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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Want To Be A Republican...I Really Do...But...

I want to belong to a party that supports throwing out the Federal Tax code, which you can now measure in feet.

I want to replace the punitive Federal Income Tax with a taxation system that is simple, direct and fair.

I believe that the Federal Government only has those powers explicitly granted to it by the US Constitution.

I believe in living within my means, and I expect the government to do the same.

I want the Federal Government to actually do those things it is supposed to do, like protect our borders.

I believe that my property is just that, my property. As long as I'm not doing anything that impedes the ability of my neighbors to enjoy their property, I should be able to do whatever the hell I want.

I believe that personal responsibility is lacking in our society today, and we have become a group of cry-babies and whiners, looking for some some small wrong to befall us so that we can sue someone and get rich.

I want to belong to a party that was founded in part on the premise that it's wrong to own another human being.

Yes, I want to be a Republican. However, a few things are getting in the way...

I don't believe that ANY government should or is even capable of deciding what is "moral" and what is "immoral".

I believe that abortion is wrong, but I also believe that a NO government should EVER be in a position to tell (for example) a 13 year old rape victim what she must do with something inside her own body. I would advise that person to have the child, but I'M NOT THEM. The thought that a government should have that kind of power should scare the crap out of anyone.

I do not believe that the United States is a "Christian" nation. We were a nation founded by many people who were Christians. There is a big difference. By proclaiming the United States a "Christian" nation, you directly say "No Jews, No Muslims, No Agnostics, No Hindus, etc.", which runs against everything this country stands for...in the United States, it's not your label that's important...it's what you do that really matters.

I do believe that there is racism in this country and that only the Federal Government has the cross-state ability to act against it. That doesn't mean quotas, but it does mean that, for example, if a southern town is 80% black but all the police officers are white, there is a problem.

I do not believe that the government has any business telling you, me or anyone else who we can enter into social and legal contracts with, especially when it comes to marriage. If two men or two women want to get married, then why in the hell should the government care?

I believe that the government needs to stop the double standards when it comes to substance abuse. While I've never tried (nor will I ever try) marijuana, I don't believe that it's any worse of a substance than "legal" alcohol.

I believe that the government needs to protect me from my neighbors when/if they attempt to do things that impede my ability to enjoy my property. Property rights are important, but no one property right is greater than another.

I believe that equating free speech the ability to contribute to campaigns is incredibly stupid. By that logic, a millionaire would have more of a right to free speech than me, as he/she could obviously contribute more than I ever could to a campaign. Free Speech is just that..."Free".

I believe that the US Constitution rightfully protects the right to bear arms, but it doesn't give anyone an open invitation to acquire all the firepower they want. If you believe that there should be no limits to the right to own guns, then where truly is the line? Hell, if you think that someone should be able to own an assault rifle, then why not a machine gun? Why not a flame thrower? Why not a bazooka? Why not a surface-to-air shoulder fired missile? Why not a tank? I'm all for owning a gun or guns for hunting, sport, collecting, etc., but only the military should have military weapons.

I believe that this country was founded by immigrants and we should continue to welcome them as long as they follow the rules.

I believe that conservation isn't just a personal virtue, it is a matter of public policy. Why? Because something like the air doesn't belong to one person or a group...it' belongs to all of us. No one person or one group should have the "right" to pollute it and prevent the rest of us from enjoying it.


This is why I'm stuck in the middle politically.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let Me See...

...what to talk about?

Arlen Specter switching parties?
Nah, too easy at this stage. Besides, I posted a reply on Gort's blog anyway on this topic. I do think this simply further marginalizes the Republican Party, which is a sad, sad thing. This country needs a strong financial watch-dog, but the GOP is turning into a party more interested in fighting against stem cell research (better to flush those embryos than use them to help sick people, don't you know) than ever expanding deficits. Wait a minutes: I guess there was something more to talk about.

Last Night's Scranton City Council Meeting?
Nah, it's not right to mock the mentally retarded. If you think I am joking here, you are mistaken. In Scranton, any city resident has the right to speak, on camera, for five minutes on anything related to city business during city council meetings. As a result, there are several people who actually are mentally retarded who speak week after week. I swear to you it's true. Look I am all for empowering everyone, regardless of mental faculty, but I'm thinking this might take that egalitarian thought a bit too far.

The Fire In Scranton?
Scranton's firemen did their usual great job, and no one was hurt. That's all that matters. Besides, I stopped wanting to be a firemen when I was something like five years old. Wait, that's not true: I never wanted to be a fireman.

Work?
I guess I could talk about that, but it's something of a bummer, as in a few minutes I'm going to go there and do nothing but talk about work stuff for the next nine hours or so. On the flip side, it finally looks like our area at work is getting a website. That's at least something to look forward do (as I'm hopefully going to be involved in it's development).

Scranton Mayoral race?
Nah, I have no desire to piss off supporters of either candidate, thank you very much. What's more, I like my garbage un-rooted through.

My Cats?
They are cats: experts at manipulation and really not giving a crap. One has not been feeling too well of late, and he happens to be the one that runs outside all the time. Not a coincidence. No doubt he got is ass kicked by some neighborhood Tom.

Bike Riding?
Well I did get a bike rack for the back of my car; all I need to do now is bring my bike up from storage and get it ready for the riding season. That's about two hours of work, give or take. What I need to do is to check out all the cables, lubricate the chain and the other moving parts, check out the brakes, fill the tires with air, etc. If I am sufficiently motivated maybe I'll do that this evening. I'm still debating the helmet thing by the way: I have one, although I almost never wear it. I probably should. It doens't make a lot of sense to try and eat right, exercise daily but then get turned into a veggie via a roadway splatter. As the Fonz would say, "not cool".

Air Force One's NYC Fly Over?
It was stupid. I think that covers it.

School Ending?
Well Katrina's Spring Semester ends on Friday, so I'm going down Friday afternoon to help move her back home. Ah, summer is on the way I guess.

Twittering?
I have a Twitter account, but I can't say that I've ever "tweeted". I created the account almost a year ago, before it got "cool". It's one of those things though that really works best in wireless Internet via cellphone, and I'm too cheap to spend the $15 on an AT&T data connection.

Tom Cruise?
I don't like his movies and I think the Church of $cientology is a "pay to pray" scheme that makes most other organized religions look amateurish by comparison. I think that about covers it.

Michael Sembello's Song "Maniac"?
For whatever reason that horrid piece of musical pollution is going through my head now. If I had a rusty knife I'd try and pry it out. Good thing I don't have any rusty knives laying around.


Maybe I'll just forget about blogging today.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Luzerne County Murder Rate

April 26th story from the Times-Tribune linked HERE.

Luzerne county, home to NEPA's second largest city, Wilkes-Barre, is home to Pennsylvania's third highest murder rate. Yes, thank God for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

By way of comparison, the article points out that there have been four murders in Wilkes-Barre year to date, but only one in all of Lackawanna County during the same period (that murder took place in Scranton).

The bigger question in all of this is why. Why is the murder rate so much higher in Wilkes-Barre than in Scranton? After all there are more people here, and the 17 mile difference between the two cities can't create that much of a boundary. I actually think this would make for a decent study by one of our universities, perhaps by a Sociology Department.

The even bigger question in all of this also a "why", but it's a different why: Why are two communities, so close together, seemingly so different? Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are separated by 17 miles, but in my experience, that's the longest 17 miles in the known universe. While I hesitate to use words like "culture", I think that's as good a catch-phrase as one can find to blanket describe these differences: Simply put, there are different "cultures" between the two cities. While they both same some similarities (an older population for example), there are marked differences as well, including...

...Wilkes-Barre seems to be more socially conservative
...the Catholic Church as always seemed to have more influence in Scranton
...Wilkes-Barre seems to be more of an "old money" town...the Westmoreland Club comes to mind
...Scranton never had the "re-development via flood" thing going on
...Wilkes-Barre is actually in the corner/margin of Luzerne County
...Scranton is almost at the geographic center of Lackawanna County
...Wilkes-Barre was founded in 1769 and incorporated in 1806
...Scranton was incorporated as a borough in 1856 and as a city in 1866

There has also been something of a wary eye cast by residents of Wilkes-Barre towards the "up starts" in Scranton, as if the larger city to the northeast was just a fad that was eventually going to go away.

The term "Chinese Wall" is used in the financial services business to describe technical barriers designed to a conflict of interest. It's also a pretty good description of the 17 miles between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre...good as in there is no real wall, other than what people have created in their own minds. However it's clear that there are differences, not just in murder rates either.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Falling Into A Black Hole (Video)

Very cool...


Road Apples, #26

Swine Flu
Lots of stuff in the media about this, and the more fringe the media, the more interesting the stories get. Check out Drudge for a good round-up of the "almost" fringe stuff, along with a story or two about how this is probably the fault of President Obama. Does this kind of thing worry me? Not really, although I will pay attention to the media reports. Society today is so much more mobile than it was during the last big influenza outbreak (1918), although the flow of information is also more mobile as well, so maybe the two will cancel each other out.

In Other Frightening News
The government of Pakistan is at least close to either a major confrontation with Taliban extremists or capitulation to them. People need to pay attention to this issue. The Taliban is a frightening group to say the least, bringing new meaning to the term "extremist". Hell, men can be punished for shaving under the Taliban. On the other side of the balance sheet you have a Pakistani government that has a nuclear arsenal. Do the math...Extremists + Nuclear Bomb = Bad.

Arlen Specter
I make no secret of the fact that I am a very big fan on Arlen Specter. Simply put, I think he is right for Pennsylvania, neither too conservative nor too liberal. The alternative Republican, Pat Toomey, is a headcase, and if he (Toomey) wins in the primary, you can almost guarantee that this seat will a toss-up for a Democrat add. In fact, I've voted for Arlen Specter every time he has been up for re-election, but I'll definitely vote for whomever is the Democrat running if my only other choice is Toomey (conversely, there is no Democrat that I'd vote for instead of Specter). You can see a summary of Senator Specter's voting record here. Look for me to repeat this over and over again...I think this race is that important.

(Not) In Hot Water
The hot water pilot light went out last night, so this morning I had to take a cold shower. My head still hurts from having that freezing water hit it. I did get it re-lit, although it took several attempts. I have this thing where I have to re-set (what I think are) CO2 sensors at the top of the heater...something that I initially forgot to do, and as a result I was contemplating having to call the plumber. Fortunately, as I was looking through my house receipts, I saw this note that I wrote to myself about performing this re-set. Numskull me should have put that note down buy the water-heater. Anyway, I should be glad that I eventually did get it working. I hate plumbing.

The Weekend That Was
Well it was an uneventful weekend, even with a birthday. I celebrated my birthday by mulching the front yard. Cool, huh? It needed it, and I think it does look good.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

10 Questions I'd Like To Ask Paris Hilton

If for no other reason than the fact that I don't find her attractive, therefore I have nothing to gain by sucking up to her...
  1. Do you know the difference between a dog and a purse?
  2. Do you have any talents other than those I've seen on video (and note that I'm not talking about her "acting" ability)?
  3. Which comes in a can, shit or Shinola?
  4. Do you find the term "celebutard" to be offensive, realistic or both?
  5. Do you know what the word "realistic" means?
  6. When do your 15 minutes end?
  7. Do you consider yourself to be a dog-collector with a lot of boyfriends or a boyfriend collector with a lot of dogs?
  8. Who is smarter, you, Linsay Lohan or that cat who can flush the toilet?
  9. When your parents threatened to sue anyone distributed your porno, did you consider that to be an example of parental love, slick promotion or both?
  10. In a more perfect world, exactly how many black people would you like to own?

Her people can get back to my people with answers whenever she has a spare moment or two.

"...nothing really matters to me..."

The above line is from the song "Bohemian Rhapsody", which blogger Gort42 was kind enough to post for our collective amusement, and which provided me with at least a working title for this entry. Hey, you take the inspiration from wherever you can get it.

For the record, the only way to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody is with a really good sound system that has speakers relatively close to each other. Take my word for it.

Today in 1964 my mother was kind enough to give birth to me. Nice of her to do that. Why just think if she didn't? Why who would feed all of these damn cats that are running around here? Anyway, I'm not an overly sentimental kind of guy, so today is much like any other day, although once every seven years my birthday is a tad bit easier on me. Why? Well, when this day falls on a Sunday, I get to combine a "birthday" visit to my mother with my normal Sunday ritual of taking her shopping. I know, I know, that sounds horribly selfish, and I'll accept that as valid criticism. My mother doesn't drive (7 brain tumors will do that to you), so it's incumbent on my to see her for things like that, and to her credit, as least she is around and is interested in actually seeing me on my birthday, which is always a leg up vs. those who have a mother that has already passed on.

So there you have it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rituals of Spring

We all have our own little rituals by which our lives are guided. Some are simple (putting both socks on then both shoes) and some are complex (obsessive compulsive folks who have intricate procedures for the smallest details in life). For me, one the rituals I enjoy is planting flowers in the spring.

Growing up I lived in a housing project, so little things like planting flowers weren't something you were really able to do. At the same time, on occasion I would go to visit relatives of my mother in South Central Pennsylvania who lived (in what seemed at the time) in "mansions". One of the things that struck me about those houses, to this very day, was the smell. As you walked up to the front door, all you smelled were Marigolds. Somewhere in the back of my head that made a connection between "success" and the smell of Marigolds. Amazing how things connect like that.

Anyway, every Spring, right on or before (but never after) my birthday, I plant flowers. In front of my house I have a section set apart with large paver stones. In that section I have Ivy for ground cover (which, unless pruned twice a year by me, would engulf my house), a rose bush, and three large planters. To the right of that I also have another planter, and I have two small planters over my porch railing. Two of the planters (including the one pictured above) are reserved for Marigolds. They have to be the one's furthest from the front door, as not everyone in my house appreciates the lovely smell of Marigolds. The other four planters get other kinds of flowers (Petunias , etc.).

Yesterday was a day off from work for me, so yes, in keeping with my ritual of Spring, Marigolds were in fact planted. I also planted two pots of Petunias. I have to find something for the railing planters...something that hangs a bit but which can grow in a small planters.

Friday, April 24, 2009

On Growing Older

It's one of those impossible things in life to describe, but yet here I go trying. What am I talking about? Well it's growing old. You see I have a birthday coming up, and on said birthday I will be 45 years old. Statistically speaking, that means that I'm more than half-way to being dead. Now there's a positive thought to start the day with if ever there was one.

Anyway, so what does it feel like to grow older? Like most things in life, the answer is complicated. However I can gleam a few thoughts that I'm willing to share in this PG rated environment.

  1. You get smarter and want to do more, but your body gets weaker and can do less. Amazing, huh?
  2. Your body's tolerance for abuse decreases, sometimes dramatically. As a kid I could eat like a madman and never gain a pound. Now I have to watch what I eat and I still get gastrointestinal distress.
  3. You do figure some things out. One of the bigger things I've kinda/sorta figured out is that there are some troubles you encounter in life that you just have to let roll off you. I have a far better sense as to which battles should be fought, and which should be walked away from.
  4. You learn not to care as much about certain things (related to #3). I remember back in high school being so concerned about what I said, how I sounded, etc. Man, did I ever blow it back then. I've learned to be just me, for me. Those who accept you are "true friends"; those that don't, well that's okay too.
  5. You learn to stop and see and smell the details. There is nothing more amazing than lilacs blooming in May. There is nothing more interesting that some old architectural detail sitting on top of a building that most people never see.
  6. You learn that caring is a currency...and that you always need to spend it wisely.
  7. You learn that there really are things that are more important than you...having children helps in this regard.
  8. You learn that it's one step at a time, for everything.
  9. You can see who the real friends are in your life, and who was there in the past just for the ride. I don't have many friends, but what I do have I know would be there in a second for me.
  10. You learn that not everything that's broken can or should be fixed (related to #3). This is especially true with people. I have people close to me who suffer from mental and physical health problems, and in as much as I'd like to grab then by the should and scream "Stop doing that to yourself! Don't you see that you are killing yourself!" I've learned that that kind of change never comes from outside in...it's always from the inside out. And sometimes that kind of change never comes about.
  11. You learn the value and beauty associated with helping, purely for the sake of being helpful.
  12. You learn that your body parts, like car parts, will rust if you don't keep using them and maintaining them.
  13. You learn the value of persistence. I could never do my job at work if I had to do it all at once; fortunately it comes in manageable chunks.
  14. You learn the inherent value of failing, losing, getting "screwed". Yes, I did say "value". It's easy to look at a victory and just see the good, but failure tells us much more. I've learned far more, and been made a far better person, from my failings in life.
  15. You begin to learn that growing older doesn't necessarily mean you have to grow up.
  16. You learn the value of solitude (especially if you live in a household with three teenage daughters and four cats).
  17. You take the time for introspection and realize that it is a true gift.
  18. You see that there is still so very much to do.
  19. You ponder bigger things as you spiral to that inevitable conclusion to life...namely death.
  20. You learn that you have a lot more to learn.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm Convinced: Most Politicians Are Secretly Atheists

Most politicians are secretly atheists.

They really have to be.

How else could someone, say a School Board member, justify to their own conscience that selling teaching jobs (or worse yet, using their position to obtain a contract or job for themself) is in any way shape for form ethical or moral?

Now I'm not so naive to believe that the rest of us live fully moral lives. However, there are degrees of evil to consider here. Bringing a pen home from work is different than exchanging votes for a teaching position that will pay $30,000+/year to start. Furthermore, I don't see that one leads to another: the nature of politics is such that those who partake in it will always be faced with greater moral challenges than the rest of us. In a way it's like being a Vice Squad Cop...if you are someone who has a drug problem yourself, then this is a not a good assignment for you. It makes you wonder then about the religious glad-handing that virtually all politicians...at every level of government...partake in as part of the election and then governing process.

Please, how is this any different than the stories about how mobsters who would donate money to churches and the like? The answer is that it is no different.

In the song "Minutes to Memories" by John Mellencamp (from the outstanding album Scarecrow...a must have for any collection), there is a verse that goes...

"An honest man's pillow is his peace of mind"

...by my reckoning that's pretty true. Why then so much seeming graft in the political arena? Well what we have in this country is a whole host of individuals in the political arena who have managed to delude themselves into believing that the normal rules of propriety, right and wrong, and basic morality are somehow suspended because they have entered into public service. They being to believe that they are somehow entitled to suspect the normal rules. They are kids at a carnival, mesmerized by the bright lights and the sounds of the carnies, eventually becoming a part of the show themselves.

In the end, money may be the grease that keeps the engine of politics moving, but that engine is almost always painted in a fresh coat of hypocrisy.

Maybe we should start looking for a few honest atheists to run for political office.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life, Liberty & The Pursuit Of Less Pigmentation


Michael Jackson Set For Comeback
Yes, you know the end is near when there is at least a strong possibility that the "gloved one" (also known as the "Man who was formerly black") is poised for a series of shows at London's O2 arena. Roger Friedman's gossip page on FoxNews ...the Fox411...is the best place on Earth to keep track of what el-Weirdo is doing. If I were a betting man I'd say that this never actually happens.

Now why does this bother me?

I was born in 1964, so my youngest years were really at the peak of the Civil Rights movement. In fact, one of my earliest memories was being walked to Pre-School the by older brother of one of my classmates, who happened to be Black. In those years, what you heard was the message that people should be proud of who they are; in fact, that seems to me to be a point of the whole Civil Rights Movement, namely that if you are black, you should proud of it.

In that backdrop you have Michael Jackson, who, even if you don't like his music (which I don't), you have to admit has some talent. You also have to admit that he was an a-typical African-American...at least as a kid. I am not a very good judge of looks when it comes to guys, but it seems to me that he was an average looking kid...not hideous by any stretch of the imagination. Why then the transformation from black child to adult alien? I mean Jackson doesn't even look human these days.

What kind of demons drive someone to make the kind of radical changes Jackson has made to himself over the years? Oh, and I don't buy the whole "skin disease" pile of crap Jackson tried to pedal years ago by the way. Whatever these demons are, I'm afraid that they have taken up permanent residence in Jackson's head. No, this is one dude who is never going to get better.

There is a real shame in all of this I suppose, and it's the shame of wasted ability. Again, I don't like the music this guy has made, but I'm not the be-all-end-all when it comes to musical taste either. Some folks like what he has done over the years, and there is no doubt in my mind that he has brought some measure of happiness to the lives of others. Funny, but here is a guy who can bring happiness to others, but seems incapable of apparently feeling it himself. Life can be horribly ironic like that...horribly ironic.

One day in the future, someone is going to write a really cool song about Michael Jackson...along the same theme as Elton John's "Candle In The Wind" (listen to the original version on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, not the crap Elton recycled when Diana Spencer died). Speaking of ironic...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Common Sense & The Political Process

I have this love-hate relationship with politics.

On one hand, I've always been very interested in history & civics. The more or less academic study of how governmental systems work and how they react to and create history is, in my humble opinion, fascinating. There's also this human aspect to how and why people vote they way they do that's very interesting.

On the other hand, I generally don't have a very high opinion of people who are actually involved in the process of governing. Think about it: running for Congress is just like running for high school student body president...both have the same general qualifications (none)...and both are nothing more than popularity contests. The only difference is that it costs a hell of a lot more to run for Congress (and if you win but manage to screw up really bad, you could end up in jail).

So for the same reason I write everything I write (namely to amuse myself), there are some thoughts on the intersection between politics and common sense.

Free Speech & Campaign Contributions
Bloated conservative talk-show host (and secret Howard Stern admirer) Rush Limbaugh likes to equate the ability to contribute to political campaigns with free speech. In his (and others) mind, there should be no limits on contributions, as those contributions represent an extension of his right to free speech. Fair enough, but consider this: doesn't this mean then that those with more money to contribute are entitled to more speech than those with less to contribute? Now we all know that this is in fact true; a struggling single mother is far less likely to get face-time with a sitting US Senator than a large (in terms of money contributed, not waste size...sorry, shameless Limbaugh comment there) political contributor. The fact that it's currently true though is a symptom of a broken system, not justification for the status quo.

What to do? I honestly don't know. I do think that it is reasonable to impose limits on what someone or some entity can contribute to candidates and their political parties. I also think that all contributions, regardless of the amount, need to be disclosed and made easily available for anyone and everyone to see.

Money may in fact be the grease that keeps political machines working, but that doesn't mean that this same grease should be exclusively used on politicians.


Party Line Voting
It's time to end the insanely stupid practice of allowing single-action party line votes. In Pennsylvania, one can simply press a button or pull a lever and in one fell swoop vote for all the members of a single party. Think about that: the person taking this action is in essence saying "I don't care about the individual candidates & where they stand on the issues; instead, I'll simply trust that this party has my best interests in mind". The reality of the situation is this: when you allow party-line votes, you are in effect moving the voting franchise from the hands of the individual voter and into the hands of political party bosses. That's both un-American (where we believe that people should stand on their own merits) and frightening.


Open Primaries
In Pennsylvania, registered Independent voters can not vote in primary elections. Again, this is another example of power being held by political party leaders at the expense of the voting population. By allowing open primaries, we can begin to force political parties to do more than just kowtow to the extreme wings of their own membership. What's more, the current system in effect penalizes you if you are not a member of either the Democratic or Republican parties. Do tell me, how far off is a two party state from a one party state?


Internet Voting
This is an idea whose time has not come, nor to I hope it ever comes. I say this being as much a techno-Geek as a civilian probably can be. I have two reasons to oppose Internet voting:
  1. It makes it easier to commit fraud. As an open system, the Internet conceptually isn't designed with security in mind. What's more, anything designed to make it more secure can (as anyone who has ever had a compute virus can testify to) be circumvented.
  2. There is something to be said for taking the time to go out into your community and partake of the physical process of voting. It's a very public act that, in my opinion, helps to bind us together and signifies our real, physical commitment to the democratic process.


In the end I don't expect any radical changes to happen in the political process. Why? Simply because those with the most to lose by reform...politicians...are also the ones who would have to implement the reforms. There is always hope though.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Road Apples, #25

Pay Attention To This Story
MSNBC article link here. I don't consider myself to be a reactionary, anti-Islamic, fear-mongering, etc., but this situation deserves some attention. Here's the bottom line: Pakistan is moving towards a religious, hard-line government. While that in and of itself may be a little unsettling, consider the collateral...namely that Pakistan is also a nuclear power and that it has fought several wars with another nuclear-armed nation, India. There is no love-loss between the hard-line Islamists in Pakistan and the hard-line Hindu in India. Mark my words: this will not end well.

Walk
I took a walk late yesterday afternoon, if for no other reason than the fact that I wanted to stretch my legs and get some exercise. I spent about an hour and fifteen minutes walking around town, taking pictures and generally trying to notice things that I generally don't notice most other times. I like to do that from time to time. Where did I go? Well a part of it was walking along the railroad tracks behind the Radisson over to the Steamtown National Historic site. Pretty interesting stuff. I always find it fascinating that you can live somewhere for 40 years and still see things that you've never noticed before.

I Hate Sleeping
Last night provided no reason for me to change my opinion about sleeping. I tossed and turned quite a bit, felt quasi-congested, and generally achy. This morning my arms and shoulders feel sore for some reason. Maybe it's just seasonal allergies rearing their ugly heads. Regardless, I'm hoping that as the morning progresses my body gets in gear. Growing old sucks (wait, hold that thought for about 6 more days...).

I'm Enjoying Facebook
Facebook is a great concept, but it's not an original one. Now it used to complete heavily with MySpace, but I think that battle has been won already (by Facebook). In fact, I deleted by MySpace account. Why? Well I think part of what makes Facebook a better product is that the pages are simple and, God-forbid for the Internet, professional looking. Yes, while on Facebook you see the same white background on ever page, that still beats the close-up background photo of someones bad tattoo that you would see on MySpace. What's next? This is the Internet, and things in your refrigerator have a longer shelf-life Social Networking sites. We shall see.

Domesticity
I mopped the kitchen floor last night, which is not one of my favorite chores in the whole wide world to do. It's kind of like a colonoscopy in a way: it's not the act, it's the preparation that sucks. In the case of mopping, it's having to sweep, move things out of the kitchen, etc. There are times when I wonder why I do it; no one really notices or cares for the matter. Well the previous statement is untrue: I notice, which is why I do it I suppose. Same thing for the dishes, the cat litter, the garbage and countless other things.

Charles Hawtrey
If you are Bealtes fan (of which I am one), you've heard the name Charles Hawtrey before. Think back to the Let It Be album, and the introduction to the song "Two of Us" by John Lennon, where he says "I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the deaf aids...phase one, in which Doris gets her oats". Well up until now I never knew who Charles Hawtrey was, but that has changed thanks to the terribly cool website AmIAnnoyingOrNot.com, which had a profile on Charles Hawtrey. You can see the profile here. I also YouTubed the name and watched a couple short videos that showed the late Mr Hawtrey's work...no wonder I never heard of him. No disrespect to the dead, but his act is decidedly English, that's for sure.

This Week
I think that the week ahead is a manageable one. As I recall from Friday, the only tough day this week is Wednesday from a schedule standpoint, and I'm off on Friday. I do have a number of small things to attend to...such as scheduling an eye doctor appointment, creating a new team reporting template, updating some project plans...so maybe I can use the non-booked time productively. I also have to remember to work on the "why do I really want to lose weight" list for my health coach.

What Do You Like To Do?
The above is a question I don't think many of us take the time to ponder. Just what do I like to do? It's actually a pretty important one if you think about it; in theory, I should try to do more of that and less of the things I don't like to do. Makes sense, but as with most things in life, it not nearly so cut and dried. There are things that I simply like to do, and there are other thing that I REALLY LIKE to do. For me, sometimes even having the motivation to start to do something I like to do is tough. Honestly, I think I try to put so much into things during the course of a day that, when the day wears on, there isn't much left for anything else...even those things I like to do. I know I'm not alone with this sort of problem, mainly because I'm not the James Brown of Prudential (hardest working man...get it?), so others probably can relate. Maybe my problem is that I don't drink coffee. Maybe my problem is that I simply whine too much. Anyway, I suppose this will be just another one of those quests in life.

The Song Running Through My Head...
...right now is the Beach Boys "Don't Worry Baby". As I understand it, Brian Wilson wrote the song in the style of the girl groups, although it is written from the perspective of a male. The song just knocks my socks off. It's one of the reasons why, in 100 years, no one will know who "P. Diddy" is, but somewhere someone will be singing "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys or "Hey Jude" by the Beatles. On that note I'll leave you with this...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's Spring In Scranton...

...and along with the budding leaves and flowers comes the budding of political signs in anticipation of the spring primary election.

Now why would there be such an emphasis on a primary election? Simple, Scranton is, in effect, a one party town. While northeastern Pennsylvania is by and large a fairly conservative area (famously part of the "Pennsylvania 'T"...the south-central & northern parts of the state being conservative, leaving the southeast/Philadelphia and southwest/Pittsburgh being the more Democratic strongholds), the city of Scranton itself is a Democratic town. In fact, even the people who in theory run the local Republican party are, for the most part, shadow Democrats.

Being a Republican in Scranton is something that, for many people, is a matter of convenience. Our last Republican mayor, Jimmy Connors, was actually a Democrat who switched parties to run for office. Many School Board candidates actually cross-file under both parties for the election. All of the current sitting City Council members are Democrats; in fact, I think the last Republican to serve was Brian Reap, and that was many, many years ago.

Is all of this a good thing? I suspect that if you are a hardcore Democrat you would say "Yes". I disagree completely, and I say that as a life-long registered Democrat (although I never vote the party line, and I'm a big fan of Senator Arlen Specter). Any time any party has that much control, it's problematic. Politics should be a like a buffet: the best outcome happens when you have the most choice. What's more, with defacto one party rule, you are basically putting an awful lot of power into the hands of what I call the "Back-Room Gang"...namely the city Democratic Committee. This is the same group who chose not to endorse a single women for city-wide election, even though such politically polar opposites as Janet Evans (who strongly dislikes Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty) and Judy Gatelli (who supports Mayor Doherty) are running for election. While the city committee did endorse Mayor Doherty's opponent in the election, Gary DiBileo, that in and of itself makes the failure to endorse Janet Evans all the more bizarre.

"Bizarre" is a good word to end this thought on, because more often that not, it's what best describes the politics of this region. There is a Scranton-centric quote I've read in a few books about the region...

"Sundays we are closed...go around to the back"

...that best describes the region. The real meaning? Rules be damned, this is Scranton.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Comments on Scranton Times Article, April 18th

There was an interesting article in Saturday's edition of The Scranton Times about a fund raising effort in the Diocese of Scranton that has fallen short.

Article Here

I wrote a few comments on the article, which in turn spurred a response from a local Catholic priest, which in turn spurred me to respond. Anyway, the applicable comments are noted below.

A few points I'd like to make before going on to he actual comments themselves:

  • When I do stuff like this, I always try to write under my "real" name. In fact, I've never written any comments on any Times article under an assumed name. I look at it this way...if I truly mean what I say, then I should put my name to it.
  • I do admire the priest who responded, Father David Bechtel, for taking the time to "defend" the actions of the Bishop. I don't agree with what he said, but I do respect his putting a vow of obedience into action. Defending someone like Bishop Martino is a tall order, and you have to give Father Bechtel credit for at least trying.

So here are the comments. Note that I'd removed everything except for the postings by myself and Father Bechtel, but you can read them all by following the link pasted above.


Stephen Albert wrote on Apr 18, 2009 10:16 AM:

" The implication that it's just a coincidence that donations are down from parishes that are slated to close is probably one of the silliest things to come out of the 300 block of Wyoming Avenue in a long time. This is an insult to the intelligence of the faithful in a Diocese...a group that has become accustomed to insults from it's spiritual leadership. Yes, not only are we told who we must vote for...like children being lectured to by a parent...now we are told the recession only impacts certain parishes in the Diocese.

Catholics traditionally have had only two avenues for recourse when the Church runs counter to their needs: their feet (by not attending Mass) and their wallets (by not donating). You now see both in action within the Diocese of Scranton. Maybe Bishop Martino doesn't want to admit this, but it's hard for the majority of Catholics to miss the point.

Mark my words: this will only get worse as long as Joseph "Command and Control" Martino leads the Diocese. "



Father Dave Bechtel wrote on Apr 18, 2009 12:45 PM:

" Stephen,

The bishop is not as stupid as you would like to believe. I have heard him say that he does realize there are some people who are not contributing becasue they are angry. He knows very well that he is not the most popular person right now, in light of the tough but NECESSARY decisions he has had to make. Heavy the head the wears the crown sir.

If the diocese is to survive into the next generation it must face circumstances as they are HERE AND NOW, and admit rather then deny the very real and difficult challanges the Church is facing today. It is no longer 1950 when churches were full, school was cheap, and people were very generous with their contributions (despite the fact most of them were blue collar and had little in the way of luxuries.) I note that today people have much more then their ancestors, yet contribute far, far less then their parents and grandparents!

Two factors have contibuted to why the appeal goal has not been met: The economy, and the parish/school closings. However I would venture to say that if the economy was much better, the goal would have been met. Don't forget that last years goal was met-and the bishop was not exactely popular then either- as schools had already been closed along with some churches, and some were not happy with his decision not to recognize the union.

I want to note that one of this things I have experienced is that while people are quick to complain, no one is quick with a real and workable solution- aside from saying leave things the way they are or closing everyone else's parish- neither of which are a substantial answer to the problems the Church is facing. "


Stephen Albert wrote on Apr 18, 2009 4:15 PM:

" Father Bechtel...

As noted by another poster, it's not the Bishop's actions that I question, it's his methods of achieving them. The examples are numerous...

...his unilateral decision to de-recognize a labor union (a union that was duly elected by the teachers in question) and decision to not so much as meet with those same impacted teachers about his decision
...his failure to meet with disheartened parishioners who are losing institutions that have existed for decades
...his failure to meet with disheartened students and parents of schools that have closed
...his foray into political matters, going so far as to tell a United States Senator that he is, in effect, is a Catholic first and an elected representative of the people (not all of whom are Catholic by the way) second
...his demand that he, and he alone, be allowed to define what the term "diversity" means in institutions of higher learning
...his demand that the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton ignore the teachings of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops when that institution expresses opinions he does not personally support
...and I could go on...

On a more personal note, I am a proud graduate of Bishop Hannan High School. When my school was shuttered, there was no closing ceremony, no Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of past graduates, no goodbye....he basically locked the door on a part of many people's lives. The final insult? That would have been the dumpster sitting outside the school with dozens of old yearbooks left out to rot in the rain and sun. I understand the need to consolidate schools Father Bechtel...I don't understand the need for what that dumpster symbolized.

Father Bechtel, I do respect how you put your vow of obedience to Bishop Martino into action. However, please try to understand that the level of distress you sense in response to Bishop Martino isn't necessarily akin to the reaction of children upset at a parent for punishing him/her...it's more like the reaction of a group of people who feel betrayed by someone who they traditionally would have looked to for solace and support in times of need. Instead of a "Kind Shepherd", what we have in the Diocese of Scranton is someone more like a Corporate CEO on a mission to cut costs (please do Google the name "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap for an example of what I mean)....and executive that doesn't ever want to see the faces of the employees he lays off. "


Father Dave Bechtel wrote on Apr 18, 2009 6:08 PM:

" Everyone,

I understand what you are trying to say. If I had a nickle for everytime I have heard it, I would have an awful lot of nickles- but I would not be rich.

Here are my thoughts: (and I speak only for myself here.) I have seen too many times when tough decisions are made, a bishop goes to try and comfort the people. What winds up happening is that they essencially force him to reverse himself when he meets with them. Knowing this, I know I would not want to meet with the people once the decision is made, if it were me, but leave the pastoral care in the hands of their competant pastors. The Diocese of Allentown just went through a similar process. The Diocese of Harrisburg went through the same process a few years back. A diocese in Ohio went through a similar process. No matter what the bishop did, the people still complained. There is no easy way to do these things. This issue is a systamatic issue. It is not only Scranton PA having to go through it.

I don't mean to minimize what you are saying. What I mean to say is that the parishes and schools are closing, and I don't think anyone can deny this has been long in comming. When Bishop Timlin was bishop, he knew these issues were going to have to be faced sooner or later. Bishop Timlin hoped things would get better. They didn't- but God spared him from having to do what Bishop Martino must do..

The reality is that I hear what you are saying. "It is not WHAT Martino is doing, but HOW he is doing it" that upsets you. I believe however notwithstanding that, what is being done is very necessary and regardless of the bishop it would still be extremely painful. I encourage everyone to look to their pastors for care and comfort, and know their pastors grieve right along with them. The bishop does too. "

Father Dave Bechtel wrote on Apr 18, 2009 6:24 PM:

" Stephen,

I am sorry for your experience. That is all I can say. I am especially grieved by the "dumpster" experience.

You raise many issues, too numerous for me to comment on. But, yes, I know this is a painful time. It is during these times we must look to our Faith and draw upon the wellspring of the hope that is within to get us through, so that we may emerge a stronger Church and a stronger diocese in the future. "

You Know You're Getting Old When...

...you have to do subtraction in your head to determine your age. Remember back when you younger and you just always knew your age? "I'm 13!". Now it's along the lines of "Well, oh, 2009 from 1965...I'm 45".

...instead of haircuts, you start to think about how you can style your hair so that the receding parts aren't as noticeable?

...you genuinely don't give a rat's a$$, for the most part, about what others think?

...you don't even bother to listen to most Top 40 radio stations?

...the high school you attended doesn't exist any more?


Yes, growing old is certainly grand, grand indeed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Road Apples, #24

Sprung Spring
It looks like Spring may have finally "sprung", this after we had nearly frost (well there was some on my windshield) yesterday morning. It has to warm up, as I am taking next Friday off to plant flowers. I know, it's best to wait until early May for flower planting in this part-o-world, but I have this ritual where I plant flowers on or near my birthday. Well damn it, I'm planting flowers next Friday, come whatever!

Yesterday
Yesterday I had five meetings and a class, and I got in a work-out before 10am. Part of me wonders if I try and do too much, which is laughable in a sense because the other part of me says "there is no such thing as too much". I do know that I get bored at the drop of a hat, so keeping busy is actually pretty important to me. I simply don't like just sitting around, as it I end up feeling physically and mentally not as well. Anyway, the schedule today is a bit more "human", so maybe I'll not feel as wiped out Saturday morning. Oh, did I mention that I feel kind of sore (in the head...in my arms...etc.) this morning?

Monsignor Quinn Leaving
Article here. Prominent local priest, Monsignor Joseph Quinn, will be leaving the Diocese of Scranton for a position at Fordham University. While I've never met the Monsignor, everything I've heard is that he is an outstanding priest and a true man of both God and the community. He will be sorely missed. You have to wonder though if this isn't yet another casualty of the Bishop Martino era? While I am sure that the Monsignor was a "fully compliant" priest, I don't think he was a "dogma first, everything else second" kind of guy. Again, he will be missed. Yet another example of the best and brightest (including former Scrantonians Joe Biden, the Rodham Family, etc.) leaving the area.

Computer Woes
The desktop computer used by my daughters, an e-Machines, was (technically speaking) "jacked up", so I've done a complete system restore back to factory settings. That's gotten rid of the problems, but now I have reinstall all of the software that has been added over the years. Yesterday I loaded Firefox and MS Office. Over the weekend I'll finish up. It's a reminder that computers are machines, and as such they can wear down, break, fail, etc.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Post-Script to the Athlete-Student/UConn Rant

As I incessantly ranted yesterday, the graduation rate for African American "athlete-students" at UConn is 22%. To put that in perspective, the odds that an American woman developing cancer in her lifetime are roughly 1 in 3, or 33%. Similarly, the odds of an American male developing cancer in his lifetime are roughly 1 in 2, or 50%.

Yes, you have a better chance of developing cancer than a male athlete-student does of graduating from UConn.

No amount of success is worth that claim to fame.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Athlete "Student" Hasheem Thabeet

Normally the phrase is "Student Athlete", but when it comes to UConn men's basketball, the operative order is "Athlete Student". The latest casualty is UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, who is forgoing a final year of eligibility to enter the NBA draft. Story here. This is the same guy who was promised by UConn coach Jim Calhoon to be made a "national champion and a millionaire". Well it looks like maybe one of those two things might come true. No mention in the article about whether or not Thabeet will earn his degree (insert laugh here => _____________ ).

On a related note, here's an interesting citation from a Boston Globe article, dated March 17, 2009:

We will know the world is truly changing when politicians write letters and make statements that embarrassing graduation rates for their flagship university basketball team are unacceptable. UConn also should not be in the tournament with a graduation rate of 22 percent for its African-American players and only 33 percent for the whole team.

You can read the full article here. Basically it amounts to this: If you are an African American teenager who attends UConn to play basketball...regardless of where the sport takes you professionally...the odds are stacked against you relative to your actually graduating. How much against you? As noted above, on average, 78% of African American UConn basketball players never graduate.

Think about that for a moment. For many kids who enter programs like the one at UConn, basketball is the only chance they have of actually earning a college degree. By and large this are not individuals coming from wealthy families that otherwise would be able to afford the kind of education that a UConn could provide. Yet for the love of "winning", someone like Jim Calhoon is basically allowed to run what amounts to a jock factory...an NBA minor league team...all in the name of "Student Athletics".

If you are a fan of college sports this should make you shake your head in disgust. If you care about the young men who play sports at schools like this you should be pissed off. It's as simple as that.

Now the news is not all bad in the world of college sports. According the the NCAA, the graduation rate for Penn State football players is 83%, making it the third highest among public schools in the nation. Article here. Penn State is not alone. Notre Dame traditionally has a high graduation rate as well.

The NCAA, in it's quest to make this information as cryptic as possible, actually publishes graduation rate statistics. Just don't actually try to do any side-by-side comparisons. You can find the NCAA's reports at this link:

http://www.ncaa.org/wps/ncaa?ContentID=38761


Here's my bottom line on all of this:
Colleges and
Universities exist to education young men and women. Period. End of story. When they don't do that, they fail in their mission. Athletics is a tradition filled, exciting part of the college experience, but it is secondary to what colleges and universities actually do. It's time to stop giving the UConns of this world as pass. If a university can't graduate more than say half of it's players (and even that's a low standard), then it's time to stop enabling that behavior and ban the school from any post-season play. Unlike the sports I've referenced, education ISN'T a game. For many young men and women, it's the only real chance they will ever have to achieve true success in life.

Athlete students indeed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

America's "Pill" Society

"I want it all and I want it now"
- Queen/I Want It All


Funny, but sometimes when I think about American society, one of the first things that comes to mind is a song by Queen, a UK band. We really do want it all, and we really do want it now.

No where does this play out more vividly than in the area of medicine. I'm currently reading a book by Dr Dean Edell called Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Healthiness, and one of the underlying themes is that when it comes to health, we are always looking for that quick, painless fix.

Weight loss? We want a pill that pill made from an exotic African plant that will allow us to eat whatever we want and drop pounds without exercising.

Hair loss? We are looking for that magic elixir that, when spread on the scalp, will make us look like John Travolta, circa Saturday Night Fever.

Depression (and this is the worst example in my opinion, by the way)? We want a pill that, when taken daily, will make us happy.

For me, again, the most insidious example lies in the area of mental health, so that's where I want to ruminate on for a moment or so. In our society's zeal to help those with real mental health problems, we've managed to develop a whole host of medications that genuinely do provide some relief. However, they may just work a bit too well. What do I mean? Well consider this: what that kind of medication can do is to create a condition whereby someone who suffers from depression can have the clarity of thought such that they can being to work with someone to identify the underlying causes of their depression and hopefully develop strategies to combat it over the long term. Nice thought, hun? Now let me tell you what actually happens (and I speak as someone with family members who suffer from mental health issues): the medication makes them feel just well enough that they can now "get by", so they accept it. Now I can understand that course of action; for example, how many of us, after suffering from a very bad physical illness, want to hop out of bed as soon as we start to feel better? It's human nature to want to seize that moment. However the moment is fleeting.

What to do?

Maybe this is naive on my part, but I do have a thought. Anyone who suffers from severe mental health problems requiring extensive medication should be required, as a condition of receiving the medication, to also participate in some kind of introspective examination therapy (such talk therapy). Yes, I realize that you can not "force" someone to confront their real, underlying issues. I also realize that there is a very small group of people who suffer from conditions that have far more to do with brain chemistry than personal demons. However, we have to realize that medication is creating a crutch that many people who end up not taking personal responsibility for their own mental health as a result.

Personal responsibility, now there is a concept. Yes, I said it: we are all individually responsible for our own physical and mental health. It's not the responsibility of our doctors, or the drug companies. Yes, it is terrific that we have medication that, for example, can ease the symptoms of depression, but no, that's not enough. If the real purpose of that medication is to help people live fuller and better lives, then that purpose can only by fulfilled when the medication is combined with a dose of personal accountability.

In the end, you really can't cheat nature.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Replacing the Fuse/Resetting the Circuit Breaker

My brother called me this morning at 5:30am, looking for a glass fuse. It seems that the kitchen fuse in the house be bought two months ago had blown, and everything in his freezer was at risk. Now for the record...

...I had to get up soon anyway so I didn't mind the call
...I didn't have a fuse
...I've warned him before he bought the place that the entire electrical service needed to be replaced*

(*) Note...it's a great house & he got a terrific deal on it, but I would have had the electrical work done before I moved in.

Never the less, he is in something of a pickle. I'll have to check back with him later today to see how me made out.

The above does make me think about what fuses/circuit breakers actually do & the purpose they serve. For the non-electrically inclined, that purpose is prevent the system from becoming over-loaded, which could result in a fire and other sorts of horrible outcomes. So while having a fuse blow is horribly inconvenient in the short-term, it is beneficial in the grander scheme of things.

So too it is in life I suppose.

I think we all face the equivalent of the "blown fuse" or circuit breaker that needs to be reset in our lives. I know I do. Things just get to be too much to handle, be it too much emotional stress, physical stress, etc. In my own life I think I walk something of a fairly narrow path between what I'll call "normal operation" verses the "blown fuse". In fact, sometimes it takes all I've got to keep things rolling alone. And for the record, I think the path I walk isn't nearly as difficult as those walked by others. In days past, my mother would refer to this kind of thing as being the "cross you bear", which is a good analogy, given Easter. Acknowledging that others have it more difficult than me is, however, of little consequence when I'm faced with my own "blown fuse".

As is the case in many things in life, it's not that a "blown fuse" can happen that's important; rather, it's what you do and how you respond to that blown fuse that really matters. My brother is calling an electrician this morning to get his blown fuse replaced...I didn't have any spare fuses (which is why he called me)...which will solve his problem in the short-term. I hope that he decides to get the entire service line...from the pole down to the his inside service box...replaced, as that's the best long-term solution. So too it is in life, at least for me. The balancing act is between those short-term fixes that need to be done to keep things running (simply replacing the blown fuse) and the long-term fixes that need to be done to prevent problems in the future (replacing the service line). In both cases...electrical systems and people (me especially)...it's a case of expending capital that drives these kinds of things; for the electrical system, the capital is actual money. In the case of people (again, especially me), it's probably a case of more emotional rather than financial capital that needs to be spent. In either case, it's always best to be prudent in how you spend the stuff. You never know when you may need some capital...be it financial or emotional...for a rainy day.

Here's to always having a spare fuse on-hand, just in case.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Go To Extremes

"Darling I don't know why I go to extremes
Too high or too low there ain't no in-betweens
And if I stand or I fall
It's all or nothing at all
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes"

- Billy Joel/I Go To Extremes


First and foremost, this is a great song. I had the pleasure of seeing Billy Joel perform it live in Syracuse (New York) during the Stormfront Tour. The live version sounded spot-on, and Billy Joel & band were about as tight of a touring band as I think you could get.

Anyway, as I'm sitting here with the notion that I want to write something...but not quite sure what that "something" may be...it occurred to me that Friday was a relatively good day. Why so? Well I worked out, went for a long walk and ate a reasonable amount of food. Saturday was the opposite: I didn't work out, and I ate crap all day long. Today being Easter, the eating situation will no doubt not be improving much. Regardless of the day, date, holiday, etc., the one constant is that all of this is truly in my head.

In my head?

Yes, there is no outside force that forces me to have that donut.

There is no outside force that tells me "you really don't need to exercise today".

There is no outside force that tells me "you will feel better if you just sit on your ass all evening".

I am the master of all that I survey, on the inside that is. For me, consistency is something the rarest element in the universe, in that I just wish I could find some level of consistency in my life on the "right" side of eating right, exercising, activity, mental attitude, etc. At times it feels as if there is this gravitational force associated with bad eating and sloth that I fight against. It's akin to an episode of (the original) Star Trek, where the USS Enterprise is being held in orbit around some alien planet, and all that it's engines can do is to at best prevent it from crashing into the planet below. Yes, I'm feeling that way from time to time. I just want to be able to "break orbit" if you will.

Now I suppose the religious among us would say that this is the prefect time for an Easter analogy. In fact I could make one up now: Christ died for our sins, and that gives us the chance to live more holy lives, etc. I am not suggesting that this kind of analogy has no merit, but I will say that it doesn't really hold any personal commitment for me now in this time and place. Spiritually I'm somewhat a drift at the moment. Hell, maybe that's half the problem. Let's put it this way: I'm not holding much stock in an old white guy with a beard living in a cloud helping me out any time soon.

Back to the main thought at hand.

So what am I to do? Well there are things...small things...that I could do to help me make that incremental progress that I think is best. For example, I can keep the commitment to working out 4 days a week and try to drill it into my head that I really do feel better after spending time in the gym and that the overall benefits far outweigh the costs. I could also see about something like a list for around the house...something that would have small and big things I can tackle at any given time, which I think helps because I'm at my best when I'm active (and at my worst when I am not). There are also far bigger issues in my life that I have to deal with, but some of them really can't be tackled now...some must be handled in their own time. In fact, one of the things I've learned the hard way is that (and to paraphrase the Book of Ecclesiastes) there really is a time and season for everything under heaven.

On the positive side, if there is anything I am and should be appreciative of it's the fact that I do have the ability to self-analyze and self-correct. That may not sound like much, but I have people in my life who don't in fact have one or both of those attributes, which is in and of itself quite frightening. Imaging being locked in a cage, with the key to the lock being just out of reach? That's how I imagine suffering from mental illness must be like. On the flip side, while I sometimes view myself as being in that same cage, I've figured out that the door isn't actually locked, so reaching for keys isn't what's required...rather, simply opening the door is.

Happy Easter to one and all who may stumble upon this!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thinking About Bomb-Throwers

For any number of reasons I can probably rattle off for twenty or so minutes, I don't often talk about politics here.

Side note: I say "talk" because honestly that's more of what this is like for me than really "writing". I'm talking to myself but taking the extra step of writing it down. Make sense?

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I don't talk much about politics but I'm going to make an exception, although I don't know that I'm really going to get that political...certainly not necessarily partisan. At the risk of getting even more circular, I'm going to get right to the point: I despise what I call "bomb throwers" in politics.

Who or what is a "bomb thrower"? I don't know that here is an official definition, and I've not cited what I consider to be the definitive source for such things...the Urban Dictionary...but never the less I am going to make up my own. A bomb-thrower is someone who uses shock and outlandishness more so for personal than political gain. Here are two examples at opposite ends of the spectrum:

On the Left - the "Reverend" Al Sharpton
On the Right - Rush Limbaugh

Both seem more interested in self-promotion than anything else. Both seem to see the world from blinders, where there can never be anything of value gained from considering an opposing point of view. Both are, in my mind, idiots. I know that's a strong description, but as someone who tries to apply logic and reasoning to all things in my life, I find it abhorrent when logic and reasoning is thrown out the window simply because it doesn't agree with a particular dogma. Both men seem to believe that there is no greater sin than having an open mind.

It seems to me that progress is made when we, as humans, consider possibilities. Sameness and blind agreement seem to me to run counter to progress. It doesn't matter whether the sameness and agreement comes from the far left or the far right; both are just different symptoms of the same disease.

So here's to having an open mind...regardless of your political persuasion.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Road Apples, #23

It's Good Friday and it's a good day to be off. The weather looks reasonably good, and even if it rains (as predicted), I'm still going to have a restful day. I know, that sounds almost blasphemous, and if it makes the Catholic Church feel better, I'll perhaps feel a bit guilty about the whole thing. Never the less, the days of my having a fervent religious bent have wained, as I have noted here before. Which brings me to my next thought...

Bishop Martino Strikes Again. Yes, Scranton Bishop Martino is upset...yet again...over something being done at a religious institution involved with education. Article reference here. Let me see, anyone else sense a pattern here? Martino closes Catholic schools and constantly threatens Catholic Universities. I'm thinking that this is a man who does not believe that the Roman Catholic Church should even be involved in the business of educating young people. Truly sad. If Martino really wanted to discuss these issues with university leaders...call me crazy...but I would think the MORE PRUDENT thing to do would be for him to meet with the leaders in person. Instead, Martino makes the conscious choice to wage these wars via the press. Even the most die-hard Catholic has to wonder why he makes this choice. It's difficult to believe that self-promotion isn't among his motivations.

The Balance of Today will be spent hopefully not doing too much, other than maybe tackling some things on my perpetual to-do list. For example, I have a book case that I need to paint, so maybe that will make the cut. I'm also going to try and get up to work to pay a visit to the gym.

Yesterday Evening I went for a nice walk, although the number and intensity of hills in this town leaves something to be desired. I'd like to be able to do that more frequently, as I find it very relaxing, especially when I bring my camera with me. If it's not raining, maybe I'll head up to Nay Aug Park over the weekend, as I haven't been there in a while. I'd also like to run up to the Sugarman's Flea Market on Saturday. There is absolutely nothing but junk there, but it's fun to look through it. Maybe I'll ask Kate to come with me.

Culling the CD Herd. Among the things I need to do is to go through my CDs and pull out those that are duplicates (for example, I now have two Supertramp "Best Of" CDs...although one is better than the other). I have someone I can give most of what I cull to; anything not worth giving will be donated. It's amazing how yo accumulate this kind of stuff over the years.

Speakers. I saw a pair of speakers at SonyStyle that I'm thinking about getting for my office audio/video gear. The only problem is that the are a tad bit big. I went through the whole late 70's/80's male fascination with enormous speakers. Now that I'm a bit older I don't need the ego boost, but having a bit more audio kick would be nice. Something contemplate. I certainly can't beat the price or Sony quality.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

At the Garden of Gethsemane

One of the most insightful (at least for me) biblical stories is found in the Gospel of Matthew, and deals with Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane. In case you are not overly familiar with the story, it takes place the day before the Crucifixion of Christ. The details aren't so important to this discussion, other than Christ goes to this garden to pray, knowing that he would be betrayed by Judas, turned over to the Romans, and ultimately put to death.

Now what's so insightful about that?

Consider This: According to Christian teaching, Christ...being God...knew that by going to Gethsemane he would ultimately be put to death. At any point he could have changed his path and spared his own life, but he chose not to. He consciously sacrificed his own life, if you believe in Christian teaching, for the greater good of all mankind.

Consider This: To this day, people make conscious choices that ultimately lead to their death. For example, Father Mychal F. Judge, a Franciscan priest, went into the south tower of the World Trade Center after it had been hit by an airplane to minister to the wounded. While history doesn't record whether or not he thought he would die, it's pretty clear he knew what he was doing was exceptionally dangerous.

In the final analysis, some of us will be faced with our own "Garden of Gethsemane", where we need to make a choice between self-preservation or preservation of the greater good. Ultimately that is the most personal of decisions that anyone can make, and furthermore I doubt any of us are prospectively capable of saying what we would do if put into that situation. There is, however, no greater love that can ever be expressed than through the thoughtful and conscious act of sacrificing oneself for the greater good.

Some Folks Just Don't Get It...

From ABC News...

Finally, ABC News reports that billionaire financier Allen Stamford has blasted his critics, suggesting that claims that he ran a Ponzi scheme are 'baloney, baloney, baloney'. In a tearful interview with ABC, Stamford, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, insisted that there were assets to back up client investments and reconfirmed that he would fight for his survival and integrity.

Stamford also added that 'I've always lived very frugally. I flew around in a private jet, I had a boat, but I've always lived very frugally'.


Maybe it was a small private jet and a small boat.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Question To A President

Times like this can easily take the wind out of your sails. For me, the potentially worst part is that you get into this mindset where you begin to believe that just about anything negative that happens to you at work is somehow now acceptable because "at least you have a job".

I was at an all day conference yesterday where the keynote speaker was the president of the division of the firm for which I work (gosh, that last phrase was really, really difficult to write). Anyway, her brief talk was about personal leadership, and after about 25 minutes she opened the session up to questions & answers. All of the questions asked up to just about the end had to do with issues other than leadership, so for reasons that I can't really understand, I felt compelled to ask a question that was "on topic". It went something like this...

"Chris, in times like this, where associates have worries about employment, declining savings, etc., the cheap and easy way to motivate people is to say something like 'at least you still have a job'; knowing that the cheap and easy way to motivate people isn't really effective over the long run, what recommendations do you have for motivating people in tough times?."

Regarding her answer, I'll first say that I don't think she was comfortable with the question. Thankfully in the grand scheme of things I am a nobody, so I highly doubt there will be any "why did Albert ask that question" fallout. Anyway, in her answer she talked about what motivates her as a person and leader, but in all candor, I can't say that she really answered my question about how to motivate others. Why? I honestly don't think she actually thinks about it. As is typical for senior "strategic" people, she's good when it comes to esoteric things like long-term market strategy, but less so when it comes down to the nut-n-bolts of facing people in tough times. In her defense, I don't think any of us are good at that sort of thing, but that's why I asked the question in the first place and that's why she makes my salary multiplied by twenty (or something like that).

Now the above may sound overly harsh, but it's not meant to be in the least. I simply don't think she has capability to think "down" to a level where someone actually has economic and career worries to the extent that an average person does. Sure, at a senior level you can find yourself unemployed, but at a high salary & lots of prior titles, you an always live off of savings/investments and hire a headhunter to help you find a job if the worst should happen. What's more, wealthy executives usually have spouses with professional/well paying jobs as well, so that's also a mitigating factor. That's certainly not true for the average worker, of which I consider myself to be in large part.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Evil




I was reading a bit of biographical information on the late Senator Hale Boggs when I came across this map, showing the status of school segregation in the United States during the 1950's.

Click on the map for a larger image.

You can also read a rationalization behind opposition to school desegregation here, in the "Southern Manifesto".

In the end, we are all captives of our conscience, but it's hard to believe anyone with a conscience could argue for required racial segregation.

Describing Sleep

What I think of when the subject of sleep comes to mind:
  • "Little slices of death" (I think it was Poe that said this...)
  • Unfortunate necessity
  • Conscious vacation
  • Pain-in-the-butt
  • Wish I didn't need to
  • Feeling ripped off (as in there should be more to it)
  • Not restful
  • Bad
Maybe I just don't get enough of it, although regardless of how tired I am, I usually wake myself up before an alarm ever goes off. Case in point: I went to bed at about 11:15pm last night and I woke up at about 4:45am this morning. Note that I didn't actually have to get up until about 5:30am-ish. By my count that's about five and a half hours, give or take. Probably not enough in the grand scheme of things, but more or less typical for me.

Did I sleep well last night? I don't really know. I had some vivid dreams, and while the details escape me, I don't think they were necessarily bad dreams. If anything, they probably had something to do with me solving some kind of problem, which is what most of my dreams center around. Clearly dreaming isn't a problem for me.

Now I will probably try to sleep late (or as late as such things happen for me) on Friday, as I have the day off. Maybe Mr Advil PM will lend a hand with that, as just one of those things really knocks me out. That's where I can maybe sleep in until about 8am or so. How freaky does that sound? "Sleep in until about 8am"; I know people that can sleep until about 11am or so on a regular basis if they had the opportunity.

One thing is for sure: if I'm this much of a nut with how much sleep I currently get, I wonder what I would be like with even less?

As I type this I have a very large (about 24+ pounds) domestic house cat sleeping about two feet from me, snoring. Go figure.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Evening

It's already Sunday evening, and I feel as if I've run a marathon over the past few days.

Part of the problem here is one of perception: what I view as being "busy" others may view as being "insane". Sometimes I need to be reminded on this, as was the case yesterday when I was talking to my friend Kay, who scolded me for a comment I made about myself that involved the word "sloth". As is usually the case with Kay, she was right. Anyway, here's a snapshot of today in my world:

5:50am
Woke up, but didn't want to admit that yet.

6:00am
Got out of bed and headed to the bathroom.

6:20am
Finished with shower, etc. Got dressed.

6:45am
Took Becca to work, as she "had to make the donuts".

7:15am
Returned home, with a copy of the Sunday Times under my arm.

7:15am - 8:30am
Read the paper, read the news on-line, caught up on various local message boards, ranted about Bishop Martino, etc.

8:30am - 10:00am
Usual Sunday cleaning...ran vacuum cleaner, washed dished, cleaned sink, changed cat litter, etc.

10:00am - 10:30am
Back at the computer to check email, etc.

10:30am - 11:45am
Went upstairs to take a nap & actually got about a good 30+ minutes of shut-eye.

11:45am - 3:00pm
Usual Sunday ritual of taking my mother to lunch and then grocery shopping. When we returned I helped my bother Chris move some things and then I fixed my mother's cellar door.

3:00pm - 4:00pm
Walked around Lake Scranton.

4:00pm - 5:30pm
Went to work to pick up a rental car (2008 Chevy HHR), went to the ATM to get some cash, deposited some money in Katrina's account, ran into the grocery store.

5:30pm - 6:15pm
Got home but discovered that I needed to go back to work to make come copies. So it's back to The Office.

6:15pm - 7:00pm
Get home and decide that I'm too tired to do much else, so I get changed into tattered lounging clothes (including an incredibly ripped up Cape May NJ shirt that I just love).

7:00pm - ??
At the computer, writing silly blog entries and killing time until the last moment before I have to fire up the ThinkPad and do some work in preparation for my trip to Hartford tomorrow.

Life is truly grand. For the record, bed-time will be somewhere around 11pm.