Not Cease from Exploration

Saturday, February 28, 2009

High School - College Job

I think I've mentioned here that I have a Facebook page (just look for Stephen Albert in Scranton), and yesterday I added a friend that I had worked for...I believe she was my manager...during a job I had in High School and College. It was great to add Kathy (the new Facebook friend), as I have seen her once or twice over the years, and just as was the case "back in the day", she's still a terrific person and I am thrilled that she is doing well.

Having Kathy on Facebook reminded me of what it was like doing the kind of work I did back then. While most of my peers had jobs washing dishes (I actually did that too for many weekends while in high school), the job I had during summers was working at a private facility for the mentally retarded. I know, "awwwwwwwwwwwww". It was an unlikely job for me, as in hindsight I have no interest in that kind of Human Services work. I got the job mainly because my mother was a night-shift supervisor at this place. But so I digress. Anyway, it was an "interesting" experience, to say the least. Some of the things that happened to me include:
  • I lost 3 or 4 watches that were flushed down toilets by the clients (I would take them off to help with showers/baths, and for some reason flushing my watch was considered to be a sport of sorts)
  • While working at the summer camp of this place, I had a door slammed in my face by an angry young man; this caused a cut on my nose. Sounds bad? Hahhhhh...it got worse. There must have been something on the door because I ended up getting some bizarre fungal infection on my face that took weeks to clear off. It looked for a time like my face was being consumed by some alien infection. No wonder I didn't get many dates.
  • I got chicken pox at age 18 or 19. I was never so sick in all my life. In addition to the fever that spiked at 104 degrees, I had the sores everywhere...including the soles of my feet.
And those were just the top three....there are other stories, but I think you get the drift.

It was, shall we say, quite an experience.

Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Friday....

...and I am going to Connecticut today; in fact I'll be leaving in about an hour or so. I have two classes to teach and then I'll be heading back for a much needed weekend. The weather looks good...for late February...so I don't have any real travel worries.

Well yesterday was the review day, and by and large all went as expected. I took a very big hit in the compensation department, but hearing that from someone who works in the financial services business is like hearing that there will be a Tuesday next week. How big of a hit? Well let's just say that if you look at my bonus last year compared to this year, it's a drop of close to 50%. This is in spite of a very good review. Regardless, I'll say here what I said to my Director:

If this truly is a shared sacrifice among all of us, then I'm fine with the outcome. Sure I'm not "happy" with the numbers, but I've not heard of anyone who is & in the final analysis I have a great job with what I think is a great future.

In life you really do choose your attitude. I can choose to be bitter, angry and suspicious that this is all a scheme to screw me out of money, or I can choose to accept it for what it is and make the very best of it. I've learned this lesson the hard way over the years in dealing with my share of personal and professional issues. All the crying, all the fist pounding, all the bitterness in the world never built a single bridge, solved a single problem or made anyone happy.

Now what to do? Well this gives me an opportunity to look more closely at expenses, so that's a definite course of action. There won't be any vacation or trips this year, but I'll still invest in car maintenance (one of the cars needs from struts, for example) and I'm still going to get my flats screen office TV (although it will probably only have a 720p resolution). It will all work out.

Onward, to Connecticut.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review Day

"To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing and be nothing"

- Elbert Hubbard


For the record I don't know who Elbert Hubbard is, and I'm neither motivated or interested enough to find out, but I like the quote never the less.

Anyway, today I participate in that once in a year ritual known as the "Annual Performance Appraisal". I'm not sure what's worse, giving these things or getting these things. I've given all the reviews I need to already, with the last being finished on Tuesday (although I do have some follow-up I'm working on).

Why is it so bad?

Well first, it's really not that bad. Honestly, the discussions tend to be very cordial and it's always been my opinion as a manager that there should never be any surprises at review time. If there are, that means that the manager didn't do a good enough job throughout the year to talk to the employee about his/her performance. It's like most things in life: if you put bad things off until the end, it's usually more difficult. Regardless, I don't anticipate much in the "bad things" department. In fact, I expect a fairly cordial discussion.

What I don't like about these kinds of things is the very notion of having to talk about myself. I'm simply not comfortable with that sort of thing. Mind you I am a very introspective kind of person, but that introspection is just that: on the inside. The act of having to verbalize this kind of thing is is annoying at best, frightening at worst. I simply don't want to sound like a dork, and of all the things that involve awareness in the this world, I'm often most confused about the "outside looking in" deal. I know how I see me, but I have a far tougher time understanding how others see me, and reconciling the difference between the two has always been a difficult process for me, if for no other reason than consistency: I'm fairly consistent with my own view of self, but the outside view tends to vary widely.

So what do I do to prepare for this monumental event?

Well I've had my review to look at since Tuesday. Note that I haven't actually looked at it yet. Why? Well I've been very busy, and plus I don't necessarily want to obsess over it for days before hand. So I'll look it over this morning. I've also researched things like past compensation decisions & ratings, so I'll have that handy for reference. I don't plan on actually using that kind of things during the discussion, but rather it simply helps me put into context what I hear. In point of fact the whole money thing isn't an enormous issue to me, as I've always had the philosophy that if I feel I'm being treated fairly then I'm okay...if I'm not, then it's war. Oh, and I feel that I've been treated fairly by and large for most of my career with my current employer. Truth be told, I'm not sure what my annual salary is anyway, so obviously I'm not in the business of counting that sort of thing down to the penny.

Lastly, as someone who also gives annual performance appraisals and who strives to live by the "treat others as you would like to be treated" motto, I do try and make this as painless of a process as possible for my boss. No sense causing him any grief, as I think he genuinely tries to do the right thing. In this day and age that's a good thing.

So there you have it, today is review day. The actual big event is this afternoon, I think at 3pm via video conference.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino

The latest in a series of controversial statements by Bishop Martino, as noted in today's edition of The Scranton Times...

Bishop Martino Article, 02.25.2009

I'd encourage anyone with an interest in religion, educational policy, censorship, etc. to check this out.

My thought?

Well first, I do not deny Bishop Martino his right and obligation to speak out on matters of faith to the Catholics of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It seems to me that's what a Bishop does. However, that's not the only thing at play here.

Rewind for a minute: A few weeks ago, Bishop Martino, in a public letter, chided US Senator Bob Casey for not applying his (Casey's) Catholic faith to his voting record in the Senate. Yes, according to Bishop Martino, Senator Casey is a Catholic first, then an elected official, and the teachings of the Catholic Church should service has this template for voting. With all due respect to those involved, that very thought should scare the hell out of everyone.

Back to the now: Bishop Martino believes that the Diversity Institute, because it sponsored an openly gay speakers, should be closed down. Now for the record, I've attended events affiliated with the Diversity Institute, and my employer is a member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Diversity Education Consortium. The larger question is this: really, why? Is there a fear that somehow the public will cease to believe that Misericordia University is a Catholic Institution because of the Diversity Institute?

I don't believe that his has much to do with Diversity or Misericordia University for that matter. This is a matter of exercising power and authority for purposes of obedience. Bishop Martino says these things because, I believe, at some basic level he enjoys the exercise in authority. There is evidence for this; you need only look at the current controversy to realize that the Bishop could have called for a dialogue about the Institute and it's role at Misericordia; he could have gone to discuss the issue the administrators of the University in private. Why didn't he do those things? Why instead go the route of a press release (did you pick that up in the article?)? Again, for reasons of power, authority and obedience. Bishop Martino isn't as much interested, in my opinion, in talking about Diversity or how the Catholic Church feels about gay rights in as much as he is interested in, quite frankly, being able to tell people what to do.

Here's another example...

Bishop Martino & Plays

It's an interested read. Don't let the notion that it comes from a column in a weekly tabloid fool you into thinking that this isn't true; from what I gather, the article is 100% factually correct.

Look, I realize that his is my blog and I can pretty much say whatever the hell I want. I also realize that Joseph Martino doesn't give a rat's posterior about me, what I write, etc. But that's not the point. Rather, I've always found that unchecked, unchallenged authority is ALWAYS DANGEROUS. It doesn't matter if that unchecked authority comes from a politician or a member of the clergy, because we are all flawed and we are all capable of allowing our own egos to get in the way what is right. In some small, bizarre way I am drawn to write about this stuff simply because I do not believe that Bishop Martino is acting on behest of the Catholic Faith; rather, I think he is acting on accord of his own desire for people (be they US Senators, University Administrators, Play Participants, or anyone else) to simply be obedient personally to him. You need only look at his turning a blind eye to nearly years of Catholic teachings on the rights of workers to form unions (which Bishop Martino personally disregarded when he unilaterally decided to scrap the Diocese of Scranton's teacher union) for further, concrete proof.

Personally while I respect authority, I am not blindly obedient to it. God gave me a brain for a reasons, and I firmly believe that part of that reason lies in giving me (and all of us) the ability to look critically at the world around us. When I use that brain to critically look at what Bishop Martino has done, I see someone who appears to be more interested in being obeyed than leading. Make no mistake about it: Bishop Martino is a man, and according to my Catholic Faith, he is fully capable of making mistakes (Catholics believe that only the Pope is infallible when it comes to matters of faith, and only then under certain conditions...the actual term is called "ex cathedra").

...Telling a US Senator that he must intertwine his religion with his duties to represent his constituents (including those who are not Catholic)
...Telling teachers that, despite Church teaching, they are not entitled to form or belong to a union
...Telling people what plays they can participate in

...are exercises in authority and obedience, not in being a good shepherd.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Road Apples, #17

Back on the Chain Gang - I'm back in the (Scranton) office today, after having been out on business & time off (yesterday) since last Tuesday. I'm betting on 54 new emails since Thursday afternoon. Joy.

On the Road Again - I'm in Hartford on Friday to teach two classes. I've set it up so that I can take the girls to school first, so as long as I get on the road by 8am I'll get to Connecticut with time to spare. The class is one that I do a lot, so no real preparation is required on my part. It's not a bad way to end the week.

In the Bad News Department - We apparently had five people laid off last week, one of whom I worked closely with a few years ago. I also worked fairly recently with one of the others. My heart goes out to them & I hope that they can find something better. These are tough times, and I'm afraid that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Things To Do - I have a whole host of small things I need to do, none of which I've made any progress on of late. I'm talking about things like checking my auto policy for glass coverage, scheduling an eye doctor appointment, etc.

Getting Ready for HD - I don't spend a awful lot of money on myself, which given the fact that I have three kids is understandable. I am, however, going to treat myself of a new flat screen LCD TV. Given everything that I went through last year at work, it's the least I can do. Anyway, I'm looking at buying a moderate sized full HD (1080) screen. To go along with it, I just got myself a new DVD player that up-converts standard definition DVDs to full 1080 HD. I needed a new player anyway, as I had to donate my old one to the TV room, as our old DVD player (which we've had for a long time) started to skip. By the way, the first movie I'll watch in HD? Independence Day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

PT Cruis(ing) Again

Back on the road after some minor repairs. It seems that the oil sending unit on the car decided to leak, resulting in my oil running low and the warning light coming on. Immediately after seeing that I took it to the garage where I get my work done...the verdict was the above referenced part. Unfortunately they were not able to make the repair on Saturday when I brought it over, so that had to wait until this morning.

The story does have a happy ending...after a new part and the addition of a tire rotation, I'm now fully back on the road, all be it $80 lighter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

James Gandolfini On SNL

If you are a fan of "The Sopranos" then you will love this...

"Useless, Useless"

...the title above is what Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth muttered to himself, near death, while looking at his hands. I always wondered just what he was thinking about at that moment, and will I, near death, be thinking something similar?

In point of fact, I think we all feel "useless" from time to time. I know I do.

There is a terrific but not so well known song written by David Gates titled "Been Too Long On The Road" that has as it's first lines:

Always look so good on the outside
when you get to believin' it's true
Then you know that you're on your way

Heady stuff coming from a guy who once wrote a song with the opening line "If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you?" ("If"). Anyway, so just what is the connection between John Wilkes Booth and a song by Bread? Well for starters, both seems to be different angles on one of the biggest challenges I've faced and face in my life, mainly that of people in my family who suffer from chronic mental illness.

I know, I know, unlike AIDS or Cancer, "mental" illness is not a trendy diseases that you can rally around and get Regis to support. There's no telethon for Mental Illness and in fact you're not supposed to even talk about it. But in the immortal words of many-a 70's comic, "Funk That".

Now at the risk of sounding defensive, while I've had my share of mental health challenges in life...I think we all have...and God know's I'm not model for anything (well maybe for Portly-Sized Boxers)...my own mental health has actually been okay. That's the blessing part of this rant. While a few members of my family have struggled (and do struggle) tremendously with depression and other related problems, by and large my experiences with them them haven't made me less mentally healthy...in fact, I think they've done the opposite. The more I've needed to deal with family members who have trouble dealing with the realities of living, the better I've been able to deal with them myself. In fact, I can look back 20 & 30 years ago and see for myself just how much I've grown as a person.

Anyway, one of the problems in dealing with people close to you who suffer from mental illness is the feeling of "useless". No matter how much you try, no matter what you see as being the "obvious" solution, no matter how you try and express yourself, the fact remains that you are more or less powerless. It's no different than any other illness: I can't, by extension, offer up my immune system to help a young child fighting cancer, no matter how much sympathy I feel. Sure, you can try and be supportive, but in my experience this is one illness where that may make you feel worse after the effort. That's just a minor cruelty in a sea of them when it comes to this sort of thing.

Now from the outside, you may look at someone like me and think "okay, he's a bit pudgy, but he seems reasonably successful and appears to have his act together" and I couldn't argue with you. I'm working on the pudgy part by the way. Like most things from the outside though, the view is ever so skewed. Like the song goes though, I can't myself believe that it's true, because if I did, I'd surely be on my way. No, the view from the inside is one of always trying to balance my own sense of self and my own mental health so that I'm overwhelmed by the waves of illness that seem to crash on me all too frequently. It's not easy, but no one ever said that life was.

Finally, I suppose someone could read this and think "Well boo freak'n hoo Steve! Stop your complaining and self-loathing", and that's their prerogative. They would be wrong though. Far from self-loathing, I'm actually okay within my own skin, thank you very much. I have found though that writing about how I feel, even about painful subjects like this, is probably one of the best ways to prevent myself from "believin' it's true". I've not done a lot of writing about these kinds of things here, but over the years I've actually done a lot of it via other venues. I write about this because it helps me understand these things better; the fact that this is a public venue is all the better: public venues make you all the more careful and thoughtful about what you say; they maybe also send a signal that it's okay to talk about something as shunned as Mental Illness. As for complaining, I'm not better or worse off than anyone else, and in fact I think that the things I may struggle with in fact pale in comparison to those of others. That doesn't mean that I don't feel what I feel though.

In the end, what matters is that you be able to look at yourself in the mirror...pudginess aside...and be reasonably comfortable with that you see. That's the gift I think I have that some close to me seem to lack. For that I will always be grateful.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Case FOR Howard Stern

I admit it: I am a Howard Stern fan. Well I admit it here; there are some instances where I don't, such as around my mother (and if pressed by the VP in charge of my division at work). But anyway, I do freely confess that I am a fan.

I first heard Howard Stern back in the mid-late 80's, when he had a show out of Washington DC which I was able to pick up from my lowly post-graduation-first-job apartment in York, PA. It was a Sunday I believe, and the station was replaying his show (or segments from his show), and I was immediately interested. His guest on the show was "The Fabulous Thunderbirds", and they did a raunchy version of "Tough Enuff" in the studio. I was immediately struck how by how different the show was in comparison to the "Wacky Zoo" format stuff that was normally played on the radio. Now I didn't regularly listen to the show back then, but it was my first experience.

My experience with Howard slowly grew from there; while living in NJ (1989) I would listen to him while commuting to work and then once I moved back to Pennsylvania (1990) I'd again listen when I had business in NJ. It's then that I got hooked. Even though I couldn't listen all the time, I took every opportunity to tune him in when I could. He was even briefly on the radio in Scranton, but alas, Scranton and Howard Stern go together like Sauerkraut and Chocolate Pie.

Fast forward to now, and with the advent of satellite radio, I was finally able to fully feed my Howard Stern jones on a regular basis, and I've been listening more or less daily now for over two years.

So the question is this: Why Howard Stern? Here's my list:
  1. Honesty - Howard Stern is the most honest guy in the media today, bar none. In an age where everything is pre-packaged and focus-grouped, Howard is a guy that always shoots from the hip without a filter. That isn't always pleasant to listen to, but you have to appreciate the fact that the man is honest with (and very mush respects) his audience.
  2. Interviews - Howard Stern is one the best interviewers in the media today, and probably one of the best of all times. You have to hear him interview someone like Paul McCartney (where he gets Macca to talk more about how he really feels about Yoko Ono that you've ever heard before). For whatever reason, guests seem to be more honest with Howard than they are with anyone else. Why? I suspect it's for the reason I noted above: Howard is honest with them (and his audience).
  3. Format - Howard Stern practically invented the talk radio format. Before you had Limbaugh, Hannity, or even Don Imus doing radio shows that consisted of almost entirely just conversation, you had Howard Stern doing it. Howard's show really consists of him (and his cohorts) talking to their audience for a few hours each morning. Note the words "talking to"...as opposed to "talking at" or "lecturing to"...as you get the distinct impression that Howard has the utmost respect for his audience.
  4. Humor - I don't find everything on the Howard Stern how funny (for example, I don't like "fart" humor & I could care less about spanking porn stars), but what I do find funny is often times utterly hilarious. For me, the "golden age" of the how was back in the early 90's, when the show had Jackie Martling and Billy West on...some of the hold David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani bits still make me bust a gut laughing.
As I noted above, I don't find the show as funny now as I did years ago. In fact, I think the show took a bit of a turn south when Jackie Martling left years ago and in all honesty, I kind of liked Howard better when he was more of a normal married guy (as opposed to now when he's more of a super-rich dude married to a super-model) with a radio show. But even with what I think are flaws, the core of the show is still great.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Notes From The Road...Thursday Evening

For the record, I did write yesterday evening, but for some reason the post seemed to disappear. Le sigh. Oh well, it was far from an Peabody Award winning piece anyway.

Yesterday was pretty tiring, but it was also pretty productive. The details are either lost to me or I'm too tired to recall, so who cares?

Today wasn't as manic as yesterday, but I did get some sense of accomplishment. I finished doing staff annual reviews, which was the reason I am out here in the first place. Those discussions went well, which says more about the extremely high calibre of people I work with than any talent I may have.

As for this moment, I'm sitting in a Best Western Inn near the Quad-Cities airport in Illinois. Not a bad place...it's not Marriott, but the bed looks comfortable, I can get an Internet connection, and it's close the airport. Life is truly good.

Here's to tailwinds, exit row seating and going home.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Notes From The Road...Tuesday

Well it's been a long day.

Up at 3:45am this morning, out the door by 4:45am.

At the airport by 5:00am.

Boarded my first flight and was able to get an exit row seat...SCORE! Room to spare, and all I had to do swear that I could lift a 35lb CRJ aircraft door. The space allowed me to do 90% of my checking account reconciliation. Score again. Left the gate a half hour late, but arrived in Detroit on time...you gotta love the power of fudging flight times.

Had about 40 minutes between flights, so I got a Sarah Lee blueberry muffin at an airport shop. Disgusting, but eaten anyway...I was hungry.

Boarded my second flight at about 9am. No exit row seating available this time...in fact, I'm seated next to a gentleman who about the same size as me. Not pretty stuff. I swear that my knee caps were going to wear off from being pressed into the seat in front of me. Flight arrives on time. Damn was I sore.

Got my rental car...lucky me, it's a 2009 Chevy Aveo. Quite possibly the cheapest car in production today. You'd have to go back to the Yugo (the cutting edge of early 80's Serbo-Croatian transportation technology) to find something cheaper. I think the doors are made of drywall. Anyway, I proceed to drive to Dubuque. Once I get on I80 (which I'm on for about five minutes) I call into our team's bi-weekly conference call. I can hear about 60% of what is said due to a combination of the road noise and poor voice pick up in Scranton. Oh well...I was glad I was able to at least get onto the call.

Arrived in Dubuque after driving for about an hour or so. Park at the hotel and walk across the street to the office. A slew of meetings begin, although I did time out to have some Mexican for lunch.

At about 5:30pm I get too tired to function, and after solving some print server problems, I decide to declare victory and end the day in the office.

Walk back to the hotel and check into room 420.

Dinner consisted of a steak sandwich at the lounge (the hotel restaurant wasn't open) and a piece of marginally okay coconut cream pie.

Head back to the room to unpack, iron a shirt and fight with the ThinkPad over it's desire NOT to connect to any wireless networks. I win...and I get connected.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Day On (Update)

Well here's where I stand on today's list...

  1. Reconcile my checking account (I received my statement on Saturday) [Not Done...Will take with me to do]
  2. Run to the market and pick up one or two things for dinner [Done]
  3. Call Verizon & find out what they charge for Long Distance (I'm with AT&T and am pretty much getting ripped off at the moment) [Done...I am staying with AT&T but changed plans, so my bill should be more than cut in half]
  4. Wash clothes [Done]
  5. Pack for Iowa [Done...and got it all in a smaller bag to boot]
  6. Run to the office to pick up a notebook I need [Done]
  7. Work on my federal tax return (joy!) [Done...I owe $460 :-( ]
  8. Clean out my briefcase & pack (my work) laptop [Still to be done]
  9. Find pictures for the clock/photo frame thing I bought at the Christmas Tree Shoppe [Still to be done]
  10. Clean off my desk here at home [Probably not getting done]

All told, it was a relatively productive day, and there is still some time left.

A Day On

Just a quick note on this day "on" for me. Well it is a day off from work in recognition of President's Day, but it's a day "on" in the sense that I've got a whole list of things to do. Here's a smattering, in no particular order:
  1. Reconcile my checking account (I received my statement on Saturday)
  2. Run to the market and pick up one or two things for dinner
  3. Call Verizon & find out what they charge for Long Distance (I'm with AT&T and am pretty much getting ripped off at the moment)
  4. Wash clothes
  5. Pack for Iowa
  6. Run to the office to pick up a notebook I need
  7. Work on my federal tax return (joy!)
  8. Clean out my briefcase & pack (my work) laptop
  9. Find pictures for the clock/photo frame thing I bought at the Christmas Tree Shoppe
  10. Clean off my desk here at home
There are a few other things as well, but nothing that takes more than a few minutes. Some of these things don't have to happen today...in fact, I can actually do the checking account reconciliation while I am in Iowa.

Now some folks might be daunted by having a list on a day of supposed leisure, but not me. In my mind, I always feel worse when I have a day where I don't feel like I got much done. I like the notion that I can get some things accomplished, as the alternative...just sitting around...seems to me to be a waste of time and of life. You only get so much time on this planet after all, so I at least try to use it wisely.

Speaking of time, I do hate the time I spend sleeping. Last night was no exception. Despite the two allergy pills I took before going to bed (I was sneezing a lot yesterday), I still didn't sleep well. Falling to sleep isn't the problem...it's staying asleep. Anyway, I did get up relatively late for me, which was around 7:45am. Sleeping sucks. While in Iowa I'll probably sleep horribly as well, given that the beds at the hotel I stay at (a Holiday Inn...only because it is across the street form the office) are notorious for being about as comfortable as the slaps in a mortuary.

Well I had best get to that list. Time is money, or something like that.

Oh, one final note: I added an extra "widget" (or whatever they are called) onto the page, including what many would consider an incredibly "gay" ABBA song player.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Agnelina Jolie Loves Babies...

I think this is a hoot...

Belief vs Faith

By and large, I've come to the conclusion that people believe mostly stupid things.

Now before the one person that reads this gets his/her panties in a bunch, I'm not talking about faith. In fact have a lot of respect for people who have a deep, profound religious faith. Having that kind of faith seems beyond my capabilities. So credit to those how actually have faith.

Faith obviously to me, is different than belief. How so? Well I suppose I could look up the definitions and paste them here, but why bother? I'll tell you how I see them as being different.


BELIEF
To me, this is a kind of "quid pro quo" (Latin, "something for something") situation, where someone has it in their head that by doing something, immediately something else will happen or they will get something else of value. For example, you "believe" in Astrology because you believe that it tells you something about who you are. Immediate gratification.

Growing up a Catholic, there were many things we were taught that were matters of belief. One of the best examples was Confession: you were told that if you confessed your sins in this prescribed manner ("Bless me Father for I have sinned it has been 3 months since my last confession and these are my sins...") you would immediately get something in return, namely absolution from your sins. Note that this is but one example. Here's a non-Catholic example: Tarot cards; you believe that if you pay a Tarot Card reader money, you will get a reading about you and insight into your future.

Common thread? To me, belief is more like a short-term contract or transaction than anything remotely spiritual. With belief, there is always this notion of consideration (something of value you give...even if it is just your time/attention) that is required in order to get something of value in return (such as insight into the future). With belief there is always that notion of immediacy: whatever it is you get, you get it quickly. That seems, if you will pardon the bluntness, cheap and sometimes sleazy. Yes, I know, the old saying goes "you get what you pay for", but sometimes the most precious gifts aren't those with a price-tag.

Personally, I don't subscribe to many "beliefs". Now I do have a few incredibly stupid superstitions I follow, such as avoiding odd numbers. That's more neurosis than anything else, and in the back of my head I know it's just plain stupid to thing about things in that manner. For example, having an MS Excel column set at a width of 7 will not have any meaning beyond the width of the column. But hey, I never claimed to be perfect.

So I try and stay away from beliefs.


FAITH
To me, faith isn't like a short-term transaction. Why?

Timing - As I've already implied, I see true faith as not being something that yields an immediate result. With faith, you may never see a return on your investment of time or money.

Quid Pro Quo - I do think that people have faith for reasons, but those reasons are for a "higher" rationale. You may in fact have faith in God because you expectation is that something will happen to your spirit when you die. But the kicker lies in the consideration part of the transaction: with faith, it seems to me that all you really give is some kind of intangible spiritual commitment. True faith, in my book, doesn't have a cost associated with it, regardless of whether or not that cost is expressed in your time or your money.

Tangibility - Faith, it seems to me, yields something that isn't nearly as tangible in the same sense that belief yields something. You could have faith that God forgives your sins, but that's different than the words of "I absolve you of your sins" that you get in a Catholic confessional. Faith, it seems to me, requires far more of a leap ("of faith") than belief does.

Personally, try as I might, I don't have much that I would call "faith". Now in the back of my head I think that there is some organization to the universe and that all of this has to mean something. I'd also like to have faith that there is something somewhere that truly knows what is in my heart, that cares about me for who I am, and to whom I can talk to in times of crisis. I won't go through those little rituals I sometimes partake of in times of crisis, but they do exist. Now you could argue that if I do, for example, pray in times of crisis that it's more a question of belief (praying for someone to get well, for example) than faith. However, I will say this: to the extent I do pray in such times, I try to ask that "Thy will be done" rather than "my will". Faith, it seems requires that leap that I might not know really what is the best possible outcome.

A character in a TV show I like once said "Faith Manages". If you think about the deeper meaning behind that, it seems to ring true.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One Of My Favorite Songs....

...and one which I saw performed live...John Mellencamp's "Check It Out"



In addition to a great overall sound, I think the lyrics to this song are incredible. Here they are...

Million young poets
Screamin?out their words
To a world full of people
Just livinto be heard
Future generations
Ridin´on the highways that we built
I hope, that they have better understanding

Check it out
Goin to work on monday
Check it out
Got yourself a family
Check it out
All utility bills have been paid
You can´t tell your best buddy
That you love him
So check it out
Where does our time go
Check it out
Got a brand new house in escrow
Check it out
Sleepin with your back
To your loved one
This is all, we have learned
About happiness

Check it out,
Forgot to say hello to my neighbours
Check it out
Sometimes i question my own behavior
Check it out
Talkin about the girls, we´ve
Seen on the sly
Just to tell our souls
We´re still the young lions
So check it out
Gettin too drunk on saturdays
Check it out
Playin football with the kids
On sundays
Check it out
Soaring with the eagles all week long
And this is all, we have learned
About living
This is all, we have learned
About living

A million young poets
Screamin out their words
Maybe someday
Those words will be heard
By future generations
Ridin on the highways that we built
Maybe they´ll have a better understanding
Check it out
Maybe they´ll have a better understanding
Check it out
Maybe they´ll have a better understanding
Check it out
Maybe they´ll have a better understanding
Check it out
Hope they´ll have a better understanding
Check it out ...

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Just Another Day...

...although this one is a Friday, so I can't complain. Well yes I actually can complain, but to what end?

Actually things are more or less okay. Work has been very tiring of late; I've had days where I'm booked solid from 9am to 5pm, which I guess is a good thing (better to be too busy in this environment than not busy enough). Next week I have Monday off and then I'm in Iowa for the rest of the week. That means flying out at about 6am Tuesday morning, landing in Detroit and then getting the connecting flight to Moline, IL. From there I drive up to Dubuque Iowa, which takes about an hour or so. All told, I should be in our Dubuque office by around noon local time. From there I have a pretty full schedule in the office through Thursday afternoon, after which I'll drive back to Moline, stay overnight near the airport, and get a 10am flight from Moline to Detroit and then Detroit to Scranton. God willing and weather cooperating, I'll be on the ground in Scranton by about 4pm on Friday afternoon.

Oh, and I have the following Monday off as well.

I don't mind the travel. I know it creates a little bit of a hardship at home, as arrangements need to be made to take the girls to school, but I try not to travel too much, and when possible, I try to schedule things so that if I am driving somewhere I can leave at 8am, after I drop off the girls. That's the case on Friday the 27th, when I have to drive to Hartford CT. Now would it be easier to leave early? Sure it would, and it does kind of stink getting home at 7:30pm on a Friday, but I'm willing to do that if it makes things operate a little more smoothly.

Well, I can't put off going to work much longer. The girls don't have school today, which is why I'm writing this at nearly 8am. Something about a long President's Day weekend I think. Anyway, I have much to do, and not much time to do it in.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

P.O. Thursday

Maybe it's been the never-ending cycle of meetings at work, maybe it's fact that my sink drain burst last night, maybe it's any number of things, but regardless, I'm in (for me) what constitutes a foul mood. Now to be fair, I was thinking about writing about this before the sink implosion, but now I seem all the more willing to bang away.

That preamble aside, I was thinking about some of the bigger things that I see around me that really, really "cheese" me off. Here's a list.

The Culture of Greed
The notion that "greed is good" has become a mantra in the business world, and many of us are nearly numb to the grotesque excesses that have become part of our culture. Now it's expanded to the judiciary as well. In Wilkes-Barre you had two judges who sent kids to jail in order to get kick-backs (story here). Where is the moral basement? Seriously? If there is a Hell, these two judges will be there when they die.

The Culture of Entitlement
We have raised a generation of people who believe, in their hearts, that they are entitled to things like new cars and unlimited TV on their cellphones. Think about it: ever see someone in a store using public assistance to buy food while they talk on their cellphone?. Anyone else see the problem in that? In many ways, this is part of what lies at the heart of the current economic crisis: you had people who believed that they were entitled to large homes that they really could not afford. No one is entitled to anything in this world. You get what you work for. Is that fair? Probably not, but then again life can be very unfair, and you only need look at the Paris Hilton's of this world to see just how unfair it really is. That doesn't change my point though: the only things you really have in this world are the things you really worked for and earned yourself. Anything else really belongs to someone else (be it a bank if you bought it on credit or the government if you got it via public assistance).

The Culture of Pills
We have also raised a generation of people who believe that it's always bad to feel bad and that there is always a pill that can make it better. What's wrong with that? Shouldn''t we all want to feel good all the time? Well, feeling bad is a part of life. Being sad is a part of life. In fact, it's the feeling bad and sad parts that help you appreciate all the more the good times in life. Now do I believe that some people do suffer from medical conditions that require medication? Yes, I certainly do. But medication should never be a substitute for introspection and the therapies that can help someone discover and deal with the underlying causes of why they may feel bad and sad too often. It's like this: if your finger is infected and hurts, you can certainly take a pain pill to help you deal with the pain, but that doesn't do anything to help cure the infected finger. In fact, if all you do is to take the pain pill, it can make the situation worse by masking the severity of the infection.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Road Apples, #16

25 Things You Don't Know About Me
No, this isn't 25 things you don't know about me. However I have thought about it. In case you have no clue as to what I am talking about, this is a Facebook thing where you are supposed to share, with your friends, 25 things about you that they probably don't yet know. Now I can probably come up with 75 things that most people don't know about me, but I'm not sure I really want to share all of that with folks that include my children.

Oh, and for the record, my oldest daughter Katrina did it and I actually did know some of the things on the list (such as her fear of spiders). So much for the complete validity of that theory.

Fred Rogers
I posted a very well written piece of Fred Rogers yesterday evening, which reminded me of the obituary I read for him shortly after he died. I'll have to look it up. He was a truly remarkable man. In an age where so much around us seems fabricated for the moment, he was someone who was as real as real can get, down to his core. We need more people like that, especially now. There's also a certain beauty, if you will, in the simplicity of the man and what he did. Today everything seems so incredibly complex, both at a macro and a micro level. I know that's true for me. I do struggle trying to see through the clutter of my life.

Next Week
I'm traveling next week to Iowa, so let's hope the weather cooperates. I've engineered my schedule to be more tolerant of possible weather-created delays, but in February anything is possible. Here's to continued 40 degree days.

Company Stock
The stock of my company fell about 11% yesterday in news that Moody's put it on watch for a possible ratings downgrade. Now I'm all for keeping the stock price a little on the low side as I start to buy more shares, but gee, I didn't want this to happen. The implications of a ratings downgrade are pretty harsh, especially for certain segments of our business. Let's hope that the watch stays just that, a watch.

Obama Press Conference
I watched President Obama's first prime-time press conference Monday night. Was I impressed? Not really. I wasn't disappointed, but I thought he came across as very lawyerly in how he responded to questions. I also think that some of the questions were, to be blunt, stupid (Helen Thomas especially). He picked a hell of a time to be President.

Stimulus Plan Passes the Senate
Thanks in large part to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, an economic stimulus plan passed the US Senate and now goes into conference committee to reconcile differences with the House. Personally I worry that both packages are too big and place too much of a burden on future generations. I also agree with most Senate Republicans on one key point: the Conference Committee hearings that will reconcile both versions of the stimulus plan should be televised in their entirety. Let the American public see what they will be paying for, good...bad...and ugly.

The Distraction Of It All
I realize that there are pressing economic issues to deal with...and I thank God I have a good job myself...but I do worry that all of "this" is yet another reason for the government to yet again put off tough decisions on Medicare, Medicade and health care in general. We've had 8 years of George W. Bush being distracted by shiny objects overseas, so enough is enough.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mindless Survey

Once in a while I actually like to do these things...

1. How old will you turn in 2008?
45 in April.

2. Do you think you'll be married by then?
Too Late for that Question

3. What do you look forward to most in the next 3 months?
Spring Flowers

4. what did you do last night?
Watched SNL clips on Hulu

5. Who was the last person to call you?
My Brother

6. Do you prefer call or text?
Probably texting

7. Do you have any pets?
4 Cats

8. What were you doing at 1:30 am?
Sleeping

9. What were you doing at 2:00 am?
Sleeping

10. When is the last time you saw your mom?
Sunday

11. What is your mood?
Basically Okay

14. Do you prefer shoes, socks, or bare feet?
Bare Feet

15. Are you a social person?
Not at all

17. fav. color?
Dark Red

18. What are you doing for your next birthday?
Probably Nothing

19. What is your favorite TV show?
At the Moment, Probably The Office

20. What kind of jelly do you like on your PB & J sandwich?
Nothing...Peanut Butter Makes Me Vomit

22. What are you listening to?
Howard Stern

25. Do you sleep on a certain side of the bed?
On the Left Hand Side

26. Do you know how to play poker?
No

27. What are you thinking about right now?
That I need to do some writing for work

28. Any plans for this weekend?
Nothing special

29. Have you cut your hair this week?
No

30. Last picture you took?
Of my girls getting ready for their dance

32. Do you like anyone?
I don't really dislike anyone

33. Have you ever been in an ambulance?
No

34. Do you prefer ocean or pool?
Ocean

35. Do you smile often?
No

37. What is your favorite thing to spend money on?
Chocolate

38. Do you wear any jewelry 24/7?
No...my skin breaks out in a rash if I wear jewelry and it gets wet (sweat, dish water, etc) for any reason

40. Have you heard a rumor about yourself this week?
No...I highly doubt anyone even cares all that much

41. Who is the funniest person you know?
That I know? Probably Rick. That I've ever heard? Probably Lisa Lampanelli

43. What makes you the maddest?
Arrogant people

45. Where do you want to go to college?
Penn State

46. Who was the last person to make you cry?
I don't recall

47. Do you shut off the water while you brush your teeth?
Sometimes

48. Do you wish someone was with you right now?
I'm okay being alone most of the time

49. Are you mad about anything?
No

51. Last person to im you?
I don't recall

52. What are you doing besides this?
Listening to Howard Stern

53. How are you feeling right now?
Fine
link

Mr Rogers

I saw this a few minutes ago and just had to share it. I know that some folks never liked Mr Rogers, but I'm not one of them. In fact, I think we was a real, genuine treasure.

Rest in peace Mr Rogers.




Buzz up!on Yahoo!

fred-and-Koko.jpg1. Even Koko the Gorilla loved him
Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English. What most people don’t know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she’d always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!

2. He Made Thieves Think Twice
According to a TV Guide piece on him, Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town. Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”

3. He Watched His Figure to the Pound!

274149.jpg In covering Rogers’ daily routine (waking up at 5; praying for a few hours for all of his friends and family; studying; writing, making calls and reaching out to every fan who took the time to write him; going for a morning swim; getting on a scale; then really starting his day), writer Tom Junod explained that Mr. Rogers weighed in at exactly 143 pounds every day for the last 30 years of his life. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t eat the flesh of any animals, and was extremely disciplined in his daily routine. And while I’m not sure if any of that was because he’d mostly grown up a chubby, single child, Junod points out that Rogers found beauty in the number 143. According to the piece, Rogers came “to see that number as a gift… because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three.”

FredRogers_BigBird.jpg 4. He Saved Both Public Television and the VCR

Strange but true. When the government wanted to cut Public Television funds in 1969, the relatively unknown Mister Rogers went to Washington. Almost straight out of a Capra film, his 5-6 minute testimony on how TV had the potential to give kids hope and create more productive citizens was so simple but passionate that even the most gruff politicians were charmed. While the budget should have been cut, the funding instead jumped from $9 to $22 million. Rogers also spoke to Congress, and swayed senators into voting to allow VCR’s to record television shows from the home. It was a cantankerous debate at the time, but his argument was that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Road Apples, #15

Cat Chair
No, I did not get rid of the cat chair. Not so much sympathy as a lack of motivation. Maybe next time.

Another Week
Yes, another week begins. Today my calendar is basically booked solid, but I think...emphasis on think...that the rest of the week is a little more manageable. I can only hope.

Michael Phelps vs A-Ro(i)d
So, Michael Phelps gets in trouble for smoking pot and A-Rod tested positive for 'roids in the past. Hmmmm, I'm thinking I have a lot more sympathy for Phelps than A-Rod. What Phelps did was stupid, but it didn't do anything to improve his chance of winning a gold metal. What A-Roid did was cheat by using drugs. All the difference in the world. Slap Phelps on the hands and tell him to be a good boy; kick A-Roid out of the league and erase his records.

Fighting Church Consolidations
I don't have a link for this, but a husband and wife in Wilkes-Barre have formed a group to fight church closings in the Diocese of Scranton. To that I only have this to say: Good Luck. Based on what I've read and learned over the years, Roman Catholic Church Cannon Law is designed to protect the Church, not the Laity. I understand why these folks would take up the challenge; for many, the local church is a critical part of their lives, and losing it would almost be like losing a family member. In that sense, closing a church that is fiscally viable (as is the case for the church of the couple in Wilkes-Barre) seems all the more horrible, akin to a murder as opposed to a natural death. Again, good luck to the individual involved in this. I do greatly admire anyone who takes a public stand on principle, especially when it involves standing up against a perceived injustice. The real, telling question is this: Will Bishop Joseph Martino meet with the group? My guess? Not a chance.

MySpace
I had a MySpace account for a while which I deleted over the weekend. Why? I wasn't going there anymore and I was never really happy with the while MySpace experience. To that end, I do have a Facebook account, which I find harder to use (and far less graphically interesting), but more secure. I also like the notion that Facebook is designed around communities. Credit to my oldest daugther Katrina for insisting that I open a Facebook account. Note that my Facebook account is open for viewing by any Facebook user. To find me, simply search for Stephen Albert and I'll be the only one in Scranton that comes up.

Save The Govies
Click HERE for more information.

My oldest daughter was a Govie...that is, a participant in the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence. It's a terrific program that's now in danger of being eliminated by Governor Rendell. I find this to be a HORRIBLE idea. So much of state funding goes towards making the negative "okay". How much is spent to encourage children who are already "okay" to be "excellent"? Honestly, there are few programs that are actually designed for the good kids out there, and the Governor's Schools are a shining example of what is possible. My daughter's participation in the School for Teaching was, I believe, a defining moment in her life.

I strongly encourage anyone who is reading this to check out the Govies link and consider signing the petition to restore funding for the program. I will be writing a letter to Governor Rednell this week. Will it help? Maybe not, but as I noted above, sometimes you fight for what you believe in, regardless of whether or not you think you will be successful.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Natalie Portman Raps

This is actually pretty funny...

Natalie Portman Raps

Last Night

On The Screen
As I've noted a few times before, I don't watch TV. However, I will watch a small number of TV shows on-line, usually via Hulu.com. Two things I watched last night were the latest episodes of The Office and Battlestar Galactica. Both were excellent. I especially liked Galactica, because, as is the case for most really great Science Fiction, the best part of the show is the underlying drama. It's a tough show to describe, and even tougher to simply jump into, but in point of fact most of the show doesn't really deal with science fiction in as much as it uses the alternative reality to tell a compelling story. The cast is great too. The series it self will be over shortly (I think there maybe something like 4 episodes left), so eventually maybe I'll buy the whole series on DVD.

Oh, The Office was pretty funny as well. Michael Scott was telling people he can remember people's names by linking that to personal characteristics. "I'm going to call you Baldy because you are bald and the sun shines off your bald head and it's bright like a mirror and mirror and Mike start with the letter M so your name is Mike, right?" or something like that. I was falling down laughing.

Also On The Screen
I watched "30 Days of Nights" on DVD last night. Pretty good movie actually. Scary in more than a few spots, and very graphic in many others. This is one of the few movies I've ever seen where there is violence directed towards children (there is a scene were you see one of the vampires attacking s small girl; another where a vampire little girl gets sprayed with mace and then decapitated), so I'd not let this thing anywhere anyone who isn't old enough to handle it. The movie does make you wonder why in the hell anyone would want to live somewhere like that were it is so cold and so dark for so long.

I forgot to mention that the reason for the video fest (note...I watch all of this stuff on my Sony laptop) was that the girls were at their semi dance last night, so I had to stay to 12:30am anyway. From all reports they both had a good time, so I'm glad.

Onward, to the Sunday chores...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Of Turning Tides

This is an interesting time in so many ways. On a very macro level, the weather in the great Northeast seems like it is finally turning for the better. We now have daytime temperatures above freezing for the foreseeable time ahead, which should melt all of this dirty snow laying around. In fact, the weather forecasters have been saying that we could hit 50 degrees by Wednesday, which would be nothing short of remarkable.

On a national level, it looks like the United States Senate has passed an economic stimulus package that will cost in the neighborhood of $800,000,000,000 (that's 800 billion dollars). That's a mighty big number, and I have some real reservations. Now that's not to say that some things in the package, such as infrastructure repair, shouldn't be undertaken; rather, I wonder how much of this is really the responsibility of the Federal government. I also worry about all of the thousands of pet projects that are in the package. Simply put, when it comes to politicians and money, I have about as much trust in them do to the right thing as I would with a Meth-head running a pharmacy. On the flip side, I don't necessarily trust congressional Republicans to do any better; we all know that they secretly just want to lower taxes on rich folks and let the results "trickle down" on the rest of us. No, I'm not resorting to class warfare here, but it seems to me that the recession isn't really hurting the Paris Hilton's of this world, so why give them a break? Look, I think that everyone agrees something needs to be done, to turn the economic tide if you will. Let's just hope that things get better in spite of what Congress and the President actually do about it.

On an employment level, my company released its 4th quarter earning information this week, and it wasn't the best of news. However, in a true twist of the ironic, it wasn't as bad as what other similar companies are experiencing, so the stock has actually gone up in value. I'll take that. In fact, I started buying company stock in January precisely because the price is low and over the long term I expect it to increase dramatically in value. Hopefully this will create a part of my longer-term nest egg. Also on the employment front, we have all been warned that bonuses will be down for this year, in some cases significantly. By way of explanation, I am paid a salary plus I receive, depending on performance (mine, that of my team, my business division and the firm as a whole), what we call "incentive compensation"...a fancy way of saying a bonus. It's not an insignificant part of my overall pay. While I expect it to be far less than last year, I'm not expecting it to be cut in half either. Now anything is possible, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. I just need enough to pay college tuition and maybe get myself a flat screen TV. The rest is gravy.

In the "real change" department, my two youngest daughters are going to a semi-formal dance tonight. Damn that makes me old. I'm looking right now at pictures from 2000 when they were all just little kids. I am far too young for this kind of thing. Wait, just how old am I anyway?

Finally, and for something completely different, I love the song "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who. It's one of those songs that I think many folks can relate to on some level...I know I can. No deep psychological meanings here, but I think we all sometimes have to do things we don't want or like to do. Our dreams don't always seem to be as empty as our conscience seems to be.

Friday, February 6, 2009

From the Extreme Ends

I find these little snippets interesting.

Bishop Martino
From Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino (via the Scranton Times; article reference here):

Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino accuses Sen. Bob Casey of “cooperating with … evil” by refusing to back legislation to block U.S. tax dollars from flowing to foreign family planning groups that refuse to renounce abortion.

In a Jan. 30 letter to the senator, the bishop also calls on Mr. Casey to live up to his Catholic faith and “oppose abortion and other clear evils, including contraception.”


Now I do understand the Bishop making the comment about abortion. My own abortion views aside, I really do "get it" as to why some folks are so strongly opposed to abortion on demand and view it as being evil. HOWEVER, I draw your attention to the comment about contraception. Show of hands: How many out there view contraception as being "evil"? In fact, I can probably make the case that most forms of contraception in fact prevent an "evil". Note that the Catholic Church views every form of contraception as being "evil" except for "natural" methods (which are, in essence, all forms of abstinence). Personally I think you need to judge for yourself, which is pretty much the opposite of what Bishop Martino wants.

Needless to say, while I have reservations about US taxpayer money being used to fund third world abortions, I fully support that money going towards providing effective contraception in those same third world countries. If you can prevent a pregnancy, it seems to me that "evil" is reduced. Hey, I'm no Bishop though. I also think that Bishop Martino needs to start applying Catholic teaching more consistently, especially when it comes to Capital Punishment (how many Republicans will he lecture to about the inherent "evil" of the death penalty...something which the late Pope John Paul II said can be morally applied in such rare instances that they are basically non-existent).


Homosexual "Rights"
From the Associate Press (article reference here): religious conservatives oppose an Obama Justice Department appointment...

"Ogden has been an activist in the support of a right to pornography, a right of abortion and the rights of homosexuals," said Patrick Trueman, a former Justice Department official during the first Bush presidency who is now in private practice.

You can read the full article for yourself, but when I saw it, I was immediately drawn to the phase "homosexual rights". Stop and ponder that for a moment. Is this person saying that homosexuals in effect shouldn't have any "rights"? I think you can read it that way. Now who among us does not deserve basic human rights? Again, read the exact words. Look, I fully get it relative to the whole marriage thing: there are some who believe that marriage, as a matter of religion and culture, is between consenting adults of different genders. Okay fine with me, but then let's call "it" something different as it applies to two consenting adults of the same gender. If two adults want to enter into legal relationship that involves all of the elements of a marriage, why would I personally care enough to oppose it? Seriously, you wonder what the hang-up really is. Call it a "Parriage" instead of a "Marriage", but regardless, things like property rights shouldn't be denied to a couple because of their sexuality.

Now what is the real issue? Look, this may be going out on a limb, but I think it's this: there are some who actually believe that homosexuality is somehow contagious. Yes, I really do believe that some folks believe that everything associated with homosexuality is somehow "evil" and must be stamped out, lest the "disease" of homosexuality spreads.

As for me, again, I don't really care what two consenting adults do with their lives, as long as they don't care what I do with mine. You will find no one more heterosexual than me, but yet if someone else wants to have relations with another male or female, that's fine with me. More power to them. It's hard enough in this life to find true happiness, so if someone can find it with another man...or woman...then good for them!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can Tough Times Breed Some Sanity?

It's easy to be lazy, reckless and stupid when all is well. In fact, it's human nature to care less when it seems like you don't have much of a care. Well we all now know that times aren't so well anymore, and while some are going through some difficult times, this does create the opportunity for us individually and collectively to get smart about how we use our resources. This leads to a recommendation from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to dramatically reduce the number of school districts in the commonwealth.

Article Here

Folks can draw their own conclusions about this, but I, for one, think it's well worth considering. I don't believe that we have too many teachers, but I do know we have too many administrators. That's very true in the Scranton School District, which has a bureaucracy that would make Stalinist Russia look efficient.

Now on the other end of the spectrum lies Governor Rendell's proposal to close the Scranton State School for the Deaf.

Article Here

I am much more wary of this proposal than I am district consolidation. Now I use the word "wary" because I'm not necessarily 100% opposed to it, but I'd first like to see that the services received by the impacted children would not be negatively impacted. In fact, the goal of any chance should be to improve the services provided to these children. If that can't be guaranteed, then I can't say that I think this is a good idea. Mind you I do understand the need to reduce costs throughout the system of education, but that can't come at the expense of children with special needs. How we treat them says more about us as a people than anything else.

Now in another bit of sanity, there are numerous proposals to increase taxes on tobacco products, which I obviously support 1000%. I know the argument: "if you tax it too much, people will stop smoking and the revenue source will dry up". My response: Good. You can always find something else to tax, and if fewer people smoke, that means fewer people run the risk of dying from the multitude of diseases that it causes. Given the choice...healthy people or tobacco tax revenue...I'll take healthy people any day.

I like Governor Rendell. I know, he has a reputation for being a "politician's politician", but sometimes you just have to admire someone who is really good at what they do, even when that "thing they do" is not always viewed in the most postive of lights. Watching Rendell be a politician is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball, Wayne Gretzky play hockey or Berkeley Breathed draw a cartoon.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Road Apples, #14

Cat Chair
I've pretty much decided to get rid of the "cat chair" in my office area. Sorry guys. I'll get a garbage bag or two, a new blade for my recriprocating saw and before you know it, the chair will be bagged up and ready for the trash. It will be nice to have the room.

Taxes
I hate doing my taxes, but I hate the idea of paying someone to do them even more. It just doesn't seem right...taxes shouldn't be so complicated that you have to pay a professional to do complete them for you. Now these days I buy software for my taxes, but in years past I have filled out the 1040 long form, by hand. I know, glutton for punishmnet.

Wells Fargo Bash Cancelled
Article here. This is worth reading, if for no other reason than the fact that some folks still just don't get it. Don't get what? The days of big perks are hopefully ending. The idea of a 12 night company paid vacation is disgusting in "normal" time; in this environment it's almost criminal.

Dubuque Is Lovely In February
I have a four day trip planned to Dubuque, Iowa week after next. Among other things, I have performance appraisals to conduct. I'm just hoping that the weather cooperates. Nothing stinks more than traveling on company business during bad weather.

Tuition, Tuition, Tuition
I have my third installment on Kate's tuition due soon. The actual date is February 16th, but I'm probably going to transfer the money over the weekend. This is a $1,375.96 headache that I will be glad to rid of; once this is paid, I'm off the hook until sometime around August-ish.

Natural Gas Exploration
I hear commercials from natural gas producers who are interested in exploiting gas reserves that are found in shale deposits in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Now forgive me if I (and others) are somewhat skeptical, but this area suffered through a hundred years of deep anthracite coal mining, and you can still see the scars. In fact, there was a mine subsidence about a half mile from here earlier in the week. So you will forgive me if I don't give anyone a blank check when it comes to energy exploration. Exploring for natural gas in shale requires tremendous amounts of water, water which comes back contaminated. We already have a problem in this area with mine water run-off polluting streams. Sure, some folks may make some money off of this, and I'm glad for them, but that should not be at the expense of environmental damage that could harm others. Nope, no blank checks.

Weather
According to the local "wacky morning weather guy", there is a major change in the Jet Stream that will mean slightly warmer than average temperatures, starting on Friday. I could not be happier. It's been a brutal winter so far for temperatures, with the average temperature in being something like 8 degrees less than normal. However, this is what I love about the climate where I live; just when you really can't stand the weather any more, the season starts to change.

Daschle Withdraws
Former Senator Tom Daschle withdrew as a nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. The reasons all center around tax problems....specific to this case was something having to do with not paying taxes on the value of certain services provided to the former Senator. Two thoughts:
1. The tax code is far too complicated...no excuse for non-compliance, but still, the code is too complicated.
2. This position needs to be filled. Healthcare in this country is incredibly sick (it's the "Best System in the World"...if money is no option).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Number of Churches Cut In Half

50 years from now, people in NEPA will look back and remember when Bishop Joseph Martino cut the number of Catholic Churches in half. Article here. Now I don't disagree with the rationale for making the changes, and I actually don't necessarily disagree with the way Bishop Martino announced these specific changes, but let's be honest: Bishop Joseph Martino has worked very hard over the past two years to burn his credibility bridges, so no doubt he will take heat for this, rightfully so or not. Now is it all bad? Well, again in 50 years, I think it's very possible that the number of Catholics (as a percentage of the population) in NEPA has decreased, and the number of other adherents to other Christian faiths will have increased. So one loss could be another's gain.

Truth be told, I haven't been to church for a while, really since Joseph Martino unilaterally decided to throw Catholic teaching out the window and ignore the rightfully established teacher's union. That's the rub here: you can't claim the moral high ground if you don't actually take the moral high ground. Couple that with his telling people who to vote for and hubris in failing to even acknowledge that his actions have harmed the faithful has, I think, pushed many away from the Church. Joseph Martino genuinely believes that he is accountable to no one in the Diocese of Scranton, and it shows.

A better writer than I nailed it: Bishop Martino is better suited to the 18th century, when Catholics were ordered to "pray, pay and obey". Well the children have grown up, and that's a good thing. The number of Catholics who blindly obey is decreasing as the faithful realize that FAITH in GOD is different that OBEDIENCE to a MAN. I know that sounds harsh, but it's as close as I can get to describing how I feel on this subject.

As a Catholic who really doesn't go to church very often, one of the things that has also stopped along the way is my financial support of the Diocese. I don't contribute via my church envelopes anymore and I haven't given to the Bishop's Annual Appeal in two years. I have, instead, directed the money I would have donated to two different charities:

The Scranton Rescue Mission
St Jude Children's Research Hospital

It's not much, but I'm trying to help organizations that I think humbly try to help others. Humility, now there is a word that appears throughout Catholic teaching but which doesn't seem to apply to Joseph Martino.

Yes, this has been quite the bash-fest on my part, and I can't say that I'm all too proud of it. However, I am being honest about how I feel, and that has to count for something in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps Joseph Martino truly is doing what is necessary in this day and age, but one can't help but sense a complete and total lack of compassion in the way he goes about undertaking these necessary actions. Seeing and hearing him in action invokes images of a downsizing, compassionless CEO, not a shepherd who genuinely cares for his flock.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Steve, By The Numbers

32 Seconds
This is the approximate amount of time I spent watching the Super Bowel (oops, Bowl) yesterday. No, I'm not a fan, although I am glad to see a Pennsylvania team win.

7
This is how many classes I'm involved with this week. They are all part of the same program that involves some regulatory changes. I only have a small speaking part, and the rest of more coordination and documentation. Had I been brought into the process earlier I could have written the material for the project, but that's a different story.

$350
This is the amount the HDTV budget for my office.

5.5 Hours
This is the approximate amount of sleep I got last night. That's about normal. My range is anywhere from 5 t about 7. I very rarely sleep 8 hours, and I can't recall the last time I slept more than 8.

$700
This is how much I've invested in the semi-dances for my two youngest daughters, between dresses and transportation. I consider it to be worth the investment, provided that they have a good time.

0
This is the number of excuses I have left for not seeing the eye doctor. I need to get that done. I really should be wearing my glasses all the time, but now I rarely to never wear them.

1, 4
The first number represents the number of cats that are within six feet of me. The second is the number in total that are within 30 feet.

$108
My electrical bill for last month. It was higher because I opted to being having a very large rate increase added to my bill now. I really need to look for ways to reduce this.

4 Days
When I go back to the Periodontist for a check-up and to schedule "the big screwing"...the appointment when they put the screw into my head for my implant.

5 Days
The number of travel days I have scheduled for the month of February. This includes 4 days in our Dubuque, Iowa office. For that trip I'll fly into Moline IL and then drive to Dubuque (it's about an hour drive). The Dubuque airport doesn't accommodate instrument lands, so if there is any bad weather you are screwed. Moline, on the other hand, is a much larger airport, so I can get in and out easier. As part of the trip, I'll actually stay my last night in Moline so that I don't have to rush driving to airport that Friday morning. The trip is scheduled for the week of the 16th. The other scheduled date is for training in Hartford, CT.

$270
This is the combined total that I paid in cellphone bills for January. That's for 5 phones, so it averages out to $54/phone (not great, but not horrible either).

0
This is the number of refills I have for a certain prescription from my doctor. Need to get a refill. The medication is something he gave me to take, as needed, when it feels like my heart is going to burst out of my chest. Not that I use it very often.

10
This is the number of DVDs that I currently don't have room for in my mission cabinet. I may need to "cull the heard" a bit.

4
This is number of pills I take in the morning. 2 vitamins, 1 mega-dose B vitamin and a Prilosec.

$11
This is the approximate amount I spend per week on cat care (food, litter, etc.).

25
This is the approximate amount of weight I've gained over the last twelve months. Need to work on that.

$1,375.96
This is the amount I still owe for Kate's Spring Semester tuition. I have to pay it by the 16th.

3
This is the number of performance appraisals I need to deliver during the month of February.

6
This is the approximate number of years since I've spoken to my sister, Michelle.

25
This is the number of CE credit hours I earned last week for my insurance license. Since I was "only" required to take 24, I get to carry one over into the next licensing period.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Cat Chair vs The Man Cave


Now I don't actually have a "man cave", but I do have what amounts to a corner of room that I've carved out just for me. I call it my "office". I know, that's terribly unreasonable, given the fact that I'm the one who paid off the mortgage on the house, but never the less, I'm guilty.

Anyway, I've been slowly making some improvements to my office, the latest being a component cabinet (pictured above) to keep my video equipment, video games, etc. I had been looking for this kind of cabinet, and while this wasn't the cheapest, it did meet the criteria I set:

It is deep and wide enough for my video game systems & an old-school VCR
It has a glass door

The glass door was essential, as I want to keep my stuff relatively dust-free. All in all, I like the finished product. What's missing? The biggest part is missing actually...I don't have a TV yet. Now I had one (a 26" Sylvania standard definition TV that I bought back in 2006), but I have that to my brother for his new house. I'm going to get a 26"-30" LCD HD TV later in the month. Assuming I get my annual bonus, that will be my gift to myself. Still not sure where I am going to put the TV, as that will partially depend on its dimensions. I could even wall-hang it I suppose.

On to the Cat Chair.

In the office I have an old "bark-o-lounger" kind of chair. I hate it. The cats love it. Our oldest (and largest) cat, Buttons, loves to sit on the top of the chair and sleep. There's even a dent on the top of the chair from Buttons sitting on top of it. Because the chair is so loved by the cats and because it's fabric, it's basically covered in cat fur. Ideally, I'd like to get rid of it. It's too big for the small space I have, it only collects junk and the cats are the only ones that sit on it. Why don't I just get rid of it? Honestly, I would feel bad for the cats. How pathetic is that? There are times when I tell myself "just do it...they will find somewhere else to sleep" and there are other times when, in all honesty, I love having Buttons sitting next to me, purring. I'll sometimes swing the chair around so that I can type with one hand and scratch/pet him with the other.

Welcome to my life.

Bottom line: I need to get rid of the chair I think, but I'm going to feel better about it. Maybe I could find something to replace it. Who knows.