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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Back to Square One for The Ciav and The Con

Judge Kosik has thrown out the plea deals previously arranged for disgraced Luzerne County (former) judges Conahan and Ciavarella. Story link here.

Given the severity of the crimes committed here (countless young adults scared for life & all just to line pockets) I'm not sure that justice could ever be really served in this case. It seems to me though that this is a step in the right direction. The plea deals, as I understand them, seemed light relative to the crimes committed.

Thoughts on Healthcare Reform

Just a few random thoughts on this subject...

Market Based Reforms...did you ever notice that people that call for strictly "market-based" health care reform are mostly those who probably aren't bothered by the actual cost of health care themselves?

****

Rising Costs...Doctor Bob's costs increase in aggregate about 3-4% per year, which he passes along to his patients. Mega Health Insurance Company is publicly traded, and the financial markets want it to increase it's returns about 12-15% every year (and they can probably only increase efficiency to drive down costs about 2% per year). Parma Corp is also a publicly traded company and has an even higher profit expectation of 18% ROI increase per year.

Patient Steve gets his health insurance through Mega Health at work and sees his premiums increase 10% this year. He goes to the doctor and sees that co-pay increase 3% this year. His medication costs increase by 10% per year.

Seeing a pattern here?

The bottom line his this: in a market-based economy, the emphasis is on profit. That's fine when you are making toasters, less so when you are talking about health care. In the "business" of making people well, the emphasis should be on that...making people well first...profit second.

Government Involvement...Medicare has an overhead rate of about 3-5%. The average health insurance company has overhead that is in the neighborhood of 18%. Now does that mean Medicare is automatically better suited to manage health care in this country? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the impact of requiring a profit (which is what publicly traded companies require) has a direct impact on cost. Denying that is at best silly. Overhead isn't the whole story here, because for example the government is pretty damn horrible at things like innovation. The trick, I suppose, is to find some way to have a system whereby you have private sector innovation and constant improvement without the corrosive impact of market-demanded double-digit increases in profit year-over-year.

The Notion of Insurance...Most people really don't understand the concept of insurance. One core principle of insurance is that of spreading out risk. Insurance can provide a benefit to someone who is sick in part because there should be healthy people paying into the system who are not sick (and are unlikely to want or need a benefit). One of the problems in our current system is that there are people who fall outside of the system of paying for insurance but yet still end up getting the benefit. That then drives up the costs for everyone.

Long on Problems, Short on Solutions...This is pretty damn complex stuff. However in my mind there are a few common solutions threads:
  • Required Coverage - People should be required to purchase health insurance, period. Simply being out of the system but then receiving a health care benefit (we don't turn people way who need medical attention in this country) isn't fair to those of us who do pay into the system. The cost of health care needs to be spread out among everyone, period. Even if you have a minimum wage job, you should in fact be paying some portion of you wages into buying health insurance. That sounds harsh, but I think that's one of the core solutions.
  • Screw the Tax Code -Some Conservatives...you know, that group that claims that the tax code is too complicated...want to "fix" the current system in part by offering tax credits/rebates for the poor to purchase health care insurance in the private market. Now correct me if I am wrong here, but wouldn't such as thing actually make the tax code more complex???? Let's stop using the tax code as a slush fund for any and every social problem.
  • The Poor - This is an issue that goes well beyond just health care, but I have to add a comment about it here. If you are physically able (and by that I mean you have at least one functioning arm and you can read) you should be working, period. No one in this country should be getting something for nothing. That ties directly to health care, because right now some folks do just that. If you are poor and you can't find a job, I'm of the opinion that the government should provide you with some measure of support, but then you should be working for the public good during that period...and some of what you receive from the government...no matter how small...should go towards the cost of your health care.
  • Profit - Private health care needs to be regulated in the same sense that public utilities are regulated, but in a much more vigorous sense. Just as people need water to survive, the reality is that people also need health care. What's more, I view it as being almost immoral for a health care insurance provider to make an 18% profit when it's customers are struggling to pay their premiums and co-pays. Simply put, we can't have it both ways (high profits and low costs), but we can require reasonability for both costs and profit. Some will not like that, but I'd argue to the death that free markets fail in certain conditions, and health care is a classic example of just such a failure.
  • Government - Whether some like it or not, the role of the government is in part to "promote the general welfare" (see the US Constitution). No where is that more apparent than in the case of health care. Government must play a role in health care costs, if only because it is the only entity that can reach across state lines to enforce a set of uniform standards to prevent the zest for profit to erode the need for health care. Does that mean that the government should provide free care to all? No. Nothing related to health care should be free. But it does mean that, perhaps, the government should be in the business of providing basic health care insurance coverage (and note that there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between providing insurance and making medical decisions) at the bottom of the risk scale.
  • Personal Responsibility - Last, but not least, people in this country have to take personal responsibility for their own health. We've raised a generation to believe that there is no link between their actions and the costs of providing medical care, and nothing could be further from the truth. The first part of the personal responsibility equation here is that everyone should be paying for coverage (be you working poor OR someone who has such generous coverage now that they pay virtually nothing...not that such a thing happens much). The second part is that the best way to pay less for health care is to be healthy in the first place.

Complex? Yes, but often times the longest, most difficult journeys are the most rewarding.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Glenn Beck...Poster Child for Stupidity

I heard about this yesterday while waiting for a doctor's visit.



"...deep seated hatred for white people...and white culture"

I think this one speaks for himself.

Glenn Beck represents the lowest common denominator in American political discord. He is down there with Al Sharpton and the other race-baiters who throw around racially charged comments for nothing more than self gratification and financial gain.

History is full of similar tactics: Think about it...conceptually speaking, this is not a hell of a lot different than the Brown Shirts of 1930's Germany manufacturing Jewish crimes. Beck wants people to believe that President Obama is racist, therefore anything he says (or potentially anything that some nut-bag listener does in response) can then somehow be viewed as a justified reaction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Readily Confess...

...that I can be strange. When I was younger, say back in high school days, it did bother me. Now I'm fully one with my strangeness, and that's perfectly okay. That's one of the benefits to "growing up" I suppose: you finally learn to accept yourself for you who really are inside. Maybe this is why so many people say things like "I wish I could go back in time to when...". For me, I'd re-do all four years of high school. There is so much I'd do differently. Now I'm not talking about regrets here at all; in fact if I ponder this for a moment, I realize that what I was and went through before brought me to where I am now.

Therein lies the paradox: if you actually could go back and change who you were back in some time in the past, it would end up changing you now.

Anyway, putting the paradox aside for a moment, I'm actually pretty happy about my experiences in college, and grade school really doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things, so it's definitely high school for my time machine. Now what would I change?

Confidence. I'd be far more confident of myself and my abilities. Simply put, I was my own worst enemy. I was 6'3.5", 175 lbs (yes, I was a board) of noodle. One of the things I've learned in the working world all these years is that people sense confidence in the same way that a dog senses fear. Having it creates it. This is not to say that I'm completely confident in myself now, but I am a hell of a lot better than I was then. Anyway, I don't know that I was ever taught to be confident in myself. Fortunately for me, this lack of confidence never led me to really, really bad choices. Mistakes? Yes, but no horrible life-changing-for-the-bad choices.

I think just going back, re-living those experiences but injecting just a bit more self-confidence in to the mix would make all of the difference.

So much for that. In the real world there are no time-machines. What we do have is the present, and we can always focus on changing it for the better.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Road Apples, #37

Commercials...I was browsing around YouTube the other day and I found a whole collection of old cigarette commercials. In fact, I posted one a few days ago. I find this fascinating. Think about it: companies were encouraging people to use a product that they knew would kill them. And for what? Profit. Maybe it's just me, but that's about as evil as evil can get.

On The Work Front...I am slowly but surely winding towards about five weeks of training in out of town, mostly in Hartford. When all is said and done I'll have a fortune in Hilton points. Now on one hand I guess this really should bother me, and I guess it really does. On the other hand, I know this is coming and I simply want it over with. The work will be tough: six+ hours of standing in front of employees teaching a new application, but I suppose there are worse jobs out there. They do pay me too, which in today's economy is always a plus.

Healthcare...One of these days I'm going to rag on about healthcare reform. I swear I am. Fortunately it looks like the US Senate is buying me some extra time to compose my thoughts. Mighty nice of them to do that. Down right Christian.

(Dryer) Health...Tonight will be the 4th visit by the dryer repair man to hopefully get my dryer out of the squealing business and back into more of a tolerable mode of operation. It's amazing how much you can miss something when you don't have it. Mind you if i was just me (or say me and someone else) I'm not sure I'd even have a washer/dryer. I only wash my own clothes once a week, so what's trip to a laundry mat anyway?

(Dental) Health...I had my six month dental check-up with my regular dentist today, and all is well. I have to go back in a month to get some minor work done on a front tooth (a scratch that needs to be bonded) and then get the impression made for my crown (that which will be mounted on my jaw-screw). I'm getting used to this...not bad for a guy who didn't see a dentist for something like 15 years. Oh, and my home care was rated as being "excellent".

Sunday...We spent Sunday Camel Beach water park, and I have to say it was an okay time. The weather wasn't the greatest, but the trade-off was that the crowds were significantly lighter. In fact, the longest I had to wait to get on any ride was about five minutes; for many I was able to just immediately get on without a wait. Of course my favorite part of the park is the wave pool, which can be very relaxing.

I Have A Habit...of finding articles that I want to read, clipping them out or making copies of them, but then having them lay around while I don't have time to read them. In fact, as I type this in my home office I'm staring at one. I also have that Sarah Palin article from Vanity Fair that I have to get to at work. If there was only more time...

Is It Almost Dawn In NEPA?

  • Luzerne County judges indicted for taking cash kick-backs for sending kids to jail
  • Almost an entire courthouse that looked the other way while two judges took cash kick-backs for sending kids to jail
  • School districts mired in "pay for job" teacher hiring schemes
  • The Lackawanna Single Tax Office investigated (but ultimately found to be too screwed up to even properly audit) for having several million dollars in a combined account
  • Luzerne County row officer found selling used cars during working hours
  • A ranking state senator sitting on corporate boards for industries that he has a hand in regulating AND having the state pay him to rent office space (for him) AND paying a well-known political consultant to provide communications services (despite a staff of people already paid by the taxpayers to do this)
  • An investigation into the construction costs of an airport terminal that seems far larger than what is required (story link here)

Now I know I've missed a scandal or three, but the point is this: so much seems to be coming out now that it makes me wonder two points aloud:
  1. Is NEPA possibly the most corrupt single region in the country?
  2. Is it almost dawn?
They say that the night sky is at it's darkest right before dawn. The implication for us, as residents of NEPA is that maybe, finally, this region is getting the attention it deserves from a public corruption investigation perspective. Unlike some residents of NEPA, I've actually lived other places, so I don't subscribe to the "grass is always greener" philosophy. There are great reasons to want to want to live and work in NEPA, and for those who can't see them, I have some saged advice: Move.

The fact remains though that there seems to be a pervasive mentality among some residents in the area that political corruption is bad, unless of course it helps me (or my family, or my friends, etc.). If the sum total of what is happening in the area in this arena does any good, it will be to change that mentality once and for all.

As a final note, what I'm NOT TALKING ABOUT is the nonsense that you read in message boards, etc. where every politician who makes a bone-headed move is being automatically being tagged with the "he is a corrupt thief" label. That line of reasoning is used ad nauseum when it comes to Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, and I simply don't buy it. I probably disagree with the Mayor as much as I agree with him, but there is a difference between...

...I don't like the guy
...His priorities are different than mine

and...

...He is corrupt

When everyone is tagged as being corrupt then no one will ever want to serve. That will end up hurting this area far more than it will help.

So let's hope that the good work of rooting out corruption doesn't turn into an excuse by some to conduct personal witch-hunts. This can and will work if we all follow a simple rule: hard evidence first, aspersions second.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More Doctors Smoke Camels

Ah the good old days, when people just didn't think about things like lung cancer...


10 Things I'd Rather Do Than Support 'SarahPAC'

I saw an advertisement on the Drudgereport requesting readers to support 'SarahPAC', the political action committee of soon-to-be-former Governor of Alaska (and former mayor of a town the size of Dunmore PA) Sarah Palin. That got me to thinking: now just what would I rather do than support 'SarahPAC'? Putting aside all the fun things in life for a moment, here are a few things that would still be above my providing any kind of support to Todd's wife:

  1. Work in a Mexican sewage treatment plant.
  2. Be one of the late Michael Jackson's creditors (now that would be frustrating).
  3. Wash dogs for a living (I find fewer things smell worse than a wet dog).
  4. Be responsible for emptying Courtney Love's trash (can you imagine what you'd find?).
  5. Write copy for "The Catholic Light".
  6. Try to making a living selling Wall Street Journal subscriptions in Oil City, PA (inside joke...).
  7. Be a police officer and try to give Professor Gates a parking ticket.
  8. Be Rush Limbaugh's 'Hillbilly Heroin' supplier.
  9. Clean up road kill...in Georgia...in August.
  10. Help OJ find the real killer.

Senator Bob Mellow

The latest foible in the Senator's political career is linked here.

Unrepentant, unmitigated, unashamed GREED, unchecked lust for POWER, ARROGANCE.

I should leave the entire blog entry with just the above, because I think it says it all. Now in all fairness, you can't completely blame Senator Mellow, in the same sense that you can't completely blame a drug-addict for his/her condition; after all, in the case of an addict, someone had to supply him/her with the narcotics. In the case of Senator Mellow there is also blame to go around:

FIRST, to the voting population of Senator Mellow's district, who have given this gentlemen a free pass at the voting booth all these years. That's the problem with con-men: they can only apply their craft if there are those gullible enough to be conned in the first place.

SECOND, to the local newspapers who have given the Senator a pass all these years up until now. While I'm glad that some of these issues are coming to light, some have existed for years without much scrutiny from the folks at The Scranton Times.

THIRD, to a political system in Harrisburg designed around perpetuating abuse through "tough as tissue paper" ethics standards, a classic case of the fox being allowed to watch the hen-house.


Bottom Line: Senator Mellow has abused the trust of these he is elected to serve through blatant conflicts of interest (serving on boards of organizations he in turn has a say in regulating). He has enriched himself with taxpayer dollars (through having the state pay rent to a company partially owned family members). He has inflated his ego at taxpayer expense by using taxpayer money for things that end up getting named after him. He has engaged in the worst kinds of political maneuvering (being a proponent of late night pay raises for legislators).

Senator Mellow should resign, period.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"...I'd let you watch, I would inivte you, but the Queens we use would not excite you..."

The title is from the song "One Night in Bangkok", which is from the musical Chess. It's really just an ABBA song that's just not sung the the ABBA ladies (instead it's sung by Murray Head). Anyway, I love the line. It refers to a guy playing the nerdy game of chess while in the midst of a sex-crazed city. I heard it for the first time in a long while as I was driving back from Hartford yesterday evening.

As noted above, I was traveling this week. Maybe it's just me but when I'm working out of town it's as if my life suddenly collapses into this transparent bubble, with only so many things within reach (inside the bubble), but yet I can see things outside the bubble. I know, that's a difficult analogy to make, but it's the best I can come up with. It's as if my reach were far greater than my grasp. In a lot of ways it has always been that way, although now that my girls are much older (16, soon to be 17 & 21) I have less to worry about on the home front. This is only a partial comfort, as that "worry void" doesn't remain completely void, instead being filled up with the work stuff that only gets more complex each and every year.

Work, a true four letter word.

Maybe I am not alone in this, but I have this "love - hate" relationship with work. Yes, I like getting paid and I'm not one for sitting on my butt anyway, but still there are times when the levels of stress that it produces have been so great that I've felt as if I was going to literally burst into a million pieces. Think the planet as it's getting destroyed by the DeathStar during the first Star Wars movie.

About the closest I've ever come to the explosion thing actually happening occurred this past Tuesday night. I was training all day, it was just a rough, long day. At the time things just didn't seem to be working, I wasn't sure what to do, and the whole situation seemed devoid of any hope. Feeling so depleted, I thought I'd go to the movies, which I did. Sitting the the theater watching "Bruno", all I could think about was the seeming pickle I was in at work. No hope what so ever. Needless to say I didn't enjoy the movie, but then again I just don't think that the movie was all that entertaining (it was very funny in spots, exceptionally difficult to watch in others) to begin with. Making matters worse, I got lost going home...something about not being familiar with that part of Hartford, the dark, and the rainstorm. For some strange reason though, just as I was finding my way back to the hotel (by just driving in what I thought was the right direction and looking for landmarks), I seemed to gain a little better perspective on the whole work thing. It was a strange juxtaposition of getting physically and mentally lost I suppose. By the time I found the hotel I found inside my head something of a plan to begin dealing the the stickier elements of what was happening in the office.

I know, the above reads like something you'd find in a bad motivational book, but I swear it's the truth.

Anyway, yesterday's training went well and I have inside my head at least some thoughts on how my work on this particular project will proceed. I'll get by.

Now it's back to the grind in a slightly larger bubble.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Comment & Response, Father Bechtel

Father David Bechtel made the following comment to my "Mayor Doherty tearing down the church" posting...

I agree actually, but I do not believe the Diocese went looking for a handout. By the appearence of things, it seems as if one was offered. If I were in charge it would make sense that I would accept it if offered.

This is going to be an issue in the future as we are left with monstrous buildings next to impossible to sell.

As for your "former Catholics" comment- let them leave. Catholics have left for less before, and they will leave for less in the future. If their Faith depends on their feelings about the bishop their Faith did not take root. It will not be long before they leave the Protestant Church becasue the leadership "offends" them in some way.

Father Dave Bechtel

Father Bechtel makes some good points, so I wanted to respond in another post.


Father Bechtel,

Always nice to hear from you.

If I were the Bishop or Chancellor of the Diocese I'd definitely take the city up on this offer. Why not? Tearing down the church would cost money that could be spent of other things. That said, my issue is with the Mayor: namely that the offer shouldn't have been made in the first place. Private property is just that, private property. This is a problem of the Diocese, a problem which you rightfully noted will only be getting worse. Why should the Diocese receive this kind of benefit when it is not offered other individuals or entities? There is a difference between the city tearing down property due to an owner being deceased, missing in action, etc. and an owner that has the ways and means to dispose of the property.

My hope is that the Diocese can find some way to deal with older churches. I grew up attending Holy Family Church on North Washington Avenue in Scranton and I'd really hate to see it sit and rot as it is slowly phased out of being used for worship. In a lot of ways it would bring up the same feeling I had about the closing of (the former) Bishop Hannan High School. Schools...and Churches...have a deeper meaning above and beyond the bricks and mortar of their construction. There is something inherently horrible about seeing something like a school or church sit and decay before your eyes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Assorted Political Silliness That I've Seen & Heard

The GOP Healthcare Graphic
This is silliness for one simple reason: It's nothing more than a shameless attempt to scare people into the status quo. Want a really scary graphic? Build one of the current healthcare system in this country, complete with references to every party in chain wanting a 15% ROI year over year. Now that is both silly and scary.

Oh, and as for the "lady in England has to wait 6 months to get her arthritis treated" stuff, well it takes six months for my teenage daughter to get an appointment to get his scoliosis checked via my Geisinger Health Plan coverage. So much for that argument.

The Michael Jackson Resolution
This is silliness that seems to have past. I think it was Congressman Maxine Waters wanted something passed in Congress to honor the late Michael Jackson. Sorry, but that's far too silly even for Congress, as the idea died. Score one for our national legislature, as for once they got it right.

Pennsylvania's Budget (or lack thereof)
The heat turns on, as state employees will not get paid. If I were them I would be pissed, Hell, as a taxpayer I am already pissed, as Pennsylvania's legislature proves yet again that it is more interested in self-preservation and pandering to political bases than it is in actually running an efficient and effective state government. GOP - Taxes will have to raised. Democrats - Programs will have to be cut. Not get on with it already.

Oh, and let's make sure that members of the legislature aren't renting office space from themselves anymore.

Slavery Apologies
Slavery is immoral and as practiced in the United States 100+ years ago it was evil. Can we move on now?

Sarah Palin
I have the Vanity Fair article to read yet, which should be interesting. Bottom line is that if Ms Palin can't handle the heat of being the governor of Alaska, then I don't think she has much a future in politics period. If she does want to continue with a political career, I suggest she go to a "political boot camp" of sorts, you know, like running for City Council in Scranton.

Chris Doherty Wants To Be Governor
Now this isn't really all that silly, as I think he has done a good job on balance as Mayor of Scranton. The silly part will come into play as the jockeying would begin to replace him. That's speculation I'll leave to a later date, but suffice to say there aren't a lot of stellar alternatives.

In the "It Better Not Happen" Department (related to silliness)
There had better not be any single part of the new Medical College in Scranton that bears the name of Bob Mellow, Not so much as a freak'n brick. The man funneled our money into this...not his own. It's time for the shameless promotion of politicians (Casey Highway, McDade Park, McDade Expressway, Mellow Theater...) to end.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mayor Doherty, If I Can't Sell My Property Will You Tear It Down For Me?

It seems that the City of Scranton will be demolishing an old church and creating a parking lot for a basketball league.

Story Link Here.

Now before I say anything else, I do think that Chris Doherty has done, on balance, a good job as Mayor. Note the word "good". It's a tough job and it's dramatically underpaid (I make more than the Mayor...how on Earth does that make any sense?), so perfection isn't something that is going to come out of this office anytime soon. Then again politics and governing are seldom the things which spawn perfection anyway, but so I digress.

The above noted, I really do have a problem with the city taking this action.

First, while I am sorry that the Diocese of Scranton can't sell this monstrous building, that's not my problem as a taxpayer. When last I checked, the Diocese is run by a bunch of adults (including the often-mentioned here Bishop Joseph Martino) who are generally equipped to handle adult problems. A potential "adult problem" is what to do with property that you want to sell but can't. While I wish the Diocese could sell the church - for example to a growing Protestant denomination full of former Catholics chased out of the Diocese by the Bishop's "Command and Control" leadership style - that issue is above and beyond what taxpayers should be concerned with.

Second, the Mayor's logic, namely that is will become an eyesore so better to deal with it now, is again flawed because it makes the underlying assumption that it's the taxpayers of Scranton who are responsible for dealing with any and all eyesores. It's not. That responsibility lies solely with the owner of the property. The City becomes responsible when and if the owners can't be located or ignore requests to act. Even then, the City could pursue the owners in court to force repayment of the demolition costs.

Third, I have nothing against the Holy Cross basketball league (I've coached at the St Joseph's Girls League) and I do think it would be nice if they got a parking lot. I just happen to think that it should be the owners of the property that provide it.

In the final analysis, this whole episode amounts to a $50,000 + donation on the part of government (Federal money + City labor) to the Diocese of Scranton. While I fully understand that the Diocese of Scranton is in a financial bind, so are many of us. The difference is that I'm not looking for the Federal Government and the City of Scranton to help me deal with one of my problems, and I don't think the Diocese should be either.

This is, quite frankly, wrong.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Road Apples #36

Sirius - After much debate, I decided to renew my Sirius Satellite radio subscription for another six months. It was a difficult decision, and I was very, very close to canceling it. In fact, one of these days I really need to call those guys and find out what the deal is with 'a-la carte' channel pricing. While there are 120 channels available, I honestly maybe listen to about ten of them, probably less than 10%. Of that, about 75% of the time I am just listening to Howard Stern. Why am I paying $12/month for channels I don't listen to? More to come on this one.

Howard Stern - Probably the single biggest reason why I got Sirius was to listen to Howard Stern. I first started to listen to Howard back in the late 80's, when I was living in York Pennsylvania and I could pick up his show from, I think, Washington DC. Since then, whenever I lived near a market that broadcast his show (such as when I lived in Florham Park NJ in 1989) I would listen regularly, as well as when I would be traveling on business. In my personal opinion the show was probably at its height back around 1990 or so, back when Billy West was on along with Howard, Jackie, etc. Those days are long gone, but the show can still be pretty funny, although not what I would call consistently funny. Yesterday's show was hilarious (lots of Michael Jackson stuff, as well as an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno" character). Sometimes I find the "modern" show pretty bad, mainly when Howard has "friends" of his in the studio (Jerry O'Connell for example, who is simply boring) or when the rags on about his model wife or some other celebrity stuff. The show was at its funniest when Howard was more like a "regular" guy, not a millionaire celebrity. One other thing: am I the only Stern fan out there who really thinks that Artie Lange mostly adds nothing to the show?

On The Road Again - I'm staring down several weeks of training in our Hartford CT office. In fact, much of August will be spent training, which means much of the summer will be burned off before I can really enjoy it. I keep telling myself that "next year it will be different", but then "next year" comes around, it's summer again, and I'm submerged in work. That's not the fault of anyone at work, it's my fault. I need to do a better job of managing expectations, both for myself and for my employer. Remembering that "no one will give you what you want if you don't ask for it" is an important concept to remember.

It's July 14th And There Is No State Budget - Funny, but if I didn't do my job I would be in trouble. In Harrisburg, not doing your job is considered to be "business as usual", as legislators continue to rack up per diem reimbursements for sitting around not passing a budget. Outside of California, which I will admit is even more messed up than Pennsylvania, it's hard to imagine a more ineffective state legislature.

State Senator Mellow Rents An Office To Himself - Yes, that all around politician's politician has once again managed to find the razor's edge of ethics and is yet again waltzing over it. With all due respect to the good Senator, we expect you to follow the BOTH the LETTER and the SPIRIT of the law. More proof that our state legislature is highly dysfunctional (at best).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Slowly Recovering

In the "probably no one gives a rat's rectum but me" department...

...the titanium screw seems to be coexisting nicely with my upper jaw
...slowly but surely my back pain is diminishing
...the rapid-onset headaches from two weeks ago seem to have gone away

...life is truly grand.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Motivation

"When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script'. If he says, 'But what's my motivation?', I say, 'Your salary'".

- Alfred Hitchcock


What is it that motivates us? Is there in fact any one "thing" that motivates us all? I don't know. For me, there are times when nothing what-so-ever motivates me; at those times I have more in common with a carbon rod than any sentient life-form. Yes, sometimes motivation is, shall we say, an elusive quantity.

Now I do find that when I am unmotivated, sometimes the best thing for me to do is to simply do something. Sometimes I just need that ever-so-slight push to get me going. Simple. huh? Well not so fast, as that "little push" is harder than a Geometry proof to come up with; sometimes it's nearly impossible to find. Bottom line: motivation is a tough one for me.

So anyway, here are a few things that probably should motivate me, and how I think I react to them on a scale of 1 (not motivating at all) to 10 (highly motivating).


Independence (10) -
I find the concept of being dependent upon someone else to be repugnant, and I say that as someone who as been there. Much of what I've done in my personal life over the past ten years has been squarely aimed at become more independent. I've walked down a path where I've come to realize that dependence is a license to feel bad and be disappointed. Now this isn't to say that I don't think I can trust anyone, because that definitely not the case. There are people I trust, and trust deeply. However, for me to freely give and accept that trust, I have to know inside of myself that I don't need it. It's like a gift: giving a gift because you want to is always better than giving a gift because you have to. For me, being independent liberates me from the notion that I interact with others because I have to. It's not a perfect motivator, but it seems to work for me.

Morality (9) -
I don't know if "morality" is the right word, but it's as good as any that I can think of to describe the notion of trying to do the "right thing". For me, whether at work or at home, I always am asking myself if a particular course of action represents "the right thing" to do. It's a delicate balance, because sometimes you have to do something that can make one person upset but another person happy. Now I'm not claiming that morality is just about popularity, because it isn't. I've made more than a few very unpopular decisions in my life, but I'd at least like to think that when I did, it was to serve the betterment of a higher purpose.

Helping Others (7) -
I like to help other people. Sometimes that means just listening. Sometimes that means more than that. Interesting, huh? If you knew me at work, you'd think that I was basically this cold, almost unfeeling "thing", but one of the reasons why I continue to do what I do is because I get a genuine thrill out of making some small aspect of a person's job easier. The same thing holds true outside of work. The '7' note above is something of an aggregate. as there are some people for whom I would do anything to help (more like a 10) and there are others...a very, very small group...where I'd have to think first about throwing them a life-preserver.

Money (7) -
Money is something of a motivator, but not a complete one. One of the things I've learned working in the business world for these 23+ years is that there isn't a straight-line correlation between hard work and compensation. There simply isn't. I know some folks at work who both out-rank me and go home at 4:10pm each day, without fail. I also know some folks who earn far less than me who seem to work non-stop. For me, it's always been something of a delicate balance between what I think I'm worth and what others who do similar work are being paid. Put another way, money is a motivator to the extent that I think I'm being compensated "fairly". Note the quotes, as "fair" is a relative term.

Learning (6) -
I truly enjoy learning new things. Sometimes the process of learning can be complex and convoluted, but never-the-less I do enjoy and am motivated by the prospect of learning new things

Power/Control(5) -
I don't desire much in the way of control over others. That kind of thing is over-rated. It's also very tiring. The kind of "power" that I want has more to do with an ability to be able to control these things around me that impact me.

God (3) -
I'd like to start this out by saying something about my "relationship with God", but yet I can't, as that would seem to imply something that I don't know exists. The frustrated Scientist in me always wants some proof that God exists, the other part of me thinks that this is why we have the concept of faith (so that we can in fact suspend the need for proof). Regardless, I can't say that the concept or being of God is much of a motivator. That's not to say though that I am not a moral person, because I do think that I am, and I do think that someone can be morally upstanding and not be a believer in God. I don't know if I'm that far down the road yet.

Fear (2) -
Fear is a motivator for all of us I suspect, but I can't say that I do many things out of fear. That I will say is a benefit of getting older: you just seem to fear less, maybe because you get closer to the only thing that there really is to fear in life: death.

Popularity (2) -
To say that I don't care what others think would be wrong, because I do. However, to say that what others think motivates me to do certain things would be an out-and-out lie. I will always do what I think is right before I'll do what I think is popular.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Getting Screwed

Well yesterday was "phase 2" of my dental implant saga, and I certainly "got screwed".

Actually what they did was punch a little section of my gum out, drill a hole, drive a titanium screw into the hole, and cap the hole thing off. So yes, while my bones may turn to dust in a few hundred years, in my casket you will find one perfectly preserved titanium screw among the dust that remains of my body. Immortality of a sort I suppose.

The procedure itself went well. I think I was in and out in less than an hour. Afterward I had some pain in where the screw was placed, but it wasn't anything that some Advil couldn't help. Since I had so much bone to work with and since stitches were not required, I didn't need to be put on a post-procedure anti-biotic. I'm fine with that, as I've always felt that the less medication used, the better.

What's next? Well the bone tissue in my upper jaw needs to grow around the screw so that it is completely permanent. After that they will secure a porcelain molar over the screw and I will be done. That I think will come in a few months. Up immediately next is a check-up with the Periodontist on Friday the 23rd to make sure that all looks well.

This whole thing started with a crown that I had cracking, resulting in an infection in the root of the tooth. I had the option of getting bridge work done, but that would have ended up destroying three teeth and the bridge work would not be permanent. I wanted something that would be fixed more or less forever, which led me to the decision to get the dental implant. The worst part, so far, was the extraction of the cracked tooth root...I think the procedure took something like 45 minutes of the Periodontist digging around to get all the fragments and gobs of infected tissue out and placing the bone graft in my jaw.

Did I mention that my insurance covers none of this?

So there you have it, I really am screwed. I wonder if this will set off airport metal detectors? That would be pretty cool.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Honoring Michael Jackson

Okay, I am yet again breaking my promise to not write about Michael Jackson. It seems that there are proposals out there to...

...have a national day of mourning over the passing of Michael Jackson

...honor him with a postage stamp

...etc.

I find both ideas to be silly at best. Give the guy a stamp in ten years or so, if people still care by then. As for a day of mourning, I find the idea almost offensive. I will not mourn this man's passing. For many, including me, his music has had no impact of our lives. What's more, and his contributions to charity pale in comparison to those of others (such Bill and Melinda Gates, for example), so honoring him as this great "humanitarian" seems ill-conceived.

What was he? He was a talented young man who clearly had a lot of mental health issues. In his case, there were a lot of scars, some of which were physical in nature (the being re-made into a white man part).

If you want, honor Michael Jackson by playing his music. The rest of us can shake our heads and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Another "Role Model"

I read this in Fox News today, so I had to share it. I've taken the liberty to red/bold (no relation to Red Bull) the particularly interesting parts.

***************

Is life on the road getting to Britney Spears?

A family insider says Britney was caught by her conservator/dad Jamie Spears popping over-the-counter diet pills and washing them down with Red Bull before a performance on her Circus tour, reports gossip site Betty Confidential.

“Britney was definitely trying to get high by taking too many diet pills and energy drinks,” the source told the site. “Jamie thinks the combination of the two is making her whacked-out and, causing her to lash out in weird angry rampages.”

But that's not all. The insider said “Britney uses green-tea supplements, [Lab 88’s herbal ephedra-free] Metabo Speed XXX, Dexatrim and apple cider vinegar to control her weight and energy levels. She also pours those 5-Hour energy drinks into her Red Bulls," according to the site.

Spears, 26, has done several stints in rehab facilities, and is currently not in charge of her own affairs, with a judge granting conservatoriship of her finances to her father, and custody of her two children to her ex-husband Kevin Federline.

Spears has recently been linked romantically to her agent Jason Trawick.

***************

Hmmmm...pouring "5 Hour Energy Drinks" into Red Bull...smart, really, really smart. Britney Spears once again manages to make "KFed" look like the sane parent.

Now when Britney eventually suffers a full system breakdown due to Red Bull/Green Tea/Diet Pill.5 Hour Energy overload and God-forbid dies, is society going to treat her with the same reverence it seems to be treating the lake Michael Jackson?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sure, But Who Will Take Out The Garbage?

Lab-made sperm could make men redundant...

Sperm can be made in lab
Sperm can be made in lab

Women who say they don't need a man may well be right – after human sperm was created in the lab.

The breakthrough could give hope to infertile couples and men left unable to have children after having cancer treatment.

But don't worry guys, the scientists who created the sperm using stem cells don't plan to take you out of the baby-making process just yet.

'While we can understand some people may have concerns, this does not mean that humans can be produced in a dish and we have no intention of doing this,' said researcher Prof Karim Nayernia.

'The work is a way of investigating why some people are infertile and the reasons behind it.

'It could also allow men who are currently infertile the chance to have a child which is genetically their own but this will be many years away – at least a decade.'

While scientists at Newcastle University and the NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute insist 'fully mature, functional sperm' was produced, other experts cast doubt on their findings.

Prof Azim Surani, from Cambridge University, described the lab samples as 'a long way from being authentic sperm cells'.

And the MRC Institute of Medical Research said: 'Although they find some of the sperm cells have tails and can swim, this is not evidence of normality.'

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Whatsoever You Do...

...To The Least Of My People That You Do Unto Me"

Mathew 25:40


I'm not an overly religious person, but the above is one Bible verse that I can truly say "I get". Regardless of your religious affiliation, keep the above quote in mind as you read this story in today's Scranton Times. Article Link Here.

There are some things in life that always must come first, and taking care of those who are incapable of taking care of themselves should be at the top of that list. Governor Rendell and the State Legislature should probably be reminded that how we treat those who truly need our help the most, such as those who suffer from Mental Retardation, defines us at our very core.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Road Apples, #35

In The Nice Message But Department...Story about preacher Rick Warren linked here, where he says that Christians and Muslims must work together to solve problems. I agree with the message, and while this may should horribly shallow of me, I have a tough time taking the guy seriously because he dyes his hair. Look, if you are a professional wrestler, then male hair dying is okay. Same goes for glam metal band members and actors. But not for preachers. Call me crazy, but I have this notion in my head that "men of God" should be less concerned with being a blondie than other pressing issues out there. This is the kind of thing that I'd expect from someone like Benny Hinn, not Rick Warren. Hell, maybe he has been doing this for years and I just now noticed.

In the Boon Doggle Department...We have Lackawanna County stadium, which apparently is fast becoming unusable due to drainage problems. In fact, last night's game had to be cancelled due to a wet field, which is in spite of the fact that it was a nice, warm, sunny day. Based on what I've read, the field has a drainage problem that is preventing all of the water from the previous Monday-Friday deluge from being wisked away. Now the field was originally surfaced with an artificial turf, but the Yankees insisted on natural grass, so I wonder if the field was ever designed to drain the way they (the Yankees) would like. Regardless, it's pretty clear that this is going to to take some cash to fix...cash we don't necessarily have. Side note: I know that the stadium has another name (think a large, regional bank), but I refuse to use it. When last I checked, it was the taxpayers that paid for the thing, so it seems to me that the name should reflect that fact.

Missile Shield...The Russian President (Medvedev) is calling for the United States to scrap plans to install a missile shield in Europe. He's right, although I think his rationale and mine are ever so slightly different. Mine is economic (we can't pay for it) and geo-political (we shouldn't pay for it). Simply put, why should we be paying to protect other countries for missile attack? It was President Obama who, just a few days ago, reminded former President (and not "guy holding the puppet strings) Putin that the "cold war was over". Well our President should pay attention to his own words. Let the Europeans install this themselves if they want it.

Sick Car...My Cruiser as an electrical problem, namely that the fog lights will not turn off. To temporarily solve the problem I needed to remove the appropriate fuse, although now they will not (obviously) come on at all. An hour of Internet searches for the problem came up blank. My best guess is that the switch may be bad (it's a single switch that controls all the lights) or perhaps there is a faulty relay at work. Just another problem to solve I suppose.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

TV Show Quote

"Ah, arrogance and stupidity all in the same package. How very efficient of you."
- Ambassador Londo Mollari (Babylon 5)


You don't have to like or even have even seen the television show Babylon 5 to appreciate the value of the above quote. It often comes to mind whenever I think of politicians in general, particularly of late when I think of Luzerne County government and courts.


On another, unrelated note, this blog has had slightly over 500 views of the 254 published posts since October 27, 2008. Does that mean anything? Nope, it does not, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. 500 is, after all, a nice round number.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Breaking News: Governor Palin

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced today that she will resign her seat. Story link here.

If the GOP believes that a credible candidate for President is someone who:
  • Could not finish the her first term as governor of a state with about the same population of Northeastern Pennsylvania
  • Notes as an accomplishment being the mayor of a town the size of Dunmore, Pennsylvania
...then the party truly has lost its way. How on Earth could she possibly improve her credentials and experience level? Put another way, I'm not sure that running your own PAC qualifies you for anything other than running another PAC. It certainly doesn't do much in the "leader of the free world experience" department, if this is indeed how she plans on affecting change.

Best and brightest that the Republican Party has to offer? I'm thinking not.

Road Apples, #34

In the Stupidest Movie Department we have the latest installment of "Transformers". This is, quite possibly, the worst movie ever made. I want to sue Paramount for the price of my ticket. Now why was it so bad? Here are just a few reasons:
  • Dialogue, Part 1 - Half the time I couldn't hear the dialogue, as it was either muffled or drown out by giant battling Transformers.
  • Dialogue, Part 2 - When I could hear the dialogue it was mostly stupid.
  • Fights, Part 1 - It was virtually impossible to tell the "good" Transformers from the bad ones.
  • Fights, Part 2 - When the Transformers were fighting the action was so fast that you really couldn't tell what was happening.
  • Scale - Sometimes "Optimus Prime" seemed to be about 20 feet tall, sometimes he seemed to be about 60 feet tall.
  • Acting - The best actors were the new, smaller Transformers.

This was seriously horrible. Why did I ever go? Well that was mainly because the first movie was fairly tolerable.

I Get A Shiver In My Bones Thinking About The Weather - The weather of late has been horrible. Think on and off showers all week. It's damn-near depressing.

In The "Just Doesn't Apply To Airplanes" Department - I've come to the absolutely conclusion that I get much better gas mileage while driving West to East than I do East to West. Got to love that head-wind.

In The News - While I would never wish for a major catastrophe to happen in the world, it would be nice for something to take the "Michael Jackson is dead" stuff out of the headlines. Seriously, we get it now: he was weird. Can we now move on?

I Have A Ton Of Work To Do and probably not enough time to get it all completed. Life can be wonderful like that sometimes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Criminal Rule #1: Make Sure the Get-Away Car Is Filled Up

Sad but funny story in today's Scranton Times, linked here.

It seems two crooks who robbed a gas station were caught, after their get-away car ran out of gas. Ooops. Somehow I think the term "criminal genius" will not be applied to either of these two individuals any time soon.

I say give them 10+5 in the in some SCI - 10 for robbery plus an extra 5 for simply being morons.

Just A Quick Note...

...that I'm traveling this week, which means a different schedule, which means my head gets scrambled in a minor way, etc. The older I get the more I become like a house cat: change my routine and I cease to want to function properly.

Regardless, maybe the muse will strike me at some point and time. Until then, I'm just going to be glad that life marches on.