Not Cease from Exploration

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Update On My Brother

As rather cryptically alluded to on Friday, my younger brother is ill. Since we think the truly dangerous part has past, here's an update.

What Happened
My youngest brother lives with my mother, who coincidentally has been in the hospital to receive in-patient physical therapy for sever arthritis in her back and knee. Anyway, we believe that he came home from work on Wednesday evening at around midnight or thereabouts. As he started to get undressed for bed, he apparently suffered from a massive stroke, centered around the front right of his brain. As the stroke started, he fell very hard to the floor of his bedroom. One of my two other brothers (there are four of us in total) found him late Thursday afternoon, lying in a pool of vomit and blood. He immediately called me and we called my older brother. After a few minutes of trying to revive him, I called 911 and an ambulance was at the house well within ten minutes. The very professional ambulance crews (there were two) immobilized him and took him to Scranton's Community Medical Center (CMC), where there is a trauma unit. After arriving at CMC he was brought to the ER, where treatment began. Late Thursday evening he was brought to the ICU at CMC.

The Update
At first we were unsure as to what happened. It was after the first CT scan was completed that a stroke was identified as the cause. I've been up to see him every day (I am now doing the "Scranton Hospital Tour 2009", as I go from CMC to visit my brother to Mercy Hospital to visit my mother), and he is slowly regaining consciousness. The truly good news is three fold:

1. He is off of the respirator (they took that out late Saturday night)
2. Additional testing has indicated that he has not suffered from any bleeding in his brain
3. At this point he doesn't have any noticeable impairment on either side

He is also able to respond to basic questions by nodding his head and moving his hands. The longer term prognosis is a bit more cloudy, given that he's not yet able to speak. That (the speaking part) could be due to the tubes that were down his throat (he had a tube down for breathing and one to pump out his stomach) as much as anything else.

The Next Steps
He will be evaluated by the Neurologist today and probably a speech therapist tomorrow, as they think the stoke may have occurred near a speech center. With a little luck he will be moved to a regular hospital room tomorrow. From there it will be a slow process of recovery, with hopefully minimal lasting impairments.


My thanks to all who have expressed their kindness and concern over the past few days. It is greatly appreciated.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I Often Wonder and Struggle With...

...just what I "should" and "should not" write about in venues like this, particularly as they apply to people I know and people in my family. Quite simply I don't ever want to write something that might be offensive or intrusive into another's privacy. I wouldn't want that for myself, and by extension I wouldn't want someone else to feel that way either by virtue of something I wrote, good intentioned or not. Strange huh? I write a blog that is available (note that "available" and "actually viewed" are two different things) to millions of people, but yet I'm concerned about privacy. The two concepts don't always mesh well together.

Anyway, my youngest brother has suffered from a very serious medical problem, something that we discovered yesterday evening. This is something that's serious enough that we were worried for a while that it could be life-threatening, but it appears, at least at this stage, that he is now out of danger. It's far too early to know anything about a long-term prognosis, so now the focus is on getting him the best possible treatment.

Times like this it's often very difficult to put into words the images, thoughts and feeling that flow within your head. I've always that this is where art really becomes important. An artist can sometimes capture in a painting, in words, in music the most complex of things in the seemingly simplest of ways. So while it may seem corny, trite or even ridiculous, here's something of a dedication to my brother, with my very best thoughts, wishes, hopes and prayers for a speedy and full recovery...


Thursday, May 28, 2009

The GOP In 2009: A Three Issue Party

As I see it, the Republican Party in 2009 is basically just a three issue party. Would-be party members apparently must express the correct orthodoxy with regard to the three issues in order to avoid the dreaded "RINO" tag.

Issue 1 - Abortion
Required Stance - Be against it in every form, without exception.

Issue 2 - Guns
Required Stance - Be against any form of regulation or control, without exception.

Issue 3 - Gay Marriage
Required Stance - Be against it in every form, without exception.


Big Tent? Tents are for illegal immigrants (minor party issue: be against them).

Welcome to the world of the perpetual 30% minority, courtesy of the Rush Limbaugh's of this world.

Oh, personally I think government is too big and spends too much, I am for scrapping the current federal income tax system (and replacing it with something like a flat tax or even consumption based taxation) and I believe in a strong national defense. Too bad I there isn't a party that stands for what I believe in these days.

Road Apples, #29

My Favorite Time of the Day is in the morning, between about 6:15 - 7:30am (now actually). I seem to have the most energy, I am the most alert, and my mind is usually thinking both prospectively at the day as well as at deeper things.

In The Proud Dad Department - My middle daughter Korin was inducted into the National Honor Society at school last night. The second of my daughters to receive this honor (Katrina was in it while in high school as well). My youngest daughter, Rebecca, will no doubt be inducted next year as well. Sometimes it's easy to lose perspective on your own children when you face the daily trials and tribulations of lost makeup, linty skirts, upsetting friends and sibling rivalries. However, when I take a step back and look, I see that I'm truly blessed with wonderful (all be it messy) children.

At Work - It's been a difficult week at work, despite the holiday. The past two days have featured schedules whereby I'm basically in meetings or on calls all day, not leaving time for lunch or anything else. What I like to do is to take my lunch time and use it to workout in our gym, then working through the normal lunch time. However I haven't been able to do that as I haven't really had any lunch time. An added complexity is the fact that I'm working on a large-scale technology project, and it is reminding me of another project I worked on last year. That's bad. Why? Because that particular project featured me just basically being buried alive in work that ended up not making much of a difference. It's one thing to work hard and see results; it's another to work hard for almost nothing. Nothing is the operative word there, as I put in countless extra hours into this project (evenings, weekends) and I really didn't get anything for for it...sure there was a little "thank you" bonus, that after taxes that didn't even come close to compensating me for the extra time I put into the project. Yeah, I get it - this is my job - but you know what? At some point in time there has to be some equality. I shouldn't be swinging from the rafters while others are enjoying 9-5ers.

Judge Sotomayor - I hear that the Limbaugh's of this world are ready to castigate Judge Sotomayor as being guilty of "new racism". Is it me, or does that not sound pathetic? Look, judge her based on her qualifications, but seriously, a bunch of old white guys calling a Latino woman a racist is a bit of a tough nugget to swallow. It's especially difficult to swallow coming from Limbaugh, who, if you listen to him for any length of time (as I have), you get the distinct impression that his middle name is "misogynist". Yes, I am sure that there are millions of older white folks nodding their heads in agreement with Rush every time he opens his mouth, but that just proves why we need a diverse Supreme Court: this country - whether the Rushies like it or not - is filled with more than just older white folks. Personally I disagree with Judge Sotomayor on the New Haven (I think it was New Haven) firefighters case, but unlike Limbaugh, I don't view someone who disagrees with me as being unqualified for the federal bench.

Physically - I am a train wreck. I've not been exercising (see above) and my eating habits have left a lot to be desired. I use lots of excuses, but at the end of the day there are not (real) excuses. At 45 years of age I need to grow the hell up, accept full responsibility for my own actions and start readying myself for the second half of my life. It's that simple. Change, as I've often noted, is very difficult for some of us. For me, a lot of these kinds of physical changes are not really physical changes, the are instead physical manifestations of mental changes. I learned that a long time about about weight loss: It's not a physical activity in as much as it its a psychological one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In The "You Need To Pay Attention" Department...

...we have two recent events in the news:

North Korean Nuclear Test
Having grown up during the Cold War, I read about the threat of nuclear war and saw many a movie-story-TV show that had this as its theme. However in hindsight, I think most of us now realize that our "enemy", the Russians, we as much afraid of nuclear war as we were, and were at least as sane as we were in terms of being careful not to cross certain lines of propriety. There are no such bets with North Korea though. Simply put, the folks running that regime don't seem to give a crap about anything but themselves. To the extent that they care about their own survival I think things stay more or less in check. The moment though when they reach that point where it becomes a mentality of "what have I got to lose?" then we should all be worried. These are dangerous folks.

I heard a caller to a local radio show say that we should "bomb them (the North Koreans) into the stone age", which I think is as much a statement of frustration as it is idiocy. I get the distinct impression that the North Korean leadership wants a conflict. Maybe they will get one after all, but all of us should be paying attention.


President Obama Nominates Judge Sotomayor To The Supreme Court
I've not read much about Judge Sotomayor's record yet, but I will over the next day or so. One thing is for sure: ultra-right wing politicians and assorted lackies (including Entertainer Rush Limbaugh) wouldn't be happy unless the President nominated an old, white, born-again Christian to the Supreme Court, so a fight for this nomination would be happening regardless of who was nominated. Personally I find Judge Sotomayor's personal story, including being raised by a single parent in poverty, living with diabetes, etc. to be very compelling.

Will she be "too liberal" for Senate Republicans? Yes, but note that former Senators Rick Santorum and Bill Frist voted in favor of her nomination to the bench in the past. I do hope that comes out loud and clear and the days and weeks go by.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Monday-esque Tuesday


I'm not sure if I actually like having an extra day off. Maybe that's part of this compulsive drive in me that resists any and every derivation from the "norm" of my daily routine. I know, I know, humans are almost genetically wired to routines - it's what we do. The routine - any routine - gives us some sense of comfort, knowing that we can more or less predict, within fairly broad parameters, what will be happening next.

Anyway, yesterday was one of those non-routine days, leaving today to be a "Monday-esque" Tuesday. I'll try and comfort myself with the knowledge that I'm already one day ahead towards the weekend, but then again the weekends don't always provide all that much comfort in the grand scheme of things. In fact, there is a certain amount of self-imposed stress associated with the weekends for me, a gnawing pain related to not doing all the things I probably should be doing (and doing less of others, which these days mainly consists of eating). Is it any wonder I wouldn't wish the inside of my head on anyone else? Maybe I do need to take up meditation.

Back to yesterday.

What was my day like?

I woke up at about 6:30am

I washed dishes and did some other things inside the house, and then I bought and then read the paper.

I did all the yard work (cut the grass, weed-whacked, cleaned up using the blower)

I went and visited my mother in the hospital (she is in rehab due to very bad arthritis)

I went back home in order to take Rebecca to work

I went by myself to see "Terminator: Salvation" at Cinemark; pretty decent movie...as long as you don't mind virtually nothing in the character development department BUT you are really into killer-cyborgs

I picked Rebecca up from work

I switched briefcases (I have two that I use...and sometimes I just like to switch them for no particular reason)

I loafed around the rest of the evening, watching TV, etc.


Not exactly the stuff of a highly productive individual, and no wonder I'm still a manager at work (someone who was Director-material probably would have logged in and checked email during the evening).

What didn't I do that needed to do? Get my bike up from the basement, clean it off, lubricate the chain and other parts and get it ready for riding. I've had that on my list for quite a while now, and it's still sitting in the basement. Why? I don't know.

Why? I don't know. That pretty much sums it up. Well I suppose I could take some time and try and "know". Part of that has to do with my personality. I'm an exceptionally introverted person, so being at work and having to be "on" for 8+ hours takes a toll on me, mentally and emotionally. That leaves me with not a lot in the energy department once I get home. That leads, in part, to the not having the desire to do much in the evening. Pretty lame excuse, I know, but it's the best one I can think of at the moment.

Well it's off to my Monday-esque Tuesday. Time to be "on". Funny, as I write about this, I think of a Hamster on a wheel in its cage, running around and around, but yet going nowhere. When I was a kid I would laugh at how hard the Hamster would run on the wheel, going nowhere; now I'm an adult and I run pretty damn hard myself, but yet where am I going? Perhaps I was a bit too hard on the Hamster.

Monday, May 25, 2009

You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At Its Cover

Forget the old saying, there is a terrific Willie Dixon song with the above title that's been covered by several artists, including Eric Clapton and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Before I go any further, I want to state for the record that I absolutely can't stand TV shows like American Idol and by extension all of it's parents, clones and children. That noted, I find the whole Susan Boyle story at least moderately interesting. If you are not familiar with this, check out the latest on Scotland's finest voice here: Susan Boyle Video.

Just why we, as a species, are seemingly wired to like certain looks while having disdain for others is beyond me. Sure, no one wants to be around someone who, for example, smells, but once you get past basic issues of hygiene, it's pretty clear that there are certain things that society views as "pretty" while certain other things are "ugly". All the more reason why Susan Boyle is an interesting phenomenon. Sure, she has an almost angelic voice, but it's hard to get past the fact that she doesn't look "pretty" per what society seems to value. That makes the whole story that much more interesting: visually many are turned away, only to be drawn back by her voice.

Anyway, in some way Susan Boyle is a hero to anyone and everyone who has spent (all or part of) their lives not being the "pretty" one. Once in a while we need these kinds of reminders.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Scranton Mayoral Election, Part II

So, why did Gary DiBileo, a truly nice guy, not win the Scranton Mayoral Primary against incumbent Chris Doherty?

After all, Gary had several things going for him, including:
  • A "throw the bums out" mood among the electorate
  • City Democratic Party endorsement
  • Seemingly high negatives against the incumbent (especially among uniformed city employees)
  • The ability to piggy-back with a popular city council candidate, namely Janet Evans
But yet there was no victory, and in fact it appears that Gary actually lost this election by a wider margin than he did when he last ran against Mayor Doherty.

As is the case for a lot of things in life, I suspect that the reasons for this outcome are more complex than most of us realize. Also, don't buy the "he was outspent by Doherty" rhetoric you will see on various sundry message boards; outside of actually buying votes, spending money on campaigns doesn't guarantee success. What's more, while Gary lacked the Mayor's ability to spend money on media, he (Gary) had something that helped to even the playing field: the hour long anti-Doherty commercial known as "Citizens participation during Scranton City Council meetings", which is something that was running long before Gary even announced and which didn't cost him a red cent.

No, I think the chief reason why Gary lost was pretty simple: voters (outside of uniformed city employees who are being harmed economically by the Mayor) didn't have a compelling reason to vote for him. There are couple of sub-facets to this:
  • Taxes - Sure, Gary touted "no more 25% tax hikes", but if you are a city taxpayer (as I am), it's difficult to perceive how my taxes actually went up by 25%. Yes, a few years ago my wage tax went up a little bit, but hell, so did my state tax.
  • New Kind of Political (but with an Old Kind of Political Approach) - It's tough to run as the outsider when you carry your city party endorsement. I don't know who is responsible for the endorsements coming out of the city Democratic Party, but I strongly suspect that it's very much "smokey back room" kind of stuff. Pardon me, but that screams "Politics as usual" to me, not "new kind of politician". I think the Mayor's failure to win an endorsement actually helped his campaign by blunting some of the "throw the bums out" sentiment.
  • Things Are Bad? - Gary was trying to paint a picture of stormy weather approaching when most people are already in the middle of an economic hurricane. Case in point - The bonus I received in February was 52% less than the year before; that's my economic issue, not the fact that the police haven't had a raise in umpteen years.
  • Checks and Balances - By voting in a new majority into City Council (under Ms Evans leadership), I think many voters felt that the excesses of the Mayor could be curbed while maintaining the positives. If that's the case, why throw the Mayor out?
  • The Respect Card - Gary tried to paint the Mayor as being disrespectful of city residents. The problem is that most Scranton residents knew the "city residents" he was referring to were frequent City Council speakers. Now I have no beef with anyone who wants to engage their local government on important issues, but come on, let's be serious for a moment - you see the same faces week after week at Council meetings, and it's clear that this small group is on a perpetual Doherty "seek and destroy" mission. Yes, those individuals may have legitimate issues to argue, but it's hard to paint a picture of them being representative of all city residents. In point of fact, they are not representative of anyone other than themselves. Also, while these individuals regularly berate the Mayor week after week, I've never actually seen or heard the Mayor be disrespectful to these same individuals (that's not true of certain City Council members); in fact, the Mayor seems pretty good at respectfully ignoring people who criticize him. All this adds up to the fact that, in my opinion, Gary's "respect card" carried zero weight. He was raising an issue that simply didn't exist in most people's minds.

Hey, all of this is just my dopey opinion, so take it for what it is worth. In the final analysis, the political process is a lot like making hotdogs: it's not pretty. So I wish Gary DiBileo well in all of his future endeavors; he's a good guy who definitely shouldn't finish last. As for Mayor Doherty, well let's all hope that this election provided the incentive for him to work with the new City Council majority for a better Scranton.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Road Apples, #28

The Week That Was - Well in five days I ended up working in three different states this week. Needless to say, it was a tiring week. I was in Woodbridge on Monday night/Tuesday for a planning meeting and in Hartford on Thursday night/Friday to facilitate a training class. Now I've got to catch up on all the things I needed to do over the week, including cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. On the good news front, I slept well when I was traveling. Also on the good news front I have Monday off, so I don't need to try and cram everything into two days. Hell, I may even treat myself and run up to the flea market on Sunday morning. I know, that sounds so very rural, but I like rooting around in other people's junk. You never know what you might find.

Rental Car - The rental car I had on Thursday/Friday was a brand spank'n new 2010 Hyundai Sonata. In fact, I think I may have been the first person to rent it. Nice car, and I greatly appreciated the nearly 500 mile cruising range and 30+ mpg highway. The controls were okay, and in terms of comfort, I'd give it a rating of about 'B'.

Everything Is Coming Up Roses - Well my two rose bushes are healthy, and one is very, very close to being in bloom. I'll have to take some pictures. It's been a pitched battle against the aphids, but with the help of the wonderful folks at Bayer Chemicals, I think I have the upper hand. I have some space between a tree and my one rose bush, so I'm thinking of planting some more bushes in the not-too-distant future. Roses would be nice, but I'm not sure. I was even wondering how some heather would look there, but again, this all requires a certain level of contemplation.

President Obama - is discovering that campaigning is easier than governing. No where is this more evident than when it comes to the infamous "Gitmo" closure issue. Bottom line though, at least for me, is that the place needs to close, period. It's a symbol of an America that screams "do as I say, not as I do" to the rest of the world, and I dare think we are better than that.

Dick Cheney - is in the news again lately, talking about how President Obama is making America less safe and such. I heard a comedian say the following about the former Vice President, and I think it was spot on: Dick Cheney is the kind of guy that will go with you to a bar, start a fight, and then just when punches are about to start and fly, he grabs your coat and says "I'll hold this for you". True, very true. The guy with FIVE (count'm 1-2-3-4-5) draft deferrals continues to be the biggest chicken hawk on the block. Why anyone would give this guy an ounce of credibility is beyond me. Now I didn't vote for John McCain in the last election, but when he (Senator McCain) talks about national defense and things like torture, I listen, as the man has credibility. Cheney has, to quote Dean Wormer (from Animal House) "zero point zero" credibility.

...And In Local Political News - The fallout continues from the recent Scranton primary (well really final) elections. I'll have more to say on this later.

Hayna Gulch - I re-found this site a few days ago, and it's well worth a reading (especially if you are not from Wilkes-Barre): NEPA Lingo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scranton Mayoral Election

Time are hard
You're afraid the pay the fee
So you find yourself somebody
Who will do the job for free

- Dirty Work/Steely Dan


Now the song "Dirty Work" is actually about a guy who has an affair with a married woman, but I always think of political campaigns whenever I hear the first verse. No where was that more evident than in the Scranton mayoral election, where you had more than a few proxies acting on behalf of the candidates, especially Gary DiBileo.

First let me say that. while I've never met Gary DiBileo, in typical small town fashion "I know people that know him", and everything I've heard is good. Professionally the guy has nothing short of an outstanding reputation as a top notch insurance agent. Based on that, he is probably a natural political candidate, and he has been somewhat successful over the years, winning at least one election for Scranton City Council. So what happened this time?

I'm sure there will be much message board posting about how Gary wasn't a good candidate, and I simply don't buy that; in fact, I think he ran a pretty good campaign, all things considered. So again, what happened this time? Well I think there were two factors at work here:
  1. While Gary was a good candidate, Chris Doherty was a better candidate. Put another way, Gary was up against someone in Doherty who is simply really, really good at winning elections. Chris Doherty is a smart and savvy guy with great instincts. How good? Consider this: in a political season of "get the bums out", he actually almost doubled his victory margin against Gary when compared on the 2005 election.
  2. Gary couldn't resolve the disconnect in his message, specifically that of "I'm the endorsed Democratic candidate AND I'm not part of the old political business-as-usual way of doing things around here". In point of fact, local political party endorsements are the classic stuff of smoke-filled backroom deals, not exactly "new kind of politician" stuff.
It also didn't help that Doherty was able to paint Gary as basically a tool of the municipal unions.

Regardless, I think it was a relatively clean race, at least as far as the official campaigns were concerned.

More to come...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's Election Day, So I'm Going To Write About...Cars


There will be enough political ruminating to go around over the next few days, so why I'd just as soon talk about something else, namely cars.

Now I actually own three cars: a PT Cruiser, a Saturn Vue and a Chevy Cavalier. As part of my job I often have to drive to other offices in northeast, mainly in New Jersey and Connecticut. Now I could drive one of my own cars, but instead I usually rent a car. My last two rentals have been a Chevy HHRs.

Interestingly enough, the HHR is something of a cousin to the PT Cruiser, as I understand they were both designed by the same person (who worked for Chrysler but then was later hired by GM). There is something a family resemblance between the two cars, as both are famous (or infamous) for their retro style. There are also similar styling cues in the interior, with rounded vents, and "ball" shifter (although one of my HHR rentals didn't have the ball). Appearances aside, there are some distinct differences between the two vehicles:

Size -
Length...HHR is longer
Width...PT Cruiser is wider

MPG/Cruising Range -
HHR has an enormous cruising range...I made a round trip to and from Islen NJ with almost a half tank top spare; best guess...the HHR could probably go 400+ miles at highway speed; I'm thinking a highway milage of about 30-33 mpg;
My PT Cruiser gets, at best, about 25 mpg on the highway with a good tailwind; the cruising range is about 100 less than the HHR;

Handling -
HHR has predictable handling and decent acceleration for it's hard-working 4 cylinder engine;
My PT Cruiser has almost pitiful acceleration, but Cruisers with a Turbo Charger move very quickly. Cruisers are also well known for having fairly wide turning circles;

Controls -
The 2006+ PT Cruiser (which I have driven on several occasions) has, in my opinion, blan...almost horrible controls. I much prefer the 2005 and earlier PT Cruiser controls, as I think they are both functional and better in keeping with the overall aesthetic of the of vehicle. The HHR's controls remind me of the 2006 + Cruiser...namely boring.

Comfort -
The Cruiser winds, hands down. I hit my head about three times getting into and out of the HHR, with it's strangely low door openings. The HHR suffers from a worse view in the rear, with a smaller rear window that is even more obscured by rear head-rests. Seating wise, both cars have high roof lines and "chair" seating. If you are looking for Buick-esque comfort you won't find it in either car.

Now, which "cousin" do I prefer? Well maybe I am slightly biased, but while I give the HHR higher overall marks for functionality, the PT Cruiser seems to have more "soul". I'm not sure if that means much, as the HHR has actually won the market race: it continues to be produced (and in fact HHR sales are actually up in 2009 vs 2008...one of the few vehicles to achieve this) while Chrysler has actually killed the PT Cruiser.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fond Memories

A few very fond memories, in no particular order and for no particular reason:

Working At 4H Camp - I did this during two summers when I was 15 & 16. It was the best time of my life. I worked hard but I had a chance to be independent, really for the first time.

Visiting Penn State Harrisburg - I visited the campus with my friend Tom Doherty, during the summer (I think) of 1984. I had already been accepted to the school, so the visit was something of a mute point, but once I was there, to paraphrase Brigham Young I knew that "this was the place".

Attending Penn State Harrisburg - Amazing in that I have very few real memories from my first two years of college, but I have plenty from my last two. PSH will always be a very special place for me.

My Fist "Real" Job - I remember this strange mixture of terror and fascination when I started my first real job after college, working for (what was, at the time) S. Grumbacher & Son. The person that hired me was Connie Lewski.

Farewell Lunch - When I was leaving my trainee position for a job at the Bon Ton Carlisle store, my Director at the time, Deb Forsythe took me out to lunch. That was classy. She was a very, very tough boss, but she was fair & I was honored that she did this for me.

First Day At Scranton Office - When I began working for Prudential, I worked for my first ten months in the Florham Park NJ office and then moved to the Scranton office once it was finished. I still remember walking into that (at the time) brand new building for the first time. It even smelled new, and it seemed so very, very big. 19 years later and I'm still there, the office has actually grown, and I still remember the amazement I felt walking in there for the first time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

President Obama to Speak at Notre Dame

Story Link Here.

If you subscribe to the extreme wing of the Roman Catholic Church, you no doubt believe that it is a great shame on the University of Notre Dame that President Barack Obama will be speaking at today's commencement ceremonies. After all, this same wing believes that President Obama is nothing more than a strident baby-killer, an enemy of life who should have no right to even step foot on the nation's most famous Catholic institution of higher learning. I mean what right does "that man" have to pedal his values at an institution that should exemplify the values of the Catholic Church?

I would believe the above if Notre Dame exist exclusively as a religious institution. However, it does not.

Like it or not, Notre Dame may be run by the Catholic Church, but it not a Catholic Church in and of itself. It is an institution of HIGHER LEARNING. In the world of HIGHER LEARNING, we are taught that differing opinions are not to be feared, but shared. By comparing and contrasting ideas we, in effect, learn. The very basis of the Scientific Method, a foundation of higher learning at all levels, is to develop different hypothesis and test them; it's not to develop only hypothesis that conform to certain dogma and blindly accept only those that your elders tell you to accept. Yes, in my opinion, there is a distinct difference between what a University does, and what a Church does. If President Obama were, instead of speaking to a University commencement speaking to a Catholic congregation, I could very easily agree with the argument that he should be prevented from appearing. That's simply not the case.

There is another compelling argument here as well. The administration of Notre Dame does describe itself as being the same as a Catholic church. Unlike a Catholic church, the University accepts governmental money (in the form of grants and loans to students) and students from other faiths. That makes it different than a purely religious institution. As a matter of public policy, there is no higher public official than the President of the United States. To hear some Catholic leaders, such as Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino, speak you would be left with the impression every single brick, door, window, word, thought and idea at Notre Dame should be compelled to completely and entirely agree with Catholic dogma. In point of fact, I am sure that there are books in the libraries at Notre Dame that are critical of the Catholic faith. If that's the case, then clearly dogma doesn't run every element of the University, so arguing against President Obama speaking purely on dogmatic grounds seems disingenuous.

The members of the graduating class of Notre Dame get the chance today to hear the leader of the free world speak to them directly. That's cause for celebration, not shame.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Still Skipping the Light Fandango

It's strange really: I've actually had so much in my head lately that I've not been able to write about it, if that makes any sense whatsoever. In fact, my last post wasn't really a current posting at all in that I had actually written it (in longhand) while in Hartford during the week.

Anyway, I'm sitting here now, my typical Saturday all screwed up, waiting for a seemingly nasty thunderstorm to start. Well maybe start, as these things do have a habit of petering out before they get here. That's one of the good things about living where I do: the weather is more moderate that you think, and certainly more moderate than in other parts of Pennsylvania. If it does start to rain and it looks bad, I may need to bail on this.

So what's with all the crap running through my head?

Well for starters, some of this comes from the simple routine change that for me has a habit of frying a small number of neurons. That's not a good thing. It's too easy for me to fall into patterns, some of which are not all that healthy. The past week has been a test case in routine change, what with being away most of the week and then my normal weekend routine being altered somewhat.

Another part of the equation comes from the fact that we did a lot of "personality typing" kind of work during the week. My department does that kind of stuff for our business (i.e., using tools like Myers-Briggs to help teams function better), and often-times we use ourselves as lab-rats for new tools. One of those tools I described yesterday, namely FIRO-B. Now that really has dug deep into my skull for some reason. I think it really, really showed just how extremely introverted and affection-less I can be. I'm still not sure what to do with that one. Classically speaking, we are taught that "you are who you are, and every (personality) type has a role to play in a business/personal environment", but yet there are definitely traits that are considered better than others in the real world of existence. Since being a professional hermit is probably not in the offing, I need to deal with this stuff.

Another part of the equation comes from the dynamic of my larger family, where there are some individuals who I am close to with some pretty serious mental and physical health issues. The independent streak in me wants to believe that this sort of thing shouldn't have an impact on me. As the Paul Simon song goes:

"I am a rock, I am an island"

...but that's not reality. None of are are islands onto ourselves, and life, being the complex thing that it is, would never allow that to happen. The simple fact is this: when it come dealing with these kinds of issues, concept is far easier to grasp than reality. What to do? I really don't know.

Okay, that's enough mental rumination for now. Time to move on to bigger and better things, like, well, I don't really know.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Note From The Road

Preface
This was something I wrote on Tuesday evening in the hotel room. Now I could have posted it then, but I'm very cautious about even the perception that I might be using my work laptop for personal use, so I wrote it out long-hand and am re-typing it here.


FIRO-B is the "Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation - Behavior" tool that is designed to help people explore their impact as a leader on effective group/team functioning. Note that the term "team" as used here is a fairly broad concept - it could be your individual work-group (the people you work with daily) or it could be your larger organization (the group that your individual team belongs to).

Anyway, I recently took this assessment and participated in a debriefing session on Monday afternoon. The results were not too surprising. Not to make things too complicated for a reasonably sized blog entry, but as part of the results you get this assessment/description of your overall interpersonal orientation. After reading mine, I'm thinking that either:

a. I'm in the wrong line of work
OR
b. I need to be institutionalized

Anyway, for sake of completing this thought, here is the overall description of my interpersonal orientation:

"You likely feel little need for involvement from others. You probably have a strong preference for working alone and tend to be close to relatively few people."

Now along with this description is a scoring system, with a maximum of 54; my score? Why it was 9. Yes, I couldn't even crack double digits.

Maybe there is a job opening for a hermit or bridge troll that I could post for somewhere within the company.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm Baaaaacccckkkkk

I've been away for a few days because, well, I've been away for a few days. The "where" was Hartford, Connecticut. The "why" was a series of meetings spread out over four days. Well actually three, as the meetings I was supposed to have today were canceled, so I was able to get back to Scranton a few hours early. That was a good thing.

Traveling takes it toll on me, as do the long meetings. I'm a fairly extreme introvert, which I know is strange given my occupation (trainer), but never the less being "on" like this for days on end is very difficult. Make that exceptionally difficult. Making it worse is the fact that my diet gets all screwed up (eating things I don't normally eat, in much larger quantities), I don't have time to workout, and sleeping can be difficult.

The sleeping thing is interesting, as I usually don't have a problem sleeping, but I tend to get up horribly early. This past week, I woke up anywhere between 4:30am - 4:50am. I think the reason is that it's embedded in the back of my skull that I must not over sleep, and as a result I'm almost hyper-sensitive about the time. The bizarre thing is that I NEVER over sleep, ever.

Anyway, as dysfunctional as home can be, I'm still glad to be back.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers Day, 2009


Mothers Day is one of those occasions where, despite the best efforts of commercializers around the world, still really means something. That's a very, very good thing.

I've often contemplated just how complicated we've managed to make this work that we live in these days. It seems that nothing is easy, direct, and honest. Motherhood seems to be one of the exceptions to this sad trend.

In my very humble estimation, the act of being a mother represents the very best that our species could ever hope to accomplish. It exemplifies all the things that really matter most: self-sacrifice, caring, nurturing, leading by example and most importantly, love.

Now this isn't to say or claim that every mother is a good mother and that the act of giving birth is solely what defines motherhood, because it isn't. Being a mother is far more than a biological act: it is a moral, spiritual & loving act more than anything else.

So to the small number of mothers that might wander onto this page and read this post I say "Happy Mothers Day"!

Friday, May 8, 2009

I Hate Apple (A Tech Rant)


Very good Apple satire video, courtesy of Hulu, here.

Okay, saying that I "hate" Apple is a bit strong, after all I have bought numerous IPods for my girls over the years (in fact, I think I span all but one of the Nano generations...I never did buy one of those stout models). However I would never buy an Apple product for myself. Why? Apple has this habit of making products so simple that I find them annoying. Nowhere is that more evident than with iTunes, which I've banned from my laptop all together. I want to be the one who decides what goes on my mp3 player, not someone else (and especially not iTunes). I have a ton of songs I don't listen to very often, so it's far more convenient for me to simply drop and drag the files onto my Creative Labs Zen player.

iPhone? Hell no. That screams "trendy", but the thing is enormous. What's more, as an early adapter of touch screen technology (I had a Palm Treo 600...one of the first true touch-screen phones), I know first hand how fragile that technology is, although some of the newer phones from LG and Samsung look pretty durable actually.

Macs? I'm sorry, but I'm not a Screen Writer, I don't play with graphics all day and I like to be able to actually get software for my computers, so that's another Apple train I will not be getting on any time soon. I rather like my Sony Vaio, thank you very much, complete with the "less than perfect but perfectly functional" Windows Vista operating system. Another pet peeve? The new, light Mac laptop has a battery that can not be removed by the owner. Think about that: what is the shelf-life of a laptop battery? This thing has to be sent back to the manufacturer to get the battery replaced. I'm sorry, but that sounds incredibly stupid to me.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Diocese to Close Two More Schools

The latest round of Corporate...I mean Diocese of Scranton...cost cutting measures were "discovered" by the media yesterday. Article here.

I posted the following story comment...



A friend of mine at work (who has two children that attend one of these schools) told me about these closings yesterday. How did she find out about this?

Was there a letter from the Bishop to the parents? NO

Was there a letter from the Diocese Education office? NO

Did Bishop Martino or a representative of his hold a meeting with the parents to explain the closing? NO

Was there any kind of out-reach on the part of the Bishop or one his representatives? NO


The parent in question heard about this closing...one which has a big impact on her, her husband and her children...in the news.

Proof, yet again, that Bishop Martino places the thoughts, opinions, aspirations, needs and concerns of HIS FLOCK well below that of his own desire for blind obedience and control. Oh and please, let's not blame this one on the "big bad Bishop hating media"; the Diocese had to have been planning this closing for a while...they simply made the CHOICE not to tell parents and students about it.

As I have said on more than one occasion in article comments, this is another example of someone acting like a cut-throat Corporate Executive, not the Shepherd of a Flock. Yes, we all know that running schools is expensive, and perhaps these schools should close...but Bishop Martino seems more interested in the exercise of POWER (to unilaterally close schools) than he is in the exercise of COMPASSION (for those in his flock who are deeply impacted by this change).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Second Funniest Show On TV Involving Scranton

What was I watching last night?

- There were dramatic allegations of fraud
- Impassioned speeches about the rights of the down-trodden
- Quasi-literate politicians rambling to no end
- The mentally retarded spoke their minds
- A lady was wearing an overly small plastic fireman's hat
- There were not-so-subtle political endorsements
- There was an arrest

Yes, I watched the Scranton City Council meeting last night on public-access TV. Second funniest show involving Scranton on TV today, right after "The Office".

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Road Apples, #27

Luzerne County Judges...Is it me, or are there 562 people running for judge in Luzerne County? Precisely how many judge-ships are open "down the line", 80?

Jack Kemp passed away over the weekend. Kemp was one of those rare hard-core social conservatives that I could relate to, if for no other reason than his early embrace of civil rights. The GOP lost a good one. Rest in peace quarterback.

Scranton Mayoral race is heating up. With about two weeks to go, the candidates (incumbent Chris Doherty and challenger Gary DiBileo) are now starting to spend the cash. Conventional wisdom is that Doherty has far more cash than DiBileo. Regardless, this is one election I'd like to see over and done with, sooner rather than later. Unfortunately that will not be the case, as both candidates are likely to launch write-in campaigns for the Fall general election if they fail to win in the primary. As a side note, both candidates are spending all this money for a job that pays $50,000/year. That's not what I would call a lot of money.

Pensions...There is a lot of talk about how various judges and others who have been charged with committing various sundry crimes should be forced to give up pensions. Note to the talking media heads: it doesn't work that way.
  • First, NO ONE...NO MATTER HOW APPARENTLY SLEAZY...should be treated as being guilty until they are convicted. In this country you are innocent until proven guilty, even if you are apparently a scum-bag who throws kids in jail in order to line your own pocket.
  • Second, a law called ERISA sets forth the very specific rules by which a pension can be attached or forfeited. It's not as simple as "you are bad, therefore no pension for you". In many cases, the money being talked about consisted of wages paid but then deferred, not money contributed by the employer, so taking that away is akin to reaching into the bank account of the accused and taking money from their savings account.
I have no sympathy for public officials who abuse their positions, and even less (read: zero) sympathy for individuals trusted with the welfare of children who end up harming those same children. But we are a society governed by laws, and the system works precisely because it apples to everyone. Time for the talking heads to climb off the soapboxes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Daddy, What's A Newspaper?

I love reading the newspaper. In fact, reading the paper is one of those very few consistent things that has stayed with me from childhood until now. These days I always read The Scranton Times, every day. Some days I also will read USA Today, and when I travel I always read the Wall Street Journal.

Why?

There are obvious reasons why I like to read the paper, including this silly notion that being well informed is good for one's moral fiber. It's also a very tactile experience: opening up the paper, folding it, following stories between pages, etc. requires a certain amount of very small effort, but the effort itself is part of the experience. There is also a certain feel to the newspaper, a non-sanitary experience where you end up with ink on your fingers. It's as if there is this cost exacted for getting this information, over and above the actual cost of the paper itself.

Now I also am a voracious reading of the news on-line. I'm checking mainly Drudge, MSNBC, or FoxNews throughout the day, most days. However, the experience is much, much different when reading the news on-line. That difference is hard to quantify, other than to say that it feels less personal and more sterile. Your fingers can't feel the paper when your fingers are simply clicking on a mouse. Sure, you can't beat the Internet for the sheer volume and immediacy of the news, but those two benefits come at the cost of this sterility.

Why the rant?

I heard on the news this morning (ironic that I "heard" it on the radio) that there is a lot of turmoil in Boston between the management and the employees of The Boston Globe over contract concessions, etc. Like many newspapers, The Globe is suffering in the Internet information age from a generational gap. I can testify to this fact myself: none of my three daughters (ages 15, 16 & 21) regularly read the newspaper, although all three are what I would consider to be well informed for their ages. Yes, this generation has grown up with the notion that information is something that is delivered via a screen. That's a shame, although I'm not quite sure what, if anything, can be done about it.

Shame.

One of the things that newspapers can still do that the Internet can't is to provide local news in most markets. Now if you live in a major city, such as New York, Philadelphia or Boston, I'm sure that there are credible on-line (only) sources for local news. However, in a small market like Scranton, that simply doesn't exist. In fact, I'd dare say that you could go up-market to a place like Hartford CT and not find credible local news sourced. It does make you wonder where all of this goes.

In the end, this is as much a rant about getting older as it is about the news. You see, one of the things you see vividly when you "grow up" is that some of the institution that you thought were so much bigger than you...things like schools for example...in reality are not so big and in fact are transitory. My high school does not exist any more. The parish I grew up in will cease to exist in a year or two. Will the newspaper be the next institution to not outlive me? It's a sad thought on a personal level, but on a more practical note it's even sadder: how many folks out there will not be paying attention to what is going on without the benefit of a local newspaper?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Good Rush - Bad Rush


Because it's important to remember that there are two of them...

Politicians & Political Rules: What Happens When the Fox Manages the Chicken Farm

In America we like to think that we have the democracy thing down pat. We don't. In fact when you look at the political process in Pennsylvania (for example), you realize that politicians create political rules that are advantageous to them, not necessarily to good government.

Right off the top of my head I can think of three examples that demonstrate this is graphic detail:
  1. Cross-Filing - Happens very often in School Board races. Maybe someone can explain how it's logically possible to run as both a Democrat and a Republican at the same time.
  2. Party-Line Lever Vote - Amazing how in Pennsylvania you can vote without thinking, simply by clicking on the box (or pulling the level) for the party-line vote. I'd love to do an NCIS-esque head-slap on the next person I see doing this.
  3. Excluded Independents - Anyone registered as an Independent in Pennsylvania can't vote in the primary election. How is this not a form of disenfranchisement? The only reason I'm registered as a Democrat is because I want to vote in the primary. In reality I should be a registered Independent.
One of the biggest flaws in the American psyche is the fact that we find the process of admitting our mistakes to be painful at best, fatal at worst.

Excellent Editorial, The Scranton (Sunday) Times

I don't want to get into the business of simply expressing an opinion by pasting someone else's, but I do think this editorial makes some really good points. Well worth the two minutes or so required to read it.

Right’s politics of contraction

The timing was coincidental, but there were parallels last week in Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection from the Republican Party and Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino’s public assertion that he might eventually bar Sen. Bob Casey from receiving Holy Communion.

Published: Sunday, May 3, 2009 4:16 AM EDT
The timing was coincidental, but there were parallels last week in Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection from the Republican Party and Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino’s public assertion that he might eventually bar Sen. Bob Casey from receiving Holy Communion.

Mr. Specter lamented that the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has shrunk to a deeply conservative base and acknowledged that he likely would lose the 2010 Republican primary to a more conservative candidate.

But that isn’t limited to Pennsylvania. The GOP’s contraction already has severely limited its national voice. There are no Republican U.S. House members in all of New England, for example, and only four U.S. senators from Maine to Virginia. Two of those, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, are politically aligned more with Mr. Specter than the vast majority of their Republican colleagues.

The party has a dedicated base but it risks, in effect, becoming a regional party.

Bishop Martino, through a statement issued by the diocese, expressed concern that Mr. Casey had voted to confirm former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of health and human services, due to Ms. Sebelius long pro-choice record. The bishop contended that Mr. Casey has an “inconsistent” record on abortion-related issues.

Back when John Kennedy ran for president, one of his principal challenges was to convince Americans who were suspicious of the Catholic Church that he was not too Catholic; that is, that he would adhere to the American tradition of separating personal religion from public governance.

Bishop Martino appears to want Mr. Casey to prove that he is Catholic enough, framing every issue of public governance within the context of church teaching on abortion.

It would be interesting to know what would have happened had members of the Catholic hierarchy rejected JFK’s embrace of separation of church and state. If JFK had lost on such grounds, it is doubtful that subsequent Catholic candidates, across the civic political spectrum, could have become part of the political mainstream rather than perceived as exotic.

If Bishop Martino’s standard for Mr. Casey were to become the universal standard for Catholic candidates, the result would be many fewer Catholics in office. That would result in lost valuable voices not only on the abortion issue, but on a host of matters in which Catholic officeholders are guided by the church’s instruction on social justice.



Copyright © 2009 - The Times-Tribune

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Scranton Times Article & Response

Article in today's edition of The Scranton Times linked here.

Here is my response, as noted at the bottom of the article...


Stephen Albert wrote on May 2, 2009 6:24 AM:

" The line:

'...The bishop has refused all requests for an interview by The Times-Tribune since the fall....'

...says it all. For the record, it hasn't just been The Times-Tribune he has refused to speak to.

I don't have a problem with Bishop Martino taking a stand on this or any other moral issue. What I have a problem with is his insistence that somehow he is above ever actually being questioned on his actions or statements (be it regarding press releases to Senator Casey, closing Parishes or closing Schools) by ANYONE. Clearly, this is a bright guy, so he certainly CAPABLE of answering questions...rather, he simply believes that he doesn't have to. What does that say????

Honestly, you get the impression that all Bishop Martino wants is simple, blind obedience, without question. That may work for the religious who report to him, but I don't think he realizes that it doesn't apply to anyone else, Senator Casey included.

As I've said before in response to other stories, Bishop Martino reminds me more of a cut-throat, arrogant Corporate CEO rather than a religious leader along the lines of Pope John Paul II. "