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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Public Facility + Pulbic Money = Full Disclosure

A classic example of NEPA at close to its worst is noted in a series of articles in the Scranton Times that deals with the on-going efforts by the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees to hide elements of their deal with the stadium authority. The latest installment is noted here.

This isn't one of those political issues that, after reading about it you just shut your eyes and simply say "whatever". No, this one is pretty simple: the SWB Yankees use a public facility and public money is involved (namely payments to the stadium authority), therefore there needs to be full disclosure when it comes to all contracts and agreements.

In this particular instance, the SWB Yankees granted a concessions contract to, you guessed it, themselves. I guess they just want us to take it on faith that they will provide the best concession deal to the owners of the stadium & the team, namely you and I. Sorry to disappoint, but I take virtually nothing on faith, nor do I think anyone else should.

Free tip to one and all: if you want to keep your finances and financial arrangements private, then stay out of the public arena.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Got 'Dem Cosmic Data Blues

A few days (or was it weeks?) ago I mentioned that I was looking at flash drives, for no reason other than to look at flash drives. Well wouldn't you know, my primary 6gb Seagate flash drive failed earlier this week. Now I've had it for about 4 or 5 years, so I can't say that I didn't get good service out of it. What I can say is that I'm a quasi-moron for not having backed the data up. Note that I said "quasi", because I did once back it up, but that was last December. On the positive side, I split out some of the files from this drive into two other drives (dedicated to work and other files) about two months ago, leaving the Seagate drive with just my pictures and music files.

What to do? Well I bought two 4mb HP flash drives yesterday and then moved the backed-up music files onto one, and the backed-up picture files onto another. Splitting them out seems to make sense, as a failure on one will mean that I still have the other. I also need to either back the files up more frequently (say monthly) OR maybe look into some kind of on-line backup service.

Also in the "it could have been worse" department, I only recently had added some music files to the Seagate drive, and I still had copies of the ripped newer files on my hard drive, I probably didn't loose much at all.

The real bummer here is that I've lost most of the pictures I've taken from December 2008 through September 2009. I might have some back-up copies on the hard drive, so I'll check for that over the weekend. Interestingly, I discovered that the Seagate drive was busted because I tried to copy some pictures I took in December onto it. Oh well, no sense crying over lost data and as I tell my children, "sometimes things just break".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NEPA's Finest Make the Front Page of MSNBC

For your reading pleasure. Makes you proud to be from NEPA, hayna or no?

The Politics of the Promise, Scranton Style

I'm looking at a card from three candidates for Scranton City Council, Mrs Evans, Mr Rogan and Mr Joyce. The card state that, if elected, they pledge to:

  1. Work to Reduce Taxes
  2. Increase police and Fire Protection
  3. Help bring Family Sustaining Jobs to Scranton
  4. Vote against ANY tax increases
  5. Vote against borrowing to balance budgets
  6. Vote against wasteful spending
  7. Restore decorum to Council Meetings

So let's think about this rationally:

Items 1, 4, and 5 would mean less potentially less money coming into Scranton.

Item 6 would mean reduced costs, but the definition of "wasteful" is subject to interpretation; for example, some one might think that having, say, two health inspectors is "wasteful", while someone else could say that both are needed.

Item 2 involves spending more money...potentially a lot more money.

Item 3 could involve spending more money, depending on how this is executed. For the record, I don't believe that any of the three candidates support Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) loans to businesses (if I am incorrect, someone can please correct me), so that seems to be out of the question. Outside of OCED money, I'm not entirely sure that Scranton City Council can do anything tangible...outside of reducing business taxes (which would definitely involve reducing revenues)...to bring more "family sustaining" jobs to Scranton.

With all due respect, item 7 is a lost cause, no matter who is sits in the council chairs. If you disagree with me, you have no doubt never actually seen a Scranton City Council meeting.


Look, I'm not advocating for any candidate for any local office; rather, I'm simply suggesting that we look at what politicians promise us and ask one simple question:

"Is what's being promised reasonable and rational, or am I being told things that this person thinks I WANT to hear?"

City budgets are a lot like home budgets in that if you have less money coming in, you have less money to spend. Sure, you can cut out a restaurant visit each week (i.e., reduce wasteful spending), but in the end the big ticket items are your paycheck (in the city's case taxes) and your bills (in the city's case salaries, benefits, other costs of running Scranton). If you reduce what you have coming in by reducing taxes, you have to reduce the money you spend. Where I work, salaries and benefits represent roughly about 60% - 75% of our expenses, and of the remaining 25% - 40%, well some of those costs are fixed, such as data charges, rent, etc. I suspect that a city budget is not all that disssimilar.

Again, I am NOT telling anyone to vote one way or another relative to Mrs Evans, Mr Joyce or Mr Rogan. Furthermore, if I get a card or other literature from the other candidates (Mr Morgan and Mr Miller) I'll be sure to comment on their promises as well. Instead, it's my hope that people think first and vote second. If in thinking first someone reads what the politician promises, and on balance it makes rational sense, then definitely vote for them. If it doesn't, then consider another candidate.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Done...

Well, after having business trips almost weekly since the beginning of August, I'm finally finished being "on the road" for what I think will be a while. These past two days I've been attending some near year-end meetings for my department, and they mark the end of what I have planned. I may have a day trip or two and maybe one overnight, but from now on it's back to more of a "normal" schedule. Now I've been traveling for business reasons for over twenty years now, so suffice to say I have some experience; that noted noted, I always try and treat every experience as an opportunity to learn. Here are some of the things I've learned (or re-learned) over the past three months:

  1. It's like Making Hotdogs - Training someone how to use a new piece of technology is a lot like what they say about making hotdogs...namely that no one wants to see how it's done, they just want the finished product. More true words have never ever been spoken.
  2. 24 Hrs - Traveling on business is like working 24 hours a day. Even when I am not on the company's property, I'm thinking about the company's work.
  3. Some of the Nicest People in the World Work in Hotels - Having a responsive, friendly person waiting for you at a hotel reservation desk at 10pm when you check-in is a God-send.
  4. Glamor - Despite what anyone else might think, there is nothing glamorous about traveling on company business. Driving or flying anywhere is a pain, you always end up eating too much, and nothing screams "pathetic" more than hanging a dress shirt in a bathroom while a hot shower runs simply so that you don't have to iron it the next morning.
Yes, I am indeed done.

Happy Anniversary

I'm on the road today, and I wanted to mention that this is the one year anniversary of my starting this blog (I was too tired to write anything yesterday). One year and 360 postings later, it still manages to entertain me. Not bad, not bad at all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Road Apples, #47

Hurry Up & Type - I'm actually leaving shortly for Pittsburgh. Yes, insane as that is, I'm driving to and from Pittsburgh today. By my count that's about 11 hours or so on the road. I'll be ready for institutionalization by the time I get home.

This Week - In addition to Pittsburgh today, I am in Hartford tomorrow and Wednesday for staff meetings. The good news is that Tuesday/Wednesday is the last overnight trip I have on the schedule for the balance of 2009. It sounds weird just writing it.

Home Schooling - Note to self to write about home schooling. I just don't get it, unless of course the parent is an educator (but then that would make even less sense). The topic came to mind because of some books I saw for sale on a local bulletin board.

On The Health Front - I really, really blew it this weekend eating wise. Just horrible. I think I would have eaten wallpaper paste had it been available. The remarkable thing is that I continued to eat even after I was full. Yet more proof that the whole weight thing is more mental than physical.

Penn State - I watched most of the Penn State game on Saturday. Obviously I was nothing short of thrilled. They played like the team they are capable of being. One more big hump to overcome: Ohio State, which isn't a great team this year. Luckily the game is at home for Penn State. Now if Iowa can just lose a game or two...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sometimes There Are No Cures

There are times when the limits of being human become very apparent. Sure, the easy comment after that previous sentence could be something like "yeah, as in we can't carry a load 100 times our own weight, like ants do" or something like that, but that's really not what I'm referring to. No, I'm thinking of something a tab bit more subtle, as in our very difficult time in grasping the finality of certain situations. I personally think (well all of this is what I "personally think", but for some reason I need to constantly qualify myself, as if some alien species is going to read this and wonder "Wow, are all humans this messed up?") that Americans are among the worst at simply accepting things; it seems to be part of our collective genetic code to want to "solve" and "fix" things. In reality, some things just can't ever be "fixed".

No where is the above more apparent for me than when the subject of mental illness comes up.

Now to be fair, I don't think that any family member who deals with a loved one suffering through mental health problems is ever told that person will be "cured". No, far more subtle words are chosen to describe the treatment and expectations for someone who has this kind of illness. Still though, that's what family members want to hear, namely that "all we have to do is wait for ____________ to kick in and he/she will get better". "Better" is the relevant term in the previous sentence. If someone is suicidal, "better" can mean that they don't try to harm themselves (at least not in an overt manner) any more. "Better" can also mean that they are able to walk around and seeming function. "Better" though doesn't mean "cured".

It's all in managing the expectations: not for the loved one, but for yourself.

Yes, one of the most difficult things about dealing with someone who suffers from mental health problems is getting past the notion that "better" means "cured". Even then, once you intellectually accept that there are real differences between the words "better" and "cured", it still negatively impacts you when that person seems to digress. How could it not? For me, it's not just the dealing with the digressions that just seem to happen from time to time, it's the notion that you then always end up looking at that person and then seeing all of these signs that you interpret as being indicative of the digression. It's as if you are in this movie, where you are given all of these subtle, small clues that all point to some kind of grand conspiracy. You lose the ability to not interpret the actions of the person, with then everything they do now being subject to your interpretation on the mental health scale.

All well and (not so) good, but what does all of this really mean? It means that some of the work associated with dealing with mental health issues belongs to those around the person. It's about managing our own expectations and learning to really, truly accept those things for which we really can't change. I don't think that the previous sentence is unique to the subject of mental (or any other kind of) health issues, but instead it goes to the core of the limits we have as human beings. It is painfully difficult to simply say to yourself "yes, there is a problem, and no I can not solve it" because that seems to make us powerless to respond.

If you look deeper into the notion of being "powerless to respond" I think you find that the notion is not actually correct. I once heard a line on a television show that went something along the lines of "the true test of a warrior isn't from grand battles, but it's from within", which I interpret as meaning that the toughest struggles we face aren't purely from the external forces we have deal with, but rather are how we deal with those challenges within our own heads. No where is that more apparent, literally and figuratively, than when you consider dealing with mental health issues. No, you can not respond by making that person "better", but you can respond by making your self better. Maybe that's really what a warrior does.

Coda...It's interesting in that most of the time when I write something it literally flows from my head through my arms to my fingers onto the screen. Sure, I do some editing (or more correctly attempt to do some editing, as evidenced by the numerous typos that are usually found in this stuff), but by and large how I think about things are how they appear on the screen. This entry was different in that it was something of a struggle to get it out. That's okay I suppose, because this is a difficult topic to even think about, let alone somehow translate those thoughts into coherent words. The struggle really is on the inside.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's Saturday Evening...

...and I'm writing a blog entry. That's okay actually, as I've traveled enough, logged enough miles, eaten enough meals out, slept enough other beds to last a while. Now I'm not complaining, but with me it's the change-ups that are the most difficult. "Change-up" is just a fancy way of saying that I do all of these different things, but it's just that switching between them does take it's toll. Change isn't a bad thing, but like most humans I am more comfortable with at least some semblance of sameness.

Today was actually another "re-introduction" if you will back into my regular life. For me that meant getting up to take my youngest to work, going to Kmart to buy a new bed pillow (I have a thing about pillows...they need to be just right), getting my hair cut, going grocery shopping, running to Sam's Club, making dinner, cleaning up after dinner, and in the midst of all of it, catching most of the Penn State game. Sounds exciting, huh? Well at least Penn State won.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Luzerne County Controller Earns $36,562 A Year In Salary

I was shocked when I read the salary paid to the Luzerne County Controller in a Times Leader article. Now if you are working at WalMart that would seem like a fortune, but when married against the responsibilities of the job, the amount is a joke. Why?

...A tenured teacher in the Scranton School District, working 9.5 months a year, can earn nearly double that salary
...The starting salary for a Pennsylvania State Trooper is $17,267 more than that of the Controller
...The starting salary for a police officer in the City of Wilkes-Barre is $10,414 more than that of the Controller
...The average salary for an Accounts Receivable Manager in Wilkes-Barre is $7,956 more than that of the Controller

Quick show of hands: Anyone reading this believe that the Luzerne County Controller has fewer responsibilities than that of an Accounts Receivable Manager ?

I could continue, but the point is made.

This is simply insane. When it comes to professional talent, you get what you pay for. Pay crap and you get crap. Think about the responsibilities of this job. Is this really a job where you want to low-ball talent?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

...and Cupcakes Make You Stronger

Yes, it appears that the Internet is good for you. Maybe us nerds do get the last laugh after all.

8 Things That Make Me Shake My Head In Disgust

1. People Who Confuse Faith & Science
I recently read a great story (linked here) about how humans are still evolving. Reading it though, I could hear in the back of my head comments from the uber-religious crowed claiming that there is "scientific proof" for the Bible's creation story. In fact I watched something of TV a month or so ago about a creationist-themed park that has opened where you can see displays of humans along side the dinosaurs that (according to this group) existed with them at the same time. Personally I have nothing but respect for those that have a strong faith, because that simple act (of having faith) seems beyond my capabilities, but faith is no substitute for scientific reasoning. The two, faith and reasoning, can co-exist, but each has to have it's own place.

2. Reality Television Shows
Jon & Kate + 8 seems typical of an entertainment world where we all just sit and watch the train approaching the pending wreck. To be fair to Jon & Kate Gosselin, they didn't create the genre, and hell others are famous for being famous, so why not them? I would, however, hate to be Jon Gosselin; think about it: in 30 years he will look back on his life and discover that he produced nothing (other than sperm) and contributed nothing. "I was once on TV" will be his only talking point. Hurray.

3. (Related to #2) Breeders
I've seen a few shows that showcase these "breeder" families...parents that have extremely large families. Let me bottom line this: It's not possible to be a good parent to so many children all at once. Having that many children says more about the compulsions of the parents than it does anything else.

4. The Pennsylvania Legislature
I'm convinced that Pennsylvania has the most ineffective, self-serving, and complacent legislative body in the country...although I suspect that New York state can give the crew in Harrisburg a run for their money. This crew makes Scranton's City Council look like a group of stellar legislative professionals. Do they do ANYTHING that isn't self-serving in some capacity?

5. Politicians Who Spend My Money & Then Get Things Named After Them
Ever been to the Mellow Theater at Lackawanna College? Now in the real (as opposed to the surreal) world you would think that the theater was named after someone who contributed his/her own money into refurbishing the facility. Not here. No in our surreal world, a state legislator can use OUR MONEY and treat it as if it were some kind of personal contribution. Ah, the magic of "walking around monies" (also known as WAMs). Now to be fair, I'm not claiming that State Senator Robert Mellow asked that the theater be named after him, but does it really matter? Let's rename the Mellow Theater to the "Taxpayer's Theater".

6. "I'm a News Guy. Here is who you should vote for..."
A comment I saw yesterday on Facebook reminded me of how much some radio talking heads annoy me. We have a particular commentator in northeastern Pennsylvania who likes to say "I'm a news guy" in his promos, but then during his show he proceeds to tell his listeners who they should vote for. Now I know he would probably claim "hey, I'm not telling people who to vote for...I'm simply telling them who I am voting for", and that would be a mighty fine bit of razor edge walking. Call me crazy, but I don't think that people who claim to be hard news reporters should be in the business of editorializing, as it's far too difficult for some folks to separate what is the "news" and what is the "commentary". It's like the trick that the late Paul Harvey used to pull, intermixing commercials in with his "news" stories, hoping to confuse his elderly audience into buying a product they heard referenced in the "news".

7. Stuff That Poses for Modern Music
I don't get how someone who writes none of their own material, plays nothing, and then has their voice electronically modified in their recording can be considered to be an "artist". Unfortunately I've described half of what kids listen to these days.

8. Fox News
I want to watch Fox News, but I just can't. I want to believe that they truly are "fair and balanced". The problem though is that they are balanced, to the extent that they feel the need to "balance" what they perceive as being overly liberal media outlets with their overtly conservative brand of media. This is an outlet there are ten conservative commentators for every one liberal one; in fact, I can think of only two non-conservative Fox contributors...Juan Williams and Geraldo Riviera. Fox News could serve a higher purpose and truly be "fair and balanced", but instead they've become nothing more than a calculated profit center for a company that discovered a niche news market. Score: Capitalism 1, Journalism 0.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Let The Bashing Begin - Another Priest Sex Scandal?

...sadly, another priest within the Diocese of Scranton has been accused of a crime involving sexuality and children. You can read the story here. Of course there are already a half dozen comments to the story, spanning the usual spectrum of "He is innocent" to "All priests are Pedophiles". To the second type of comment, while I'm not minimizing the extremely negative impact that these kinds of actions can cause, a more reasoned...less emotional...review of abuse data indicates that the problem probably isn't as bad as some paint it out to be. A decent article on the topic, complete with references and statistics, can be found here. I've also read articles where it has been shown that the rate of sexual abuse among Catholic Priests is no higher than that of clergy in other denominations. Unfortunately I can't point my finger on a decent citation, other than these quotes from Catholic League President Bill Donahue:

"The best evidence suggests that the rate of priest pedophilia is about the same as found among the clergy of other religions,"

and

"Indeed, the Anglican dioceses in British Columbia are going bankrupt because so many ministers can't keep their hands to themselves. And these men are married."

Both quotes are from a Slate.com article (linked here). While I question Bill Donahue's ability to be unbiased, the fact that the quotes appear in the left-leaning Slate.com does seem to give it come counter-balancing credibility. Furthermore, my own gut feeling on this (not that it matters much) is that being a Priest is no more attractive to a pedophile than, say, being an elementary education teacher would be.

I can add to my own gut feeling on this subject based on some real, practical experience. My three brothers and I were all Altar Servers (back then it was strictly a Boy's Club, so we were called "Altar Boys") for many, many years. For me, that translated to beginning to serve when I was about 8 years old (I think) through the time when I graduated from high school at 18. Throughout all of this I never once experienced or heard of anyone else experiencing anything remotely like any form of sexual misconduct. This is not to say that such things may not have happened, but it is to say that if such things happened with the frequency that the extreme end of the spectrum contents, surely I would have at least heard of someone falling victim to this kind of abuse. No the worst experience I ever had as an Altar Server was having to serve at weekday Mass once a month. At the time, that was as bad as it got.

Again, I don't want anyone to get the impression that I'm oblivious to this kind thing actually happening, as one of my high school classmates (who would later become a Priest) has been convicted of molesting a minor. No, my real purpose is to simply point out that it's not the title of "Priest" that engages in this kind of behavior...it's an individual who does. To the extent that any of us must judge, I suggest that the more rational thing to do is to judge the individual in question, not their title. Failing to do so completely ignores the vast majority of Religious (from all faiths really) who engage if lives that are dedicated to truly good work.

Why even write this? I'm not what I would consider to be a "good" Catholic. The answer is pretty simple actually: Father Miller. Father Yarish. Monsignor Lewis. Father Totaro (sp? on all). All Priests who managed to treat me like a decent human being back when I was, quite frankly, a mess as a teenager. None were child molesters and all made a positive impression on my life. Mind you, none of these guys needs me to defend them, but all deserve to have the honor of their position acknowledged in the face of some who would lump all into a category where few actually belong.

In the end, this Priest in question is innocent until proven guilty. He will stand before the justice system like anyone else would, and he will be be judged according to the evidence collected. I know, that doesn't make for salacious scandal, but it does have the benefit of being the right thing to do.

Just When You Thought They Couldn't Get Nuttier...

...I found this on the Drudgereport. I think it pretty much speaks for itself. These people are serious deranged.

Waiting for the 'Balloon Boy' Headlines

Prepare for an onslaught on 'Balloon Boy' headlines & stories, as they will come with all the certainty of Halloween fires in Detroit. We Americans do love a train-wreck, and this story has all the hallmarks of a good one. Besides, until the likes of Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears decide to commit ritual suicide via Red-Bull & nicotine overdose, this is probably the best the media will have to feast on for a while.

I can only imagine some of the NY paper headlines. Of course the best NY tabloid headline ever, in my humble opinion, was "FCC Gets Stern with Howard" (in reference to an FCC fine of radio personality Howard Stern).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Road Apples, #46

"Rushing" to Judgement - It's my personal opinion that anyone outside of mass-murders, people stupid enough to tuck a pistol into a pair of sweatpants and/or purveyors of dog-fighting rings should be able to buy into a sports team franchise. We are not talking about organizations that exist to promote the general welfare or do anything of any real importance anyway. What I'm referring to is, of course, race-baiter Rush Limbaugh's failure to participate in a group that was interested in buying an NFL franchise. Limbaugh had as much of a right to buy into an NFL team as anyone else would, but that's not the REAL issue here now, is it? No, the real issue is this: Limbaugh has made a career out of bashing people he does not like, but yet he himself has a habit of crying like a little girl (no disrespect intended to little girls) whenever something like this happens. This is a guy who has been race-baiting for years, and how cries "race" because his fellow investors decided that he was more of a liability than his money was an asset in this endeavor. Maybe he should have laid off the "Barrack the Magic Negro" parody.

Note to File: If you send your career bashing people, you shouldn't be so surprised that the have a tendency to fight back every once in a while.

Working for a Living - As I noted before, the 'heavy-lifting' portion of my latest assignment at work is over, and I'm pretty glad. We are rolling out a new Client Relationship Management application, and I've been the lead on the training component of the project. Part of that translated to the fact that we had about 100 classes to conduct in about three months, and I was responsible for a little over a third of the classes. The other three trainers on the project conducted the remaining 2/3rds of of the sessions. While I do have some more travel coming up, none if it will be as extensive as I've been going through since August. On the plus side, I have a ton of Hilton Honors points. On the negative side, I now have to get back into a routine that doesn't involve the same pace. Oh well, the pay is still deposited into my checking account every other Friday, so I'll definitely be able to adjust.

At the Moment - I'm listening to a few old Paul McCartney tunes. "Listen to What the Man Said" just finished and I'm now playing "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey". Man, this guy has talent to burn. In today's musical world where pop-tards reign, talent like Macca's just stand out like a black guy playing hockey (sorry, I must still have Limbaugh on the brain). It makes you wonder whatever happened to artists that write and perform their own material. Damn, I really do need to dig out "Band on the Run" and rip the songs onto my music flash drive.

Things to Do - Now that my exile in Hartford and Woodbridge has more or less come to an end, I have to set my sights on a few important things to accomplish of a more personal nature. This includes getting my eyes checked (I haven't been to the eye doctor in two years) and seeing my doctor about a problem that I think exists and which I think might need to be corrected early next year. Mind you I don't want to do the latter, but I'm thinking that some things are better left not ignored forever, and while the last work-assignment provided more than ample cover, it's over and I can't keep ducking forever.

Zombieland - I went to see this movie last night (by myself) and I have to say that I was entertained. Mind you if you are looking for a movie that has elements such as plot, character development, and cinematography, this isn't for you. If you like to see zombies getting killed in all manner of creative ways...or...if you just want to mentally check you mind out for about 90 minutes, then I highly recommend 'Zombieland'. Note that it's not for the kids.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm Baaaccckkkk...

I was working out of our Woodbridge, NJ office this past week and technical problems prevented me from being able to get to any blogger.com sites. Needless to say, I was "jones-ing". How utterly pathetic is that?

Anyway, since early August I've been involved in a fairly intense project at work that has involved almost weekly travel. The good news is that the heavy-lifting part of the project is now over with; while there may be some clean-up work to do, I don't expect any more "gone every week" situations in the near future.

Much to comment on (Rush Limbaugh bashes people for a living then cries like a jilted 13 year old when others, gasp, bash him) and much to read, all of which will be covered in good time.

On a more pleasant note, a note of congratulations and best wishes to Father Dave Bechtel on his new assignment as an assistant pastor at Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Williamsport. You see Father, not only do receive the Catholic Light (I have for many, many years by the way), but I actually read it too!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

(Not So) Comfortably Numb

Hello,
Is there anybody in there
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home
Come on now
I hear you're feeling down
I can ease your pain
And get you on your feet again
Relax
I'll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts


I've never been one for wearing my feeling on my sleeve, and I'm not about to do that now. However I will admit some struggles in maintaining a reasonable amount of personal sanity over the past few months. It's the usual culprits in my life...

...stress at work
...stress at home
...physically not taking care of myself
...not sleeping enough
...eating poorly
...holding myself to impossibly high standards (even when I say I'm not)
...etc

...it's just that these days the culprits are on steroids. At the heart of it all is the fact that, at age 45, I'm still not all that great at managing my own expectations. Wait, I'm not even sure if that's correct. That's the problem with this self-analysis stuff: it relies on a completely unreliable source of information, namely "self". In point of fact I'm really not sure what the hell is wrong with me. Hell, I'm not even sure if there is anything wrong with me. For all I know, inside my head is some vision of paradise compared to what might reside inside the skulls of others.

I do suspect though that there is supposed to be a bit more, well, "joy" to all of this.

So what's the plan to tackle all of this? Part of it is that I need to finish my current work assignment. Simply put, the stress of it is taking a huge toll. I'm away constantly, so I end up worrying about what is going on at home. It also prevents me from actually trying to accomplish anything meaningful at home. Traveling so much creates other problems as well; the biggest is that I end up living this almost bizzaro dual existence, and transitioning between the two halves is exceptionally difficult. I'm going from eating at Morton's Steak House on Thursday night to eating cold cereal for dinner on Friday night while I watch Hulu broadcasts of the latest "Family Guy" episodes.

I also need to "re grow-up", as I would put it, about my health. I have the eating habits of a 12 year old, and I should know better. I'm 40+ pounds over my weight just two years ago. I feel bad so I eat, which makes me feel bad.

If it didn't should so pathetic, I'd also mention that there is a certainly loneliness to all of this. Wait, I think I just did.

Uncomfortably Numb.

Local Media, Post Bishop Martino

Very, very interesting piece entitled "Publisher's Perspective" in today's edition of The Sunday Times. You can link to it here.

As some may recall, retired Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino mainly refused to speak to the secular media, for reasons that sometimes seemed strange, paranoid and down-right wrong. It's refreshing to note that his boss, Cardinal Rigali, seems to have a different perspective on the secular media. Now don't get me wrong: I don't believe everything I see and read in the media. But conversely, I don't believe that the media is on an "anti-________________ (fill the blank with anything important you'd like..."American", "Catholic", "Religion", etc.)" mission either. The media is a flawed institution, like all institutions run by flawed humans. Each of us can choose to see only the flaws (as retired Bishop Martino apparently chose to do) or you can chose to acknowledge the flaws and find some way to use it for good. It's pretty clear that Cardinal Rigali's perspective is more the latter than the former. I, for one, am glad.

Road Apples, #45

Gort42 - I am a very big fan of local blogger 'Gort42'. While I normally enjoy most of his writing (well except for the sports, and that's my a personal preference on my part), this particular posting falls in the "most read" category for anyone with an interest in local politics, the First Amendment, the perils of being a Republican these days, or religion in general. As I noted in a comment or two to the posting, this is scary, scary stuff. Look, I think it's great that some politicians have strong religious convictions; however that "great" turns to "disgust" when those religious convictions end up being turned into an "us vs them" wedge-like device. A "Day of Prayer Win with GOD" seems to be a giant "Only Born Again Christians Are Welcome" sign. Folks like Gina Nevenglosky fail to realize that not every American is a devoted born-again Christian.

Religion & Politics - On a related note, and to expand on a comment I made in Gort's blog, the above is precisely the stuff that prevents me from becoming a registered Republican, despite agreeing with the GOP most of the time when it comes to fiscal issues. Any political party that sets itself apart by saying "only YOU are welcome"...where YOU is some subset of the population (be it Evangelical Christians, Whites, Blacks, Liberals, etc.) is doomed to failure. Instead, I believe that all political parties should take a stance of "ALL are WELCOME; here is what makes us different regarding the important issues of the day...". History is full of "small tent" political parties that failed. That's not to say that anyone should sacrifice their inherent values simply in order to get along, but rather differences such as those that involve deeply-seated personal beliefs...and not matters of governmental policy...are best left out of the equation. People forget that the First Amendment not only prevents the government from establishing a religion, but it also prevents religion from establishing a government. That may not have necessarily been the intent of the founding fathers (who, but the way, apparently were not this merry band of born again Christians), but never the less that's what it does. Bottom Line: I'm no less valuable of a person, of a voter, of a voice because of my religious choices.

Yesterday - We went to visit Katrina at Kutztown. My oldest daughter got into a little accident at school that involved a trip to the emergency room. Fortunately all is well and I am glad to report that the only repercussion from her event is a lingering headache. It just goes to show that no matter the age, no matter the distance, your children are always your children.

The Home Stretch - I'm in the home stretch this up-coming week of a project that has had me traveling just about every week since the beginning of August. Friday is the last "official" class I am teaching, but I do have a few clean-up sessions after that. Consider this: When all is said and done, I will have conducted the same all-day class approximately 40 times. How do I feel about it? Well for me, presentation quality really does represent itself well on a bell-curve, namely that the best sessions are always in the middle, with the first and last not being as good (all be it for different reasons). Anyway, I will not be shedding any tears at this passing. Enough is nearly enough. Besides, while I know that many, many people back at "the office" work their tails off, being in class day after day really is difficult stuff. It's time for a rest.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Meaning to Old Song Lyrics

In light of accusations made by Mackenzie Phillips about her father "Papa John" Phillips, the lyrics to the song "I Saw Here Again" seem to have a new meaning...

I saw her again last night,
And you know that I shouldn't
Just string her along; it's just not right
If I could I wouldn't.
But what can I do; I'm lonely too.
And it makes me feel so good to know
She'll never leave me.

I'm in way over my head;
Now she thinks that I love her (yeah, yeah)
Because that's what I said
Though I never think of her.
(No, no, never think of her)

But what can I do? I'm lonely too.
And it makes me feel so good to know
(And it makes me feel so good to know...)
She'll never leave me.

Every time I see that girl,
You know I wanna lay down and die.
But I really need that girl
Though I'm living a lie;
(Though I'm living a lie...)
It makes me wanna cry

I saw her again last night,
And you know that I shouldn't
Just string her along; it's just not right.
If I couldn't then I wouldn't,
But what can I do, I'm lonely too.
And it makes me feel so good to know
She'll never leave me.
(to know...know)

But what can I do? I'm lonely too.
Yeah, and it makes me feel so good to know
She'll never leave me.

Every time I see that girl,
You know I wanna lay down and die.
But I really need that girl
Though I'm living a lie
(Though I'm living a lie...)
It makes me wanna cry.

I saw her...
I saw her again last night.
And you know that I shouldn't (no, no)
Just string her along; it's just not right.
If I couldn't, I wouldn't;
I'm in way over my head (you say...)
Now she thinks that I love her (yeah, yeah)
Because that's what I said...

Actually, from what I understand, the song is really about an affair that band member Denny Doherty had with Papa John Phillips then wife, Michelle.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Even More Proof that the Pennsylvania Legislature Doesn't Get It

Refer to this Scranton Times article.

Recession? Budget Crisis? Belt-tightening? It doesn't matter all that much to our elected representatives in the State Senate, as they managed to "find" $12 million for what we refer to in Pennsylvania as WAMs (or Walking Around Money). In case you are are alien to the concept of the WAM, it's actually pretty simple: this is discretionary money that legislators can spend at will in their districts.

Grease is the word.

Yes, this is really nothing more than a way for legislators to spread the money out to buy popularity. Greasing palms? Well it seems that way to me. Yes, I know that WAM money can be used to fund reasonable, well-intentioned projects, but that's not the point; the issue here is that WE, as taxpayers, are giving blank checks to a group of people that have about the same amount of fiscal discipline as your average drunken sailor on leave in Bangkok. There should be a process whereby decisions are made on how reasonable, well-intentioned projects are funded that doesn't involve the sole discretion of one individual who has limited to no accountability (case in point: when was the last time State Senator Mellow had a credible challenge to his re-election?).

Normally WAMs represent an egregious abuse of incumbent power, but now they are also a symbol of the general disconnection between the legislature and the real world. Yes, while you and I are busy trying to find ways to tighten our belts, the Pennsylvania Legislature has decided that fiscal crisis or not, greasing the skids is still a priority. Making matters worse, if that's even possible, is the fact that Pennsylvania is the only state without a budget. This is a nice package of arrogance and stupidity on display for all the world to see.

Congratulations to Bob Mellow and his colleagues in the Senate: You never fail to fail.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

11 Reasons Why I Love The Fall

Listed in no particular order:

  1. Change - Fall reminds me that everything changes, but this fact itself provides a measure of comfortable predictability.
  2. Temperature - I love the temperatures in the Fall...days are not too hot, nights are nice and cool. I can work outside and not get horribly sweaty.
  3. Clothes - I am more comfortable in Fall clothing.
  4. Color - This part of the world is just so much more colorful this time of the year. This is a simple beauty in looking at the side of a mountain and seeing fifty different colors displayed for all the world to see.
  5. Halloween and Thanksgiving - My two favorite holidays are in the Fall. I especially love the notion of Thanksgiving because none of us are ever good enough at counting our blessings.
  6. Preparation - Fall reminds me that I need to prepare for the future; for me this means preparing the house for the Winter, but it could also mean preparing for Christmas or other things.
  7. School - The start of school...even if you don't go to school...is just one of those natural rhythms that makes you feel that all is well in the world. I also remember so looking forward to school starting again back when I was young. It was as if you were getting on a ship about to start a new cruise to somewhere different and exciting.
  8. Nights - For some reason I always think the night sky looks especially clear on a crisp Fall night.
  9. Work - Fall usually means finishing things up at work. That's especially true for me this year.
  10. Rebirth - Fall reminds me that even when things seem to be dying all around, the fact is really only temporary and that what seems like "death" is really just necessary preparation rebirth in the Spring.
  11. Smell - As strange as it seems, smells are important to me. This is one of the reasons why I am such a militant against smoking: it just plain smells horrible. Anyway, I just love the smell of Fall...that combination of fallen leaves and wind that tells you winter is on the way.

Yet Another Follow-Up to P&G Posting

See my previous postings for the article link.

There was a comments on The Scranton Times website related to this story that read something like "This wouldn't be an issue if the jokes were about George Bush", which nearly made me fall off my chair. CLEARLY, the poster didn't read the story.

Why?

The primary reason why the P&G employees were fired was something related to a photoshop showing the White House with watermelons growing in front of it. That picture wasn't a political statement...it was a RACIST statement. Calling President Obama a Socialist isn't actually correct in my opinion, but it is fair political commentary. However a picture that reinforces racial stereotypes is the kind of stuff that's best suited to Klan rallies, not political policy debates.

It amazes me the depths to which people leave their brains at the door when it comes to political debates. This is why, I suspect, so many people listen to the Limbaugh's & Beck's of this world: it requires no effort...it's the equivalent of being spoon fed what to believe. Oh, and yes, I do believe that part of the blame here lies in the race-baiting of certain political entertainers. When the likes of Glen Beck constantly interject race into political debates ("Obama has a deep-seated hatred of white people"), it's only natural that some will take that as a lead-in to even more outrageous comments.

Mark my words: this is only going to get worse.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Follow-Up to P&G Posting - Free Speech Isn't Always Free

I am Referring to this article and my posting from Saturday morning.

What's amazing is that there are more than a few dim-witted folks out there who are claiming that the free speech rights of these fired workers were somehow violated by Proctor & Gamble when they were fired. Let me be blunt: There is no such thing as an unlimited, unfettered right to free speech. It simply does not exist.

Here is the actual text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It says that Congress can't write a law that abridges the right of folks to speak. In other words, it says that Congress can't pass a law that says "you can be thrown in jail for talking about ______". What's more, within the larger context of the amendment, it's actually referring to the ability of people to gather and protest. The courts have held throughout our country's history that this right does have limitations; in fact, the most basic of high school civics classes teaches this through the "you can't yell fire! in a movie theater" example.

What the amendment doesn't do is to abridge the rights of property owners to dictate what happens on their property. Just as a farmer can deny a group of religious fanatics a request to have a commune on his/her farm, so to can any other private property owner dictate what can be said and done on their property. It's no different than any one of us asking a loud party guest to leave. The rights held by that farmer or by you aren't superseded by the First Amendment. If they were, our society would become unlivable.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

In the "Nah, there's no racism at work here department" we have this...

A quote from this Scranton Times article...

"Among the pictures presented at the hearing was one of the White House with a watermelon patch on the front lawn and the caption,"There goes the neighborhood." "

Yes, I know that there were plenty of off-color jokes told about former President Bush, but I don't think many of them were intended to reinforce racial stereotypes. Glenn Beck and his teabaggers must be really proud.

I know, I know, President Obama has a "deep-seated hatred of white people".

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"If you take a walk I'll tax your feet"

I've been working quite a bit in Hartford CT over the past two months, and one of my favorite topics to ponder is the Connecticut "car tax". Yes, in Connecticut, a property tax is levied against the value of your car(s). Here is a brief description for the official website of the state of Connecticut:

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

Town Property Tax Information

Motor Vehicles are subject to a local property tax under Connecticut state law. This applies whether or not the vehicle is registered. The local property tax is computed and issued by your local tax collector.

If you do not register a motor vehicle but retain ownership, you must annually file a declaration form with your assessor(s) between October 1 and November 1.


Tax Jurisdiction

A tax jurisdiction is considered to be your town of residence.

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

Silly me, I thought that the only property that should be taxed was that which conceivably could increase in value. Taxing the value of something that actually loses value the minute you buy it seems strange at best to me, repressive at worst. I realize that the intention here is to generate revenue that goes towards maintaining the infrastructure that cars use, namely roads. However, governments being what they are I suspect that this tax simply generates revenue that keeps governments running.

What's next, tax the value of my washing machine?

Speaking of repressive, this is a tax that screams repression. Think about it: it's not enough to tax what you earn, this state also has to tax that which you use to get to your job so that you can earn enough to pay your taxes. This is on top of other taxes that are higher than many other states.

Look, I actually do like Connecticut...it's beautiful here, the people are very nice and Hartford isn't a bad town. But this is one form of taxation that seems utterly insane.