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

Monday, November 30, 2009

States "Rights", States "Wrongs" & Marijuana

I enjoy reading George F. Will's columns, even though I disagree with him often. You can find his column archive here. His latest column, entitled "Rocky Mountain High" can be found here. The aptly named column deals with the legalization of marijuana, and while I could talk about that issue at length (and I may in fact do just that...) it also spurred another thought in my head, namely that there are more than a few "states rights" conservatives who seem to let their "states rights" convictions be more fluid than solid.

Now to be fair to Mr Will, he didn't come out in say in the column that allowing states to regulate marijuana sales was wrong. However there was definitely an undercurrent of "states shouldn't be allowed to do this" to the piece, at least in how I read it this morning (while on the elliptical machine, sweating profusely I might add). It makes you wonder: if you support "states rights" as a general principle, then shouldn't you support the right to states to regulate something like marijuana sales?

Now the cheap-n-easy response to my last question would go something like this: "Listen Albert, you bleeding-heart hippie sympathizer, marijuana is a drug, plain and simple. What's more, it is a gateway drug, leading kids to try things that are far worse!". Now since I asked myself a question, I'm going to answer myself:

Marijuana as a drug: Yes, it is a drug. So are caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. How many pot-heads have killed people on the roads at last count after binging on massive amounts of ganja? Now compare that the numbers killed by users of that legal drug alcohol. The worst I've ever seen a pot-head do was make peas to eat at 1:30 in the morning.

Marijuana as a gateway drug: I love this argument, mainly because it's so blindly absurd. How about this: the vast majority of people that try marijuana probably tried cigarettes. Does that make cigarettes a "gateway drug", by extension, for crystal meth or crack?

The bottom lining this from my perspective is that Marijuana is a drug, but it's probably not as harmful as alcohol is over the short term, and it's on par with tobacco in terms of it's long-term impact (as a smoked substance). It might have a negative brain impact over the long term, but then again so does alcohol. All things considered, net-net the same. As long as tobacco and alcohol are legal, I honestly can't see why the use of Marijuana should be criminalized.

Putting this all together, if you are a "states rights" kind of person, then you clearly believe that states should be able to set their own policies about the sale of alcohol. Why then would there be any argument about allowing states to also set their own rules about Marijuana use? Unless of course you simply cry "states rights" as a more palatable covering for the notion that government should try and control behavior (be it the use of certain products or services). Do not true conservatives stand in support of self-determination and less government interference?


By way of disclaimer, I want to note the following: I have NEVER tried Marijuana, nor will I ever try Marijuana. In fact, I don't smoke (never tried it) and I almost never drink alcohol. My opinions aren't those of a substance user, but rather those of someone who believes that adults should have the right to make asses of themselves and cause undue harm to their bodies if they so desire to, just as long as they keep it to themselves.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's PUBLIC MONEY (Airport Hubris, Vol. XI)

I was enraged after reading this article in this morning's Sunday Times

Contractor Party for the Scranton/W-B Airport

If you are so inclined, you can read the details for yourself, but here is the nut of the issue from my perspective: a PRIVATE PARTY was thrown for 900 INVITATION ONLY GUESTS in celebration of the opening of a PUBLICLY-FUNDED facility. Am I going mad here, or does anyone else see the incredible disconnect at work? The money paid to the contractors that foot most of the bill for this "event" came from the public sector, either through borrowing or federal/state grants. This is hubris in the worst degree.

The cheap-n-easy thing to do would be to simply blame the Republican county administration at the time, but that's like focusing your efforts on scratching an itch while you live in a mosquito-infested swamp. What's more, I'm sure that, among the 900 that represented the creme-de-la-creme of NEPA there were plenty of Democrats. Good swank is non-partisan, and both liberals and conservatives do love a good laser show.

While I think that he hasn't been terribly effective as a leader, Lackawanna County Commissioner Mike Washo has the best response I read to this whole sad thing when he said...

"...the airport should have served hot dogs and hamburgers and instead invited the public..."

Damn straight Mr Washo.

Now let's get the list of who attended.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Smaller Tent (a.k.a. the GOP Purity Test)

As reported over the past week, there is a "GOP Purity Test" making the rounds that, I suspect, is making Lee Atwater roll-over in his grave. In case you missed it, here goes:

(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill
(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
(4) Workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check
(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat
(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership


Speaking of stimulus, this certainly stimulates a lot of thoughts in my head. First, here is how I measure up against this version of "political ethnic cleansing":

(1) AGREE - In principle I am for smaller government, lower taxes, etc. I am also not wildly fond of the stimulus bill either.

(2) DISAGREE - Market based? I've written a lot about this. The "market" puts profits ahead of all else. The market works when the product is a laptop computer or machine gun. The market doesn't work when the decision is between profit and patient (because profit wins).

(3) NEUTRAL - #3 is a sound-byte (well many of them are...) not a principle. Cap and trade is actually a fairly sounds economic principle, although implementing it would be tough. What's interesting is that the GOP has no alternative to cap-n-trade.

(4) AGREE - I am not in favor of the pending card-check legislation. I do, however, find it funny that the GOP uses the phrase "workers right", when generally speaking Republicans have never been all too fond of bills that advanced other workers rights.

(5) AGREE - Amnesty is an insult to all of those immigrants who followed the law and entered this country legally. Simply put, it's always a bad idea to reward illegal behavior.

(6) DISAGREE - We shouldn't be in either nation, period. Funny how this principle completely ignores the very reasons why we are in Iraq in the first place. What's more, trying to bring democracy to countries with zero history of it and in fact religious opposition to the very notion of democracy seems a bit of a problem in my book.

(7) AGREE (kind of) - The wording though is touchy, as it seems to hint at military action.

(8) NEUTRAL - I do not believe that any religious body should ever be forced to recognize same-sex unions. I also am actually fine with the term "marriage" being used to define a union between a man and a woman (etc.). HOWEVER, I do very strongly believe that same sex couples should have the right to enter into legal unions that protect property, codify other financial arrangements, etc. and that these unions should be valid in all states and territories.

(9) DISAGREE (kind of) - This is another sound byte, not a principle. Healthcare is already rationed in this country. That's not an opinion, it's a fact.

(10) NEUTRAL - I do believe in the right of lawful U.S. citizens to bear arms, but I do not believe in the right to "superior firepower". The government has an obligation to impose reasonable, common sense restrictions on gun ownership, including such radical ideas as not allowing "cop killer" ammunition and banning the private ownership of machine guns, flame throwers and main battle tanks.

So, what's missing from this list? Among other things, no mention or reference to the environment. Apparently the GOP ideologues believe that the "market" will keep our air and drinking water clean while also providing us with affordable healthcare.

No room in the tent for me.

What's interesting here is that this could end up creating a split in the Republican Party between those who are fiscal conservatives and those who are socially conservative. Ideological purity is a great idea when tossed around the think-tank, but it makes for bad governance simply because it takes the one-sided view that there is always just one solution to any problem. Pragmatism is necessary for governance to proceed in a meaningful way, as the vast majority of Americans will never be as "pure" as the list requires. In the end, governance is about governing ALL, not just those that agree with you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Writing...

Friday, November 27th, 7:30pm
Note: I wrote this yesterday evening, but at the time I just didn't want to post it. That happens from time to time. Anyway, on second blush it's not all that bad, so I'm posting now.


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

...as I sit here and watch The Godfather Part III, for some reason I'm thinking about of all things writing, and blogs in particular. Maybe it's that this edition of The Godfather is my least favorite, or maybe it's because the blog I wrote this morning was so very, very tough to write that I'm still sore from trying to squeeze it out. Anyway, this is what's on my mind.

Why?
That's the first question that I ask myself about this whole blog thing. It's also the one word sentence that most frequently comes up in this blog. I think "Why?" is my favorite question. So, "Why?"? I don't have an easy answer to the question actually. I suspect...and that's the highest standard of proof I can muster at the moment..."suspect"...that the answer to why lies partially in this bizzaro introverted world that my brain resides in 24/7/365. By introverted I really do mean introverted. I scored a perfect introverted score on the MBTI test several times running. Clearly, I'm a man who is, shall we say, "wrapped tight". Writing, I suspect, provides me with this way to deal with the internal dialogue that constantly runs through my head at all times. It's the spillage if you will. I seem to need, on some level, the conversation that this blog represents.

Now a logical question to ask would be "well why don't you just talk to people more often?", and that would certainly be a reasonable thing to do. Part of the answer is that I'm simply not in a position, for various reasons, to really have much of a dialogue in my private life. That's not to say that there are not people who will listen, because there are; it's just that none of those people are physically close enough to listen when the stuff spills out. Thank God that they are there, because I would be a basket-case without them. I am truly blessed to have these friends, even if they are not physically close.

So?
Does all of this actually, really matter? I'd say yes: it matters to me. I think in my first blog entry here I noted that it doesn't matter to me if anyone else reads this, and that's as valid now as it was over a year ago. Want proof? It can be found in the stacks of paper I've written on all these years that sit in drawers, waiting to be discovered (by others) or shredded (by me). This is, in a very real, tangible way, part of how I process the world. I would do this no matter what.

By the way, the view statistics for this blog were stuck at 590 from about six months. For some bizarre reason they have started to count views again. I have no clue why.

What?
What of all of this? Holidays do make you think, and Thanksgiving is a good day for thinking, even if...like this morning...the thoughts are harder to pass than too much cheese in the diet. Call it lame, call it rambling, call it pathetic, but I call it me.

Thankful for Second Chances

As I was driving my youngest daughter to work today (yes...to work...and that's another line of thought all together) I was thinking about how I should really take a moment this morning and note all of the things I am thankful for, which generated the typical list-type thing in my head.

Then I thought to myself "nahhhhhh". It's not for lack of being thankful, but coming up with a 1-2-3 list isn't "real", rather it's a list for the sake of a list. So I thought to myself, "what are you really, really thankful for?"...you know, what's something that really leaves me genuinely grateful. To be honest, I can think of a few things that fall into that category, but for whatever reason one popped immediately into my head: Second Changes.

I am thankful for all the second changes I have been given in my life. Whether it's the opportunity to become more healthy, re-learn something I've long forgotten or fix something I've broken, life seems to always provide me with opportunities for doing it right. I suspect that I'm not alone in this regard, which is yet another great thing about second chances: they are available to all. The notion of second chances also flows well into my life philosophy (and the title of this blog): namely that it's not about where you get to or what you have, but rather what's really important is the journey you take in life. It's the journey that fills the space between life and death; the journey is what gives you sense of perspective as you look back on where you've been and look forward to where you can go. Looking back I have lots of fond memories, but also memories that aren't maybe so fond. The beauty of second chances is that while it doesn't un-do the past, it is always available to turn regret into an accomplishment.

Here's to second chances.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things I Am NOT Thankful For...

(Inspiration from Ken at leavethebuilding.com)

This year I am NOT thankful for...
  1. The Abuse of Children - Nothing is more horrible or cowardly.
  2. Religious Hypocrites - People who point fingers at others for sins they themselves are guilty of are at the top of my list.
  3. Chicken Hawks - People who are willing to send others off to die, but did not/would not serve if were their turn. Conservative commentators seem especially guilty of this kind of stuff. Special Note...while I disagree with Sarah Palin's politics, since she is the parent of a service member I can at least respect her opinion when it comes to matters of military commitments.
  4. Limousine Liberals - It's easy to preach compassion and care for the poor from the rear seat of your E-Class while drinking Cavasier, isn't it?
  5. The Pennsylvania Legislature - Every single member. If you ever want to see an "entitlement mentality" at work, don't go to an inner-city housing project...instead simply to go Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  6. Excessive Consumption - Whether it's a middle-class couple buying a McMansion or a family on Welfare using a cellphone, people just need to learn to live within their means.
  7. Tobacco Companies - If I sold a product that killed everyone that bought it, I'd be in jail. Funny, but tobacco companies do that every day and get rewarded for their efforts.
  8. The Abuse of Science - Science brings you to conclusions based on a theory; the abuse of Science involves having a conclusion and then searching for (or creating) "facts" to support it.
  9. Bernie Madoff - Greed is not good.
  10. Fear Mongers - Some people seem to believe that you can win an argument by simply scaring people into believing you. That's not persuasion, it's one of the worst low-ball tactics employed in the public arena today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Which newspapers, magazines or books do you read?

I am purposefully trying to not pay attention to the Sarah Palin book tour. Why? Well I have nothing against Ms Palin as a person, as a mother, hell as mayor of a small Alaskan city. I do have a problem when she is propelled to prospect of a national leadership position, simply because it creates the potential for her to impact my life AND she is grossly unqualified for any such position. When last I checked. "folksy" doesn't qualify you for anything, other than maybe becoming a grandparent.

Anyway, events have prevented me from completely ignoring the book tour. For example, I read where she was complaining about the Katie Couric "Ambush" interview. You know that one, don't you? The one where that sneaky Ms Couric dared to ask Ms Palin what newspapers, magazines or books she reads. I know, how dare she. Now Ms Palin could have said such titles as "American Conservative", "National Review" or any number of other smart conservative publications. Did she? No. Her response was, and I quote,

"All of 'em, any of 'em that have been in front of me over all these years."

I'm sorry, but if Palin lacks the extemporaneous skills to handle Katie Couric, then I question her ability to handle other where the stakes might actually be higher (such as a world leader). I know, the people that want to believe in Ms Palin will make all manner of excuses for her, including "everyone has a bad day". Too bad. This was not a difficult question. This is a question that anyone on the street could answer.

For the record, I read the following:

Newspapers -
The Scranton Times (every day), USA Today (once or twice a week). I read many, many on-line news sources daily, including the Drudgereport, CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

Magazines -
I subscribe to Business Week, Fast Company, PC World and (believe it or not) Entertainment Weekly

Books -
I usually have a book going at any given time. I mostly enjoy reading biographies.


See, that wasn't so hard. Since I could answer that, does it mean I'm better qualified to be Vice President than Ms Palin? Of course not, but then again I don't think Ms Palin is qualified to be Vice President either.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fairy Tales (Dunmore PA edition)

"Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you..."
(Young At Heart)


While I don't expect many folks to really care about the on-going Dunmore budget saga, I personally find it very, very interesting.

The latest installment can be found here.

So what's so interesting? Well Dunmore PA is a small borough that lies right next to the city of Scranton. It has a population that is a hair below 14,000 (statistics here), and like most towns in NEPA, it is has been slowly losing population over time. From a governing perspective, many of the things that are wrong with Scranton on a larger scale are wrong with Dunmore on a smaller scale. This includes gems like:

...entrenched, glad-handing politicians
...high expenses for governance
...incredibly unrealistic budgets
...reliance on one-time revenue sources/gifts (sometimes from a certain businessman...)

One of the unique things about Dunmore is that, despite it's size, it has a paid Fire Department. Oh, and they have a 1% wage tax. Oh, and they have their own school system. Seeing a pattern here? From my perspective, Dunmore lives on a macro level like those folks (who live in McMansions & finance a lifestyle via credit cards) live on a micro level: one heartbeat away from disaster. Well that disaster may have come, in two forms:

1. A recession that is sapping already inadequate revenues
2. Looming pension cost increases for education professionals

In the end, you simply can't spend more than you have, no matter how good your intentions. It's nothing short of a fairy tale on the part of any Dunmore resident who believes that they can have their paid fire department and other larger town attributes and still maintain the tax structure of a borough. Adding a little comic relief here, what was one of biggest issues facing the borough last year? The imbalanced budget? Nope. The fact that the Mayor has had virtually no opposition in 15 years in office? Nope. The looming pension crisis? Nope. Nope...it was a controversy surrounding a bench, outside of a fire house.

Look, I'm not someone living in a glass house throwing stones. I know how messed up things are in my hometown of Scranton. The scary part is that I'm not entirely sure that many Dunmore residents can say the same thing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Random Teenage Memories

For no reason, in no order and having no particular meaning...

...pay phones

...the smell of the Globe Store (especially the book department, which was near the restaurant)

...graduating from high school and having the principal not mention my name while handing out diplomas

...actually being good at basketball in during high school gym class

...wearing size 36 waist jeans and having them still falling down

...walking to school

...when people used to hitch-hike

...when there were "drunk comics" (like Foster Brooks); now days, for some strange reason, people think drunks are like dangerous or something

...putting plastic models together; at one time I think I had the entire Luftwaffe in my bedroom

...this blue plastic radio my mother had that we would listen to on Christmas Eve

...when cable consisted of about 20 channels

...wearing a Holter Monitor for a day in high school

...filling out the entrance application at Bishop Hannan

...serving at the morning Masses for a week a month at Holy Family with my brother Rich

...absolutely hating Ash Wednesday

...when people could smoke anywhere

...the green/orange 1974 Plymouth Duster that was so basic that it lacked carpeting (rubber mat) and a radio

...installing an FM Converter in my mother's Chevy Nova

...trying to get the courage up to ask someone to my Jr Prom

...listening to Pink Floyd and not getting what all the fuss was about

...when dances at school had live bands

...having an 8 track tape player

...the first album I ever bought (Parallel Lines by Blondie...I might still have it BTW)

...discovering the White Album by the Beatles

...working at 4H Camp during the summer

...delivering newspapers

...when it came to girls really, seriously not knowing what the hell I was doing (and in a purely karmic act, now having 3 daughters)

and last...

...thinking that "by the time the year 2000 comes around, my life will be all set"

Response to Comments, November 17th Posting

In the "I've been meaning to do this" department, I've been wanting to respond to Father Bechtel's comment to my posting about For-Profit Healthcare (Link here), but haven't really had the mental energy. Well I can't claim to be filled with energy or motivation at the moment, but I do love a good discussion, so here goes.

For the record, I've posted Father Bechtel's comments verbatim, with my comments/responses in [larger dark red bold bracketed text]. I apologize in advance for any spelling errors, as I'm not going to do much editing. Also, I made my response text larger so that it was easier for me...someone who has relatively poor vision...to read more easily, not to in any way diminish Father Bechtel's comments, which stand out well on their own.


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

Hi Steve-

Actually I believe it is false that non-profit companies look out for you first. [For the record, I am not claiming that not-for-profits (NFP for sake of typing ease) are an ideal structure for healthcare delivery, but rather that they have a different set of motivators than for-profits (FP). Put anther way, as a private-sector guy, I recognize that the Private Sector is really, really good at some things, but really, really bad at others.] Look at the government. They are not for profit, yet what is their first goal? [Bad comparison Padre. Even the government itself recognizes in the tax code that there are really three types of organizational structures in the US economy...For Profit, Charitable, Governmental. For an example of what I mean, refer to section 400 of the Internal Revenue code, where section 401 deals with for-profit org. pensions, 403 deals with NFP/charitable org. pensions, and section 457 deals with governmental pensions. These different sections of the IRC exist in part because each type of organization has different drivers and goals.] Maintaining the establishment THEN looking out for you. You think congress will take a pay cut so that the government can provide more services? [No, but again there is a vast difference between a NFP and a governmental organization.] You think congress will give up their perks in order that taxes won't have to go up? [No, but again I think your comparison is flawed.] You think congress is going to subject themselves to the health care they want to give us? [In fact I agree with you about Congress. The US Federal government is (in)famous for exempting themselves from the rules the push on the rest of us. The is a classic example in the US Printing office, where wage/hour laws didn't apply. Again though, while I agree with your comments about the government, I disagree that you can draw a comparison between it and a NFP.]

Look at Ted Kennedy. He was a champion of government run health care- yet where was the first place he went for treatment? A private hospital with the best doctors available. Would WE be given that same preference under his plan, or would be stand in line behind everyone else and hope they get to us in time? I would like to ask Nancy Pelosi- if government run health care is supposed to be so wonderful- why won't you subject yourself to what you want to "give" us? The government wants to do everything "for us" yet the first place the government runs when it needs something is the PRIVATE SECTOR! [In point of fact, many Presidents (including Conservative icon Ronald Reagan) and members of Congress have, in fact, gotten healthcare treatment from Walter Reed Hospital. Now is Walter Reed some paragon of Private Sector healthcare success? No. It is run by the United States government. Does this make Walter Reed better than a private sector hospital? No, but it does point to the fact that the government can deliver healthcare...and I am not supportive of the government delivering healthcare.]

ANY Not for profit company first goal is ALWAYS maintenance of the establishment, THEN working on what it is set up for. That is the nature of things- that is how it is, because if the organization does not survive it cannot look out for you. As a result- not for profit companies like for profit companies look out for themselves first. [With all due respect Father, your point is a generalization. Some NFP do exist to maintain the status quo; others, such as St Jude Children's Research Hospital (www.stjude.org) are actually quite innovative. The point of my post was simple: FP organizations MUST benefit shareholders FIRST. That's not a generalization...it's a fact. That is, again, different than your generalization.]

I disagree that not for profit health care companies look out for you first. They look out for themselves first. They don't answer to shareholders, and granted they don't make money for anyone- but they still have to maintain the status quo. The FIRST goal of ANY organization, for profit or not is themselves. [The heart of my argument Father was that FP's have a legal obligation to shareholders first. Again, that is a LEGAL FACT. Your point is an educated opinion about the nature of NFP's...certainly based on your experience...but an opinion never the less. I'd say that my argument has slightly more weight.]

Not for profit companies just like for profit companies have to worry about the bottom line, which means they also want to do things "better, faster, cheaper" and they also want to decrease expenses while increasing revenue. [And many, many FPs decrease expenses not by the mantra of "faster, better, cheaper" but rather by the mantra of simply "cheaper". What's more, the profit motivation doesn't guarantee that the results of efficiency gains will go to customers...in fact, if you think about it, any efficiency gains actually go to shareholders.

By the way, look at the overhead rate for Medicare (about 3-8% I believe) vs the overhead rate in private-sector healthcare insurers (around 15% + I believe) who act as paying agents. The difference? Well FP companies, in order to satisfy investors, typically want a Return on Equity of around 10-12%+.]

Look at what they are doing at the not for profit public schools- more government funding- what do they do? Hire more administrators to "oversee" things, which creates more read tape, and thus less and less effeciency. [Father, I do think there is a substantial difference between NFP and the government. Schools are actually a great example...government run schools are in some measures much less efficient that the schools run by a little NFP organization you may be somewhat familiar with...you know, the Roman Catholic Church. EVEN YOU would have to admit that there is a distinct difference between the government and NFP in the education example. If you admit that in education...an example you brought up...that there is a substantial difference between an NFP and the government, then does that not taint your comparing NFPs to the government in other arenas?]

My approach to government, Steve, is I admit conservative. I believe less government control and more local involvement. I believe the government should stay out of our lives as much as possible and simply let us be. Don't "give" me anything if you have to raise my taxes to do it. Just let me live my life, and leave me alone. [I agree, which is why I don't want the government universally providing healthcare. But my distrust doesn't extend to just the government. I've worked in the private sector for 25 years, and one thing I've learned is that, at the end of the day, "the business of business is business" (to quote a famous person I don't recall at the moment)...it's NOT in looking out for you or me Padre. I find it AMAZING that many conservatives distrust the government as too big, too intrusive, too impersonal, etc., but yet BLINDLY TRUST business.

What I seek in healthcare is a motivation that centers around patients, not maximizing profits. I realize that there is no perfect model out there, but all my experience tells me that the current system in the US will never deliver cost-effective healthcare, simply because the profit motivation is simply stronger than the patient care motivation.]

Care to comment on my rant? [Response concluded :-).]

Father Dave Bechtel

November 17, 2009 12:11 PM

I Get Tired Sometimes...

...although I'd like to think that I don't ever get tired, reality does have this knack for biting you on the ass to remind you that it is neither predictable, fair, or even reasonable.

So why all the doom-n-gloom? This already is starting out like the prepared speech of someone at the podium of Scranton City Council meeting.

The honest answer is that I don't think there is any one single thing that gets me discouraged. Despite what some who casually may know me think, I'll all-in-all a very positive guy. I love getting up and doing things. I love accomplishing things. Hell, I was up at 5:30am this morning thinking about what I was going to clean. I honestly just love living and breathing. It's just that sometimes the weight of things becomes so heavy that I grow tired of carrying it.

There are some things that at the moment weigh more heavily on me than others. Speaking of weight, one that I will mention is that I've been working hard at eating better since the beginning of the month. I have gone through these phases where I can be very disciplined about how and what I eat (I once lost nearly 60 pounds), and other times when I'm think I'm a living example of the Mr Creosote Sketch (note that this is not for the faint of heart). So far I've done well, but one of the things about weight loss is that it works like a football game: things can start off with a bang, but the game is won (or lost) slugging it out on the line. The "bang" for me was that I've quickly dropped almost 10 pounds, but now it's back to line and slugging it out a pound at a time. Now I'm not looking to even lose weight, truth be told. Instead, I'm just looking to eat less, eat better, and if the weight comes off, great. One of the things I learned from my last bout of weight loss is that you can't diet and be successful over the long term: diets simply don't work. Yes you can lose weight on a diet, but if you don't change your eating habits to something you can sustain after the diet, you simply gain all the weight back. Anyway, I continue to slug it out in the healthy eating trenches.

Another thing that "gets my goat" of late is that some people just suck. I know, that's crude sounding and at best sophomoric, but it is also true. Whether it's the person on a conference call that makes the off-handed-but-stupid comment (because they think their phone is on mute when it really isn't) or the individuals that you deal with who go from hot one minute to cold the next, it's just tiring as hell trying to deal with people. I just need some kindness and consistency.

Finally there is the issue of responsibility. I think we live in the age of no responsibility. Everyone wants it all, and they want it now. You go the store and you see people plunking down wads of cash to buy smokes and then paying for groceries with an Access Card. You see people who seem physically incapable of the very simple act of picking up after themselves. You see people who believe that luxuries are somehow God-given rights. Honestly, and this will sound harsh, but I just want to be responsible for me. I'm all for two people mutually helping each other...hell, that's what I call an even trade. But this one-way stuff makes me very tired.

Damn, this does sound gloomy. But you know what? I feel better after having written it, and maybe, just maybe, that's good enough. Here's to a more positive Sunday for one and all.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Road Apples, #51

Got Dem Cosmic Car Blues - Well the car is still in the shop, although I figure that there is about a 40% chance that the repairs might be completed today. I say 40% because they said it "should" be done today, which in the parlance of autobody shops translates to either...

"Yes, it will be ready, if for no other reason than the fact that we are tired of you calling"

or

"Nope, not a chance, but we will tell you that if it makes you feel better"

Regardless, not having a car is getting old. Strange in that I technically own three of them, but yet when I need one other than the one I normally drive there isn't another one to be had.

Another Side Effect...of not having a car is that I have to wait to get a ride to work, which I absolutely hate. I'd much prefer to get there now and get ready for this class I have to teach this afternoon. As it stands, I will probably not get into the office until about 7:45am.

Abortion Coverage, Part 1 - Up until this past week, it seems that the healthcare plan offered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) actually provided abortion procedure coverage. Hmmmmm, very interesting. Upon this being pointed out, RNC Chairman Michael Steele immediately:

1. Apologized to Rush Limbaugh (I know, he didn't, but I just couldn't help myself)
2. Took steps to have coverage for abortions removed from policy

What's interesting here is the hypocrisy of it all. While Republicans are quick to point out the hypocrisy of the likes of Bill Clinton & Ted Kennedy (for support of female causes while simultaneously having "spotted" records with the opposite sex), they themselves show us once again that disconnects between "saying" and "doing" are not unique to liberals.

Abortion Coverage, Part 2 - It is my personal option that healthcare coverage provided by any governmental entity (either as a employment benefit OR through a subsidized welfare benefit) should not provide for elective abortions. Now I am not suggesting that every time the government spends money that such spending needs to go through a taxpayer popularity contest. I am, instead, suggesting that there are many, many reasonable individuals who pay taxes that find this kind of coverage morally offensive. Forget the fruitcakes out there from Operation Rescue; I'm talking about average folks who pay taxes and believe that abortion is murder. Effectively forcing these individuals to pay for something through their taxes that they believe is murder seems unreasonable.

Note that my opinion above exists in an environment where abortion is still legal. If someone who becomes pregnant wants to have an abortion, I would not stop them, but I would not pay for it either. If this is something they want to do, this is something they should pay for themselves. "Personal responsibility" is more than 2 words and 21 letters.

Hypocrisy or Urban Legend? - While I am on the subjects to hypocrisy and healthcare, once in a while you hear/read stories about how many healthcare plans provide for E.D. coverage (i.e., Viagra) but do not provide for female contraception coverage. Now to be fair, I conducted a quick article search on this topic before I started to write this and couldn't find much that was current and which pointed to a wide-spread application of what I consider to be this blatant hypocrisy. Maybe this really isn't an issue any more. Hopefully this isn't an issue anymore. While I acknowledge that some may object to artificial contraception, I don't view those objections as having the same weight as, say, opposition to abortion. Why? Well first because this is my blog and my opinion, and second, the vast majority of Americans believe that artificial contraception isn't the same as abortion. In fact, polls show that a majority of Catholics...in a Church that opposes all forms of artificial contraception...believe that such contraception should be allowed (one of many citations here). Finally, I am not claiming that all forms of artificial contraception are created equal (that's another post for another day), but clearly some barrier forms of contraception do in fact prevent a pregnancy from ever occurring, which prevents the need to even think about abortion...and there is nothing hypocritical about that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Car Trouble

My car has been in the shop since yesterday morning. This means that I get a ride to work, which means that I can't get out for a quick lunch errand, which means that I have to wait for a ride home. The worst is the last consequence. I absolutely HATE sitting and waiting to be picked up. Yesterday, since the weather was nice, I decided to walk home from work. It's about a mile and a half, give or take, which took me a little less than a half hour, including time to look at the odd thing or two on the ground or talk to the maintenance staff at Kennedy Elementary.

Another impact of the car problem is that it throws off my entire schedule. I normally have this time in the morning to think my thoughts and occasionally write some of them down here. With having to wait for a ride, it just throws the whole system off. By the way, I could walk to work, but it's all up-hill, it's chillier now, and it's also dark. While none of those reasons is really a good excuse for not hoofing it, they work.

We are all so spoiled, but in my defense I pay for three cars in this house. One would think that I could somehow borrow one of the other ones now and then, but such a thing would cause more political trouble than I care to deal with. I have a much lower tolerance for certain things, including drama surrounding my own need for a reasonable accommodation ever now and then. In short, some things are just not worth it.

Now my car might be done today, but more likely we are talking about tomorrow. Regardless, it can't come soon enough. I freely admit it: I'm a car loving American. This does, however, remind me to count these kinds of blessings.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For-Profit Healthcare: A Conflict by Definition?

"...directors and officers of a company are bound by fiduciary duties to act in the best interest of the shareholders..."

(www.companiesinc.com & other common references)


In the current debate about healthcare, there is a simple question that needs to be asked: where does the real obligation of a publicly traded heathcare provider lie, in maximizing the value to shareholders OR in providing necessary/proper care to subscribers?

In the business of running a for-profit healthcare company, the revenue comes from subscriber payments and the expenses come from providing healthcare services. Now when any of us are faced with a revenue shortfall in our own personal lives, typically one of the first things we look to do is to reduce our expenses, right? Why wouldn't the same hold true for a healthcare company? What's the roadblock that prevents such a company from denying appropriate/reasonable care simply to maximize profits?

I know, I know, the usual retort is one of "well for-profit healthcare providers earn revenue NOT by cutting back on care, but rather by becoming more efficient", which is at least partially true. However efficiency as a concept always curves, meaning that you can never continue to gleam efficiency benefits from a process at a constant rate forever. It's simply not possible, as there are only so many ways that any particular thing can be done "faster, better, cheaper" while maintaining the same rate of quality. What's left is the simple notion that the "real" money to be made in for-profit healthcare lies in finding ways to not provide services, so that the revenue which would have been spent on services is instead returned to shareholders in the form of profits. Sure, these companies can encourage people to be healthier and therefore need fewer services, but that's not nearly as easy as simply denying or cutting back on care. That's not pretty, but that's how business works. The sad part is that most people really don't want to think about this inherent conflict. Personally I've put my money where my mouth is in the issue by not selecting for-profit healthcare providers at work. I want the comfort of knowing that my provider is looking out for me first (not shareholders).

In the end, all of this is summed up in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16 verse 13:

"No servant can serve two masters"

More true words have never been spoken.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Apology


(picture link: http://www.boingboing.net/images/_drewfriedman_images_The-New-Godfather.jpg)

It's been a while since Michael Steele last apologized to Rush Limbaugh. I'm thinking a new apology is due. Maybe Mr Steele had a errant thought or two. Maybe he accidentally made a "Hillbilly Heroin" joke. Maybe he had an non-orthodox thought.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Shame, DA Style

There is nothing better than seeing politicians squirm, and that's just what Luzerne County DA Jackie Musto Carroll did this past week when faced with numerous questions from a panel investigating Luzerne County's new claim to fame: Judges who sold children for money.

Make no mistake about it:

1. District Attorneys are politicians & politics play a role in how they run their offices
2. The lack of legal representation for children in those courtrooms was painfully obvious
3. Many, many blind eyes were turned via some convoluted "the ends justify the means" logic

One needs to wonder whether or not Attorney Musto Carroll, on some level, thought that the politics of getting tough on juvenile offenders was good for her career. After all, highly political school administrators apparently thought the world of the "get tough" policies that existed in Luzerne County, and being in the prosecution business that was bound to help Attorney Musto Carroll. Politics indeed.

What happened in Luzerne County was evil, and the inaction from so many quarters not only allowed it to continue, it actually encouraged it further. The controls that should have been in place, such as officers of the court who are supposedly charged with seeing to it that justice is served, seem to have given way to an attitude of 'who cares/it's not my business/I'm afraid of the judge". Ignorance of the law (i.e. knowing the everyone must be informed of their right to legal representation in a courtroom) clearly is not the case here, as surely a sitting DA is well schooled in courtroom requirements. All that's left in this case is the notion that either Attorney Musto Carroll approved of the tactics of the judges in question (perhaps for the reasons noted above) OR she didn't care enough do anything about those tactics. Either defense is disgusting and shameful when paired to the facts of this situation.

It seems to me that calling Attorney Musto Carroll passively complicit in what happened in Luzerne County is reasonable....in fact, it's much more reasonable than, say, allowing a 13 year old to go to juvie-jail for some minor offense.

Attorney Musto Carroll should resign from her position.
The citizens of Luzerne County (of which I am not one...) deserve someone in the District Attorney's office who not only knows the law, but who also has the spine to stand up when others in their very presence flagrantly violate it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sure Sign of the Apocalypse #34: Ford to Replace the Crown Vic


Article link here.

Yes, that favorite of police departments and the over age 70 set is set to be phased out of production by 2011. This is a car that enjoys cutting-edge (of the 1970's) technology plus more interior room than the average Cuban house, not to mention a trunk more than fit for mafia body dumping duties.

One of my favorite things to do with my girls when we would go on long trips was to guess who was driving the Crown Vic's we saw on the road...old ladies or unmarked police.

What's next, replace the hot dog with some form of textured soy product? Put real cheese in cheese wiz?

My Least Healthy Relationship

Somehow I forgot over the years what the connection was between eating and actually being hungry. It almost became second nature to always just constantly be eating, not because I was hungry, but more so because that's just what I did. Maybe that makes sense in some way. Now I am not much of stress eater, although there are times when I was under stress and I would eat impulsively, but the additional eating load then didn't see much worse that the normal. For me, this whole disconnection between eating and hunger is about 90% of my problem.

Now doing something about this 90% problem is easier said than done, although I will say that I've been doing better lately. In some ways maybe I have/had a food addiction, if that's possible. What kind of addiction? I think I was more addicted to the act of eating more than I was the actual food itself. This just proves what I've heard from some very smart people over the years: weight loss and weight maintenance are not physical things, they are mental things.

This is tough to admit: I, Steve Albert, the guy who prides himself on usually having this "stuff" together, for keeping a calm head when all around him is swirling in disarray, has a mental health problem when it comes to his relationship with food. Ironic, huh? Now it's not as if I am morbidly obese or in danger of stroking out anytime soon, because that's clearly not the case at all. What is true is that ever since graduation from college, my weight has trended up.

Why?

I don't think that I ever really learned how to eat well growing up. That's not a negative against my mother, as she was faced with a Herculean task of raising four sons (all one year apart) all on her own. Probably more of the culprit is the fact that I had such a hyper metabolism as a teenager that I could eat anything and still be rail thin. Of course getting older put a stop to the metabolism, but while my body could not longer handle the constant eating that I learned as a teenager, my head was still wired to the behavior.

Speaking of my mother, she is a big supporter of the notion that you never stop learning new things. I agree. Lately, the newest thing I'm trying to learn is to change my relationship with food. The thought process is pretty simple:

...Eat when actually hungry
...Keep track of what I eat
...Don't eat so much that I end up feeling worse after eating than I did before eating
...Eat more slowly
...Eat better things

I don't have the discipline to diet. I've tried it and it failed, mainly because it's a quick fix that does nothing to change the underlying problems. I once did drop about 50lbs, the right way mind you, but I ended gaining much of it back because of this unhealthy relationship. It's like going back to that old girl/boyfriend you know will be there and who also know isn't really all that good for you. In the end I have to grow up and actually own what I consume. This includes acknowledging the problems I've had, and constantly being on vigil for those times when it's far too easy slip into a bad habit than it is to do the right thing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Dentists

Dental Torture
My earliest memories of going to the Dentist are not fond, to say the least. His name was (and I will not be able to spell this...) Dr Fruehan, and he didn't believe in using Novocaine when doing fillings on little boys. I kid you not. How bad was it? I can still, all these years later, remember the pain. Now give all the credit in the world to my mother for actually taking myself and my brothers to the Dentist in the first place, but seriously, getting a filling without anything for pain is torture.

Switching Dentists
As I got older, we fortunately switched Dentists and it was off to Dr Allan Friedberg, who still practices is Scranton. This is where I discovered that...I kid you not...there was actually this magical stuff they could use called Novocaine that would dull the pain associated with dental work. My Lord, what a revelation! In going to Dr Friedberg all those years I will say that I never had a bad experience, so I hope that his practice is still thriving.

The Middle Years
When I graduated from college, I began an extended vacation from seeing the dentist. Mind you I did take good care of my teeth, but I was simply very fearful (despite the great work of Dr. Friedberg) so I put it off, and put it off, and put it off. Years went by and there didn't seem to be any consequences. My teeth didn't turn yellow or black and I didn't have any problems, so it all seemed to be okay. It wasn't.

Getting Older
About ten years ago I decided that I was too old to be afraid the Dentist anymore, so I made an appointment with the Doctor that my children were seeing. I won't mention a name this time, for reasons I will disclose in a moment. Anyway, after my first initial visit, it became clear that I had a molar on the top left that had a deep cavity in it, leaving me with few options. The decision was made to simply pull the tooth, and it was simply a horrible, horrible experience. While he did numb me (twice I might add), I seemed to feel EVERYTHING. It was a long, exceedingly painful, and very bloody affair. After that I was again afraid to go to the Dentist, but as luck would have it, I had a corner break off another tooth (same one as before but on the right side), so I called the Dentist who pulled the other tooth. He couldn't see me. I don't recall the reasons (as I was in real pain), but that left me with a need but no where to go. I almost called Dr Friedberg, but honestly I was too ashamed to call him, lest he see that my being a dental-baby for all these years had ruined his good work when I was a teenager. What did I do? I did what anyone in the baby-boom generation would (being born in 1964 I get to claim that mantra): I looked up "Dentists" in the phone book. For whatever reason I found the add for my current Dentist, Dr Charnitski, and made the call. His office made arrangements to see me immediately.

Dr C.
I think that my first appointment with Dr Charnitski was about seven years ago, and I've been seeing him for regular cleanings and other work ever since. Have I had some discomfort in the treatments I've received with Dr C? Sure I have, but three things really impress me about my current Dentist:

- He is brutally honest
- He does everything he can to make you feel comfortable
- He is very good at what he does

I am now something of a model dental patient: I brush several times a day, I floss daily and I get my six month cleaning like clock-work. One of the things that Dr C. helped me understand was the connection between dental health and my overall health. I even have a dental implant.

Post-Script
If there is a moral to this story it's this: Dentists provide a service. If you don't like the service you get, find another one. Dental care is far too important to let yourself be wigged out of seeing the Dentist simply because you had a bad experience or two.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Road Apples, #50

Governor Rendell/Budget/Veterans...I heard on the radio this morning that, as part of the overall budget cluster F&^k in Pennsylvania, Governor Rendell closed the state-sponsored Veterans Outreach Centers. It seems to me that there is no amount of money that is too high to spend on veterans needs. Yesterday the governor should have held his head in shame, although I'm thinking this is just one of many issues where that would be occurring anyway. Oh, but wait, he is a politician, so I'm thinking he's already moved past this.

Blog-Geek
...Well I tried the newer, advanced blogger.com editor and didn't like it. Among my issues were the fact that I couldn't get the spell check to work (although I actually use the Firefox built-in spell check anyway) and it kept adding those annoying HTML extra spaces that I hate. Fortunately changing back to the old editor was easy. File this one under 'N' for "No one gives a ____".

120 Channels and Nothing On...I was heading up to A.C. Moore yesterday and I couldn't find anything that I liked on the radio. This is with Sirius Satellite radio, you know, with something like 120 different channels. I still like satellite radio, but I'm thinking that I don't really need the listen to the news in Korean. Oh, and they do have the ability, in theory, to order channels a-la carte, but apparently you can only do this on certain receivers. It does make me wonder if I really need this guilty pleasure. On the plus side, it's a God-send when you drive for any distance; nothing is more annoying that driving a few hours and having to constantly change radio stations. On the negative side (in addition to what I've noted above), I got the radio really to listen to Howard Stern and I honestly think that the show isn't nearly as good now as it has been in the past. I know, "boo-freak'n hoo".

On the Dental Front...Supposedly the crown for my dental implant is in today, so I might in fact be able to come home this evening and have a full set of molars on at least one side of my head. We shall see. For the record, this entire process has taken nearly a year. Obviously the jury is still out on how I feel about the experience in totality, but I am looking forward to getting this last phase completed. If anything, it's a pain the butt to have to use two tooth brushes in the morning (I use an Oral-B electric toothbrush in the morning, but I can't use that where the screw is drilled into my jaw so I end up having to use a regular brush...just in that spot...and then the other brush for the rest of the work).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ghosts & the Paranormal

I admit it:  I am a proud skeptic.  In fact, one of my favorite quotes is:  "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof".  Now that doesn't make me necessarily very popular in some quarters, where it's considered to be chic to watch "Ghost Hunters" and believe that some gizmo that looks like an Scientology e-meter can somehow detect the dead people.  Yes, it makes for good TV, but by and large it seems to make for bad science.

A good counter-TAPS website that I found is called SAPS.  Cool name.  You can link to it here: SAPS



I really do know that there are things we don't fully understand, but a lack of understanding doesn't have to translate to the paranormal.  Someone from the Middle Ages, if magically transported to the present day, could conclude that cellphones represent some form of paranormal activity (well if you try and read an AT&T bill you might conclude that as well...), but we all know that isn't the case.

When you get down to brass tacks, my problem with the whole "paranormal investigation" fad lies in the fact that it's perpetrators seem to want to find ghosts, which in my rudimentary scientific mind runs counter what I consider to be good science...you know, that pesky idea where you use proof to come to a conclusion, not have a conclusion and then look for proof.  What's so bad about that?  Well if you have a conclusion and then look for proof, human nature dictates that if you want to believe something strongly enough, you will somehow find (or manufacture) the evidence to support your claim.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Your Parents Lied...Monsters are Real

Clemency is denied for Washington DC sniper.

As a general rule, I don't believe in capital punishment simply because in most cases it's really nothing more than state-sponsored revenge.  What's more, I do also acknowledge that some people can be rehabilitated to the point where they could contribute something to society or at least brought to a place where they might understand the gravity of their crime.  Truly understanding the gravity of a crime and then having to live with that knowledge seems like a very fitting punishment.

I qualify the above opinion by noting that I've never had anyone in my family raped, killed etc.,; if my circumstances were different my opinion might be as well.  What's more, I would never argue with someone who, having experienced some horrible personal tragedy caused by someone else, has a different opinion than mine.

Anyway, about the only time I think capital punishment seems acceptable is when the crime in question is so horrendous that it's not possible for the person in question to really understand the gravity of their actions.  That seems to be the case for the John Allen Muhammed who leaves this world tonight.  Here's to hoping that the families of the victims find some closure in his departure.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

10 Observations About Growing Older

Note that my next birthday is a while off, but for whatever reason the thought just occurred to me that things really do change as you grow old.  Not being one to brush-off inspiration in any form, here goes:

  1. Weight - When I was a kid I could devour McDonalds until my blood was the equivalent of french fry grease; now just smelling McD's makes me gain weight.
  2. Music, Part A - It seems that 95% of the newer music I hear today sounds exactly the same (exceptions go out to Nickleback and a select few others).  Kind of what people my age back in the 60's must have said about The Beatles I guess.  Seriously though, when my kids force me to listen to Sirius Hits 1, all of the songs seem to have that electronic vocal enhancement nonsense that makes them all sound the same. 
  3. Music, Part B - Since almost all of the newer music I hear sounds horrible, I've gone back and "discovered" bands like Pink Floyd.  That shows you just how very nerdy I was back when I was a teenager.
  4. Body Talk - When your body gets older it seems to talk to you much more.  "Shouldn't have eaten that last night moron!" is a frequent refrain I hear from mine.  "You do know that I am going to make your legs feel like steel beams in about an hour" is another.
  5. Talk Radio - You actually listen to talk radio.  Now in my defense, I have always been a fan of Howard Stern, but I'm not sure that counts as being pure "talk radio".  Anyway, there was a time when the thought of listening to people talk about news and politics on the radio would have caused me to puncture my eardrums with chopsticks.  Now I actually listen to it.
  6. Work Around the House - I actually look forward to doing things around the house.  When I was younger I could barely muster the interest to pick up my dirty laundry.
  7. The Younger Look Much Younger - It's getting to the point where the average high school student is starting to look somewhat fetus-esque to me.
  8. The Older, Well They Don't Look So Bad - Case in point.
  9. You Think About the Past - Granted that when you are younger you don't have much of a past, but when I was 16 I didn't spend much time thinking about when I was 10; as I've gotten older though, I do think about when I was younger (and how much of a moron I was back then). 
  10. Glory Days - You actually can listen to the Springsteen song Glory Days and truly understand what it is about.  In fact, you can hear the song and immediately a vision of some mondo-jock from high school comes to mind; you know, someone who now probably sells used cars...that or the prom-queen who is now contemplating plastic surgery.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Control

"I don't wanna rule the world
Just wanna run my life"
(Janet Jackson, 'Control')

Control is an important element in my life.  If you know me at all personally, you'd probably think "there is a pretty in-control person", and to some extent you would be correct.  If fact, the phrases "wrapped too tight" and "rigid" have been used in the past to describe an extreme view of how this plays out in dealing with me.  However lest anyone thing that the control I'm talking about is over others, then you'd be absolutely. positively wrong.  I actually I want control over no one.

Scratch that last sentence; I just want control over one person actually:  myself.

In a lot of ways, the biggest struggles I have had in life to date have been those over personal control, where events, situations and things seem to have this ability to exercise a level of control over my behavior that I find appalling to the point of causing depression. No where is this more apparent than in two areas:  alcohol and eating.

D.I.T. (drunk in training)
As a normal course of business, I don't normally drink alcohol (well more on that later).  In fact, I basically stopped drinking for all intensive purposes around about 1988 or so.  I have had a relapse or two over the years, but by and large I can look back and see only three days or so over the past twenty years where I've let alcohol get the best of me.  Why?  Why is this such a big deal, after all people go out all the time and have a drink or two over dinner and are fine (this happens all the time when I am traveling by the way)?  For me, it's pretty simple:  I learned in the late 80's that when it comes to booze I effectively have two switches:  None and Drunk.  Simply put, it's very difficult for me to be able to drink in moderation.  As a concept, moderating never came into the picture when I was "learning" to drink.  This is in part, I think, because I was and (to a lessor extent) still am an extreme introvert.  Think about it:  Booze became the "magic potion" that made all my introverted inhibitions simply go away.  Who wouldn't want that?  It was a real "Jeckel and Hyde" kind of thing.  Couple that with an alcoholic father and you get someone who is never more than a few cases of beer away from dysfunction.

So what happened?

First, I somehow realized that it really, really stunk when I would wake up feeling like I had to vomit into a garbage can at 6:30 in the morning (after not having slept all night).  Simply put, the consequences were horrible.  Clearly, my body was telling me that this stuff was poison and that it needed to be removed at any cost and through any available passageway.

Second, I realized that the "magic potion" that tamed my introversion was in fact turning me into something I was not.  The alcohol molecules had this ability to direct my words and actions.  It took control.  Pondering this, you realize just how frightening that thought really is:  this is MY body and MY mind, yet I am turning it over to this THING that will MAKE ME DO things?

The is an epilogue to this part of the story:  I haven't been what I consider to be drunk in a long time.  I have, however, re-learned (I think, hope, pray) to be able to have a glass of wine with a meal or in the evening every once in a while and, surprisingly, leave it at that.  It has gotten to the point where I control the alcohol, instead of the alcohol controlling me.

Food, Glorious Food
The second biggest control problem I've faced in life surrounds food. To give you some perspective, looking at my life as an adult (from age 18 onward), my 6 foot 3.5 inch frame has weighted anywhere from 178 to 262 pounds.  Growing up I had the metabolism of an elephant shrew, eating (mainly the wrong things) constantly, but always remaining a very thin guy.  When I graduated from high school I was a rail.  As I got into my twenties, my metabolism began to slow down but my eating didn't.  In fact, I probably ate worse the older I got, if that's conceivably possible.  At my worst, my weight was so bad that I was having blood pressure problems and I was faced with the choice of either losing weight or going on B.P. medication for the rest of my life.  I wisely choose to loose the weight, and eventually dropped down to about 211 pounds.

The story doesn't end there though.

I remember when, after loosing weight for the better part of a year, I "jumped the shark" and started to gain it back.  I was on vacation in South Carolina, it was a night, and I was depressed at the thought of paying all this money for a vacation but yet being miserable.  I was all alone, wandering around the boardwalk and decided to go into this greasy restaurant.  I ended up ordering a hamburger, fries, a diet soda and this enormous ice-cream & chocolate cake thing for desert.  It tasted good, but it also marked the back slide on all the work I had done to drop over 50lbs.  Eventually my weight went back to about 255lbs.  So what happened?

Surprisingly, control had a lot to do with it.

When I was losing the weight, there was a personal event happening in my life that left me feeling completely out of control.  Because this thing involved someone else, there was only so much I could do to impact the situation, which left me anxious, depressed and longing for at least something I could control in my life.  That something became food.  Dieting...and in retrospect that's what I was doing...became this substitute thing in my life that I could control and it became very comforting.  While I told everyone at the time I was losing weight to lower my blood pressure, and on one level that was true, it wasn't the whole story.  No, the more important underlying reason was I desperately needed to be able do to something positive to control some aspect of my life, as so many others were outside of my control.

Things do come full circle though.

Events this year have once again brought me back to the point where I realize that it's important to me, as a person, to be able to control what happens to my body.  I feel this way not out of depression, anxiety or some notion of vanity, but rather because I've found that gives me peace of mind to know that I, and only I, decide what I put into my mouth.  I listen to my body and how it feels, and I make better choices about what I eat, which my body in term reinforces as a good choice by helping me to feel better.  Right now I'm back to losing weight, but I highly doubt that I will ever get back to 211 pounds.  No, this time I'm focusing on changing my eating habits, eating at a clip to lose weight when I can, and always asking myself how I feel before I decide to put anything into my mouth.  I'm not perfect at this, I will not rapidly lose any weight, and I sure as hell have no illusions about having the ability to maintain this level of control constantly.  I do know this though:  I now realize that I control what happens when it comes to eating, and that makes me feel much better.  


Postscript
I don't really understand what brought me to this point...I really don't.  Much like the weather, there are probably a thousand individual cause-n-effect elements at play here, with the sum total being far too difficult to model, predict or explain.  I do know and understand this though:  I enjoy being in control of me, and that includes continued sobriety and making food decisions that make my body feel better.  There isn't enough enjoyment in this world, so this is a very good thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Road Apples, #49

Jack-hammers - I had the joy of experiencing intermittent jack-hammering last night, as the gas company was working a few feet from the front of my house on some sort of problem.  I realize that this was no doubt a necessary repair, but my God, every moment I was about to fall asleep they would fire up the jack-hammer.  Without fail.  I am tired.

Shooting at Ft Hood - First, what happened at Ft. Hood was a truly tragic event; condolences to the families of the victims of this senseless event.  Second, look for the Glenn Beck's of this world to somehow manage to blame the tragic shooting at Ft. Hood on President Obama.  The likes of Michael Savage will no doubt make some "Hasan?  That sounds an awful lot like Hussein to me..." comments.  These are folks who never miss the opportunity to turn a tragedy into a political event, not unlike the extreme lefties that they mock.

Love Shack - Former NYC Commissioner and failed Homeland Security nominee Bernie Kerik plead guilty to 8 federal counts yesterday, and will serve between 18 and 33 months in jail.  Amazing, utterly amazing.  This guy was a walking abuse of power.  While I generally like Rudy Giuliani, this guy does make you question at least some aspects of his judgment.  Sometimes good leaders are horrible judges of character.

The Election is Over - and I just realized that I've not really mentioned anything about it on a local level.  All told, I think the results in my neck of the woods were fairly positive...or at least have the potential to be positive.  Judge Nealon won retention, which is a very good thing.  Also a good thing is the election to judge of Attorney Moyle.  Regarding Scranton City Council, Mayor Doherty will now be facing a veto-proof majority, led by Janet Evans. That's not necessarily a bad thing, provided that the principals involved, namely Ms Evans and Mr Doherty, realize that they are being paid to work together to solve problems.  For Mr Doherty, this means consulting with council every once in a while.  For Ms Evans, this means actually doing something other than simply complaining about "the man".

Sometimes Things Break - I had my washer repaired yesterday morning, to the tune of $164.83.  The pump was leaking, and given the age of the machine, it's not unreasonable for this kind of thing to be replaced.  As I tell my children when they bemoan broken things, "sometimes things just break".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dowd takes on a better target, namely noted chickehnawk Rush Limbaugh

I personally think that Rush Limbaugh represents the pilonidal cyst of American politics (you Limbaugh fans out there will not doubt get the reference).  Anyway, Maureen Dowd does too, as noted in her great column today:

November 5th Maureen Dowd Column

Well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Indicative Election

There will be a lot of talk about how this off-year election was somehow set-back from President Obama. Don't buy it. Off year elections are mostly about local issues, not national temperature checks. There were three elections that were being watched nationally though...

...in New Jersey, Governor Corzine seems to have lost his bid for re-election by about 5%. New Jersey is an incredibly expensive state to live in, so there are always big issues surrounding taxes that resonate with voters.

...in Virginia, an incumbent Democratic governor lost his bid for re-election by a wide margin.

...closer to home, voters elected a Democrat for a Congress in a traditionally Republican seat. Link Here This is the race I find the most interesting, as it speaks to the dual-nature of the Republican party. As I've mentioned many, many times, I'd be a Republican if it were not for the social conservatives who seem to believe that their vision of morality is the only vision that counts. In this particular race you had two Republicans who did split the vote...resulting in the loss...but the split seems to be along the lines of social vs. economic conservatives. Dangerous stuff for a party that already is in the minority. This election says more about the fractured nature of the Republicans than it does about effective campaigning by a Democrat.

No doubt that the Republican spin-machine, lead by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity, will tell glowing tales today of grand GOP victories. That's their job. That's what they do. That isn't necessarily reality.

Americans are an independent lot. We like to work hard, be successful, and do what we want with our money. We also want people staying out of our business. That's a negative against Democrats who want to tax the crap out of everything and punish success. That's also a negative against Republicans who want to impose a code of morality that they themselves have trouble upholding (right Pastor Haggard?, right Newt?). I can hold my nose and vote for a drunken-sailor-spending Democrat because on some level they are trying to do what they view as being right, all be it misguided. I have a tougher time on the Republican side, because of the accusatory nature of holier-than-thou social conservatives who try to use their version of God as a vote-getter.

The late Lee Atwater got it right when he described a "big tent" Republican Party, where there was room for individuals with a variety of views. Unfortunately, the likes of Sarah Palin and other national, socially conservative Republicans s seem to have more of a "members only" tent in mind. That's sad, because it forces many of us hold our noses while voting. In my book, misguided intentions win out over finger-pointing & hypocrisy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If You Are Interested In Religion...

...I found a terrific blog at

http://leavethebuildingblog.com/author/leavethebuilding/

...note that I'm not going all evangelical on anyone, but I find the blogger's writing to be a great mix of simple, direct and positive communication.

Monday, November 2, 2009

He's "...a news guy"

First, I want to state that I don't know Steve Corbett, I have never met Steve Corbett, and I don't (often) listen to Steve Corbett on WILK radio. As far as I am concerned, he's a stand-up guy who is just as entitled to his opinion as am I. Speaking of opinions, there is however a sticking point I want to reference that does bother me when I think about Steve Corbett.

On one hand, if you listen to WILK for any length of time, you will no doubt hear some of the station's promotional spots; one of those spots includes Steve Corbett saying (among other things) "...I'm a news guy!". I've also heard Steve Corbett on the 'Nancy and Kevin' show talk about how they "do hard news"; to his credit, his counterpart in the morning, Kevin Lynn, seems to shun the notion that they (WILK's opinion shows) are in the "hard news" business. Clearly though, Steve Corbett views himself as being a news reporter.

On the other hand, we have pieces like this [Link Here] which in my mind have nothing to do with "hard news" and everything to do with opinions. Launch the link and read the article. This is Steve Corbett telling people who to vote for, as evidenced by quotes such as:

"In Lackawanna County, two stale incumbent judges want to be retained.

Vote no."

The above doesn't read like "hard news" to me. Throughout the article, Steve Corbett mostly notes who he is going to vote for (with phrases such as "
Gartley’s place is on the bench."), but other times he is far more directional. "Vote no" seems more like a demand than a request.

So what's the harm? Both Steve Corbett and Steve Albert are both entitled to opinions, right? Hell, I hand out opinions in this space all the time. Yet I do not, however, claim to be a "news guy". I do not claim to report "hard news". No, I'm just a pension guy with lots of opinions and fairly good typing skills. Steve Corbett, however, does claim to be a "news guy". Along with that statement come more than a few tough questions, such as:
  1. When does someone like Steve Corbett cease being a reporter and start being an advocate?
  2. How do we know that Steve Corbett (the reporter) doesn't skew the news based on the activities of Steve Corbett (the advocate)?
  3. How can Steve Corbett be sure himself that his opinions don't skew his "hard news" reporting? Maybe he doesn't actually care if one bleeds into the other. Maybe that's his intent.
  4. At the end of the day, isn't there supposed to be a wall of sorts between reporting the news and issuing editorial opinions? In the financial world, we have this concept of a Chinese Wall to prevent obvious conflicts of interest, but yet such a separation doesn't seem to exist when it comes to the news.

Now the cheap-n-easy retort to all of the above is something like...

"Come on, people are smart enough to know when they are being given news and when they are being given an opinion"

...which always reminds me of the late Paul Harvey. Why? Paul Harvey was (in)famous for weaving commercials into his newscasts, hoping (in my humble opinion) that the millions who listened to him would mistake, for example, the latest miracle vitamin cure commercial with real announcements about real cures. It just doesn't sit right with me, precisely because some people are not smart enough to distinguish the news with a carefully crafted opinion piece.

In the end, it all comes down to intellectual honesty. I know, that's probably too heady a concept for a blog (and down right ironic for the Internet), but it's the best two words I can think of that encapsulate the notion that we all know that there is a difference between reporting hard news and issuing hard opinions. We all know it, but yet some want us to think that such a line either doesn't exist, shouldn't exist or doesn't matter. I think it does, but then again I'm just a pension guy.

Languishing Monday

Maybe it was the sleeping aid I took last night, maybe I just didn't get enough sleep, maybe it's just Monday, but I'm sure as hell dragging this morning. Must perk up. I think my schedule is reasonably okay today, with nothing all that strenuous going on, so it's not as if I need to be in a classroom or anything like that.

I admit it: it's truly sad that I really can't sleep all that well except for those times when I get some assistance from "chemical willy". I wish I was one of those people who could just go to bed, shut off all the stuff in my head, sleep soundly for eight hours and wake up refreshed. No, for me it's more like go to bed around 11:30pm-ish, fall asleep quickly, have a mind that just can't settle down very much, wake up after five and a half or six hours, and generally feel like I've run through the wringer for several hours. It's all in the head, I know that. I need to learn to shut down what's inside my head, which would probably go along way towards helping me get a good night's sleep.

I simply hate sleeping.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lest You Think Halloween Is About Candy...

...I found this article on-line last night. I've hi-lited in red a few select sections that I think are interesting/absurd/frightening/generally wacky.

The Danger of Celebrating Halloween

Print

Kimberly Daniels

Editor's Note: We realize that the article by Kimberly Daniels is controversial. It reflects her own personal views—based on her many years of ministering to people involved in the occult. We have chosen to post another column by Ken Eastburn which offers a different view of Halloween. We welcome our readers to post comments on that article as well. Click here to read Eastburn's article.

Halloween—October 31—is considered a holiday in the United States. In fact, it rivals Christmas with regard to how widely celebrated it is. Stores that sell only Halloween-related paraphernalia open up a few months before the day and close shortly after it ends. But is Halloween a holiday that Christians should be observing?

The word "holiday" means "holy day." But there is nothing holy about Halloween. The root word of Halloween is "hallow," which means "holy, consecrated and set apart for service." If this holiday is hallowed, whose service is it set apart for? The answer to that question is very easy—Lucifer's!

Lucifer is a part of the demonic godhead. Remember, everything God has, the devil has a counterfeit. Halloween is a counterfeit holy day that is dedicated to celebrating the demonic trinity of : the Luciferian Spirit (the false father); the Antichrist Spirit (the false holy spirit); and the Spirit of Belial (the false son).

The key word in discussing Halloween is "dedicated." It is dedicated to darkness and is an accursed season. During Halloween, time-released curses are always loosed. A time-released curse is a period that has been set aside to release demonic activity and to ensnare souls in great measure.

You may ask, "Doesn't God have more power than the devil?" Yes, but He has given that power to us. If we do not walk in it, we will become the devil's prey. Witchcraft works through dirty hearts and wrong spirits.

During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.

Even the colors of Halloween (orange, brown and dark red) are dedicated. These colors are connected to the fall equinox, which is around the 20th or 21st of September each year and is sometimes called "Mabon." During this season witches are celebrating the changing of the seasons from summer to fall. They give praise to the gods for the demonic harvest. They pray to the gods of the elements (air, fire, water and earth).

Mother earth is highly celebrated during the fall demonic harvest. Witches praise mother earth by bringing her fruits, nuts and herbs. Demons are loosed during these acts of worship. When nice church folk lay out their pumpkins on the church lawn, fill their baskets with nuts and herbs, and fire up their bonfires, the demons get busy. They have no respect for the church grounds. They respect only the sacrifice and do not care if it comes from believers or non-believers.

Gathering around bonfires is a common practice in pagan worship. As I remember, the bonfires that I attended during homecoming week when I was in high school were always in the fall. I am amazed at how we ignorantly participate in pagan, occult rituals.

The gods of harvest that the witches worship during their fall festivals are the Corn King and the Harvest Lord. The devil is too stupid to understand that Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest 365 days a year. But we cannot be ignorant of the devices of the enemy. When we pray, we bind the powers of the strong men that people involved in the occult worship.

Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.

While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as "just harmless fun," the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).

Decorating buildings with Halloween scenes, dressing up for parties, going door-to-door for candy, standing around bonfires and highlighting pumpkin patches are all acts rooted in entertaining familiar spirits. All these activities are demonic and have occult roots.

The word "occult" means "secret." The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:

  • Sex with demons
  • Orgies between animals and humans
  • Animal and human sacrifices
  • Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood
  • Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies
  • Revel nights
  • Conjuring of demons and casting of spells
  • Release of "time-released" curses against the innocent and the ignorant.

Another abomination that goes on behind the scenes of Halloween is necromancy, or communication with the dead. Séances and contacting spirit guides are very popular on Halloween, so there is a lot of darkness lurking in the air.

However, Ephesians 1:19-21 speaks of the authority of the believer and the exceeding greatness of God's power in us (the same power that raised Christ from the dead). It goes on to say that that Jesus is seated in heavenly places far above all principalities, power, might, dominions and every name that is named. The good news is that because we are seated in heavenly places with Jesus, the same demonic activity that is under His feet is under our feet, too!


People who worship the devil continue to attempt to lift him up. But he has already been cast out and down! Many are blinded to this fact, but the day will come when all will know he has been defeated once and for all.


When we accept Jesus but refuse to renounce Satan and his practices, we are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm—and the Word says that God will spit us out of His mouth. The problem with lukewarm is that it attempts to mix the things of the devil with the things of God. It is God's desire that we serve Him alone.


Second Corinthians 6:15 asks the question, "And what agreement has Christ with Belial?" As believers, we need to answer that question in our hearts. We must avoid the very appearance of evil. I would not want a demon spirit to mistake me for an occult worshiper.


There is no doubt in my heart that God is not calling us to replace fall festivals and Halloween activities; rather, He wants us to utterly destroy the deeds of this season. If you or your family members have opened the door to any curses that are released during the demonic fall festivals, renounce them and repent. I already have. Then declare with me: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!"


About the author: Kimberly Daniels is a sought-after conference speaker and preacher. She is the founder of Kimberly Daniels Ministries International (kimberlydaniels.com), Spoken Word Ministries—the church she pastors in Jacksonville, Florida, with her husband, Ardell—A Child of the King Learning Center and Word Bible College. Kim is a recognized prophetic voice as well as the author of several books, including her most recent, Prayers that Bring Change (Charisma House).