history, science and biographies. In fact, I'm currently reading "My Way", the Frank Sinatra biography.

I am terrible putting names to faces. This is not a good trait to have for someone in my line of work.

I can't do math in my head very well. Mind you, I had 24 credits in college-level math in college, including 5 in Calculus, but for the life of me I have a tough time (for example) adding numbers in my head.

I secretly enjoy reading magazines like "Us" and "People". I find the whole celebrity worship thing to be stupid, but for some reason I like reading short articles about famous people.

I have a mild fear of heights. It seems to be getting worse with old age.

I type faster than most people I know. I can do about 60 wpm if I try.

I am very sensitive to smells. This is one of the reasons why I like cats better than dogs. Cats have no odor about them (outside of the litter box), but dogs are, quite frankly, stinky.

I bless myself whenever I see an ambulance go by with it's flashers on. That's an old habit from high school days. The IHM sisters would be proud.

I am nearly an expert at Beatles trivia. Go ahead, ask me a question.

I hated high school. I was 6'3.5" and 174lbs of walking self-conscious nerd. Gosh I wish I could go back and do it all over again.

I am uncomfortable with small talk, but I enjoy speaking in front of large groups. Kind of strange, I know.

I am uncomfortable talking on the telephone (most of the time). I much rather prefer to talk to someone face-to-face.

I am a quick study when it comes to things like software. I've never encountered anything that I consider overly difficult to use.

I love gadgets. I could not live without my BlackJack II.

My earliest memory is of watching a Superman cartoon. It was on a black-and-white TV set at our old house on Pine Street.

I am fascinated with the VW Beetle. I will own one some day. Maybe once the girls are done with school. Until then I'll have to settle for the plastic model I got (that I have yet to put together).

I can make myself see double. Neat trick, huh? I don't do that when I'm driving though.

When I was 5 or 6 I almost died from a burst appendix. I remember my mother carrying me to Mercy Hospital. I ended up with peritonitis.

I enjoy "first person shooter" video games. I have a few, including Half-Life, Halo and Red Faction.

I enjoy maintaining my computer. I have a Sony Vaio laptop that I've upgraded to Windows Vista, along with adding RAM.

I like taking pictures. I have a Sony digital camera with a 17x zoom.

In spite of what some might think, I am a very optimistic person. I try and start every day like it is a new adventure.

My favorite seasons are, in order: Fall, Spring, Summer and Winter. I do enjoy how the seasons change though...once you get tired of the old one, a new one comes around.

I hate dancing. I'd almost rather engage in small-talk.

I am open minded. This is especially true when it comes to concepts like faith and religion. That's not to say though that I think all religions are created equal. Once I think something is a scam, then that opinion never changes.

I love Scranton. I live here by choice, as I could live anywhere else. This is, quite simply, the place. I've lived other places (south central PA, New Jersey), but I've never found a place like this. Scranton as a certain "soul" to it that's hard to describe. It can be both dirty and pretty at the same time. It can be crude and enlightened. It embodies the best and worst in America today. Big Pussy from the Sopranos would have never said "Boston is like Wilkes-Barre, but with clams"; Edith Bunker's family couldn't have come from Dunmore; Dunder-Mifflin would never have been based in Allentown.

I'm not sure if I believe in the concept of "God". I am open to the possibility though.

I find a lot of hypocrisy in human institutions. I see this in things like religions, governments, etc.

I think we are all capable of great things. We just need the opportunity.

A Quick Note (or two)

Today is a "delay" day, meaning that school doesn't start until around 10am. As a result, I have to go to work early and re-arrange my entire schedule so that I can come back to pick up the girls at 9:15am. To make matters even more interesting, I MUST complete my insurance continuing education credits today, or else. It is the last possible day I can get this done. There is no more time. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Get the picture?

Anyway, the world-o-Scranton is one big ball-o-ice this morning. Everything is covered in it. In as much as the delay is a royal pain-in-the-ass (and-why-am-I-using-dashes-so-much?), I can sort of understand why. Needless to say, and not Korin, will be driving to school today. There are times to learn how to drive in bad weather, and this is not one of them.

On the bright side, today is Thursday, which means that tomorrow is Friday. In part that means I'm closer to getting that media cabinet I want. I settled on one from "Just Cabinets". It has a glass door (something I wanted...keeps things from getting dusty) but I think it's deep enough to accommodate the game systems I have. The top is a little small for a TV, but I think I may wall mount it when I get around to buying that (probably sometime in early March). The main thing is that I get some of this clutter picked up. I hate it. I'm no neat freak, but it does bug me when things just lay around in disarray.

Well the car should be relatively warmed up, so I best be headed out. I will not return until I get this CE done...or that's what I'm telling myself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday Morning

It's "hump day" for this week, and I'm about to head outside to clean the car off and begin the 5-10 minute commute to the office. I know, boo-freak'n-hoo. I don't mind living so close to work actually. On days like this (when the weather is bad), the worst part of the drive to the office is just getting to Pittston Avenue, which is the "main drag" if you will near my house. From there it's more or less smooth sailing. The drive home can be a bit more dicey in that I have to get up the driveway from the office, which can be slippery at times. All this pales in comparison to the sheer terror I had in traveling to work on snow days when I had my truck. Yes, I was dumb enough to buy a truck with just rear-wheel drive, which created some moments of sheer terror (my back wheels slipping wildly as I got to the top of the driveway at the office) relative to driving in bad weather. I never got stuck, but man I came close so very many times.

Now because of the bad weather, my kids don't have school. I'm not sure how happy they are with that, as it will be cutting into the long President's Day weekend. Oh well, it is better for me, as it spares me the trouble of writing the obligatory "I hate delays" blog posting. In fact the Scranton School District originally had a delay this morning, but wisely changed it to a cancellation. Good move, and not just because I hate delays. The weather sounds like it will be genuinely crappy today (snow to sleet to maybe rain then back to snow), so better safe than sorry.

In other, unrelated news, I had my 6 month dental check-up, and everything went super well. I'm very diligent now about flossing and brushing, something that wasn't always the case before. I've learned the big secret of dental care: it's having a dentist you can talk to and trust. I can't say enough good things about my dentist, Dr Charnitski.

Well, it's off to work I go.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Scum

I really do try to take a reasonable look at things around me. I honestly do. I try not to jump to conclusions, especially when I write something, as written words (no matter how infrequently they are read) have a certain permanency to them that verbal communication simply doesn't.

All the above noted, it was reported yesterday that two Luzerne County judges have plead guilty to participating in a $2.7 million dollar kickback scheme.

Story Here

One word comes to mind when you really start to think about this situation: Scum.

Now fudging tax records is bad, as is concealing ill-gained income, but those things don't get me fighting mad. What does? The notion that these judges sentenced juvenile offenders a to a facility where they financial benefit, regardless of whether or not that was the right thing for the offender, is truly the heinous part of this story. I know, I know, we are talking about young men and women who committed a crime, so they are not really "innocent". That's not the point though. We are not always talking about hard-core criminals; some of the children involved probably just made a one-time mistake. Who knows what damage was really caused. As noted in the story, there were instances where juvenile justice officials recommended that an offender NOT receive jail time, but yet that judgment was over-ruled by these judges for nothing more than dirty money.

Therein lies the bottom line: (Former) Judges Ciavarella and Conahan harmed children for money. No amount of jail time is enough for these scumbags.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Turmoil

The word "turmoil" is probably over-used these days, as it seems just about everyone is impacted by some negative news of a sort or two. I'm not immune to the negative news, although so far the damage has been more prospective than real. Sure, I think that I could be laid off today, tomorrow or any day for that matter. That's just reality, and I've learned that sometimes that kind of thing happens regardless of how you are actually performing at your job. Adding my friend and former co-worker Shannon in Facebook reminded me of that.

So what to do?

Well part of the solution is to not do anything. Sounds too simple, huh? Well let me clarify: it's not that I'm not doing anything, it's just that I'm not going to knee-jerk react to a possibility that is always there. Part of that means that I've made the conscious decision not to stress, worry, fret, or lose sleep over this or any other catastrophic possibility. It's just not worth it. If you spend all of your time worrying about the worst things that could possibly happen to you, then you end up missing all of the good thing that are happening to you.

On the other hand, I do try and take thoughts like this and use them to for motivation. I do ask myself questions like:

1. "Just how are others, including the people I report to, viewing me?"

2. "Do I make myself indespensible?"

3. "Would laying me off cause much pain and discomfort to my employer?"

4. "Am I flexible & can I learn new skills?"

5. "Am I high-maintenance?"

6. "Do I still have my edge?"


So how do I answer these questions right now?

1. Everything I've heard is positive.

2. I try.

3. I try.

4. I'd like to think so, but I need to work on this more.

5. Definitely not. I know this for a fact.

6. That's a tough one to answer. Sometime I do think I lose it.

Again, in the end none of this could matter, as sometimes your number is just up no matter what. So that then begs the question: What would I do?

What would I do? I don't really know to be perfectly honest. Having laid people off myself, I've seen anger, understanding, crying, etc., and I not sure how I would react immediately. I suspect that part of it would be situational; for example, I've been told in no uncertain terms that there are no layoffs planned for my department, so if there actually are, anger would be in the mix as I would (rightfully) believe that I had been lied to. Over the longer term, I'm sure I'd get over any immediate reaction. Assuming that the severance package continues as is, I'd get enough money out of that to survive for about 6 months to a year, depending on how much I cut expenses back. From there I'm not really sure. The employment picture in the Scranton area has never been all that good, so finding something else that paid even 70% of what I make now would be difficult if not impossible. I might end up having to consider relocating, which could bring all sorts of issues in and of itself.

Grim stuff, to say the least. Like I said, I don't tend to obsess over this kind of thing, so if anything writing this probably commits more time and effort to this subject than I've ever spent. Let's hope it's all remains just thoughts floating around in my head.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Outstanding Letter to the Editor

The following article appeared in the Friday, January 23rd edition of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice. I wish I could be this elloquent. Kudos the writer, James W. Lynch.

[My favorite part is in red]



Editor:

Jan. 24 marks a shameful anniversary for the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Scranton. Bishop Martino’s unjust decision not to allow Catholic lay teachers the right to organize (after he had promised to do so in the diocesan newspaper) will be one year old. I, along with many others, believe such an event points to a much deeper and systemic problem in the diocese.

It’s really not surprising that area churches are closing at a disturbing rate, and that the diocese has recently announced that it has tremendous financial problems. Church membership, once thriving, has fallen to all-time lows. While the easy answer to the question of why this situation has come to pass is demographics, a more accurate analysis points to self-inflicted wounds. Take a look around you when you next attend Mass. Not only are there fewer and fewer heads to be counted, but those same heads are more likely to be gray and bald. Anyone who has attended Mass outside this diocese while on vacation or a business trip will notice a stark difference.

In its response to this downward spiral, the diocese is treating symptoms rather than causes. The sad truth is that the bishop’s behavior has made a bad situation worse. An institution that perverts its own social justice teaching cannot continue to sustain itself in the eyes of its followers.


Unfortunately, Bishop Martino still looks upon his flock from the perspective of a 14th century pulpit. He doesn’t seem to understand (or to care) that the “pay, pray and obey” Catholics in the diocese represent only a sliver of the population of the faithful. He also seems indifferent to the fact that his arrogant, condescending attitude has exacerbated and accelerated the departure of those outside that element.

And there exists no process (forget about appealing to the Vatican in this old boys’ network) to force the Bishop to cease and desist when he tramples on church teaching, or to remove him from office. The hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church is anathema to such necessary change. When the church does address a mistake, it is a dollar short and 400 years late. Consider as an example the church’s recent reversal of Galileo’s excommunication and arrest for stating that the sun was the center of the solar system. Perhaps in the 25th century the diocese will offer Mike Milz (the teachers’ union president fired for his union activity) his teaching position back.

Because it refuses to obey and follow its own dicta, the only method of redress falls to Catholics of conscience. Such people must begin to assert their standing as the church. Haven’t we been told repeatedly that we are the church? God knows parishioners can’t look for help from their parish priests, most of whom admit privately that they disagree with the bishop’s policies, but that they feel powerless and fearful of retribution. Most agree that only the bishop’s departure from Scranton will help resolve most of the diocese’s woes.

However, there is one avenue where the community can immediately right the most despicable of Bishop Martino’s wrongs. Pennsylvania House Bill 26 (which will provide the employees of religiously-affiliated schools the protection of the labor laws) is now before the general assembly for consideration. Visit, phone, write or e-mail your state representatives and senators. Tell them that the bishop does not speak for Catholics in the political realm. They must not mistakenly assume that a vote for HB 26 will cost them votes from the Catholic community. It does not, as the bishop now claims, “cross the line separating church and state.” To the contrary, informed Catholics see the bill for what it really is — a simple extension of basic human rights denied to Catholic lay teachers because of a legal loophole in need of closing. A loophole being exploited by a powerful man who has lost his way.

If the Bishop refuses to do God’s work, God’s people must.

James W. Lynch

Wilkes-Barre

Road Apples, #13


Cats
It's rare to get all four of our cats to stay still in the same place. I suppose that's because cats are not the herding type. Anyway, from the left you have Thurber, Buttons and Oreo. Missing is Bella, who really is just a strange critter.

Spelling

Did you ever look at a simple word that you've written, say "apples" and think, "that can't be spelled right?" but yet it is? Maybe it's just me.

It's Darn Cold Outside
It was less than a degree above zero here this morning. Spring can't spring soon enough for me. The good news is that average temperatures actually do increase in February in these parts, so there is hope. I'm still also hoping for some global warming; that can come any day now.

Katrina's Rolling 21st Birthday Celebration
Another celebration of Katrina's 21st birthday happened yesterday, this time at Chuck-E-Cheese, home of some of the worst tasting pizza I have ever had the misfortune to consume, ever. I do confess, however, to having fun playing the Star Wars video game, although I probably cheesed off a few 10 year olds who wanted to play it while I was ("Mommy why won't that old man let me play the game?"). Oh, for the record, my present to Katrina was a TomTom GPS system. It's something she has wanted, and from what I can tell she liked it. You only turn 21 once.

Facebook
I find Facebook interesting. I've had a page for a few weeks now [you can look me up in any number of ways...please feel free to find me and make me your friend], and while I'm normally a pretty tech-savvy guy, I find the interface that it uses to be somewhat quirky, to say the least. The search capability pulls in a lot of results, but it also has some logic that prioritizes your results, I think based on the "networks" you are in. Along these lines, I listed the name of my employer in it's simplest form, but then thought I should be more specific as to the division of my employer; sure enough Facebook didn't let me change the name. What did it allow me to do? Delete the employment all together and re-enter it; sure enough this time it took the revised name. Oh well, I'm just wondering what will be the next big "thing", after Facebook runs its course.

One other thing: while the searching capability on Facebook is quirky, it is still somewhat addictive. I've spent more than an hour at a clip just looking at profiles, etc. I've seen some people I've not seen in 25 years or more. This is, I think, one of the real powers of the Internet...it can really bring people together.

In The Conspiracy Department
Wasn't Barack Obama supposed to take the Presidential Oath of Office using the Koran? Funny, I heard he actually used the Lincoln bible. Strange indeed. Maybe, just maybe, he really is just this ambitious, hard-working and smart young former Senator from Illinois.

Dr Dean Edell
There are two terrestrial (as opposed to satellite) radio programs I regularly listen to: a local morning talk show (Morning News with Nancy and Kevin on WILK) and the Dr Dean Edell show, which airs on Sunday mornings. I love Dr Dean. I have one of his books ("Eat Drink and Be Merry"), and I find him to be a real straight-shooter. Lots of logic, lots of common sense, lots of asking good questions and questioning conventions. I highly recommend Dr Dean to anyone who has an interest in health, science or just plain logic.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Radical Chic

Note that there is no meaning behind the title "Radical Chic"; it's just a term that I think sounds pretty cool. If I'm not mistaken, it was coined by author Tom Wolfe (of the "Right Stuff" fame).

Anyway, there is nothing radical nor chic going on in my little world at the moment. This was week that seemed to last a month, so I'm doing some catch-up work this morning, things that I probably should have done but was either too tired or lacking in motivation. The motivation thing is a killer: there are just times when I really don't want to do anything. Not many, but some. But never the less, things like laundry can't wait for me to get right in the head, so I've been on that for a while this morning.

Laundry. Here's a quirk for you: I hate it when other people wash my clothes. I just bothers me. I like my clothes folded a certain way, I like a certain detergent, I like liquid fabric softener, I like my freshly laundered clothes to smell a certain way. I know, that sounds almost disturbing, if it were not for the fact that it's really just laundry. Hey, I never claimed to be normal in any way, shape or form though.

Dishes. I did those this morning as well. One of the many hats I wear, along with chief accountant, fixer-of-things, killer-of-crawling-critters, techno-geek, landscaper, sanitary engineer, bathroom cleaner, feeder of cats, disposer of cat feces, etc. Maybe one day I'll get a dishwasher, and then I'll be able to scratch that one thing off my "hats" list.

So this morning will be spent on some catch-up clean-up activities. This afternoon my oldest daughter wants to go to Chuck-E-Cheese for a little birthday party. Note that she is 21 years old. Note also though that she says the pizza is not horrible there, so why not? I've been around a bunch of yelling teenagers and adults all week, so some yelling children will be a nice change of pace. If I'm super motivated today (that rare stage of domestic nirvana that one only rarely achieves without the aid of chemical enhancements) I may even clean out the refrigerator. Wow, that would be something.

Now imagine that: I just described cleaning out the refrigerator in terms that should normally best be left for descriptions involving dreams, an attractive member of the opposite sex and a fine bottle of wine. Alas, cleaning out encrusted food is what I have to look forward to. Well that and Chuck-E-Cheese.

Another thing I need to get cleaning is the office area I have in the house. I have this half of an old Living Room that I use for an office (as I've described before), but it's very disheveled at the moment, as I donated my large TV and entertainment center to my brother Chris (and his new abode). I've been looking for a new media cabinet, but so far I've not seen anything I both want and which is in what a consider a reasonable price-range. All of which leaves me with a folding table that has various types of entertainment gear stacked on it, gear such as an XBox and an XBox 360, DVD player, several games, tons of wires and the like. My guitar is also currently homeless, as it's normal location against the wall is unavailable. Radical chic indeed.

On a final note, I saw something last night while just mindlessly surfing the internet that made me remember my Junior Prom. That's a story in and of itself. Maybe I'll tell that one sometime.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tardy

Wow, I haven't posted since Wednesday. That's a record, for the record.

In my defense, I've been tied up with a number of things at work which are requiring me to work until fairly late in the evening...11-11:30ish. That in turn means that I put other stuff off until the following morning, which means that I have less time for other things. Amazingly circular.

Anyway, this has been an incredibly busy three days at work. In fact, Wednesday and Thursday feel like they were a week long. Thank God it's almost over.

Another victim of the week has been my attempt to eat better and exercise every day. Failed on both counts. I've been getting up at 5:30am...at work by 8:15am...working non-stop until about 5:15pm...eating dinner and then firing up the laptop and working until about 11pm ish. Not a lot of time for doing the right thing in there.

Gosh, I suck sometimes.

Okay, I need to "buck up" and get back on track.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Less Elastic

They say that, as you grow older, your skin becomes less elastic, which means that it can stretch less, etc. It's an interesting thought actually, as I think it applies to more than just skin, well at least it applies to me.

Now what does this mean?

Well I find myself less and less willing to go out on a limb at work. I find myself less willing to alter my routine at home. I find myself less willing to try and stretch into new directions in general. It's harder to start big projects, and I have less of a desire to do things that involve a lot of effort. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic here, but it does seem less elastic to me.

Now what to do about this?

Well I suppose I could just accept the fact that, as you I grow older, this is the way it will be. Yes, I can simply say "yup, that's the way it is" and continue to march towards becoming one of those older folks I swore I would never be when I was in my 20's. You know the kind: they always have coffee (well I don't drink coffee, but so I digress) at the same time at the same McDonald's every day, sitting at the same table, talking to their same group of cronies about "damn kids" and the like. I already sense some of the change in that I stopped liking "modern" music sometime after say 1989.

On the other hand, I could actually take the time to ponder whether or not this is an inevitability. Maybe I have a choice. Maybe I can try new things. Maybe I can make big plans and break them up into small, bite-sized chunks.

In the end, I think we always have a choice.

Here's to the choice of more elasticity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Things The World Doesn't Need

Angry Conservative Radio Talk Show Hosts
I think we already have a surplus, plus Michael Savage has to count multiple times, mainly because he is a nut many times over. How about some informative or even funny conservative talk show hosts? Hell, I like G. Gordon Liddy.

People Who Are Famous For Being Famous
I would call Paris Hilton a talentless bimbo, but that would be incorrect...I confess to seeing one of her "videos" once, and I admit that she does have at least one talent: the problem is that said talent can only be exercised legally in Nevada. Enough already with people who seem to garner attention for simply being genetically linked to someone who once worked hard.

Diets That Include Pre-Packaged Food
Maybe I'm missing something here, but if you want to keep weight off, don't you need to learn how to eat regular food (in moderation)? I mean is the plan that you eat Nutrisystem food until you are like 89 years old?

Reality Shows That Involve Young Pretty Young Ladies Living In A House Together
I think the title explains it all. There seem to be about 50 shows on cable now that have the same premise: several young, attractive ladies live together and get on each others nerves. Many smoke too much. All use foul language that must be bleeped repeatedly. None seem to be in school.

Tobacco Companies
Hey, let's create an market a product that is guaranteed to kill 60% of it's consumers. Wait, isn't that actually bad???? Seriously, the more you think about what these companies do, the more it reads like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone.

Celebrity Micro-Dog Pets
Even more pathetic than the mere sight of someone famous for being famous is the sight of a small micro-dog slung in their arms like so many high school textbooks. Hey, I'm all for people having pets...in fact recently back-from-the-dead actor Mickey Rourke said "Sometimes when a man's alone, that's all you've got is your dog"...and that's real. What's fake? Treating a pet like a fashion accessory.

Viagra (& Similar Product) Advertisements
Call me old fashioned, but I just don't think that talking about "ED" is appropriate anywhere but on those sleazy pay-per-view movie channels you get in hotels. There are things about Bob Dole that only Libby Dole should know about.

Comedians Who Tell "Funny Stories"
I'm sorry, but if I'm listening to a comedian and it takes more than five minutes to get to the punchline, then I'm just tuning out. Sorry Artie Lange. Maybe I'm just too much of an American, but I just don't have the patience.

Celebrities In Expensive Rehab Facilities
There was a time when it was considered shameful to be a drunk or a dope fiend. Now it's considered trendy. Personally I think it's shameful...not to be in rehab per sey, but to get your ass into the situation where you need to go in the first place. This is especially telling for celebrities. Precisely how horrible can the life be of someone who gets paid millions of dollars a year to memorize lines, tell jokes or sing? If anyone, there should be an abundance of sanitation workers in rehab...now that is a stressful job (90 degree heat and bags of stinky garbage...hell that would make me do dope).

Energy Drinks
How many different ways can you package massive doses of caffeine? Seriously, it's all just coffee that tastes like carbonated fruit juice.

"Special Guests" On CDs
Now I'm not an expert on the whole urban rap culture thing, but I do find the constant use of "special guests" on rap CDs to be funny. Let's think back to the late 60's, you know, back in the days when an artist had enough talent to actually carry an album on their own. Wow, what a concept. You didn't have "The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed, with special guest Rod Stewart", mainly because neither the Stones nor Stewart needed anyone to help them put out an entire musical work.

Miscellaneous Items:
...Any more Eddie Murphy movies (I want to sue him for the rental cost of "Pluto Nash")
...Social networking sites (I think the current count of 2 million offers sufficient choice)
...College basketball teams with low graduation rates (unless a coach graduates 70%+ fire'm)
...Comparisons to Joe Paterno (JoePa is the man, and there is only one)
..."Morning Zoo" radio programs
...Botox (I liked it better when botulism killed people instead of making Madonnas lips puffy)
...Celebrity Religions (we all know Madonna, Tom Cruise, et all have been helped so much)

"It's Morning In America"

The title above was famously used by former President Reagan in one of his commercials (I think it was the 1980 election). While I'm not sure if it was true then, I'm fairly sure it's true now. Today this country takes a quantum step forward with the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Now you could ask how just the swearing in could represent this kind of leap, and that would be fair; however let's remember that only 40 years ago there was still segregation in this country. Someone like Obama couldn't eat where they wanted, let alone become the President of the nation. Therein lies the leap.

Barack Obama wasn't my first choice for President, as I've noted here a few times. Quite bluntly, I don't think he has the experience for the job. That said, he will have the job on or about noon today. With that, I wish my new President well. While others in this world (such as the Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh types) may be wishing, hoping and praying for early mis-steps...all better to sell books and garner ratings...he will be in my hopes, thoughts and prayers. Ideology has to take a back seat to practicality in this day and age. We simply can't afford to have our elected officials take pot-shots at each other simply for personal gain. The stakes are now far too high.

God speed Barack Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Road Apples, #12

It's Sunday Morning
Time for my usual Sunday rituals of cleaning, taking my mother shopping, etc. Like most rituals, I'm afraid the meaning behind most of what I do is long gone, leaving only the basic actions left. That's okay I suppose, as we all need a little order in our lives.

The Warm Up
It looks like thing are actually going to warm up a bit here. The past two morning were brutal for Northeastern Pennsylvania, with my thermometer reading -4 degrees Saturday morning. The day yesterday did warm up quite a bit though, climbing to the upper teens. At the moment it's balmy 20 degrees outside, a veritable heatwave.

Fingers Not Cooperating Fully
I'm having trouble typing this morning, and I'm not sure why. I learned how to type "old school", on manual and electric typewriters, so my fingers are always on the home row keys and I never look at my fingers as I type. As for speed, I can do probably about sixty words a minute when at a decent clip, which doesn't describe this morning by any stretch. Not sure why I'm having the problem. My hands are operating fine...no stillness, not too cold, etc., so I'm thinking that the problem is somewhere in the connection between my fingers and my brain. Sounds heady, does it not?

Off Monday and Tuesday
Our office is closed on Monday in observance of Dr Martin Luther King Day, and I took Tuesday off. I'm hoping to get some massive doses of motivation to get started on the basement re-wiring, even it's only planning what I want to do. What is that? Well, I want to replace all of the existing standard light fixtures with fluorescent tube fixtures, and run two additional switches for lighting in little-used parts of the basement. I also want to wire a new outlet for a soon-to-be purchased new freezer for the basement (we already have a refrigerator/freezer in the basement, but it's grossly inefficient). All of that will be on it's own, dedicated circuit. After that work is done and the basement has better lighting, I'll take out the old fixtures, take out the old wiring, and box the ends where I have something live that needs to remain. Oh, and I'll also consolidate the house cabling into one spot, like I did for the house phone wiring. Currently the cable comes in and snakes over to a power booster and then splits off into different directions. I want to move the booster over to where the phone panel is and re-organize all of the wiring.

All of the above is my idea of "fun". No wonder I have issues with relating to other human beings.

On The Geek Front
I watched the new episode of Battlestar Galactica twice over the past few days: once on Friday night (on our HDTV no less) and once on-line last night. It did not disappoint. There is one scene where a character is acting happy but deep down inside is distraught over recent events and, when she is in her quarters and the last person in there with her leaves, she quickly pulls out a gun and kills herself. Now you need to know something of the plot to understand why she did this, but what's so great about the show is the edginess about it; you simply wouldn't see something like that on most TV shows. What was also remarkable was the amount of sorrow the suicide caused to a few of the main characters. Edward James Olmos, who plays Admiral Adama, is just terrific. He needs to win a Emmy for his work on the series.


Okay, there is snow that needs to be shoveled, cat crap that needs to be removed from litter pans and other assorted things that seemingly require my own unqiue talents (or so I tell myself), so it's time to stop creatively loafing and time to get going.

My Little Trini-Bug Is 21 Today!


Yes, my oldest daughter, Katrina, is now 21 years old.

Happy Birthday Trini-Bug!!

It seems like only yesterday when you were this 3 year old little girl who had her stuffed bear "Snuffy" with her wherever she went. Now you're a lady doing some adult things. My how time flies.

All the best today dear, and please be careful if you go out this evening. I trust you, but that doesn't mean I trust many others!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Hellish Ghoul"


No, this isn't something about the undead, but rather I was thinking a few minutes ago about writing, why I like to write, what purpose writing serves me, etc., and it reminded me of some of the authors that I have enjoyed reading over the years.

Still no connection to "Hellish Ghoul", but I'm getting there.

One of the authors I have enjoyed reading is named Hollis Gillespie, who has written a number of books (Bleachy-Haired Honkey Bitch is one of them...don't let the title fool you...it's a gas), columns (including one for Creative Loafing in Atlanta) and on occasion has recorded segments for NPR. On one such segment, she was talking about her work as a translator...she speaks fluent German...and mentioning how, in German, Hollis Gillespie sounds remarkably like "Hellish Ghoul". It's a very funny story, but what I enjoyed the most about it (and the other work she has done) is the conversational way she has of communicating. I wish I had some of that ability.

Back to my writing: Therein lies the reason, I think, I enjoy writing every now and then. You see, I'm not especially comfortable talking to people in person. Meet me in person and I will in fact struggle to make any small talk. It's ironic when you think about it: part of my job involves actually talking to people, sometimes about things they don't necessarily want to hear, but yet I've yet to master the "art" of a friendly conversation. In some bizarre way, writing for me is a surrogate for talking.

Now I'm not sure if anyone who "knows" me would be surprised by the above...or care about the above for that matter. Truth-be-told, it doesn't phase me one way or another; this little monologue is more for me than anyone else anyway. Why have it on the Internet then? Well I do have tons of stuff not on the Internet...notebooks full in fact. What I find interesting and challenging about writing a blog though is that actually writing this here forces me into certain standards of clarity and "good conduct" (for lack of a better description), standards that I probably would have to abide by if I were engaged in small talk. Remarkable how circular, is it not? In some small way, this is a quasi-surrogate for interacting with other humans.

I've talked about discomfort in talking to people, but what does that translate to in real terms? Well first, there are instances where I can talk to someone in a casual manner and feel more or less at ease. The list of people I can actually talk to like that is short: discounting family for a moment, there may be 2 or 3 people in the known universe where I don't worry about how I sound, what I say, etc. Pretty much everyone else is on this bizarre sliding scale of doom, manifest by slight discomfort on one end to physically manifesting stress on the other, with lots of stops in between for bad measure.

Sadly, we are not talking about a 22 year old here, but rather someone who can double that age. Is there no hope for me? Well, as Emily Dickinson once observed, "Hope is the thing with feathers", so I'm thinking the entire concept of it is overblown. Idiosyncrasies noted, I'm probably no more dysfunctional in totality than most others, and I'll take my neurosis any day over some of the others I've seen in this world.

Hellish Ghoul indeed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

'Tis Truly A Sad Day

Just heard about this...the end of an era I suppose.


Chrysler to End PT Cruiser, Seek Buyer for Equipment (Update1)

By Mike Ramsey

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Chrysler LLC, pruning its lineup to save money, will stop building the PT Cruiser this year and is seeking buyers for the equipment used to make the model, President Tom LaSorda said.

Production “ends this summer,” LaSorda said today in a telephone interview. “Would we sell those assets? Yes. Do we have any offers to sell those assets? No. Would we be pursuing a buyer? Yes.”

The PT Cruiser, with a rounded body to mimic 1930s-style station wagons, would be the seventh model to be canceled since Cerberus Capital Management LP bought Chrysler in August 2007. The third-largest U.S. automaker is using $4 billion in federal loans to stay in business while reshaping operations to end losses.

“The need for that product has passed,” said John Wolkonowicz, a product analyst at consulting firm IHS Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. “It created a buzz back in 2000, but it’s outlived its usefulness.”

Classified as a truck, the PT Cruiser has four passenger doors and a liftgate at the back. The model once targeted to appeal to younger buyers instead ended up attracting older consumers looking for a cargo-hauling vehicle, Wolkonowicz said.

Chrysler Nameplate

Without the PT Cruiser, the Chrysler badge will appear only on the Town & Country minivan and Sebring and 300C sedans. Models dropped under Cerberus are the Dodge Magnum station wagon and Durango sport-utility vehicle, and the Chrysler Crossfire sports car, PT Cruiser convertible, and Aspen and Pacifica SUVs.

Rick Deneau, a spokesman for Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler, declined to elaborate on LaSorda’s remarks, following the company’s practice of not confirming cancellations until they’re formally announced.

U.S. sales of the PT Cruiser plunged 49 percent last year to 50,910 units, outpacing Chrysler’s 30 percent slide and the 18 percent tumble in the domestic auto market. Deliveries peaked at 144,717 in 2001, according to Autodata Corp. in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

Chrysler builds the PT Cruiser at an assembly plant in Toluca, Mexico.

Chrysler has said it is trying to sell its Dodge Viper sports-car brand, and it will discontinue production of its Jeep Commander SUV, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Ramsey in Southfield, Michigan, at mramsey6@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: January 14, 2009 15:28 EST

At My Office Desk

What's laying around at my (home) office desk? Here's an inventory...

A Cat...well he's not at the desk, but he's close, within petting distance. Name: Buttons. Occupation: Sleeping.

Magazine Holders...keeping back issues of PC World, a Michigan Bulb Company catalog, a booklet called "Wicked French" (which has unique French phrases for non-French speakers...including such gems as "C'est une chambre pour un nain"...translation: "This room is for a dwarf"), the Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life, a copy of Windows XP Home edition, a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium edition, and a few other things I am too lazy to pull out.

Bill Holder...holding bills. Note to myself: I have to pay bills today. Have I ever mentioned that, with five cell phones, my monthly payments to AT&T are probably akin to the GNP of several African nations?

A Mostly Full Bottle of Diet Pepsi...for taking my vitamins and Prilosec in the morning. Hmmmm good.

Various Open Pieces of Mail...stuff that I have to either file, pitch or decide to send money to (including the Diocese of Scranton Bishop's Annual Appeal; still on the bubble over that one).

A "Dawn of the Dead" DVD...I need to find the case for it.

Mini CD Holder Tower (made of wicker)...I like wicker. This is where I keep software copies, etc.

Altec Lansing Sound System with Subwoofer...that I connect to my laptop. I get outstanding sound on it. The speakers actually are hanging from the top of the desk so as not to take up desk space.

Large Wicker Basket...that I use to throw recycle-able paper into; I then empty this into the paper bin every other week when the city recycles paper products. I find this convenient when I have envelopes, etc that can be recycled.

Staple, Hole-Punch, Paper Clip Holder, Take Dispenser, Large Button Calculator...all sitting on top of the sound-system subwoofer.

Books...Lifetime Encyclopedia Of Letters, Arrogance (by Bernard Goldberg...never read it, but maybe one day I will), Mobey Dick (by Herman Melville...I will read it one day...I swear), Happier (by Tal, Ben-Shahar, PhD...started to read it, but stopped; need to pick it up again), Ideas and Opinions (by Albert Einstein...have read it...good stuff), Religions of America (by Leo Rosten...have read it, many times over), Tilting the Balance (by Harry Turtledover...another in the "will read one day" department), binder with old Performance Appraisals & Compensation Statements, Samsung Blackjack II manual, Yellow Book for Scranton, LL Bean Christmas 2008 catalog (note to self...need to throw that away)

Spinning Dark Red Leather Pencil Holder...I got this at some store for next to nothing. I love it...holds lots of stuff segregated into holders (one for markers, pens, etc.).

Dark Red Wood Charging Station...where I plug my cell phone, bluetooth, etc. Looks good next to the pencil holder.

Pills...Multi-vitamin, vitamin B complex supplement, Prilosec, Advil, Cleocin (an anti-biotic I need to take before I have dental work done).

The Hardware...
...Sony Vaio VGN-N130G; originally set up with 1gb of RAM and Windows XP, I've upgraded it to 2gb and Windows Vista
...Lexmark printer/scanner/fax/copier
...Radio Shack power strip with lots of surge protection
...Westell DSL modem

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not Such A Bad Boy

From the movie "Give My Regards to Broad Street"...note the Rickenbacher left-handed guitar being played by Paul (I believe that it's a 4001S):




The lead guitar player is named Chris Spedding, who played with McCartney on a number of albums. The rhythm guitar player is, I think, Dave Edmunds (well known to Rockabilly fans).

Road Apples, #11

It's a Balmy 9 Degrees Outside
Now I wonder why I am putting off as long as possible the need to go outside, start the car, and clear off the sidewalks? Just one central question here: Where the hell is my damn global warming???? I want some January 50 degree weather, and I want it now!!!!

Pay To Pray
I love to read about religion and religious philosophies. One of my favorite "religions" to read about is the Church of Scientology. I highly encourage anyone with any interest in religion at all to spend some time reading about this organization. Make your own decisions, but when all is said and done, ask yourself the following question: if a Buddhist can gain peace and enlightenment more or less for free, why then pay tens of thousands of dollars to try and get it from the religion of Mr Cruise and Mr Travolta? Now I don't want to insult anyone out there, but if I've misstated the core fact at play here, namely that the Church of Scientology (CoS) charges members to go through stages of self-growth/enlightenment, I'll gladly retract. Also, I don't want to imply that I'm boosting Buddhists, as I've met more than a few Christians who seem pretty at peace with themselves, again without having had to pay tens of thousands of dollars for "religious technology". Oh, note that the CoS does have plans, from what I understand, whereby someone can work for the church in order to pay for the enlightenment, but that's even a worse scheme if you think about it: forced labor for "enlightenment".

Bottom line: something is very wrong there.

Happy Birthday Rich
Yesterday was my brother Rich's 46th birthday. Happy birthday dude! In my family, the brothers are all a year apart in age...by the end of May it will work something like this: Rich/46, Steve/45, Chris/44, Joe/43. Scary stuff. I don't feel nearly mature and sensible enough to be turning 45 (which will happen in April, btw).

On The Work Front
I put out a proposal of my own self-development for this year, which we call an "Individual Development Plan" or IDP. This year I am formally requesting that the company actually spend some money on me, something I've rarely (in twenty years) asked. I know, I picked a hell of year to ask, but what the heck? You are guaranteed not to get it if you don't ask for it, so I'm going to ask. I'm also fine if the answer comes back "sorry, but we can't this year because of the economy", as long as there is some notion of shared sacrifice. If, however, I get a no and if find out that others will have gotten similar opportunities, all bets are off. I realize that in business it's not an "everyone equal" kind of deal, because everyone isn't in fact equal. However, if the underlying rationale is the economy, that is seems to impact others as much as it would impact me.

On The Home Front
I have five days off coming up (Friday-Tuesday), and I am actually looking forward to it. I don't have plans per sey to watch the inauguration on Tuesday, but I might just do so anyway. For some reason work has been very tiring lately, so I need the vacation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pay Raises

Interesting events in Scranton, as a proposal to grant pay raises to the Mayor of Scranton and members of City Council went down in flames last night. Now there is no shortage of rhetoric when it comes to opposing this, and when you strip away the bitter feelings on the part of police and firemen (who I really can't blame for their bitterness, by the way) you are left with one central issue:

This is simply not a good time to be granting raises.

I don't think there is ever a "good time" to pay someone in government more, and it's hard to argue that we are in a recession that is harming many folks in the private sector. However, when is there a "good time" to do this? Well, there are a few things to consider:

First, you need to separate your view of the person holding the office from pay of the office. If you don't like Chris Doherty, you may in fact like his replacement, so are you willing to see he/she paid at the current level? We all want some version of "pay for performance", but in the world of politics, "performance" is a relative term.

Second, you have to look at what other similar positions pay. My understanding is that the Mayor of Scranton makes about $25,000 less than what the Mayor of Wilkes-Barre (a smaller city) earns. Does that make any sense?

Third, if you want to attract top talent to a position (and not simply rich folks who can afford to take the pay-cut), you have to pay an attractive wage. There is not way around this fact...it's no different than gravity.

Finally, you need to look at the responsibilities of the position. Clearly, running the city of Scranton is a tougher job than running a neighborhood CVS drugstore, but yet I'll bet there are CVS managers who earn somewhere close to $50,000/year. How much sense does that make? Hell, I'll even come clean here: I make quite a bit more than the Mayor of Scranton does, and I think I have less responsibility.

You get what you pay for when it comes to talent.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Talent...Not Skin Color...Is What Counts & Matters

President Elect Obama Becomes President Obama In A Week

As the old-timers would say, "who'da thunk that?" Kind of amazing when you think about it, in the sense that there still is some element of racism in this country. Now I say that without having a bleeding heart beating inside my chest, but just as a rational statement based on actual experience. Oh, and I did vote the for guy, although that vote was more based on the fact that I didn't think John McCain would represent any real change for this country (especially given his choice of Gov. Palin for a running mate).

One of my biggest hopes for real social change with an Obama Administration is what I'm going to simplistically call the "de-sensitization" of race-relations in this country. What do I mean? Well, it's my real hope that people aren't going to view Obama as a "black" President (technically incorrect, as he is actually a "half-black" President), but instead let him stand as President based on his ideas and how he transforms those ideas into positive action. The fact that he is black has nothing to do with his intellectual capacity or ability to do the job. Sure, his experiences growing up as a minority in the United States certainly shaped his character, but those experiences didn't help him pass, for example the bar exam. No, it short-changes the man to think that he's going to be President because he is black (errrr half-black), as the man is the sum of many things, just as all people the sum of all they are.

So back to this "de-sensitization" thing. I think it's time we really do stop putting people in these neat little boxes for easy categorization. "African-American Male" "White Female" "Person of Color" Enough with the tattooed stamps on people's foreheads. Instead of "African-American Male" we have Barrack Obama the person. Instead of "White Female" we have Hillary Clinton the person. Let's view people for their talents and abilities, not for their chromosomal make-up.

Now does that mean we ignore things like race and gender tools used for discrimination? Hell no. If someone is harmed simply because of their race or gender then I absolutely believe that they should have the force of law behind them as they seek recourse. In fact, that notion agrees completely with what I've written above: people shouldn't be viewed as a race or a gender...positively or negatively.

I write this as a member of the "privileged class", being a white male. But wait a minute. Let me list all of the times I've gotten a leg-up because I was a white male.

1.
2.

Short list, huh? In fact I don't think I've ever had someone take my "under their wing" for any reason, let alone my race or my gender. In fact, growing up relatively not-well off (you could say we were poor growing up) to the extent I have anything, it's because I've worked hard and tried to use the talents and abilities I have been given, which takes me actually back to the President Elect, who I believe has gotten where has for the same (all be it with far more talent than me) reasons. Again, why short-change the man?

So here's to the President Elect, who next week makes one giant step for all Americans when he takes the oath of office. Let's hope that years from now people will talk about what Barack Obama accomplished, with the color of his skin just being a passing comment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Right Down The Line

Just another random title, as the song "Right Down The Line" by Gerry Rafferty is floating around in my head.

In the "business" of this blog, I'm looking at a four day work week, as I have Friday off. I've also got a lot to do this week, both personally and professionally. On the personal end, I really do need to get work on the basement started. On the professional end, I've got a few things that have to get done this week, including getting some continuing education stuff done, soon. Now I start every day with the best of intentions, but somehow as the day progresses, the initiative juices inside of me get drained to the point where by the time I get home I'm pretty much ready to veg out and do nothing. Why?

One thing I did manage to get done yesterday evening, even in the dregs of having no energy, was to look at my DVDs. At this stage, I'm really out of room to store any more. Now it's not that I have a ton of them, but I have enough, coupled with CDs, that I've run out of room in the mission cabinet I have for keeping such things. Actually I do have some room, but I'll need to take out a few knick-knacks that I keep in the cabinet as well (mainly some Penn State memorabilia). I know, not exactly an Earth-shattering problem, but hell at least it can be solved.

Speaking of random, I just heard on the radio that lottery sales are up, even though the economy is down. Now from a practical perspective, that's not a horrible thing in that Pennsylvania uses lottery money to fund senior citizen programs, which is a good thing. We should do as much as we can to take care of the youngest (the children) and the oldest among us. From a rational perspective though, I hear stories like that and think "My God, How Stupid". I guess you can say that I'm not a fan of gambling in general and lotteries specifically. In fact, I've never purchased a lottery ticket in all my life. I don't even know how the games are played.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Heroin for the Masses

Probably the best quote ever about smoking is this:

"No other legal product, when used as directed, kills 60% of its users."
Personally I think that gives tobacco the benefit of the doubt, as it probably contributes to other illnesses as well that may be fatal.



Pretty well put, huh? Here's another thought:

Research has shown that nicotine, the addictive part of tobacco smoke, actually partially re-wires the brains of smokers so that they continue to want more and more nicotine.



How about I keep going? Smoking & addiction...this is from the University of Minnesota:

"Tobacco is as addictive as heroin (as a mood and behavior altering agent)."
Tobacco is -
  • 1000x more potent than alcohol
  • 10 - 100x more potent than barbiturates
  • 5 - 10x more potent than cocaine or morphine


As if the above wasn't bad enough, smoking even harms your teeth (from WebMD):

In addition to causing cosmetic problems (yellow teeth, bad breath, etc.) smoking causes bone loss in the jaw. Smoking also harms salivary glands, increases the chances of developing gum disease, and causes healing after oral procedures to take longer.



Growing up, my mother smoked. I thought then it was a horrible, stinky thing, so I've never had any desire to smoke whatsoever. In fact, I've never even tried it.

Why then is this crap even legal? I know, in this country we have the right to do stupid things, but come on, this isn't stupid, it's freak'n fatal! I really don't get it. Now this isn't to say that I don't have sympathy for those who smoke and are trying to quit, because I do. I'm fortunate in that I've known a few good friends over the years who have managed to quit, although it was very difficult for some and I know a few who have tried to quit and failed. For them I just hope that they continue to try and don't give up, as the benefits of quitting far outweigh the frustration at failing.

What to do? Well I think the percentage of adults that smoke in this country is about 25% or so, and while it has fallen substantially (I think something like 50% of adult males smoked at one time), the trend seems to be bottoming out, and it's doubtful that smoking rates will fall much further. Personally I think tobacco products should be illegal, but I realize that's not possible when such a large percentage of adults still smoke. However I think there are some things that can be practically be done to reduce smoking further:

  • The government should subsidize the costs of truly effective smoking cessation medications and programs, such as the drug Chantix.
  • There should be a standard, nation-wide non-smoking policy that prevents all smoking in common, public areas...be they indoor or outside.
  • There should be more substantial fines for anyone under the age of 18 who possesses tobacco products. I know..."what if they are buying them for a parent"...to which I say "then let the parent buy them for his/her self and stop making the kid nothing more than a drug mule".
  • Tobacco should be taxed highly and at a national level, with the proceeds being used to fund smoking cessation programs and prevention programs aimed at young adults. There should also be a special tobacco profits tax leveled at the producers of this product that is also used to fund these programs.
  • Cartoons should be banned as tools to advertise tobacco products.
  • Hollywood should be encouraged to "de-glamorize" smoking in films.
  • The government should sponsor annual contest for the production of anti-smoking messaging; effective video/pictures/sound clips would then be used in prevention programs.
  • There should be a standard anti-tobacco curriculum required for all schools in select grades.
  • Companies shouldn't subsidize smoking by allowing/tolerating extra smoking breaks for workers.
Sounds hard-assed, I know, but we are talking about something that kills people. This isn't like french fries, where a few every now and then is okay. Hell, even the worst food has some redeeming value in terms of calories...tobacco has zero redeeming qualities. I know "if I quit I will gain weight", but you know what? You can quit without gaining weight, and even if you do, that extra weight for most people will never even come close to killing them.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Scams of Various Kinds

Two scams: one recent, one on-going.


The Recent Scam: Credit Protection In A Dress
I bought some clothes as a Christmas present for my wife from an on-line catalogue. Now I had trouble with the order initially, in that you got a gift if you made a purchase of over a certain amount, but yet it was impossible to find the spot on-line where you claimed the gift. That was clue 1 that I wasn't dealing with most reputable outfit going. As if that wasn't enough, today a received a check from these folks. Now I'm thinking "well maybe this is to make up for their scamming me on the gift" (as I did complain about that after placing the order), so I open it up and read the fine print. Intersting to say the least. By cashing this check, I would be automatically enrolling myself in a credit monitoring service that will be billed in the amount of $139.99 to the same credit card that I used for my purchase. I wonder how many people got this, cashed it, and then ended up wondering why they have a $139.99 charge to their card?

Needless to say I was furious. It's been a rough two days, and I really didn't need this. So what to do? Well, I packed a nice, nasty letter back to these folks, along with the voided "check". I also copied the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office on Consumer Protection. I also demanded that I be removed from all of their mailings. Now this will probably do squat in the grand scheme of things, but hell, at least it felt like I was fighting back.


The On-Going Scam: College Text Books
For the Spring Semester, my dauther's book costs will come to about $440, and that's with buying books on-line, used, etc. It's a royal scam. One class alone had about thirty books to buy. Now I don't mind that really, becasue the books in question were works of literature that they would be covering in class (like "A Clockwork Orange" for example). But I really do mind, for example, the $124 single textbook that I managed to get for the wonderful price of only $80. That's four Steven King novels at Borders...new. It's a hell of a racket. I do hope that someone is making money off of this, because it sure is painful for me.


Oh, and just to make things even more interesting, there's a blizzard outside.

Ah, the joys of life.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Road Apples, #10

In The Strange Dream Department
I had this dream last night that seems to be nothing more than a really bad zombie movie. I was with a group of folks at some kind of lab/military base and it was full of zombies (who had the 'rage' virus) that I was trying to elude. I finally did manage to escape, along with some other folks from this place, but as we were leaving (in some kind of strange Range Rover thing), the outside of the lab/military base has dozens of robots that looked like the one from "Lost In Space" moving all about. Strangely enough, this wasn't a nightmare. Oh, and for the record, I watched the movie 28 Days Later (for the second time) about three weeks ago.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

Today Is Friday
It's been a very long week that seems to have lasted about three weeks actually. How long? Well I'm wearing jeans today, which I normally don't do on Fridays (even though our office allows that on most Fridays). I did have a few "big" things to do this week, which probably contributed to how I feel at the moment. Le yawn.

Gov. Palin Video
There is a video out there on YouTube where Gov. Palin discusses the media and the treatment of her family during the election. I do agree with her about some of the comments made during the campaign being way the hell out of line. In fact I've said all along that children of political candidates should always be off limits. That was true when Rush Limbaugh compared Chelsea Clinton to a dog on his 3am TV show, true when the National Enquirer insisted on reporting about the Bush daugthers and true about Gov. Palin's oldest daugther. I will, however, add one caveat though: when you preach family values and insist that yours are better than others (her "real America" comments), then you open yourself up to others calling you out on the hypocrisy of your words vs your actions. Interstingly enough, I think the video in question is for some "secret conspiracy that got Obama elected" movie thing that will end up only being available via order from various right-wing conspiracy websites. That's a shame, because again I think she made some valid comments, which will end up being burried in some nonsense about Obama stealing an election.

In The Local Politics Deparment
I try to stay away from this kind of thing, but this one begs for comment. It was reported in various local newspapers that the Mayor of Scranton hired a young man who was the sun of a former mayor for a newly created city position. The job wasn't advertised, no other candidates were ever considered, and the individual in question had really no relevent experience for the job. What do I think? Well, I think it points to several of the reasons why many people hold politicians and public servants in general in low esteem. Now the reality is that this kind of thing happens everywhere; I've worked in the private sector now for almost 25 years and I've seen it myself. That doens't make it right, but at least in the private sector it's not public money being used to fund these escapades. In this particular case, there is no doubt that it was some kind of manuvering going on between the current and former mayor, manuvering in which it was public money being used as the lubricant. Look, with economic times being so tough, it's hard to justify hiring anyone in government, let alone someone who has as their chief qualification "son of former mayor".

Post Script - the young man in question resigned from the position after a story detailing elements of his background were published in the local newspaper. I guess the system worked...sort of.

In The Good News Department
My brother closed on his new (for him) house yesterday. This was the former house of my uncle, who passed away about two months ago. Best of luck to him.

In The Not So Good News Department
My mother was in the hospital yesterday, as she was suffering from extreme joint pain. The underlying culpit was a fall, coupled with getting-worse arthritis. My mother is 72, and worked very hard all her life, so it's not unexpected that she might have this kind of an aliment, but it's still sad to see. She is back home now and has some more effective pain medication to take, which I hope helps. It also reinforces for me the need to take care of myself, as you only get one body to use in this life.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Yesterday's Bell Curve

Typical "Bell Curve" kind of day yesterday.

It started out on a bad note, with the girls having a delay from school. That translates to me having to re-arrange my morning schedule to take them to school. While I 1000% support the need of the District to ensure that buses can drive safely on roads, etc., I'd rather see a closure, as the delay just creates havoc on parent schedules, or worse yet, creates real problems for some parents who don't have the kind of job where re-arranging a work schedule is even possible.

Things picked up a little bit at work mid-day, as it looks like some work I did for year-end reporting was good enough. That's probably something of a mild understatement, but I am just glad that it's over with to be honest.

Things turned sour though in the afternoon, as I was disappointed in not getting a certain assignment and, worse yet, got the impression that I may end up continuing to work on the technology project that basically ruined the greater part of 2008 for me. The jury is still out on that, but let's just say an opening was created yesterday that makes it possible, and this was after some assurances that I would in fact be taken off of it.

The evening? Well the slow burn of subtle-but-crappy news in the afternoon pushed all the right stress buttons and that in turn translated into "I'm not happy so I'm going to eat too much", and it also sapped any ambition I had for getting anything done in the evening. I ended up going to bed around 10pm, which is early for me. The only saving grace was that I did spend some time reading before I actually turned the light out to sleep (I got a used book on Monday...the unauthorized biography of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley).

The night? Not a particularly restful one, but no less restful that normal I suppose.

So now I'm looking at today, knowing that some of yesterday's pressures (make that all of yesterday's pressures) will still be there, plus some new ones. Oh well. I just need to pick my head up and get going with things, which includes acknowledging that which I can not change and changing that which I can. Easier said than done, I know, but still never the less true.

I'm told you "choose your attitude" every day, which I do in fact believe. The problem though is that you sometimes have to make that choice based on less-than-positive evidence, relatively speaking. Yes, "relatively" speaking, because I know that I have far more good than bad in my life, but that still doesn't dull the disappointments you find throughout the day, be they crappy decisions at work, etc. There are times when I just want to scream out "can I just get a little break here?", even when I know I've gotten plenty of breaks already. Does that make any sense at all? Hell, I'm not even sure, and I wrote that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Talking Heads: Psycho Killer

I am not a really big Talking Heads fan, but this is just an outstanding clip.



Check out Tina Weymouth playing the Fender Mustang bass...it's nearly as big as she is. As if that wasn't visually interesting enough, the bass is turned way the hell up in the mix for this song. I swear you hear it over Jerry Harrison's guitar.

By the way, the clip is from a British music show called "The Old Grey Whistle Test"...you can buy a DVD or two with these clips; in fact, the Scranton Public Library has the DVD with this clip, which is where I saw it for the first time.

They Expect Me To Go To Work When It Snows

Can you believe it? The sheer, utter gall of "the man"!

Actually, to do something I try not to do here, I'm going to complain for a moment. I live with a teacher and I'm really tired of hearing how much easier I have it, because I'm not "on" all the time, or because I don't have to put up with nasty parents. Now I do have the utmost respect for teachers, and I would never claim that my job is easier than that of a teacher, but I will say this: it can be just as difficult, all be it in different ways.

...they actually expect me to go into work when the weather is really bad
...they actually expect me to work during the summer
...I don't have parents to put up with...I have the areas I support at work (I call them "customers")
...I'm not in front of a group of children teaching all day...instead I'm in front of adults, many of which act like children but have a more "creative" vocabulary
...I don't have a principal...I have a Director, his boss (a Vice-President), etc.
...My raise isn't guaranteed....I have to earn it every year, and there have been years when the company didn't give me one

Now do I earn a good living? Yes, I do. But I have absolutely no regrets about how much I earn, as I do work for penny of it, and then some. I'd like to think that I give a lot of myself at work, just like I suspect good teachers do.

Does any of this sound mean? I hope not, but it really does bother me that there is this not-so-subtle implication that I don't have to work as hard for my living as my spouse does. Now please don't mistake any of this for jealousy, as I have no desire to teach children myself, and again, I really, really do have the utmost respect for teachers. But I do ask that the same level of respect be given to me.

Ok, this is delving into areas that are probably too deep and too complex to spout off about on blogger.com, so I had better count me losses and call this one a day.

It's off to shovel snow (or whatever the hell it's doing out there).

POST SCRIPT -
Just got done shoveling out there and taking the garbage out (and changing the cat litter)...it's horrible. My car is literally encased in ice. It's going to be an interesting drive to work.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Back...

Yes, today is my first day back to the normal pattern of work. Like a lot of folks, I have this "love-hate" relationship with work.

On one hand, I am paid very well, so I can't complain about that. Now the terms "well" is relative, as I am sure that there are others within the company (and outside of the company) that are paid more. Would I like to earn more? Sure, who wouldn't, but I am paid enough to cover my bills and put some aside, and while there are plenty of extras I would love, I have the essentials. What's more, I work in a generally good environment: my co-workers are professionals, I have access to cool things like a cafeteria (all the fried food you want) and a gym (very, very cool). I also get to do some traveling for work, which is both a plus and a minus. Lastly, and most importantly, what we do at work is important; when I worked for a department store, my hard work meant that someone walked away with a sweater and the owners made a profit...now, when I work hard and do a good job, somewhere down-stream maybe someone can live a decent life in retirement.

On the other hand, while the pay is good, like most of corporate America there are gross discrepancies in pay scales. For example, I earn a bonus every year, which is a good thing. The bad thing? General rule of thumb is that the bonus doubles for each level you climb. Now given what I earn in a bonus, my boss, for example, is earning a hell of a lot at double mine. What's more, my organization is incredibly political, which I think is almost to be expected given the money and egos involved. There are spots of insanity though...for example, I trained a VP last Wednesday and he was a really decent guy. We also currently have a company-wide problem with one of the senior leaders running amok like a Viking through 1200 England, and there doesn't seem to be any will on the part of the rest of the company's leaders to do anything about it.

Yes, there are problems, but one thing I have learned over the years is this: in business, it's all about cycles. The good times never last forever, but neither do the bad times either. What's more, bad leaders seem even more susceptible to gravity than others: as fast as they climb, they eventually reach a point where gravity catches up with them and they fall even faster.