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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Andy Palumbo's Blog

This is well worth reading:

Andy Palumbo's August 31st Blog

While I'm not in favor of one governmental body suing another, I certainly understand the frustration many feel over the gross mismanagement of the local AAA franchise & facilities over the years.  The fact now that the Yankees are basically making up their own rules...including the insane one where dealing with a pubic entity is somehow subject to a confidentiality agreement...points to just how pathetic this whole business has become.

Yes, the more the Cordaro years are scrutinized, the worse they look.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Glenn Beck: Selling the LDS

I have to give credit to former "wacky morning zoo" DJ Glenn Beck:  he ran a respectful, more or less, event this past weekend.  While it wasn't about bashing the Obama Administration, I think it was about:

  • Promoting the brand known as Beck and his many endeavors (books, shows, University, etc.)
  • Countering the argument that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ("the Mormons", referred here as "LDS") are not a mainstream Christian denomination
To the first point, this is how Beck makes his living.  He produces no product.  His existence consists of selling Glenn Beck Incorporated to the masses that want to believe that he is a bright guy who made some mistakes who now shares the values they aspire to emulate.

Values...that brings us to the second point.

I think the rally was as much about selling the Mormon Church as it was anything else.  Beck converted to the LDS Church years ago, and he is in fact becoming one of the Church's most ardent apologists.  I've heard the guy counter the many arguments that the LDS are not true Christians, and to those without a lot of knowledge on the subject he does sound convincing.  

Are Mormons Christian?
Typical dissertations by evangelical Christians on the subject can be found HERE and HERE.  Granted there are religious scholars out there who believe that Mormons are Christians, but having studied the faith for a few years (and having worked with Mormons when I was in high school), it's difficult for me to accept them as being "classically Christian".  Why?  First and foremost, most Christians, by very definition, consider the Bible to be the complete Word of God, without need for a "Volume 2".  The Book of Mormon is, for all intensive purposes, a second Bible.  There are other nuances of faith that are at play here, but suffice to say I personally don't think that Mormons fit in the traditional Christian category.

Note:  I'm not making a value judgment about the LDS Church, as I'm just about the last person to comment on the merits of any faith.  Hell, you can make a good argument that I don't fit the classical definition of being a Christian.  My commentary is more academic than anything else, and in point of fact the Mormons I've known have been some of the nicest, most pious individuals I've ever encountered.  That doesn't mean though that they fit the classical definition of being Christians.

Anyway, I could discuss Mormon theology for hours on end, but that's not the point here; the point is Glenn Beck.  It's my hypothesis that part of his crusade is to create a mainstream view of the LDS Church for the Christian right, as embodied by the likes of Sarah Palin.  Saying "Jesus", talking about the "Heavenly Father" (Mormons love to say "Heavenly Father" by the way) and extolling the virtues of prayer are the kinds of things that many on the religious Right want to hear.  The problem is that, as I've noted above, the Mormon Church doesn't exactly match 1:1 with the tenants of what most of the religious Right actually believe.

So what do we have?  Basically it's a Glenn Beck who is selling himself as a brand, and tagging along his Church for the ride.  Far be it for me to knock a brother is who just trying to make a living, so more power to Glenn Beck.  He's no better nor worse than many of his peers.  Beck does need to hope though that his evangelical friends overlook some of those little theological differences (the planet Kolob, Spirit Babies, Baptizing the Dead, "Sealed" Marriages, Plural Marriages, "like a God", special underwear, etc.) that might impact the brand known as Beck.  The more the uneducated on the religious Right look, the less they will like.

When One Governmental Body Sues Another Govermental Body, The Only Winners Are The Lawyers

The title of this post will probably be longer than the body of this post, but so be it. 

I am, by the way, referring to the pending lawyer orgy that will result from Luzerne County suing Lackawanna County.  Story link HERE.  More details to come, but seriously, do we really need them?  It all boils down to this:
  • Luzerne County will have lawyers...paid by taxpayers...sue Lackawanna County.
  • Lackawanna County will have lawyers...paid by taxpayers...defend against the suit by Luzerne County.

By my reckoning the only winners here are the lawyers, which is probably the underlying point of it all.

Amazing...simply amazing.  This would be funny if it were not for the fact that it's our money they are playing with in the first place.

Tell you what:  Give me $200 + a pair of tickets to see Gordon Lightfoot at the Kirby and I'll mediate a resolution between the two groups of county commissioners. 

The Last First Day of School

(July 1999/from the left:  Rebecca, Korin, and Katrina)

Well today is something of a milestone for me, as it is the last first day of school.  I know, that sounds somewhat complicated, but it is true:  today is the last "first day of school" for the youngest of my daughters.  Rebecca is starting her senior year of high school today, and this time next year I'll not have any kids just starting school.  Fast forward to late August 2011 and I'll have one daughter in the workforce with a college degree (Katrina), one starting her second year at the University of Scranton (Korin) and one starting her first year of college (Rebecca). 

I don't consider myself old or mature enough to even be in this position, but as John Lennon once observed...

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans"

More true words have never been spoken.

Not bad for a kid from the projects.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

AP Story, Prison Beating

Scranton is in the news again, and this time it has nothing to do with 'The Office'.

Associated Press story, "Vicious Attack Leaves PA Inmate Comatose" linked HERE.

One of the more troubling aspects of this report is the fact that there are credible allegations that the inmate was grossly mistreated over an extended period of time, a fact which has yet to be reported at any level of detail in the local media.  From the story:

A former inmate who lived on the same block as Pinto confirmed the abuse. The inmate, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears retribution against family members who hold local patronage jobs, told The Associated Press that he saw guards brutalize Pinto.

"...hold local patronage jobs..." that phrase alone should send shivers down your spine.  A man was being raped and people kept quiet because they had relatives with patronage jobs.  Gee, what else would they turn a blind eye to in order to protect the status quo?

The article also touches on details of Father Pickard's warning to prison authorities:

Pickard wrote a letter to the Lackawanna County commissioners on March 30 of this year complaining that prosecutors had failed to look into Pinto's allegations, "resulting in additional sexual assaults and continued denial of medical treatment."

Father Pickard continues to be banished from the prison, despite a quarter century of ministry to the jail's population.

Again, the fact that the AP provides so much more detail than the Scranton Times has to date is nothing short of astounding.  

You think the prisoner having the baby on the jailhouse floor shook things up at the jail?  Hell, that was minor league stuff compared to what will happen as a result of this incident.  Mr Pinto was not a good man, and for his crimes he deserved to be punished.  Let me be perfectly clear though with how I feel:  NO ONE deserves the treatment this man received.  His blood is on the hands of everyone in that jail who was in a position to intervene, be they guards, prison administrators, the warden or the Prison Board.  The investigation as to what happened here needs to reach into all operations of the Lackawanna County jail and the county District Attorney's office.  No sacred cows, be they unionized guards, the prison warden or  the District Attorney's office. 

There was recently an uproar when a lady threw a cat in a dumpster.  Weeks later and the cat is doing fine.  Mr Pinto had his head stomped in 15 times.  Weeks later and he is probably going to need intensive care for the rest of his life.  Do the societal math.

Finally, I know that there are some out there that say this man "got what he deserved".  Funny, I wonder how many of those folks revile in disgust when they hear of people getting stoned to death in Islamic countries?  In my estimation, what happened to this inmate is basically America's version of Sharia Law.

Nicotine Facts - Culled from Various Sources

  1. Nicotine actually changes the structure and function of your brain, requiring it to constantly want more of the drug.
  2. Nicotine is poisonous to many insects.  In fact, in the past it wasn't all that uncommon for ranchers to walk cattle through nicotine baths.  In modern times is is an active ingredient in some pesticides.
  3. Nicotine is actually classified as a stimulant, as it increases heart rate and metabolism in general.
  4. 82% of individuals suffering from Schizophrenia smoke.
  5. Nicotine has only one known medical use:  as a product in gums & patches to help people quit smoking.
  6. Nicotine impedes the body's ability to rid itself of damaged or dead cells, which encourages the formation of cancer.
  7. 60 mg of nicotine will kill you.
  8. Once inhaled in smoke, nicotine is able to impact the brain's functioning in less than 10 seconds.
  9. Nicotine, like heroin and cocaine, causes the release of dopamine into the brain.  Over time, the amount of nicotine required to stimulate dopamine release increases.
  10. Nicotine impedes the release of insulin from the pancreas.  This elevates blood sugar levels.

Bottom Line:  Smoking is simply a socially acceptable delivery mechanism for the highly addictive (and toxic) drug nicotine.  If you smoke please try to quit.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

50 Random Things

I found this thing on a friend's facebook page, and since I'm killing time until I'm actually tired enough to go to sleep...

1. My ex is...many, many years ago.

2. I should learn the guitar

3. I

4. People would say that I am....Picky

5. I don't understand.....people that don't read

6. When I wake up in the morning...I think about the day ahead

7. I lost....26 pounds this year

8. Life is....very complex

9. My past taught me.....that you grow or you die

10. I get annoyed when.....I am around closed-minded people

11. Parties...suck

12. I wish....I spoke Italian

13. Dogs and cats.....are okay (I like cats better though)

14. My childhood pet...was a dog named "Choo Choo"

15. Tomorrow is.....Sunday, a day when I actually don't do all that much resting

16. I have a low tolerance for...lazy people

17. If I had a million I spent it would really piss people off

18. I'm terrified of...not much (although I'm uncomfortable with heights)

19. I've come to realize...that the biggest struggles in life come from the inside, not the outside

20. I am listening to.. the SNL monologue

21. I little as possible

22. My Best Friend...knows who they are

23. My first kiss.....was so long ago that I don't even remember it

24. Love is....rare

25. Marriage is... something most people aren't prepared for

26. Somewhere, someone is God, why am I wasting my time reading this dribble?

27. I'll always be.....instrospective

28. The last time I really cried was...was a long time ago

29. My cell phone always with me

30. Before I go to bed...take drink my lovely does of dietary fibre

31. My middle Gerard

32. Right now, I am thinking.. ..I wish there were fewer questions

33. Today I.....actually managed to get in a decent workout

34. Tomorrow I will be....doing the usual Sunday stuff

35. I really want to.....lose about 5 more pounds, but damn is it hard

36. The person most likely to re-post this is...irrelevant

37. The person least likely to re-post this is...equally irrelevant

38. My relationship with my grandparents.....was nonexistent (they were almost all dead when I was kid)

39. My most treasured possession is.....a picture of me with the girls

40. My favorite pictures....are those with me and the girls

41. I sing......very, very badly

42. If I was a crayon...I would be dark red

43. Someday I want to travel to...Italy, Germany and Sweden

44. I am wearing...a Kutztown University tee shirt and blue shorts

45. My favorite class this semester was.....not applicable...

46. My favorite language speak...English; to listen to...Italian

47. It hurts...when people I know lose their job at work

48. I'm going to miss.....having Korin at home

49. My profile picture one of the few I can tolerate

50. I need......a simplified life

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Word of the Day: Lost

Today's word is "lost" because that's as good a word as I can come up with to describe how I've felt.  Lost.  Unattached.  Ungrounded.  Floating.  Untethered.  I'm  not sure which, if any, words really describes how I felt today, and precisely because I feel this way I'm not sufficiently motivated to actually ponder this such that I could come up with a good word or two.  In fact this whole mess probably is best suited to some kind of "deep but in a nebulous kind of way" poem.

I get this way from time to time.  It might be something like a circuit overload of sorts I suppose.  There is far too much multi-tasking in my life, or so I think, and sometimes it just gets to be mentally exhausting.  Add some physical exhaustion to the mix and you probably have a perfect storm of mental disorder. It's as if there is this kind of centrifugal force in my head that is just about ready to send my gray matter off into splintering directions at any moment, if it were not for the affects of some strange mental gravity that holds things in my head together.  It all gets to be so damned complex.

Anyway, I'm ready for this day to end at any moment.  Good riddance.  Right now I'm just waiting for something I just took a few minutes ago to take hold and send me off into what I hope will be about 8 hours of catatonic slumber.  I've learned over the years that the closest I get to a natural circuit breaker reset lies in some sleep.  Mind you I still hate sleeping, but even I concede that, from time to time, it is necessary.

"Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination." - Mark Twain

Road Apples, #74

Whitestock...Glenn Beck is planning a giant "I love people just like me" party tomorrow in Washington DC.  I think we should call the gathering "Whitestock".  Catchy?  Supposedly no signs will be allowed and it is billed as a non-partisan event.  Don't bet on it.  Glenn Beck is about as non-partisan as Bill Clinton, and I have absolutely no doubt that there will be plenty of not-so-subtle signs being hoisted at the event.  Think "Obama as African Witch Doctor".  The real kicker?  It's being held on the anniversary of the Martin Luther King "I Have A Dream" speech.  Now Beck has claimed he didn't know that August 28th was the anniversary of the speech, and besides, he has also said that black people no more own the legacy of MLK than white people own the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.  Fair enough...having seen and heard Beck's act a few times, I actually do believe that he didn't know of the anniversary.  Besides, I've come to one resounding conclusion about Glenn Beck's act:  it's an actWhitestock is more about promoting former "Morning Zoo DJ" Glenn Beck than it is anything else. 

Laptops...I've had some time off this week (not as much as originally planned, but that's life), so I've been working on reinstalling Windows XP on two previously dead laptops.  The results have been very good.  I'm now using my Sony Vaio again, after having removed the wretched abomination of an operating system known as Vista.  While I love my netbook, it's nice to be looking at a larger screen again and Sony has the best displays in the business, so the netbook will now be used now mainly for travel and remote surfing.  For the record my Vaio is not what I would call portable.  Between the Vaio and the other laptop I revitalized, I've probably spent about six hours or so on this project, and countless amounts of time catching the machines up with all of the updates they've missed.  As Klingons are fond of saying, KAHPLAH'

Harry Reid...The Nevada Senator is viewed by many Republicans as being, along with Nancy Pelosi, symbolic of all that is wrong with the Democratic party.  Why, if he is so out of touch with the mainstream, is he managing to run neck-n-neck with his GOP rival for his Senate seat?  It's not as if Nevada is a flaming liberal state to begin with (case in point:  it has the 4th largest population of Mormons in the country).  There is a decent article in the HuffPost that touches on the issue (link HERE).  From my politically un-astute perspective, Reid's opponent, Sharon Angle, is suffering from Rick Santorum syndrome, a disease whereby a candidate actually believes their own self-righteousness.  Reid may lose, but Angle will not survive more than a term or two at the most.  Americans are a "live and let live" kind of people who basically aren't comfortable telling people them how they should live.  It's a lesson Ricky has yet to learn.

Pat Toomey...apparently likes money that is.  Reference HERE.  I'm wondering how long it will be until there is a "Tom Corbett cock-fighting" connection.

Federal Spending by State...I was doing some research for something work related the other day when I stumbled on a chart showing various forms of federal spending by state.  What's really interesting here is that Sarah "the federal government spends too much" Palin's home state of Alaska is 4th in terms of how much more federal money flows into the state than flows out of the state.  Specifically, for every dollar Alaskan's pay in federal taxes, they get back $2.62.  That's a hell of a return.  You can see the data HERE, on table 4. In case you are curious, for every dollar Pennsylvanian's pay in federal taxes we get $1.05 back.  Must be because we have a liberal governor.   

Father Pickard...I am not the only person who believes that it is patently wrong to keep Father Pickard from his ministry at the Lackawanna County jail.  Read the Scranton Times editorial HERE. The bruised egos of prison administrators need to be put aside.  Father Pickard's ministry is a blessing and a benefit to the prison and should be allowed to continue.  

Blog Roll...I've updated my blog roll & list of blogs I follow to better reflect some of the local blogs that seem interesting (at least to me).  I included blogs that were...

...written by adults
...updated with some regularity.

In looking for blogs I found it amazing just how sleepy the local blogging scene really is in NEPA.  Maybe the mountains that sit on either side of "da valley" are higher than I thought.

Jobs? We Don't Need No Stinking Jobs!

Congressman Paul Kanjorski announces the prospect of 1,000 jobs coming to the area and Hazelton Mayor Lou ("beware of the great brown horde") Barletta immediately announces that he is opposed to the project.

Article link HERE.

Apparently Barletta wants to protect the pristine former mine land or something like that, and he believes that a "military style training camp" would be disruptive.  Now this facility would be run the by U.S. State Department, not the Marine Corps, but I suspect that Barletta would be opposed to Christmas if it could somehow be proven to be a Kanjorski idea (which makes no sense at all, because Christmas, in and of itself, doesn't involve sending public money to the Kanjorski family, but so I digress...). Regardless, while I'm not entirely convinced that this project will happen here, if it does it would be a great, great thing for the region.

I also think this is yet another example of how Barletta is a one-trick pony:  he sounds good when he is busy trying to scare the bejesus out of a certain audience worried about illegal immigration, but he falls flat when he talks about just about everything else, including his tenure as Hazelton's mayor.

After reading the story of Kanjorski's announcement yesterday on NEPArtisan I was skeptical about the project's prospects and worried that it might make the Congressman look bad if it didn't happen.  Well Barletta just solved that problem.  By immediately coming out against 1,000 jobs (in an area with unemployment in the 9.5% range and layoffs & outsourcing coming right and left) Barletta has just negated any advantage he could garner if this project doesn't come to fruition.  People are now going to be debating why Barletta is opposed to this, not whether Kanjorski is engaged in wishful thinking.  If this whole thing was Ed Mitchell's idea, then I have to hand to to the guy, as it's a stroke of genius.

This brings to mind a certain scene in a favorite movie...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Blogger Tax That Isn't

Drudge had been running a story about "the Philadelphia blogger tax" for a few days that caught my eye. You can read a similar story HERE.

What's interesting here is how the real underlying issue has been presented by the Internet media. In point of fact Philadelphia does not have a "blogger tax". Philadelphia has what is basically a fee that every business owner has to pay for the privileged of doing business in the city. Does that fee apply specifically to bloggers? No, and in fact many cities have business privilege taxes or fees (Scranton does as well), so the concept is nothing new.

What's the "new" part? I think it's the idea that running a blog...and getting paid for a business. Note the use of the word 'and', as it's critical to the discussion. Basically what the government folks are saying is "Hey, if you run a blog and you get advertising revenue, that's basically a business. Like any other business, you have to pay this business privilege tax/fee.". Honestly, I think they are right, at least as far as consistency is concerned. Why should, for example, someone who runs a newspaper (which has content and sells advertising) have to pay a tax/fee but a blogger with ads (which has content and sells advertising) not have to pay the same tax/fee? I realize there is a de minimis argument that can be made, namely that many bloggers only earn very small amounts of revenue from their on-line endeavors. That's a fair point, but I'd argue that many businesses don't make a lot of money. Why should an on-line endeavor be treated differently?

For the record, I am not endorsing these kinds of taxes and fees. My point is one of consistency. If you are going to have this kind of tax/fee, then fairness dictates that there should be no sacred cows in the field. To hear some on the Internet, you would think that blogger is the most sacred of cows. It's not. Any dope can do this, although I'm not saying that any dope can do this well. To the extent that bloggers are upset that they need to pay the tax/fee based on, for example, the $11.20 in ad revenue they receive annually, then they should fight for a minimum revenue clause in the tax/fee legislation that would apply to all businesses.

Bottom Line: The moment a blogger begins to receive advertising revenue from their corner of cyberspace is the same moment that the blogger begins running a business. As a business person, they should be treated no better...or no worse...than anyone else running a business. If a blogger doesn't like the local business privilege tax/fee, then he/she should fight to end it (or at least add a revenue floor) for all businesses. Arguing that blogging should somehow be exempt from these types of business taxes is ridiculously arrogant.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lackawanna County Prison: Let Father Pickard Do His Job

From the Scranton Times:

"The prison has told the Rev. Pickard not to come to the prison until the investigation is complete."

You can read the whole article HERE.

What's the reason for Father Pickard's banishment? Well he brushed up against a guard after not being allowed to minster to a man in a coma, a man who he had previously warned prison administrators was in danger. Call me crazy, but it seems like prison administrators are none too happy that Father Pickard dared to speak out about this case in the first place.

Now what do the prison guards have to say about this? From the article:

Sgt. Bill Shanley, president of the prison employees union, said Father Pickard should be allowed back into the prison.

Since the guards are not bothered by Father Pickard's presence in the facility, why should he be banished?

This isn't a case of someone visiting a distant relative in jail. Father Pickard has a job to perform in the prison. Ministering to the needs of inmates isn't just a "nice to have"; for an inmate who is Catholic (or arguable just religious) it's essential.

Lackawanna County Prison administrators need to end this bizarre banishment and allow Father Pickard to continue his work. If necessary make him write "I will not discuss the condition of Mr Pinto" a thousand times if that's what's needed, but let him do his job.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Rather fitting that the first three letters of 'nepotism' can point back to good ole Northeastern Pennsylvania. Case in point: recent appointments by the Scranton School District.

Put another way, once again the Scranton School District lives down to its reputation.

Article link HERE.

In the latest batch of job-fills we have the wife of a district administrator getting a clerk position and the hiring of an assistant principal at West Scranton High School who also happens to have a wife that works at that same school. Making matters more interesting is the fact that this newly hired assistant principal's attorney is also the SSD's solicitor.

Yes, I'm sure that it's just a coincidence that the deputy superintendent's wife was the most qualified for the special education clerk position. After all, there are about 900,000 people in the Scranton Wilkes-Barre MSA, so what are the odds that someone else would be more qualified for a CLERK position? Funny, but I can think of at least 30 soon-to-be outsourced employees from a large financial services company who are probably just as qualified for this job.

It was another coincidence that the new assistant principal has a business relationship with the school board's attorney. After all, there are so few lawyers in Scranton, so this kind of thing happens all the time, right?

Okay, I've dispensed with my daily dose of sarcasm, so let me get to the point: the Scranton School District is awash in family members and individuals who are connected via business and personal relationships. As such and at a minimum, it's in dire need of clear nepotism policy. If I were writing the policy I'd basically state it as follows: "the district may not ever hire the spouses or children of current or former board members, district administrators, or others within the district who have supervisory authority", period. Now does this mean that, on rare occasion, the district might not get the most qualified person for a job? Sure it does, but the trade-off is that the public would be assured the most qualified person for a job would be hired the vast majority of the time. What's more, such a policy would ensure that taxpayer money wasn't being used to create positions for family members.

Now my suggested policy wouldn't prevent all hiring abuses, but it would send a clear signal that the district has the public's best interest in mind when it makes hiring decisions.

Finally, no district employee should EVER be in a position to supervise...directly OR indirectly...a spouse or family member. It's clear from recent actions that the SSD administration is not serious about preventing this kind of abuse. Why is this so important? Simple: allowing these sorts of abuses creates, in my opinion, a toxic work environment for those individuals who are "non-connected".

Disclaimer: I should note that a member of my family is employed by the Scranton School District in a professional position. This individual was hired after spending years on professional hire eligibility lists and after substitute teaching in many of the district's schools. What's more, I do not have (nor did I have at the time of their hire) any professional relationships or associations with any of the district's board members or administrators.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Business Sues City...but...

Yes, the City of Scranton probably gets sued all the time. In fact, the city is currently being sued by the owners of a business called Olde Good Things. You can read the story HERE.

No biggie, right?

Well read the not-so-fine-print on this one:

"Represented by attorney Boyd Hughes, who also serves as city council's solicitor, Olde Good Things..."

I know, this probably happens all the time, but for some reason I'm going to stop on this one. Why? Call me insane, but it just seems, well, wrong that same attorney that the taxpayers pay to represent Scranton City Council is also being paid to sue the taxpayers of the City of Scranton. Oh, and please, let's dispense with the "city council is different that the administration..." bullcrap. That's legalistic nonsense which is nothing more than a diversion from the common sense that should rule in these instances.

I am sure that Attorney Hughes is not violating any of the rules. Well make that "not violating any of the written rules governing legal practice". But the fact remains that he could very well be getting paid by both the plaintiff and the defendant in this case. Maybe, just maybe, the appearance of a conflict of interest should be enough to raise an eyebrow or two.

One other point: would this story be getting more attention in the local Internet underbelly if the attorney in question were connected with Mayor Doherty instead of Council President Evans? This story smells an awful lot like the local politics/local connections as usual that, in theory, Mrs Evans is supposed to be against.


It's August 23rd, which means just one thing: it's almost September. I'm wondering just where August went actually, because I think it was just July a week ago.

Ah, September is a strange month. Next to December, it's about the only month that is probably both a noun and a verb when you think about it. Yes, the other months just come and go, but stuff actually goes down in September. Yeah, December gets a lot of press because of Christmas, but I think day for day, no month beats September when it comes to the sheer gravity of change.

First, you have kids going back to school. In my case that would be just one going to high school, which actually starts next week. I have to other already in college. For many others, it's the ritual of uniforms and routines. I can still remember going back to school myself. It was only yesterday.

Second, you have Labor Day. In this neck of the woods that means just one thing: Food. Forget the actual thoughts and intent behind "labor day"; in Scranton it's all about eating quasi-warm pizza at the Italian Festival (that would be "EYE-talion" Festival for all my friends in Western Pennsylvania) while trying to weave through the massive crowds at courthouse square. The "La Festa" is kind of like St. Patrick's Day around here, without the beer, and the street fights, and the vomiting. Anyway, it's a good time. Trust me.

Third, every few years you get a really decent political season starting in September. This year will be one of those good ones, with a lack-luster Congressman (Paul Kanjorski) in the fight of his life against an opponent who never met a politically opportunistic sound byte pass him bye. The minute Lou Barletta invoked the name "Joe Paterno" I knew he was engaging in all-out political warfare. JoePa is the one thing around there that reaches across all political and ideological boundaries. In other parts of the area you have what amounts to a mob lawyer pointing ethical fingers at a Congressman who has missed votes because of his wife's cancer treatment. Yup, forget football: in NEPA politics is the chief contact sport.

As for me, well I'm not oblivious to the change in season either. I like warm weather, but I can do without the worst of the summer heat. I also love the Fall. I love the temperature when it's a nice 50 degrees or so. I love the smell of leaves on the ground. I love the sound of the wind blowing leaves across the path at Lake Scranton. I love getting the yard ready for winter.

It's as if September is really this big affirmation that despite our best efforts, the rhythm of life will not ever be denied.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Flaming Jocks: Roger Clemens

I confess: seeing hero worshiped ex-jock "Skrep-Daddy" go down in flames in Luzerne County was somehow satisfying for me on a visceral level. It was as if someone (in his case the judicial system) finally said "I don't care that you can play sports, the rules DO APPLY TO YOU too!".

It's on this note that another hero worshiped jock gets ready to go down in flames.

Roger Clemens indicted for perjury.

The case to me looks pretty much black and white: he lied to Congress about taking 'roids. Now lying to fans is one thing, after all, they are the saps who ultimately just pay his salary. However lying under oath is another, and yes, when you testify in front of Congress you are under oath.

[Ironic side note here: Congress is full of members who lie all the time, it's just that they hold that privilege more or less for themselves exclusively. They can lie to just can't lie to them.]

This is serious stuff baseball fans: you do real jail time for prejury. We are not talking Lohan time either.

Oh, and if convicted he can probably kiss the hall-o-fame goodbye.

Not being much of a baseball fan (that left me long about 1978), my interest is this story is probably more sociological than anything else, as I simply find the attention and adulation afforded to sports figures to be fascinating. Wait, is that "fascinating" or "pathetic"? I'm not really sure. Anyway, I find it interesting that someone who was paid so much to play what amounts to a teenager's game basically blew it because they wanted to continue a fantasy. This fantasy was fine for the press and (as noted above) the fans, but like most fantasies it couldn't continue indefinitely. What was the fantasy? It was "I can do whatever I want, because I'm Roger Clemens and I play professional baseball".

So to you Roger Clemens I say "HaHa!". You screwed up. You threw it all away. You had a life whereby you were paid millions of dollars...not for protecting society...not for solving the worlds problems...not for curing cancer...but for playing a f&^king children's game. And somehow that just wasn't enough for you. You wanted more, you moronic greed-head.

And now it is slipping through your 'roided fingers.

Mr Bad Example (Warren Zevon)

The late, great Warren Zevon.

Mr Bad Example
I started as an altar boy, working at the church
Learning all my holy moves, doing some research
Which led me to a cash box, labeled "Children's Fund"
I'd leave the change, and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

I got a part-time job at my father's carpet store
Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score
I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane
And auctioned off every last naugahyde divan

I'm very well aquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in
I'm proud to be a glutton, and I don't have time for sloth
I'm greedy, and I'm angry, and I don't care who I cross

I'm Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don't care who gets hurt
I'm Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I'll live to be a hundred, and go down in infamy

Of course I went to law school and took a law degree
And counseled all my clients to plead insanity
Then worked in hair replacement, swindling the bald
Where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called

Then on to Monte Carlo to play chemin de fer
I threw away the fortune I made transplanting hair
I put my last few francs down on a prostitute
Who took me up to her room to perform the flag salute

Whereupon I stole her passport and her wig
And headed for the airport and the midnight flight, you dig?
And fourteen hours later I was down in Adelaide
Looking through the want ads sipping Fosters in the shade

I opened up an agency somewhere down the line
To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines
But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut
And whisked away their workman's comp and pauperized the lot

I'm Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time, and I don't care who gets hurt
I'm Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I'll live to be a hundred and go down in infamy

I bought a first class ticket on Malaysian Air
And landed in Sri Lanka none the worse for wear
I'm thinking of retiring from all my dirty deals
I'll see you in the next life, wake me up for meals

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dr Laura Schlessinger

I've read two books* by Dr Laura Schlessinger over the years, so I'm somewhat familiar with her work. It's with that in mind that I heard this past week of her encounter with the "n" word (that would be **nigger**). Having heard the transcript of the show in question, it doesn't sound to me like Dr Laura's intent was to be racist. If anything, I think she was trying to point out that others misuse that word all the time. However, as a public person, she should have been more sensitive in the language that she used on-air. Someone with as much media experience as Dr Laura should have known better.

When did it get really weird? That happened when she claimed that her "First Amendment Rights" were being violated by the controversy. Surprisingly, Dr Laura can't seem to differentiate the right to free speech and the business of appearing on a nationally syndicated radio show. There is no right to say anything on the radio. Commercial broadcasting is a business, and in that context someone like Laura Schlessinger is at the mercy of her syndicator and her sponsors. Her on-air speech is only "free" to the extent that those two groups allow it to be free. They can pull the plug...and her any time for any reason, as long as it is permissible under her employment contract. Here's the kicker though: neither group seems all that upset about the controversy. Nope, it's Dr Laura who is saying she will quit radio after her contract has expired precisely because her supposed "rights" have been violated.

Bottom line: for someone who admonishes others to have thicker skin, Dr Laura Schlessinger sure has some thin skin herself.

(*) How Could You Do That? & Stop Whining. Start Living

Road Apples, #73

Two Down...Daughter number 2 has been moved to college (although it was a short move), so now I have two living away at school. I have to say that I was very impressed with how the University of Scranton ran the whole operation. Oh, and yes, my middle daughter decided to live on campus, even though that campus is about three miles away. She is aware of the financial impact of this all, but she waned to do it never the less. Another adventure begins. It reminds me of when I moved away to college during my junior year. I think it was just me and a friend that took my stuff down to Penn State Harrisburg. The memories...

Flying Blues...I'm looking at the ginormous bruise on my leg, courtesy of Delta airlines and one rather large passenger. On my first (of two) flights back yesterday I was sitting next to a nice gentleman who in point of fact actually took up two seats. Unfortunately I was still sitting in one of the two, and as a result my left leg was jammed into the armrest of a CRJ 200 for about an hour and a half. Make that more like molded into the armrest of CRJ 200. Airplane seats are not made for large people; hell they are barely made for any people.

Kudos...go out to Mary Borthwick's son Tom (a.k.a. NEPArtisan), who will be writing for the HuffPost. The world of politics is full of stupid people who talk in sound bytes (see Sarah Palin), so it's always great when a voice comes along that is capable of something a little more articulate than "liberals evil!".

Movies...I was greatly disappointed by "Dinner for Schmucks", but there is movie hope out there: the next installment of Resident Evil is coming out in September. In 3D no less. In truth I can't get too excited about 3D, as I really don't get the effect all that well. No bother, as Mila Jovovich and zombies can make up for just about anything.

I Want...a Hofner fiddle base. Just wanted to note that for the record.

Ubuntu...I have two laptops that are laying around in a more or less comatose state, so I've ordered the latest version of Ubuntu to install on them. Something of an experiment I think. For what they will be used for, namely web-surfing, I think it will work out just fine. I'd like to find a way to run iTunes on them (and I think I found it HERE). Here's to mad science and sticking it to Microsoft, at least symbolically.

Thoughts & Prayers

My thoughts and prayers go out to Pat Cusick and his family, as they suffered a terrible tragedy early this morning. Scranton Time article HERE.

I know Pat from family gatherings and as a co-worker. You couldn't find a nicer, harder-working, more decent human being in all the world than "Mr Cusick" (as I call him when I run into him at the office). I can't comprehend what he must be going through now with the death of his daughter and the grave condition of the other members of his family.

If you are a religious person, I'd appreciate you taking a moment to pray for Pat & his family.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I'm Back & Eat Pray Love

Well I'm back from three days of business-imposed exile in Iowa. I didn't bring my netbook with me this trip, as I couldn't jam anything else into my backpack (notes, planner, ThinkPad, mouse, power cord, etc.), so I was reliant on the hotel's in-room Internet connection. That was a mistake. I was able to hop into the hotel's business center machine in the odd few moments when some 12 year old wasn't watching YouTube videos. That was good for a quick check for emergencies, but not much else.

Anyway, I'm back.

While gone I saw numerous previews for the new Julia Roberts movie "Eat Pray Love". I'm thinking that about 6 straight guys, in total across the entire universe, will see this flick. As for me, here is a list of the things I'd rather do than go see "Eat Pray Love":

  1. Have knitting needles perforate both eardrums simultaneously.
  2. Have my toe nails removed by a drunken Russian doctor without anesthetic.
  3. Eat sauerkraut.
  4. Watch the John Travolta movie "Staying Alive" 12 times in a row.
  5. Be an in-studio guest during the Don Imus show (and watch him actually decay right in front of my very own eyes).
  6. Attend a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film festival (wait, that would be about the same as watching "Eat Pray Love").
  7. Be responsible for emptying the Courtney Love's house.
  8. Be Rush Limbaugh's drug mule.
  9. Be the only white guy in attendance at a Wu Tang Clan reunion concert.
  10. Go mullet spotting at a local WalMart.

Note that I was going to say "play a game of spot the Spic" with Lou Barletta, but I didn't want to offend anyone of Hispanic heritage out there. Ops, too late.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Smoking & Stress

Many people claim that they smoke because it "reduces stress". Well it turns out that smoking does reduce stress...the stress of not smoking that is. It doesn't seem to actually help with other causes of stress.

From the New York Times column "The Examiner".

The claim: Smoking relieves stress.

The facts:
The benefits of quitting smoking - reduced risk of cancer and many other health problems - are known. But for millions of smokers, the calming effect of a cigarette can be reason enough to start up again.

Studies have found, however, that in reality, lighting up has the opposite effect, causing long-term stress levels to rise. For those dependent on smoking, the only stress it relieves is the withdrawal between cigarettes.

In a recent study conducted at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, researchers looked at 469 people who tried to quit after being hospitalized for heart disease. At the start, the subjects had similar levels of stress and generally believed that smoking helped them to cope.

A year later, 41 percent had managed to stay abstinent. After controlling for several factors, the scientists found that the abstainers had "a significantly larger decrease in perceived stress," roughly a 20 percent drop, compared with the continuing smokers, who showed little change.

The scientists' hypothesis was that the continuing smokers were dealing with uncomfortable cravings between cigarettes multiple times a day, while the abstainers, after facing some initial withdrawal, had greater freedom from nicotine cravings and thus had eliminated a frequent and significant source of stress.

Other studies have also found that smokers experience higher levels of stress and tension between cigarettes and lower levels overall when they quit.

The bottom line: The calming effect of a cigarette is a myth, at least in the long term.

The Burlington Coat Factory Mosque

I haven't really had a fully formed opinion about the "ground zero" mosque issue, until now that is. As I was following the issue, I was basically in agreement that a mosque should not be built on the site of the Twin Towers. Why? Simple really: that is, more or less, a cemetery. It seems insensitive to build such a center on the site of a cemetery. Like a typically lazy American though I more or less just believed the sound bytes that I heard in the media.

Then I found something out (I can thank Gort for this): the mosque isn't on the Word Trade Center site. Where is it? According Matt Sledge at the HuffPost, it's a bit over two blocks away, at the still standing site of a Burlington Coat Factory store.

Now the calculus here seems pretty straight forward:

Ground Zero mosque? No.

Burlington Coat Factory Mosque? Yes, why not?

If not at a Burlington Coat Factory then where could this go? Would moving it three more blocks away change the opinion of, say, a Bill O'Reilly? He says yes, but I strongly suspect that if the mosque were actually going to be built five blocks away he would be saying "maybe if it were ten blocks away...". And so on and so forth. In the end I don't think this has an awful lot to do with cemeteries or ground zero.

I'm not a Muslim, I wanted Saudi Arabia nuked after 911 and I get nervous whenever I fly and there is someone who is Arab-looking on the plane with me. I own up to my own prejudices. That noted, it seems un-American to oppose the construction of a place of worship simply because you don't like the religion in question. That's what this comes down to, as AGAIN the mosque isn't on Ground Zero. The fact that many Islamic countries are extremely intolerant when it comes other faiths isn't the question at hand here, as this is America and we cherish the right to practice whatever faith one likes (including the right to practice no faith).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Top 10: True Clues that the Sweepstakes Winning Notice is a Scam

I actually received something in the mail today. Some signs that it's a scam:

  1. They reference...but misspell...American Express in the notice.
  2. All sorts of bizarre bar codes and "Actual" stamps all over it.
  3. My name is listed in all caps and in a different font.
  4. The return address is a mailing label for some place in Canada.
  5. Call required to an agent to claim winnings (in my case $650,000).
  6. The following footnote: "Due to the Confidentiality Act put in place by the International Lottery Commission you are required to keep all information strictly confidential."
  7. The "Security Sealed for Protected Delivery" stamp at the bottom on the notice.
  8. A certificate number that is different than a issuing document number which is different than a ticket number which is different than a file reference number (I kid you not).
  9. They will only hold my win for two weeks.
  10. All manner of weird indentations in the text.
Damn, so much for winning $650G's. I guess I can kiss that time-traveling DeLorean goodbye.

God and Immigration Reform

Great Forum piece in today's USA Today entitled "God and Immigration Reform". You can read it HERE. I agree 100% with what the author, Richard Land, states. Here is a high-light:

People of faith should join to work for fair, just, comprehensive federal immigration reform that embodies the principles enunciated in the National Association of Evangelical's 2009 resolution, which proclaimed that any immigration reform legislation must:

•Respect the God-given dignity of every person

•Protect the unity of the immediate family

•Respect the rule of law

•Guarantee secure national borders

•Ensure fairness to taxpayers

•Establish a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.

Mr Land is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I wouldn't call the SBC a liberal organization by any stretch of the imagination. You can read their stated beliefs HERE.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dinner for Schmucks

I went to see Dinner for Schmucks last night and I absolutely hated it. I want that two hours of my life back. A supposed comedy, the movie was really an enormous goof of the sad life of a guy who had some mental health issues. Yeah, I know, it's fiction, it's not supposed to be taken seriously, etc. I get the premise, but the mistake the movie made was showing just how sad the Steve Carell character's life was in the midst of all the goofing. The movie made the Carell character all too real, which made the humiliation all the more difficult to watch.

If you don't have anyone in your family/life/circle who suffers from mental health challenges, you will probably find this movie reasonably funny. If you do though, you very well may walk away like I did, feeling somehow kind of dirty for participating in the whole process.

I do not recommend this movie. Go and see Sly Stallone blow stuff up instead.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Protecting Prisoners in Lackawanna County

It's rather ironic that the Lackawanna County prison system wasn't able to protect a prisoner awaiting sentencing from getting his head bashed in by another inmate, but the powers that be are determined to protect that same prisoner from a Catholic priest.

Details HERE and HERE.

As quoted from the editorial that appeared in today's Scranton Times:

"...After the assault, Father Pickard was denied access to Mr. Pinto by correctional officers at Community Medical Center, where the inmate was listed in critical condition with severe head injuries. "

I'm just wondering what purpose is served by preventing Father Pickard from visiting the prisoner. Generally speaking, having a cleric around you when you are near death is considered to be a kind, humane thing. Apparently not in this instance. Where was this same level of security when Mr Pinto was getting his head stomped on?

As a final note, I'm not going to wade into the whole issue of whether the savage beating was somehow justified, because it's not. Yes, the Mr Pinto was convicted of kiddie-porn charges, and as the father of three daughters I can certainly understand the intense emotions that this kind of thing stirs up. That noted, in our system of justice (as opposed to, say, Shar'ia Law), we don't beat people for their offenses. As I've noted before, if we want to be claim to be the good guys in the world, we actually have to act like the good guys.

NEIU #19

It's been widely reported that the State Auditor General is investigating the retirement incentives and payments being made to outgoing NEIU #19 Director Dr. Fred Rosetti. (story link HERE). This is good news for all of us. Why?

First, the system is working, although it is a bit lagged. While some checks and balances have failed (see below, re: Board), at least control has kicked in and this whole situation is being reviewed.

Second, no publicly funded educational institution these days has hundreds of thousands of dollars in excess cash laying around. Any amount saved as a result of this investigation can then be used to help the NEIU serve its educational constituents.

Third, this is our money. Yes, you can argue "but what about corporate fat-cats who get big payouts?", and there is some merit to that discussion. However in a publicly owned corporation, it's the shareholders who are ultimately screwed by excessive compensation, not taxpayers at large. For example, while it may bother me that BP pays out too much money to failed executives, I don't own any BP stock, so the situation doesn't impact me directly. However, as a property owner in Northeastern PA, I'm basically like that BP shareholders.

Fourth, there has been evidence presented over the years that not every public institution in NEPA has adequate controls in place to monitor time off taken (the public servant in Luzerne County who was also selling used the same time he was supposed to be working...comes to mind). That noted, there is more than enough precedent for taking a step back and making sure that Dr Rosetti really is entitled to that portion of his payout attributed to time off reimbursement.

Bottom Line: Every dime saved here can go into helping to make education better in NEPA. That's a good thing. There are some eye-opening revelations here as well though.

The NEIU Board - The NEIU Board, except for one member, apparently didn't take its oversight role very seriously. Kudos to Louise Brzuchalski (from Abington Heights) for actually providing an example of what Board members should be doing. Hopefully this whole episode will serve as a wake-up call to those serving on BofD's that, when you are dealing with large amounts of money, you have to take your fiduciary role a little more seriously.

Vacation Time Taken - Dr Rosetti was going to be paid for 319 unused vacation/sick days accumulated over 40 years of service. That's almost a year's time off, right? No, it's actually more than a year. There are about 270 business days in a year (Monday through Friday, excluding holidays), so Dr. Rosetti would actually be getting the equivalent of a year and a little less than a quarter's worth of pay for unused time-off. Note that these days were allowed to accumulate without limit in perpetuity for the life of Dr. Rosetti's contract. If you do the math, 319 days over 40 years means that, on average, Dr. Rosetti accumulated almost 8 unused days per year. Impossible? No. That's typically the amount of time off I don't take per year. The difference? I can't accumulate my time off in perpetuity over my employment. In fact I can't accumulate any unused time off. That brings me to my final point.

Time Off Earned - Dr Rosetti's contract allowed for 30 vacation days and 12 sick days per year, meaning that he had 42 days at his disposal every year for time off. In an average month there are about 23 working days (Monday through Friday, excluding holidays), so Dr Rosetti was given the equivalent of almost two working months vacation per year. Put another way, Dr Rosetti was given time off that was equivalent to about one sixth of his working time. This seems excessive, particularly when compared to the private sector. By way of that comparison, I have nearly 22 years of service with my employer and I earn 33 vacation days per year, plus one floating holiday. I receive no allotment for "sick" time. That's it. As previously noted, that time can't accumulate year to year. The rules that apply to my time off also apply to the time off of executives at my employer. While I personally think that it's okay to accumulate some time off year over year (that came in handy for a member of my family who is a teacher and had a major illness to content with), there should be some kind of cap that prevents the total accumulated from becoming excessive.

Let's see how this evolves over time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Beavis & Butthead

I was talking to someone the other day about Beavis and Butthead. They thought it was juvenile and stupid, I think it was a work of genius.

I'm right & he was wrong.

Why? It's actually pretty simple: the cartoon wasn't endorsing stupid behavior (such as Frog Baseball) was making fun of it. It's a parody of teenagers, not a documentary. It's as if the creator, Mike Judge, was able to distill every stupid thought ever held by every teenage boy and somehow concentrate the sum total of it all into two morons. Genius.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Road Apples, #72

Social Security...I have a posting on Social Security waiting in the wings. I know, stop the press. Actually Social Security is an interesting issue, as both liberals and conservatives are mostly dead wrong on the issue. The normal retirement age will have to rise, as people are living far longer than they did back when the system was established. The income cap will have to rise as well, although there is a fairness issue at play. Also, if I had my way, the disability aspects of the system would change as well, as the system was never designed to be a fail-safe system for funding the care of, for example, the mentally handicapped (they should receive care...but why through Social Security?). More to come.

Social Media...I really should pay attention to my LinkedIn account. It's kind of funny actually, in that I'll basically agree to get connected to anyone on LinkedIn. Hell, if Mussolini were alive and had an account I'd agree to get connected to him. I even agreed to a connection with a guy who is trying to sell me stuff at work. How pathetic is that? Now I just have to spend some time actually figuring out how LinkedIn actually works.

Dan Quayle's Son...apparently is connected to what is basically a soft-core porn site. And this is a problem? He should just man up, admit to it, and move on. Hell, it's not like he was a member of the John Birch Society, now is it? Sorry, that was his grandparents. My bad.

Speaking of Wackos...Apparently the off-again potential son-in-law of Sarah Palin is considering running for office in Wasilla, Alaska. He should do some research on being the mayor of a town like Wasilla first, before actually making a decision about running. Hell, he can talk to Nibs Loughney. Yes, Wasilla...that great metropolis and resume filler for Ms about the size of our very own Dunmore. Oh, and getting a GED would probably help too. And maybe getting rid of the ginormous "Johnston" tattoo on his arm as well.

To quote the late, great Dr Hunter S. Thompson, "...and it never got weird enough for me".

Walmart Opening in Taylor PA...Speaking of Levi Johnston (at least conceptually) it was mentioned in the Scranton Times this past week that a new uber-Walmart is opening in Taylor, PA. You can see it from my house actually. I know that Wally-World stirs up a lot of emotions in many folks, and rightfully so: the folks in Bentonville take the notion of capitalism and put it on steroids. They also have a knack for hiring cashiers who are heavily tattooed, at least in my experience. Not that there is anything wrong with tattoos. Unless you want to be mayor of Wasilla. Anyway, for fun my younger brother Chris wants to one day ask a Walmart cashier if we can see his/her chains. It would be funny. Maybe. Seriously, I don't normally shop at Walmart, but I'm not a militant about it either. I do understand why some folks find the store objectionable, and I personally think that Walmart is the best thing to happen to communism since Chairman Mao (the Chinese Communists can thank Walmart for helping prop their government up though insane levels of exports). Ironic, is it not?

Charlie Rangel's Birthday...Let's get it straight: Representative Rangel is innocent until proven guilty. And so was the Congressman who hid the money in the freezer. Anyway, as an innocent man, he is free to enjoy a nice birthday celebration with his friends (including uber-sweaty guy David Dinkins). Note though that "innocent" and "in good taste" are two different concepts. If it were me, I'd suggest that having such a high-profile event while on the cusp of such serious charges probably isn't such a great idea and in fact it doesn't help the Democratic Party image all that much. Words like "insular" and "out of touch" come to mind.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Net Neutrality

Arguing about Net Neutrality is a bit like arguing over professional football players: in the end, you are really just talking about a bunch of large millionaires playing a game.

On one end you have big corporate content providers who want don't want their particular gimmick to be stuck in traffic's second place. YouTube, by the way, is owned by Google (ranked #102 in the Fortune 500), which is hardly a bastion of consumer-friendly activity.

On the other hand, you have big ISPs who greedily want to be able to charge premium prices to have you watch, for example, a bunch of 13 year old boys swallowing cinnamon. Comcast alone is rated as one of the worst companies on the planet when it comes to customer service.

Throw in inept regulators in the guise of the FCC (which is a poster child for how not to regulate anything) and you have a trifecta of greed and stupidity.

I guess by now you realize that I don't trust any of them, as I don't think anyone is really looking out for the interests of average consumers of Internet services.

Now if pressed, I'd probably fall on the side of favoring some form of Net Neutrality, although I think many folks really do think this is some kind of "David vs. Goliath" struggle; in reality it's more like a struggle between "Goliath" vs. "Goliath's equally large cousin". Consumers? We are just the spectators. None of the principal players have our interests at heart.

Bob Sullivan from MSNBC has an interesting opinion piece on this that can be found HERE. The comments are just as, if not more interesting than that article itself. Some of the comments do miss the point though, as adding bandwidth is tightly intertwined with this whole issue because in our society it's not the government that's responsible for Internet infrastructure, it's the private sector players that are engaging in this dubious debate who ultimately have that charge.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

David Bowie: Heroes

I love this song. It has a terrific groove about's almost kind of funky. The guitar work on the song is by Robert Fripp, and the synthesizers are played by Brian Eno, who also co-wrote the song.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Bowie wrote the song in Berlin while detoxing from heroin. Apparently Bowie saw two young lovers sitting near the Berlin Wall, which was the inspiration for the song.

Bowie does a terrific version of the song during the Concert for New York (which I have on DVD...well worth buying) that's pretty much spot-on to the original.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Night I Jumped the Shark

I had been living on a 1700 calorie diet for most of a year. My weight had gone from about 260 pounds down to about 211 pounds. At the time there was so much stress in my life. It was as if losing the weight was the only thing I could control. Why so much stress? Well a member of my family had some very severe medical problems, I had three young daughters, and my job took a lot out of me.

The weight loss became something of an obsession. It was my way of saying a glorified "f&^k you!" to a world that just seemed to be doing everything it could rub me down into a little nub. No, I'm not saying I was disadvantaged, down-trodden or mal-treated. I came from a housing project, so whatever I had as an adult was a step up from what I had as a child. I wasn't about poor me. It was about me vs. circumstances, and I was going to win, no matter what.

I did win. I lost the equivalent of five 10 lb bags of flour (my dietitian thought of that reference). I could have kept going, but the reality was that at 211 pounds the weight wasn't really coming off any more in buckets. But I could continue forever, or so it seemed. The good habits had become ingrained, and I knew what to do and when to do it.

Then I went on vacation to Wildwood NJ.

It wasn't the temptation of bad food. Hell, for most the week while in NJ I was still eating 1700 calories a day. In the end, what caused me to jump the shark really had nothing to do with food. This proves, by the way, the one truism about eating well that has stuck with me all these years: weight loss is 90% mental and only 10% physical. Anyway, what was it? I was lonely. Pathetic, huh? The family was in the hotel room, it was 8pm, and I was alone in NJ. I don't go to sleep all that early and I don't watch much TV, so I did my usual wandering on the beach by myself. Finally it got to me. Yes, I walked up to some dive restaurant on a pier and had a hamburger, fries and a hot fudge brownie sundae. I think just that one meal totaled more than 1700 calories.

It went down hill from there. It was as if the air was slowly deflated from my eating-well balloon and I began to sink a couple of feet every few months. Over the course of several years my weight crept up: 220...230...240...250 pounds.

Then there is the anger aspect of it all. In reality I should have known that I could never maintain the angry edge that I had originally used to lose weight in the first place. I just don't have that kind of anger in me. That's not a great trait by the way, as there are times when I wish I could be angry and stay angry, but it's just not in me. It's as if I never got that piece of genetic code. Note that my mother has managed to stay angry at some people for most of her 75 years of existence, so that genetic code didn't come from her.

Back to the weight. It was at 254 pounds this past November where I drew the line in the sand. The fact that I had a dear friend go through gastric bypass surgery also helped. This person had their body opened up and altered to do something that I could do by just simply not freak'n eating so much. It was kind of pathetic in a lot of ways. I realized again that the mental/physical equation of weight loss was as true now as it had been years ago. I over-ate because I wanted to think about having to eat right. I didn't want to think at all. It was Wildwood NJ all over again, except this time I was fat to boot. Food was my self-medication of choice.

Since November I've managed to get my weight back down to somewhere near 227 lbs. I have good days and bad days, but mostly I seem to be able to slowly lose weight over time. I'm trying to think more about what I am putting into my body by counting calories, trying to understand why I over-eat. I also exercise for about 30 minutes each day. So far it's working. I've lost weight and I've managed to do it without being all that angry. Maybe this time it is for good.

Now I've told this story before and I will tell it again. In fact I need to tell it again. You only get one shot at this thing, and if the lesson doesn't sink in the first time, then you have to keep trying, because some lessons are too important to ignore.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Road Apples, #71

Guilty Pleasure...I confess to spending $5 on 1950's era magazines today at the Circle Drive-In flea market. I was caught the moment I saw one with a Camel cigarette advertisement on the back of it, extolling the virtues of switching to Camels. If I have the motivation I'll see how many of the celebrities mentioned in the advertisement died from cancer.

Bat Free...Well the sun went down yesterday evening and there was no bat coming out from a dark corner of my office, so I am officially declaring my home to be a bat free zone. On the good news front, while searching for the bat I cleaned up the office fairly well, so it I got an extra benefit out of the whole deal.

NEPArtisan...quoted me in a recent posting (HERE). Once in a while I do have a rational thought or two, despite what my children might think.

Chris Kelly...from the Scranton Times has a great piece in the Sunday Times about his recent colonoscopy. You can read it HERE. For the record, when you have the test you are on your side (not "bottoms up"). If you have GI problems or a history of colon cancer in your family this is an important test to get, and it's not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Not that I'm eager to get another one (I will in about 4 years), but when the day comes I will not be stressing nearly as much as I did the first time. Anyway, Mr Kelly does a great job with the article.

Eating...My eating has been out of kilter for some time now. Too much of the wrong stuff, in spades. Time to get back on track, as I hate this bloated feeling. Since about age 25 my weight has been something of a struggle for me, and the battle continues. My weight now is actually not horrible (about 227 lbs on my 6'3.5" frame), but it could be better.

Michelle Obama Vacation...The far right media is have a field day criticizing the First Lady over her vacation in Spain. My perspective? Leave her the hell alone. The First Lady and her children are not elected officials, and therefore should be off limits. Yes it costs money to go on vacation, and yes it costs even more when you are surrounded by government support (be it Secret Service or others), but so be it. Should we go back and analyze every vacation taken by every First Family since 1960? Nancy Reagan had very expensive tastes, so what are the chances that she took some expensive trips? My answer: Probably pretty good, but I don't care.

New Police Chief...Scranton has a new Police Chief, Dan Duffy. I want to wish him all the best as he takes on this new assignment. One of the best things about the City of Scranton is the extremely professional and effective police force that protects and serves city residents. I say this as someone who has had some experience with the police in a stressful situation, and I can't say enough good stuff about the officers on the Scranton force. The officers deserve our respect and they also deserve a raise (and I say the latter as someone who generally is a supporter of Mayor Doherty).

Shameful Boy Scouts...I always held up the Boy Scouts as a group that tries to instill the best in young men. That opinion has changed. Yes, I am sure that many Scouts and their leaders are respectful, but that's not true of the group that I saw in the video pasted below. Note to the Scouts: even if you don't respect the man, you should respect the office. I was never a fan of G.W. Bush, but I'd never lower myself to booing him during a speech.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Naming of Cats

While moving some boxes around I found a copy of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats", so I can think of nothing better than to offer this:

The Naming of Cats
by T.S. Eliot

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

By the way, we call one of our cats Quaxo. His official name is Oreo, but on occasion I also call him "Pain in the Ass". See, three different names,