Not Cease from Exploration

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sometimes There Is No Deeper Meaning

I love the line "We skipped the light fandango", which is from the Procol Harum song Whiter Shade of Pale. Why?

First, the line just sounds so very, very cool. And it sounds so very, very deep.

Second, it actually doesn't mean anything. Yes, that's right, it has no real meaning. I recall reading an interview with Procol Harum's keyboard player (and the individual that sings this song) Gary Brooker, who once said that the line actually has no meaning, despite how deep it sounds. In fact, I've read some speculation that the line is an ever so slight lift from an 1890 song "Sidewalks of New York", which has a verse that goes "We tripped the light fantastic".

The moral of the story? Not everything needs to have some deep meaning associated with it. Sometimes it's just okay.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Dozen Reasons Why "The Fairness Docterine" Is A Bad Idea

  1. The government can't really run the government...and they think they can determine what constitutes "fair"?
  2. The very concept of "fair" is arbitrary...my "fair" may be different that your "fair".
  3. Blowhards like Rush Limbaugh don't convince anyone of anything; they simply preach to their respective choirs. Anyone who thinks that Limbaugh's audience needs, wants or would listen to an alternative point of view should email me at genagrippa@gmail.com, as I have some potentially lucrative Serbian real estate deals for you to consider.
  4. Media is far too twistedly regulated already. Case in point: the government goes nuts over Janet Jackson's breast being shown during prime time. Tell me, how many people are killed in TV shows during prime time? Call me crazy, but I think a nipple is far less dangerous than mock violence, yet one is punished and the other is encouraged. Another case in point: Oprah Winfrey has had TV shows that reference aspects of female sexuality and was applauded for the effort, yet Howard Stern used the same basic language and ended up getting record fines by the FCC.
  5. Politicians are innately self serving, so any regulations centering around "fairness" would more serve their needs than ours.
  6. I like the asinine comments by people like Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh to go unopposed. Seriously, I do. Having an admitted drug addict like Limbaugh say "...and so if people are violating the law by doing drug, they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up..." (the Rush Limbaugh Show, October 5, 1995)...is simply priceless.
  7. The law shouldn't be in the business of under-writing any person's agenda, be they conservative or liberal.
  8. If we have a Fairness Doctrine for political speech, what next? Perhaps a fairness doctrine for religion too? I don't want to imagine just what would be shown as a counter to something like Benny Hinn's show.
  9. What degree would a Fairness Doctrine go? Would spew from a "Neo-NAZI Daughters of the Klan" supporter need to be countered by commentary from a representative from the "Destroy Evil Whitey" group?
  10. Anything aimed at the lowest common denominator of intelligence...i.e. those stupid enough to be swayed by media propaganda (be it left or right leaning)...is inherently an insult to the intelligence of those of us who have more than three functional brain cells.
  11. The prospect of a Fairness Doctrine plays into the hands of extremist nut-bags. They love the idea, as it provides some measure of proof that they are somehow right in their rants.
  12. Free and unencumbered discourse is the best antidote to the spew of wackos. Sunlight was, is, and always will be the best disinfectant.

Business 101: How NOT to Solve Your Bad PR Problem

"Toyota sends new gas pedals to factories before dealers"

This is an AP story that appears in this morning's Scranton Times on page one. I can't readily find the story on-line, but that's okay: this is a classic example of what a business should NOT do when faced with this kind of problem. Whether the story is true or not probably isn't nearly as important as the damage that this kind of headline can do to a reputation.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Road Apples, #55

Bishop Martino...I've heard talk that former/retired Bishop Joseph Martino has returned to Philadelphia. If you recall, at his retirement the Bishop Noted that he was going to reside at the Fatima Center in Dalton, Pennsylvania. While I don't think that this is any reason for criticism or praise, I suppose you could point to it as being an example of how, perhaps, the Bishop's heart was never really in NEPA in the first place. Regardless, I hope that Bishop Martino's health has improved; while I've written countless times about how I strongly disagreed with his administrative actions as Bishop, I never the less respect the fact that he acted on what he felt was right (even if he specifically insisted that ONLY HIS definition was correct). You can read Bishop Martino's retirement statement here.

Caprica...I didn't want to watch the new series Caprica on SyFy, but I just couldn't help myself. Yes, here I am watching it as I type this. I'll say this...the CGI background shots are a bit cheesy, but never the less cool looking.

Pictures...I've been slowly but surely collecting the pictures around the house that I want to hand in my "constant state of remodel" office. Hell, I even spent $16 in frames at the Christmas Tree Shoppe. You can get a shocking amount of frames at the Christmas Tree Shoppe by the way. If I get sufficiently motivated I may even take a picture of two of the pictures.

Replacement Phone...I recently occurred to me that I went through at least three phones in over the past twelve months: Something I don't recall, a Blackjack II (I managed to break the center button in Hartford) and a Palm Treo 680 (bought it used...stopped charging, mainly because the charging port pulled out of the phone). Now I have a new Palm Centro, and I am resolved to have it least AT LEAST a year, if not longer. I don't have have a choice really, as Palm isn't making any more Palm OS phones, and I do love the Palm OS.

Rental Car...For the second time in two weeks, I've had a 2010 Hyundai Sonata as a rental car. Really solid vehicle that handles well and gets great gas mileage. Worth considering as do the whole new/slightly used car shopping thing later this year.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Urban Dictionary Word of the Day: "Snookie"

I love the Urban Dictionary. In fact, I'd say that if you have teenagers or 20-somethings at home, you need the Urban Dictionary.

Anyway, I kept hearing about this character on the TV show Jersey Shore named "Snookie". Sure enough, the Urban Dictionary came to the rescue.

You can find out what "Snookie" is HERE.

If you are really curious, this is what a "Snookie" actually looks like.

Why Funding Space Exploration Matters

Article Link Here.

I've read several articles over the past few days that indicate President Obama's desire to gut funding for NASA's Constellation program. As noted in the article, this is the initiative to create launch vehicles (based on existing technology) that will facilitate further exploration of the Moon, Mars and other projects. Cutting this funding is an enormous mistake on many different levels.

Why?

Who we are as a people is at least in part defined by our ability to dream big dreams and act on them. Having a NASA budget that is focused on "Earth-science projects" is as about as inspirational as studying bacteria cultures on dish-rags. Of all the science we, as a species perform, the exploration of space has the potential to be the most inspirational and the most insightful. When we refuse to dream big...and act on those big dreams...we make ourselves small as a people.

In addition to being inspirational, space exploration drives technological innovation. Here is just a partial list of innovation developed from the work on NASA and space exploration.

Space exploration is uniquely suited to America's best-self. While as a people we make plenty of mistakes, we often make those mistakes as leaders. Yes, when you are out in front, it's often easy to point out flaws, but we never the less lead. If we don't lead in the exploration of space, who will?

Finally, while Americans are notorious for being short-term thinkers, there is a simply (but Geeky) fact to consider: Our future is out there. This place we live on, planet Earth, has a finite existence. Now we are talking hundreds of millions of years of habitable planet available to us, it is never the less finite. The technologies that are dreamed of today may play a role in saving our species in the distant future. I know, this is a difficult concept to grasp for a people that is mostly focused on how long the line will be for coffee in the morning, but our failure to think about it doesn't make it go away.

It's my hope that truly smarter heads will prevail and that the manned exploration of space will be funded to appropriate levels.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Skrep-Daddy Scores!

Yes, Wilkes-Barre's favorite football hero proves that he probably didn't take any Law...or Civics...or Political Science...or Common Sense...classes at Michigan. Yes, Skrep-Daddy is just now learning that accepting five grand in exchange for a vote is, in fact, considered bribery.

Article Here.

As I've said many-a-time, "football hero" qualifies you to maybe be, well, almost nothing (maybe a a football coach...just maybe). Now Skrep-Daddy will spend some time in jail, and perhaps the voters of Luzerne County will spend some time thinking about what the word "qualification" means the next time they elect a County Commissioner. Here's a hint: the words "football hero" are nowhere to be found.

As something of a coda to this post, I remember a few years ago when Skrep-Daddy had his short-lived sports show on WILK. This is the one where he would proclaim some high school jock the "Stud of the Week". I never did get a reply from WILK to the complaint email I sent them about just how offensive, in so many different ways, that whole concept was. Add this to the roster of other former glamorous and now potentially pin-stripped WILK show hosts, including:

...the "Mansions and Estates" dude who defrauded customers and then went bat-$hit crazy
...the "Money in Motion" dude who apparently did have money in motion...from investor wallets directly into his own bank account

That's a proud history, "hayna or no"*?


(*) Since WILK is so notoriously Wilkes-Barre centric, I thought it might be appropriate to end the post with some colorful local vocabulary.

Dangling the Shiny Object

There was an announcement at work yesterday that employees could (continue*) to wear denim during the week, as long as it is neat, etc. Big deal right? Well it is to me.

Why?

Two reasons:

#1: It's the whole shiny object concept at play for me. People are being asked to do more with less and there are other challenges I don't want to get into, and rather than make a substantive change that would actually improve the workplace, we instead throw denim at the situation. The sad part is that this will make some people forget other "stuff". It will improve moral for some. How sad is that? We put a lot of our heart and soul into what we do professionally, and yet some can be distracted from real pressing issues simply by a pair of Levis. I can see the senior leaders patting themselves on the back, offering congratulations for helping to solve "the moral problem". I've heard the phrase "sold my soul for Rock-n-Roll", but I guess it has a business version that somehow substitutes "neatly pressed denim" for "Rock-n-Roll".

#2: Our office is one of four major sites for the firm. For years we've struggled to shrug off the whole "back office" view of what we do. Yes, we do have some transaction processing and other similar functions, but we also have account management, finance, marketing and other occupations represented as well. If anything, I think we should dress better. No matter what you do for a living you should strive to do it in the most professional manner possible, and whether we like it or not, how we look sometimes makes as big an impression as what we do. Anyway, if this change were being instituted across the entire firm I'd probably be less skeptical, but since I suspect that it's just a Scranton change, my fear is that it just reinforces a negative stereotype.


So there you have it. Big deal, huh? Well for me it is. Granted there is zero I can do about this organizationally, but I can continue to dress the way I want...which I suppose will be my silent little protest. Fight the power, don't you know.




(*) We normally could wear jeans on Fridays, but that was extended to Monday-Thursday in mid-December.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dunmore's collision course with reality

Great article in this morning's Scranton Times.

Link Here.

I've said more than a few times that the borough of Dunmore is living in a dream-like state of denial, believing that it is somehow above the budget realities of the services it provides.

"The borough has a tax base that is insufficient to fund the municipal services it currently provides,"
- Dunmore Solicitor Thomas Cummings

It's nothing short of miraculous that a borough official actually is on record as saying this, although it's worth pointing out that Attorney Cummings doesn't hold an elected office. When you look at the statement of an elected official, as quoted in the article, you get a much more weasel-esque response of "We're still doing research on that,". Yupp, they really should look at the numbers, but here's some food for thought...

If revenue equals "X"

And Expenses equal "Y"

And "Y" is greater than "X"

...then they have a problem.

All ribbing aside, Dunmore (like many communities) has a structural deficit. The municipal budget's expenses are built around the best of times (when revenues are a-plenty), but yet reality dictates that the best of times never last. What then happens is a crisis...such as what Dunmore is inevitably facing...when those best-of-times expenses meet the worst-of-times economy.

Taking a step back for a moment, it's really no different than personal finances, a point that I've made time and time again. During the good times, politicians tend to be like 10 year old boys with $5 in their pockets: the desire to spend becomes this overwhelming force that they can not resist. It also helps that by spending recklessly politicians can then point to all the things they do "for the people". Again this is true in most communities, the City of Scranton most definitely included. However Dunmore (with its paid fire department) seems to me to be a particularly egregious example of living beyond the municipal means.

Dunmore, meet reality.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I struggle...

...with editing my own writing. Most of the time I'm fairly rushed when I am writing, so always end up finding "stuff" later that needs to be changed. Some times I make corrections, some time I don't.

...with small-talk. It's not that I'm unfriendly, it's just that I really, truly don't feel comfortable with the small-talk that sometimes comes with saying "hello" or talking to someone in the cafeteria at work. Here's a little secret: sometimes I'll actually try to make a comment to someone while out shopping or waiting in a check-out line, just because I know it's so difficult for me.

...reading national political news. There seems to be so little common-sense, middle-ground stuff out there; most of it falls into either the "Democrats Evil" or "Republicans Evil" camp.

...understanding why people fall for talk-radio. I don't care about partisan political rants, but I do care about honest discussion and debate about issues and ideas. Glenn Beck ranting about "culture" or Rush Limbaugh trying to convince all his listeners (who don't need convincing, by the way) that President Obama is a closet Muslim/Socialist isn't discussion or debate...it's simply a form of verbal masturbation. Yes, there are those on the left who are just as bad (I can't really watch/listen to Keith Olbermann), but let's be honest here: Republicans have a lock on talk radio. So much for the "media" being filled with "liberal elites", unless someone can make a convincing argument that Limbaugh's 15,000,000 million listeners somehow don't count.

...taking personal risks. I don't consider myself risk-averse, but from the outside looking in I probably am. I'm not sure why either. There is this odd dichotomy about me: I have no problem speaking in front of a group of strangers for an hour (such as what I did on Friday), but yet I stress and worry about spending $600 on new appliances. Why? It's not just money either, as think long and hard about things like career and family-life stuff.

...being healthy. Eating is a constant struggle for me. It takes a lot of effort on my part to ensure that I exercise most days. It may seem like I am disciplined from the outside, but on the inside it's an hour-by-hour, day-by-day struggle.

...trying new things. I guess this goes along with the "taking personal risks" thing. I don't like to try new foods, I don't watch new TV shows, I rarely-to-never listen to new music.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

PA 112th Distrct Candidates

I've been reading a lot on-line about the upcoming primary election, in particular for the seat currently held by Ken Smith for the 112th District. Since this is my district, I'm thinking that I actually should spend some quality time pondering all of this.

Here's what I'm thinking so far...

Ken Smith, the incumbent, lost any and every chance of me ever voting for him via his poorly plotted political ploy of opposing the proposed Methadone clinic in Dunmore. I've done more than my share of ranting against that in prior blogs, so no sense re-hashing the past and raising my blood pressure on a Saturday morning. Suffice to say I question the timing of Mr Smith's actions on the clinic, I question his personal motives, and I question the real intent of his proposed legislation. Mr Smith wants us to believe that a "for profit" medical care is somehow evil. If that's his true stand, then I'll expect to see him bright and early on Monday morning picketing in front of the CIGNA building on Montage Mountain.

Kevin Haggerty, a challenger, has baggage, but not the baggage that others may think. Personally I don't care about his past drinking and bad check problems. We all do make mistakes, and what counts is not that this things happen but rather how a life is changed for the better having made the mistake. No, for me the baggage is that Mr Haggerty works for the county government. To be straight up, I simply question how most folks got their jobs working for the county. Now I believe that Mr Haggerty has worked for the county for a few years, but when he was hired, was the open position advertised? How many applicants were there? I strongly distrust the personnel system in both the city and the county governments; both seemed more designed as job factories for friends and relatives rather than places where the best and brightest desire to work. Look, if I'm wrong and Mr Haggerty got his position without the benefit of any connections and via an open, competitive interview process then I'll gladly retract what I've just written. It's just that the needle of the Burden of Proof meter in NEPA has moved towards "government must prove it is ethical", as opposed to "government is ethical unless we have proof to the contrary".

Bob Lesh was a good friend of my late father-in-law (one of the greatest men I've ever had the privilege to know), Bob Kirchner. As such, I had the opportunity to meet Mr Lesh a few times over the years. This should be a lay-up then in terms of support, right? Well that's the problem: it's not, and here's why...

School Board Service - I think Mr Lesh has done an adequate job as School Director...not spectacular, not an abysmal failure...but adequate. I do realize that making real change on something like a school board is difficult, as there are countless conflicting constituencies at play at any given time. On the plus side, I do believe that the Scranton School District does provide a quality education and has some of the best educational facilities in the area (Scranton High School is probably one of the best secondary education facilities in Pennsylvania). On the minus side, the District is heavily bloated with administrative personnel. How bloated? So bloated that they don't want to even provide the public with an organization chart, despite requests by folks such as myself (I actually spoke at a meeting a few weeks ago specifically to ask for one). So for his work in the District, I can't say one way or another that it benefits his candidacy.

Work Experience - Mr Lesh's work experience doesn't add anything to his ability to serve in the legislature. It simply doesn't. Well maybe only if the subject of public transportation comes up. I just can't see this being of much help to Mr Lesh.

Education - A real minus against Mr Lesh. I'm not an educational snob, but the fact that Mr Lesh dropped out of high school doesn't send a very good signal. The fact that he ended up receiving his G.E.D. helps somewhat, but what would help even more would be some evidence that he has at least pursued some aspect of lifetime learning. Why? I want the people who make decisions...be they at the county administrative building or in Harrisburg...to be smart, well-read, and capable of using logic and reasoning to solve problems. A solid education helps you do those things well.

Other Background - It's a real plus (at least in my book) that Mr Lesh served his country in the United States Marine Corps. The Marines teach discipline, focus, hard work and dedication to duty...all things that we expect in public servants (but seldom see)


Given that I will vote for one of these candidates, it will boil down to either Mr Haggerty or Mr Lesh. I'm hoping that as the campaign progresses, I'll learn enough to make my vote one of conscious affirmation for the best candidate, as opposed to simply picking the "least worst" of those running.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Comment on retired Scranton fireman charged with arson

You can read the story here.

This whole episode is very, very sad. What's sadder? Well for one, the notion that somehow the individual in question could not be guilty and that the whole thing was fabricated by Scranton's Mayor, Chris Doherty. Here's a sample comment that someone wrote in response to this story:

"i dont think he did it, all the things just dont come together. why would this man put the lives of his bothers at risk that he's worked with for obviously quite some time. and the paper is still stating "accused" and he was arraigned, not yet had a court date.. this is just something else doherty and his cronies are setting this guy up for, and wasnt the state fire inspector that was brought in dohertys cousin or something along that line?, hmm another conflict of interest if you ask me. so all you people better know your facts before you keep posting on here, just to bring people down. oh wait i forgot thats all you people do is waste your time because you have nothing better to do with your life then degrade everyone who isnt a doherty supporter. seriously grow up and find something productive to do with your time. i will say this, if he did do it he does deserve to sit in jail, but lets not rag on the scranton fire department, 99.9% of fire fighters are not like this and never will be. they should continue to get treated with the integrity and respect they deserve."


I read that and almost immediately became incensed. Why? Simply because it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly stupid some people show themselves to be. Now I actually did post a comment in response to the one noted above, which I've pasted below.


"...this is just something else doherty and his cronies are setting this guy up"


Seriously, someone thinks that this is Chris Doherty's fault? My Lord...that's just patently insane. Look, there is obviously enough evidence to charge this man, and unless someone is going to claim that Mayor Doherty somehow has the "power" to fabricate evidence (which would be a felony in and of itself), then I suggest that Kyle & others just sit on their hands until there is a trial & verdict. I guess then they can claim that the Mayor also controls the court system.

Look, the vast, vast majority of firemen are hard-working, decent human beings who would NEVER do this kind of thing, precisely because it would put co-workers and friends in danger. However by implying the fanciful notion that this guy could NEVER be guilty (and that this is all part of some insane conspiracy), Kyle and apologists like him actually feed into the worst notions about public servants. Let the system work & save the conspiracy theories for late-night talk radio.


As noted, let's have the court decide the individual's guilt or innocence. However creating an evil "boogy-man" out of a small town Mayor serves no real purpose, other than to make the accusers look like idiots.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Getting the Squeeze (FBI Style)

Lackawanna County Commissioner A.J. Munchak was recently interviewed by Federal investigators for the 5th time.

Article Link Here.

Now I don't know Mr Munchak, so I'm not going to play the "anonymous poster" game of implying all sorts of graft. Instead, I'm just going to state a few facts:

  • The FBI rarely wastes their time, so if they talk to you once...let alone five times...something is up.
  • Mr Munchak was a Commissioner when the Montage Mountain ski resort was sold. At the time there was a lot of discussion about how the purchaser wasn't actually the highest bidder.
  • Mr Munchak was a Commissioner when his fellow (former) Commissioner, Mr Robert Cordaro, was given exclusive authority to negotiate with the New York Yankees. At the time there was a lot of discussion about how the Yankees ended up with a deal that would allow them to ultimately move the team out of the area. There have also been questions about the concessions contracts awarded at Lackawanna County stadium.
  • Mr Munchak was a Commissioner when the renovations to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport (I'll leave out the silly "International" part) were completed. The party held to celebrate the airports dedication was a DISGUSTING invitation-only display of government hubris (link here to a related post).

I don't think you need to be a psychic to see that the future may in fact hold some more legal "issues" for Mr Munchak.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

At the risk of being criticized for recycling content, here is an interesting string of comments from one of Gort's postings.

Link: Gort's Posting

My original comment:
Blogger Stephen Albert said...

Luzerne County is full of politically incestuous relationships, which makes it very difficult for anyone from outside "the family" to be successful. It's not impossible, but it's not easy either.

The other strike Republicans seem to have against them is many local Democrats in NEPA are fairly conservative when it comes to social issues, which neutralizes that wedge. In fact, the only prominent "pro-choice" local Democrat I can think of is Scranton's Mayor, Chris Doherty.

I think the only way Republicans can be successful is to really, really, really work the pocketbook issues, such as high local taxes. Local governments in NEPA are too many in number and too bloated in expenses. However, being successful in this area requires two things in short supply among local candidates from either party:

a)The guts to spout some new ideas (running against "evil Democrats" doesn't cut it...the PA Legislature is full of evil scum-bags from BOTH parties & we all know it)

b)The ability to speak in a way that inspires people...to sound smart.

For example, while I strongly disagree with Newt Gingrich on most social issues, I find his economic ideas & passion in explaining them very compelling. I'll listen to ol'e Newty any day...may not vote for him, but he always gets my ear. Why? Again, bold ideas & the ability to effectively articulate them.

7:35 AM



The Anonymous reply:
Dear Mr Albert, There was a candidate in this past election that had more ideas on his campaign web site than you could shake a stick at. What did it mean? Nothing! almost 70% of the people didn't care enough to vote and that includes Republicans. So with that fact stairing into your face, tell us again what is needed. You my friend don't have a clue. But I do have one question. You make the statment that local government is bloated with expenses. How about a few facts to back that up? When you speak of politically incestuous and "families" what the hell are you talking about. The old guard left the scene with Crossin and company. Time to get off the text book rethoric and put forth some facts.

7:54 PM


My reply to the reply:
Mr/Ms Anonymous (7:54pm)...


You said...

"You my friend don't have a clue."

First, I don't know you, so I'm not sure you are my friend (the whole Anonymous thing does present a problem). Second, I have plenty of clues...people may not like them , but that's a different argument. Note that I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but I do claim to have plenty of questions and opinions. Finally, when last I checked, there wasn't anything illegal or immoral about having questions or opinions. What's more, since I post under my own name, you can rest assured that these actually are my questions & opinions...and that I stand by them. That doesn't give what I write any more weight, but it does mean that I am man enough to be accountable.



"You make the statment that local government is bloated with expenses."

I'm not going to spend hours with citations here, mainly because responding to anonymous postings on a blog isn't really much of a value-add time wise. That noted, here are some references for you:

First, Illinois and Pennsylvania rank first & second in terms of the number of local governments. Reference here...

http://www.issuespa.net/articles/16406

Pennsylvania also has the second most expensive legislature in the country. Reference here...

http://www.wrta.com/page.php?page_id=39100&jock_id=4451

Also, the per-capita cost of government varies dramatically from municipality to municipality in Pennsylvania. I actually did some research on this (see http://sgalbert.blogspot.com/2010/01/looking-at-budgets.html)



Finally, you said...

"When you speak of politically incestuous and "families" what the hell are you talking about."

My use of the word "family" was in quotations because I wasn't referring to actual family members, but rather a system whereby closed group of individuals seem to control a large amount of power and influence. If you don't actually see this, then there is NOTHING I can write here that will make much of a difference, now is there?

6:48 AM

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

Post Script -
The individual who replied to my comment seems to be both railing against "the system" (the opening line about a candidate with all the ideas), but then goes on question whether or not there is a problem. Interesting. Now as I noted, I'm no spending hours here to define and defend problems, as that's not what this is all about. These are simply my opinions, but I'd like to believe that my opinions...flawed as they are...are based upon some measure of fact-based enlightenment.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr Day - 2010

Select quotes from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rest in Peace Thurber


With the possibility that this may sound sappy noted, one of our cats died this morning. I'm not sure of the cause, but he was very overweight compared to the other three cats we had (and we don't over-feed them) so I'm thinking maybe it was a some kind of heart defect or congenital defect. Thurber was a little over three years old.

We got Thurber as the last member of his litter, and as is the case with all cats, he had his own distinct personality. In Thurber's (or "Thurby" as we would call him) case, he was extremely cautious of things and the slightest noise...such as opening a garbage bag...would scare him. Like a dog, I could call Thurber if I was going upstairs to lay down for hour or so, and sure enough about two minutes later he would be laying in the bed with me, purring as I scratched his ears.

Rest in peace Thurber...you were a good guy & I'll miss you.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Zilda Arns

Zilda Arns, a person who dedicated her life to helping women and children, died in the Haitian earthquake on January 13th. If you've never heard of her that's okay, as I hadn't up until yesterday.

Here's an article about Ms Arns.

It's amazing how many people there are in this world who do incredible things, but yet you don't hear about them until after they are gone.

Anyway, I know that many, many people died on the earthquake, and based on what I've read about Ms Arns, she would probably be the last person who would want to be identified by name. However I can't help but juxtapose the story of Ms Arns against the recent comments by the Reverend Pat Robertson, who recently claimed that the Haitian earthquake was as a result of a "pack made with the Devil" by the Haitian people. According the the former Republican Presidential candidate, Haitians made this pack about two hundred years ago in order to over-throw French colonial rule.





I'm just curious, but if the earthquake was part of God's judgment against the Haitian people, did He also mean to kill Ms Arns? Being all powerful, I am reasonably sure that the Lord is above a "friendly fire" casualty. While this event is incredibly tragic, it also does bring out our best and worst traits as a species. You can see some of the best HERE; to see some of the worst, just re-watch the Rev Robertson video.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The True Story of Merrill Lynch & The WalMart 401(k) Plan

I've tried to stay away from "geeky pension shop-talk" in this blog, but I was pointed to an article earlier today that I want to pass along.

Forbes Article, Merrill Lynch & Walmart


If you have any interest in your own retirement income security specifically, the contradiction in terms that is WalMart, or just how greedy some folks can be, this is an interesting read.

I'm not a lawyer, but it's pretty damn clear to me that at a minimum, WalMart's 401(k) plan fiduciaries did not adequately carry-out their responsibilities under ERISA. Taking that for granted, this goes one of two ways:
  1. The Passive Neglect & Stupidity Road - Under this scenario, WalMart's benefits people simply didn't care about the fees being charged, investment returns being earned or the impact that limited (& poor) investment choice had on plan participants. Failing to act in the best interests of plan participants is a violation of fiduciary responsibilities, but stupidity and neglect isn't exactly criminal behavior...if it was, 80% of the Pennsylvania Legislature would be in jail. Also, if this is the actual reason why things got so out of control for the WalMart 401(k) Plan, then it definitely paints a picture of a corporate culture that placed little-to-no value on the associates who work for the firm. To put this in context, I have had some administrative experience with my own employer's 401(k) plan and I can tell you definitively that all investment fees were actively scrutinized constantly to ensure that plan participants earned the maximum return possible. I've also worked with very small employers who have been exceptionally diligent in making sure that their $2 million dollar 401(k) plan had reasonable fees.
  2. The Greasy Palm Road - Under this scenario, WalMart's benefit people actually knew that plan participants were being over-charged for investments and that this over-charging was consented to along with Merrill Lynch and third-party investment providers. Why? Perhaps Merrill Lynch concocted this arrangement as a way to seemingly eliminate any direct administrative costs for WalMart. This would be shocking in a plan of this size (note that the dollar value of the plan is seemingly large, until of course you consider the number of plan participants), but it would also fit nicely into the worst view of WalMart by it's critics, where the company is a profit machine that uses employees in the same way that it uses bathroom supplies ("buy'm cheap, use'm & then throw them away").
I don't see a third scenario here. Either they knew or they didn't. If they didn't they should have. Remember, WalMart has some of the most sophisticated financial reporting systems in the business world today. These are folks who know how to account for the pennies.

The moral of the story? Pay attention to what your employer tells you about your retirement benefits. Read the stuff they give you. If you don't understand what it says, ask to have it explained to you. If you don't understand the explanation, ask again and again and again until you do. If you have access to a (trusted) financial professional, ask them to review your retirement plan information. You have nothing to lose but a lot to gain.

Business Practice Pet Peeve

For no particular reason I was thinking about a business practice that really gets under my skin. What is it? Well have you had a company try to encourage you to use paperless billing by claiming that it's good for the environment, saves paper, etc? Actually it's mainly just good for the company, as processing an electronic transaction is significantly cheaper than paying someone to manually enter the transaction based on a paper check and invoice/bill. I'm fine with companies being more efficient, but I have to really benefit from that efficiency, and an environmental snow-job isn't a benefit (besides, I recycle most of the paper I receive in the mail anyway).

Despite the fact that I'm a fairly technology-savy guy I pay 90+% of my bills via check and USPS. Why not? I get the benefit of the float in my checking account, and besides, most of the businesses that push paperless billing don't actually pass any of those paperless billing savings on to us.

Of course the worst offense in the category occurs when some businesses actually charge you more for a paper bill. Sirius satellite radio does this, and it really pisses me off.

Want me to go paperless billing? Then the business needs to share the wealth a little and take a buck or two off my bill.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Welcome Mr Loscombe

Congratulations to Mr John Loscombe on his appointment to Scranton City Council. Article Here. In a field full of people who were interested in the position, it appears that existing council members decided to pick someone out of left-field. Or was it?

To the uneducated about the drama that is Scranton, it's important to provide a bit of context here: Scranton's Mayor Chris Doherty has had an on-going struggle with unionized firefighters and policemen. He has also been roundly criticized by current Council President Janet Evans for years.

So is this really an unexpected pick? Perhaps by name yes, but by profile no. Given the drama noted above, it makes perfect sense for Council President Janet Evans to pick someone with strong ties to the firefighters union to fill this vacancy. For someone intent on "sticking it to" the Mayor at every turn, this is as logical a move as is possible. As the old saying goes, "to the victor goes the spoils", and Mayor Doherty has orchestrated favorable council vacancy picks himself in the past, so there is nothing inherently wrong with Mr Loscombe's selection.

The real issue here is this: for about the 10,000th time, Scranton has a budget where the cost of running the city outstrips the revenue that the city collects. You can't increase on-going costs, like salaries, and pay for it by via nebulous claims of "cutting fat". That's a political gimmick that's as old as the hills, and quite frankly it's an insult to the intelligence of city taxpayers. When last I checked, there isn't a budget line called "fat", but there are several budget lines centering around employee costs.

So the challenge is this: Mr Loscombe has step up and let the taxpayers know that he represents all of us, not just his brothers in Local 60. Some independence is needed as well. Former members of council were roundly criticized for marching lock-n-step with the Mayor's wishes, and you know what? At times that was reasonable commentary. However, is marching lock-n-step with the wishes on Mrs Evans any different?

Scranton has a history of "political bosses", and simply adding the name of Janet Evans to that list serves no one's best interests (except of course the interests of Janet Evans). Mr Loscombe has an opportunity to be an independent voice for taxpayers who can make a difference. Let's hope that he does.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On The Health Front

In the "probably no one outside of me" care department (but hell, this is my blog so I suppose I can write whatever I want), I can officially claim some minor victory in the living healthy/weight management department. You see, I managed to get through the holiday season without gaining any weight. In fact, between December 14th and today I lost a total of three pounds.

I know, big freak'n deal.

For me though, it is a big deal. In fact, I've been working fairly hard at being more disciplined about what I eat, how much I eat and about exercising. Saying that it's easy is a lie: it's hard and it requires work. Normally I'm down with the "it takes work thing", as I'm accustomed to having to work for the truly valuable things in life. That's not a complaint at all, as I'd have it no other wa, since the most important things in life always require some work.

I'm convinced that the work when it comes to losing/maintaining weight is about 90% mental, 10% physical. Want proof? There have been many times when I've found myself eating not because I am hungry but because of some other (mental) reason. It just shows how strong the connection there is between mental and physical health. I've found that if you want to get your body better, you have to work on your mind at the same time.

I'm pretty realistic about this stuff: there will never be a time when, for example, I'm ever going to weight what I did when I graduated from high school. For the record, that was about 174lbs, which at 6'3.5", is actually under-weight. What I'm striving for here is much more realistic:

1. I simply want to feel better.
2. I want my clothes to fit comfortably.
3. I don't want to worry about my blood pressure.

What does all this translate to in a number? I don't really know. At my highest over the past few years, I've been up at about 262lbs. At my lowest I've been 211lbs. Realistically I think I can maintain something in the neighborhood of 220-ish while living a lifestyle that's sustainable (at least for me). I never want to be in a position where my eating is out of control, but I also don't want to eat any kind of special diet simply to lose weight. For me (and for most people) diets don't work; instead I'm just shooting for sustainable, realistic eating and exercise habits.

Here's to hoping that my head stays in the right place.

McMansions & Consumption

I really, truly want to have sympathy for those individuals who bought mini-mansions during the 90's, only to see the value of said "McMansions" dwindle to something akin to a 100 year old coal shanty in Dupont. The problem is that I don't. Now I do see why having millions of foreclosures is bad for our economy in general, and tragic for many industries specifically. That doesn't change the fact that, once again, our society is engaged in rewarding bad behavior. It doesn't stop there though.

In my mind, the single biggest problem our society faces in an over-reliance on consumer consumption as a driver of economic growth. I'm not anti-consumption, but I am anti-stupid consumption. Yes, I think, for example, that Ipods are great...I don't have one (I have two "other brand" MP3 players)...but I've purchased them for my kids over the years and they seem to be wonderful products. However how many Ipods are sold each year simply because someone simply wants the 'newest, coolest' Ipod? That's just one example of one consumer product, and I could go on, but the underlying point is the same. We just consume stupidly, not out of need, but out of some bizarre desire that leads some to believe that happiness can somehow be found in isle 14 of your local WalMart.

It's not just consumers and retailers that share the blame here: government has done more than it's part. Just look at a very basic element of the tax code:

You get a tax deduction for borrowing money to buy a home or if you take out a home equity loan to buy "stuff"

but...

You actually have to pay tax on money that you don't use for consumption but instead put away and save for a rainy day

Yes, we've managed to intertwine our consumption uber-alles mentality into our very tax code.

Now someone could take all of this is just being the ramblings of a freak (me), and that's okay. However there is more to this than simply my twisted observations. On a very macro level, this is killing our economy. We are the largest debtor nation on Earth in part because we simply love to spend. Our savings rate is among the lowest in the developed world and we maintain a negative balance of trade with nations like China who are thrilled to turn their third world into first world economies by selling us lead painted toys and cadmium-laced jewelry. Anyone out there actually think the Chinese government is our "friend"?

On a more micro level, we have raised generations believing that the worth of a person lies in the kind of clothes they wear, what kind of car they drive, and what neighborhood they live in. We've taught people that the best jobs don't involve getting dirty. Funny, but when my furnace is out, the most valuable person on Earth isn't a stock broker or corporate CEO, it's my plumber. We've taught people that somehow consumption = happiness. The problem is that consumption is like an opiate: it may make you temporarily high, but over the long term all it really does is make you want more of the drug (in this case, consume more).

All of the above noted, I've been just as guilty as the rest when it comes to consumption. I'd like to believe though that my eyes have been slowly opened over time. I've had help, mind you, over the years from several different directions that have taught me that mindless consumption is just that: mindless. It also helped that, when growing up, we simply didn't have a lot. Personally now I'm in a much better place than I was growing up, but I have seen that true happiness never comes from something outside...it always comes from within. That's not something you can pick-up at WalMart, and it's not made in China.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scranton City Council: Talk Is Cheap

NEPArtisan has a great story about a rumor of who will be selected for the vacant City Council seat. You can link to it here. Two points stood out for me:

Candidate Promises vs. Budget Realities
Many, many people (including me) have been saying for a while that the new Scranton City Council majority simply can't -

a) Retain city employee staffing levels
b) Pay union employees more
b) Reduce taxes

- all at the same time. It simply doesn't work. Now is there plenty-o-fat in Mayor Doherty's budgets? Sure there is. You want to know what? If Janet Evans were Mayor, others would be able to find fat in her budgets as well. That'sn simply how the system works (one person's "fat" is another person's "worthwhile project"). Fat aside, budgets are nothing more than the most basic of mathematical operations: what comes in has to be equal to what goes out. If you increase the cost of what goes out, you can't reduce the amount that comes in.

Typical Scranton Politics
If NEPArtisan's rumor turns out to be true, then I view it as being firm proof that Janet Evans is nothing more than a better-dressed version of every other Scranton politicians that has graced the offices on North Washington Avenue. Why? Clearly, it seems that the council seat candidate referenced in the article is an Evans camp "insider". Remember, Mrs Evan's son has also been her campaign manager, so there would most definitely be a political connection between the person and the selection. The "personal friend as political appointee" game has been played over and over and over again in Scranton. One would think that this is precisely the kind of thing that Mrs Evans has railed against when it has been done by Mayor Doherty. Now let's see if she's any different.


Finally, I want to note that I've only met Janet Evans once, so I don't know her. I do wish her well and I do hope that she is successful at reducing the cost of city government. I do also hope that she can move beyond the "it's Doherty's fault!" rhetoric that's best suited for campaigns and move towards cooperating with all of Scranton's elected officials...not just those she agrees with...to effectively govern. She also has to realize that if you claim to be a different kind of politician, then you actually have to act like a different kind of politician.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Liability?

The story about the Dunmore firefighter who sued the borough came to a conclusion yesterday with a $150,000 verdict. Even more interesting is the finding that two council members are to be held personally liable for $1,000 each. Read the article here.

I spoke to a spouse of someone with some fairly in-depth knowledge of the case earlier in the week, and they insisted that this gentleman was very badly mistreated in what amounted to a personal vendetta against him. Apparently the source was pretty consistent with what the jury apparently heard, given the award. Note that this firefighter did not, to the best of my knowledge, lose any wages or benefits as a result of these actions; instead, the case was one of his civil/due process rights being violated. Regardless, given the amounts involved (seemingly high to us, but given the cost of putting on a trial maybe not so much), I'm not sure that there will be an appeal.

The most interesting part of this lies in the two members of Dunmore borough council being held personally liable for $1,000 each. I obviously didn't attend the trial and it's not abundantly clear from the Times article just why these two are being required to pay up (as opposed to others involved). However the underlying concept here, namely that these two members of council are personally liable, should make all of us take a moment and consider just what the real implications will be. Now the "anonymous experts" on both sides of this have already been posting comments to the story right and left, but I think the real considerations here are much more complicated than simply "evil, greedy fireman" or "evil, conniving council members".

Why?

If you take the position that the council members should be held personally liable, then that does in fact create the possibility that any elected official could be held civilly liable for their actions. Remember, there were no accusations of criminal activity here so comparisons to (for example) the Luzerne County Monster Judges isn't fair or accurate. Also, the standard for proof in a civil case is substantially lower than that of what is required in a criminal case. Given a sympathetic plaintiff and a good lawyer, couldn't many, many actions by elected officials then create exposure to personal liability? I'm not defending the actions of the council members here, but honestly would you want to serve in elected office knowing that you and your family's finances could be negatively impacted by something you did in office? Good, reasonable people could decide not to run for office simply out of financial fear.

On the other side of the coin, being an elected official doesn't give anyone carte blanche to do whatever they want under the guise of official actions. Maybe part of the problems in NEPA is the fact that elected and appointed officials have, for far too long, felt that they were accountable and answerable to no one. In the absence of a personal desire to govern honestly, maybe the fear of being held personally accountable for misdeeds is as good a motivator as any for insuring that officials don't treat their offices as excuses to recklessly exercise authority.

As I noted above, this isn't a simple case and it doesn't involve simple issues. It should, however, make all of us stop and think though.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Looking At Budgets

Lately I've been ragging on Dunmore for basically living beyond its means, but the thought of "well how bad are they in comparison to others" has crossed my mind, so I decided to actually try and figure that out.

What to compare?

Well simply looking at the total budget doesn't help, as a lot can impact what a municipality spends, so my first thought was to look at the budget of a per capita/resident basis. This seems to be a good measure for costs that are directly driven by the need for resident services (garbage collection, etc.). However it also occurred to me that some costs are more driven by the need to maintain/protect infrastructure, which got me thinking that another possible analytical slice is to measure budget dollars spent per area of the municipality. The sum of both lines of thought are noted above.

What's missing?

There are probably many, many more ways to compare budget amounts. What's more, there are other factors that drive budget costs as well, such as the number and size of not-for-profit & governmental institutions. These institutions use municipal services, but yet don't contribute towards municipal revenue. Scranton in particular is hampered in this regard, as noted by Director Phillips during a School Board meeting I attended a few weeks ago. I'm sure that other larger municipalities face similar challenges. Another element that I can't easily get to debt service, which is akin to what a family spends on credit card purchases...that is not an essential cost, but one never the less that has to be met. Rumor has it that Scranton has a much-higher than normal debt-service. That's something I'll have to try and look at in the future.

What surprised me?

I had gone into this expecting that the borough of Dunmore would come out looking grossly inefficient, which isn't exactly the case. The municipality that surprised me the most was Wilkes-Barre. First, it's really not all that large, area-wise. In fact, you could fit Wilkes-Barre into Scranton several times over. With a per-capita budget nearly that of Scranton's but with far less infrastructure to maintain, Mayor Leighton's town is the one that stands out of the pack as looking inefficient.

You can come to your own conclusions about this stuff, but I did find it very interesting as I put it together.

On Politics & Writing

I give people who write about political things, be they bloggers or traditional newspaper columnists, lots of credit. It's simply something I...someone who really, truly enjoys writing...would never be able to do. By the way, don't take the previous phrase "someone who really, truly enjoys writing" as being in any way self-promotion or some indication that I consider myself to be good at this stuff, because I'm not shooting for "good" anyway; my target/objective here has always been much more low-brow: self-entertainment.

Anyway, the whole political thing to me is like spending time in a chocolate store: in as much as you may love chocolate, pretty soon it just becomes too much. Politics can be that way, in part, because there is this kind of "gravity" associated with it...once you get close to it, there is this natural tendency to pull you in further and further and further. For me, there are just times when I need to turn it off for a while. It got that way during the last Presidential election, as I simply couldn't stand to hear one more "hope and change" speech from Barack Obama nor could I stand to hear Sara Palin do her "cutesy/home-spun/moron" act either. Locally it's just as bad. I purposefully stay away from the whole Scranton City Council/Mayor Doherty thing, as I'll soon end up fighting obsession over the insanity that swirls around North Washington Avenue.

When I started writing this blog the remedy to whole obsession things was built-in by design: I purposefully try to write about a lot of different things that I find interesting. This parallels how some of the topical writers I admire approached subject matter. In the present tense, I'd count Anna Quindlen as a personal favorite. While I don't agree with all of her conclusions, I enjoy reading every column, as you never know what you are going to get in terms of her topics, and she is always just plain fun to read. Another great writer that I enjoy reading is Hollis Gillespie; I actually first heard about her work on a blog many years ago, and soon found her as an occasional NPR contributor. Her "Hellish Ghoul" piece (where she talks about how her name roughly translates to "Hellish Ghoul" in German) is hilarious. In a more past tense, I am an enormous Hunter S. Thompson fan. Simply put, I think he is among the best writers to emerge during the 20th century. Now I know he's not everyone's cup of tea, but when you talk about ability to write on a variety of topics, Thompson simply shines. This is a guy who made a sports column (and I find sports columns to be almost unreadable) entertaining...see his Hey Rube column in EPSN.com. Thompson was the guy who made political writing entertaining for me. To this day, I count The Great Shark Hunt as being one of my favorite books, ever. It's all about having something of a point of view and message, but conveying those things in an entertaining way.

In the final analysis I'm simply shooting in this blog for self-entertainment here. If someone else is entertained here that's great, but it's also extra.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Follow-Up

I just wanted to acknowledge a comment made by Marc Cour in his blog Circumlocution for Dummies. You can read it for yourself here, but I wanted to point it out here as a follow-up to a prior posting on my part.

Look, the Internet is full of nameless, faceless, anonymous cowards, so it's always refreshing to see someone "man-up"* to what they say/write...even when it's not required or necessary (which is definitely the case here).

Blog on...



(*) Not to be sexist, but that's the most fitting term here & besides, "person-up" just doesn't sound right.

Question For Anyone Reading This

Who was the Tax Collector for the Single Tax Office in 1997?

Given headlines in the paper today I'm curious, and I honestly don't remember.

Anyone with a better memory than me can post the name as a commet or send me an email. You will have my undying gratitude.

Thanks,
- Steve

Blurb on Methadone

I found this while looking for information on OxyContin abuse*. The full article can be found here, but there was an interesting paragraph on the use of Methadone as a form of treatment of OxyContin abuse. Here it is:


Methadone Treatment

Medications that were developed through NIDA-supported research, such as methadone and LAAM, can be used as effective treatments for addiction to opiates, if available to the patient. Methadone is a synthetic opioid that alters the effects of heroin and other opioids, eliminates withdrawal symptoms, and relieves drug craving. Treatment with methadone requires daily dosing. It has been used successfully for more than 30 years and has allowed many addicts to lead productive lives.


So, a dufus like me just surfing the web can find in about two minutes a reference to the fact that Methadone is an effective treatment for opioid addiction. Oh, and it's from a source that has nothing to do with Heroin, Methadone clinics or the borough of Dunmore.



(*) I was curious as to whether or not OxyContin addiction/abuse could have played a role in comedian Rush Limbaugh's recent cardiac problems. Don't get me wrong...I wish no ill will on the man and I hope he fully recovers from this episode. However I do find him (Limbaugh) to be an appalling hypocrite on many, many levels; in fact I think he once said something about how people who abuse drugs should go to jail and that there is no "right to privacy". Note that when Limbaugh was fighting his doctor-shopping charges in Florida, his defense was based upon, you guessed it, a "right to privacy".

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mr Smith's Defense

State Representative Ken Smith wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the January 3rd edition of the Sunday Times. You can link to it here.

Now what I'd like to do is go through the letter line but line, but pasting it here would run afoul of my friends at the Times, so that's out of the question. Instead I'll do my best to summarize what I read in Representative Smith's letter [with a few editorial comments by me in brackets]:
  1. Addiction is bad.
  2. Representative Smith knows how to look up "addiction" in Wikipedia.
  3. Facilities like Marworth are great. [Note that not everyone can afford a place like Marworth, despite how fine it is.]
  4. Methadone clinics are bad because some in the community fear them. [Note that some in the community probably also fear lots of things...minorities...fluoridated drinking water...childhood vaccinations...are all of these things bad too?]
  5. Methadone clinics are bad because they are "for profit centers without a means to an end". [Is every for-profit health care concern bad or just these? Also, Representative Smith is implying that these centers exist to keep people addicted to Methadone, without providing any evidence that this is actually true.]
  6. Doctor (I mean Representative) Smith believes in "treatment to abstinence". [This sounds nice...and hell, who wouldn't disagree with abstinence as being the solution to bad behavior? The problem is that Doctor (I mean Representative) Smith seems to say that Methadone isn't a valid form of treatment, but yet I doubt he actually knows anything about it.]
  7. Representative Smith has had family and friends who suffered from addiction. [Call me crazy, but how many of those family and friends had the means to take advantage of a place like Marworth? Now how many heroin addicts have access to the same types of resources? That's part of the issue here: Not everyone fits into the neat little world of "just say no" that Representative Smith outlines in his letter. Addiction is a dirty, complicated business. It doesn't fit into nice little models of behavior. I recommend that Representative Smith read Eric Clapton's autobiography for a bit more insight into the issue. Better yet, actually visit a few Methadone clinics before writing them off as a form of treatment.]
  8. Representative Smith will not stop fighting the Methadone clinic. People in Dunmore don't want it in their backyard.
  9. Bad people come to Methadone clinics...bad people who will put the residents of Dunmore "at risk".
  10. Representative Smith is NOT pandering for votes. He is just opposing a medical treatment facility because...well...people don't want it in their neighborhood. [Pandering is pandering is pandering. Besides, better to be in front of an issue like this than to be behind in another issue...like taxes.]

Rather than diffusing the issue, it's my opinion that Representative Smith actually made matters worse in his letter. His letter screams pandering. What's more, his attempt to disguise his opposition to a Methadone clinic as some form of compassion is derailed by his inability to actually articulate any kind of alternative, other than "just say no". Yes, study is needed: Representative Smith should thoughtfully study Heroin addiction and the role of Methadone BEFORE he goes proposing any kind of moratorium.

Monday Morning, January 4th...I Thought You Would Never Come

It's not that I'm anti-holiday, it's just that I'm not really all that big on some of what goes along with holidays. This includes the deviation from the "norm" that goes with most of the rest of the days of the year. I suspect that kind of feeling isn't unique to me, so I'll take come comfort in the notion that I'm not totally nuts...well at least with regard to my need for a comforting routine.

The other tricky element for me that comes with holidays is the notion of having a lot of extra time off. This year was especially bad, as I had a ton of days that I had to take or else lose them forever. I earn about 33 vacation days a year, and while I can carry over half of what I earn into the new year, anything over and above that is lost forever. Coming into December I had to schedule a lot of time off in order to get my "carry-0ver" number to a more manageable total, which ended up being, I think, 11.5. This means, of course, that I'm starting the year with 44.5 vacation days to in 2010, of which I could carry over 16.5 into 2011 (and so on and so forth).

Accounting aside, the time off thing is interesting because I simply don't feel well when I have so much extra time on my hands. "Don't feel well" is a shorthand way of saying restless, bored, over-eating, etc., all of which simply don't help me all that much. Don't get me wrong: I like down-time as much as anyone else, but I guess for me I like it in very small quantities. A 30 minute episode of Family Guy works well in that regard. I try and plan things to do during time-off stretches, but circumstances change (cars break-down for example) and all of a sudden I'm sitting here stewing and stressing. Not good.

There are a few other dynamics at work here, but I'll defer on them in order to protect the innocent and not disgust myself (let alone the odd stranger that might stumble upon this and actually get this far). Suffice to say I have an interesting home-life. "Interesting" is being polite. The "interesting" element only compounds things to about 10th power.

Yes, I am glad that it's January 4th.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Gift for Myself


Seeing as though I've been in a little bit of a "funk" lately, I decided to buy myself a little gift. As I referenced this morning, all of the Bloom County comic strips are coming out in five volumes, with the first being recently released. After taking my mother shopping today, I decided to run up to Borders to pick up a copy.

Now what's the big deal about a comic strip anyway? After all, I'm a 45 year old man, so shouldn't I be a little bit too old for such nonsense? Well for me, Bloom County is something of a anchor to a specific time in my life. I didn't start reading the strip when it first came out in 1980, but instead found it in the local York, Pennsylvania newspaper when I got my first job out of college (circa 1986). I was probably hooked on it immediately. I loved the ever-so-slightly political tilt of the strip, the cultural references, and the characters. Hell, I even have a Bill The Cat doll (my current Facebook picture). Reading the strip was one of few stress relievers I had during a period just full of stress. As a side note, I'm not really a fan of any other comic strips although I do find the occasional Dilbert strip to be pretty funny.

So I suppose that Bloom County is as much about reminiscing as it is anything else, but so be it. Maybe that's one of the benefits (one of the few benefits...) of growing older.

Road Apples, #54

It's Cold Enough Outside to freeze the testicles off a simian. This compliments my previous comment about it being cold enough to freeze the mammary glands off a Wiccan. Actually this is my (and I am sure others) least favorite part of the year. I don't ski, so there isn't much in the way of outdoor winter activities I actually like. In point of fact this weather is rather inconvenient, as I do like to walk around Lake Scranton, but that's really not possible when the temperature is barely making 20 degrees. Yes, it's no fun when you are wearing layers of clothing and sweating on the inside but freezing on the inside. I'm thinking that I need to relocate to a slightly warmer climate. Mind you I'm not talking about anything near tropical, but a location where the words "winter cold" translate to about 40 degrees.

In The Nobody But Me Cares Department...I am getting ready to move some furniture around in my home office area. This is a big deal to me, which probably says a lot about the status of my life (or lack thereof). In typical Steve fashion, I've measured the room, noted the door openings, measured the furnishing I have in here, etc. In other words I'm planning this all in my head well before I move a single thing. What's driving this seemingly large (as least as far as synapse time is concerned) endeavor? My flat screen television is too high up, and I want it more at eye-level from my desk chair. Well that and I regularly do need to de-junk the place.

I Hate Sleeping...For a while in early December I was sleeping well, but once again my sleep demon has caught up with me. Last night I actually took something to help me fall as sleep (Unisom or something like that), which I try not to do, but once in a while if I don't have a set wake-up time I'll go that route. Anyway, the pill did work in that I fell asleep after a reasonable few minutes, but I ended up waking at about 4am and then after falling back to sleep after about 15 minutes or so I woke up for good at about 7:15am. For the record, I think it was about 11pm when I got to bed. I didn't feel well when I woke-up, which for me is more mental than anything else. Too many thoughts racing through my head, so much mental clutter to let me mind relax enough to actually sleep in to, say, the ungodly hour of 9am. As I said, for me it's all mental. Maybe I need to work more on the whole stress management thing.

Today...Being a typical Sunday, today I paid bills in the morning, read the paper, and will eventually get ready to over to my mother's house to take her shopping. Given the temperature I'm not sure she will want to even go out, but I'll go over anyway. That will kill a few hours, and after that I really should hit the gym at work for about an hour. I haven't really gotten any dedicated exercise in two days, which is not a good thing. After that I need to take a two big piles of clothes from the girls to the laundry mat; I could do them at home, but given the quantity, it's much easier to wash a few loads simultaneously. The laundry mat is skeezy, but it is also convenient, so what the hell.

Current Events...For some reason I genuinely don't really care about current events, politics, or anything else weighty at the moment. I fact I couldn't force myself to even write about a related topic if I wanted to.

Bloom County Collection...When I graduated from college, one of the things that helped keep me sane during those first few years of living on my own was reading the comic strip Bloom County. Well the strips author, Berkeley Breathed, is putting out all the strips in a five volume collection. I've seen the first volume at Borders, so maybe I'll see if I can stop up there today to pick it up. I have many of the individual collection books (Blood County Babylon, Night of the Mary Kay Commandos, etc.), but it would be nice to have everything all in one spot. Something to look forward to. Based upon this "blah" mood that I'm in maybe it will be a beneficial stimulus of sorts.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

From the Pennsyltucky File


Pink Camo...what every fashionable young lady will be wearing this winter. Look for it in a supermarket near you.

Worth Reading: Link from The Scranton Guardian

This is well worth checking out: Scranton Guardian Link, Judicial Conduct Board.

I read the underlying story and my blood immediately began to boil. We talk about people not taking responsibility for their actions...well one would think that members of the legal profession, being the high-paid & high-profile individuals that they are...would set an example and take what's coming to them for their two years of inaction relative to the complaint against monster judges Ciav/Con....(To paraphrase John Belushi...) but noooooooooooooo, the Judicial Conduct Board seems to think that they are getting the short end of the PR stick.

Note to the Judicial Conduct Board: I think you are getting off a hell of a lot easier than some of the kids in Luzerne County ever did.

Sorry for the above sloppy writing, as this stuff infuriates me.

The (Rare) Sports Blog

I don't normally write about sports, and when I have it's usually been in conjunction with other issues, such as the shameful graduation rate at UConn. Today, however, will be one of those rare days.

I watched the Capital One Bowl yesterday (well watched & listened to it when I wasn't near a TV), and as a Penn State Alum, I was thrilled with the victory. Yes, Daryll Clark proved that he could win the big game, although I personally wish he could have made that statement against Iowa and Ohio State. Anyway it was a great game and once again I'm proud to be a Penn Stater. It's ironic that this win comes on the same day when Florida's Bobby Bowden also won his final game, as he is forced into retirement by a college athletic system that (for many schools) is more about athletics than it is about college.

One complaint though: Let's all tell the folks in Orlando that if you are going to have a big-time college bowl game, then you need to reserve the field for that big-time college bowl game. Anyone watching the game could see that the field was horrible, down to the point of possibly being dangerous (with massive chunks of sod coming up all over the place). The only saving grace here is that neither Penn State nor LSU players managed to get hurt playing on a field that was not up to par. Now I know it was raining, but "sources" (wow, I have "sources") tell me that the field had been used extensively prior to the Capital One Bowl for high school and other play. I'm sorry, call me snobbish, but let those little kids play somewhere else so that the field could be playable for the big kids. The field conditions reflected poorly on Orlando and the level of prestige for the Bowl.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: Hopes, Wishes & Aspirations

I actually wrote a blog entry last night, but alas it sits in draft status along with a few other friends that just didn't seem quite right enough to post. That's one of my problems: I write more than I actually post, so I end up with content that just sits there. Anyway, none of that has to do with the topic at hand, namely that of my hopes, wishes & aspirations for 2010. Here goes:

Lou Barletta
I hope 2010 brings to Mr Barletta a bit more of a conscience, one that steers him away from blaming every ill besetting Hazelton on illegal aliens. He can do better than that, and his anti-immigration crusade makes him appear to be nothing better than a modern-day Know-Nothing Party member. He can choose to wage a Congressional campaign based upon ideas that appeal to our better angels, or he can continue to appeal to our worst instincts (such as fear of those who look different than us); either way the choice is his and his alone.

Luzerne County Government
I hope the Federal house cleaning continues. As I noted in another post (a post for which at least one person slammed me), the residents of Luzerne County share in the blame for this mess through decades of complacency, so they also share in the responsibility to help clean it up. How? Let's just hope that attributes like "football hero" are no longer considered satisfactory qualifications for government service.

Lackawanna County Government
I'm actually somewhat pleased with how the county is being run. I see real efforts to reduce costs, although more needs to be done. The fact that they are actually trying to enforce a contract provision that benefits taxpayers is a welcome change. Related to this is...

Corey O'Brien
I hope Mr O'Brien soundly loses in the Congressional primary. No offense to Mr O'Brien, but he's simply not ready for the task. Being a less-than-full-term county commissioner isn't what I'd call a record to run by, nor is paying for your own talk show on WILK. Don't get me wrong: I basically like Mr O'Brien and I think he is doing a decent job as Commissioner. All the more reason to stay and finish the job. Ambition shouldn't be the enemy of success, and he is young enough that he could add to his resume and still be able to run for higher office in the future.

Scranton City Council's New Members
I hope they collectively get their heads out of their butts and realize that you are not going to balance the budget, cut taxes and raise employee salaries simply by "cutting the Doherty fat". That's an insult to the intelligence of every Scranton resident who has more than three firing synapses. By all means do cut expenses. By all means do make sure that our police are paid a fair wage for the great job that they do. By all means do try and reduce some of the taxes that stifle our local economy. But please stop acting as if Chris Doherty has this secret Swiss Bank Account full of taxpayer money that can be raided in order to solve our every problem. Get real, please. Work with the Mayor...disagree when necessary...but work with him never the less. There is enough ego room in City Hall for both Janet Evans and Chris Doherty.

Dunmore
Here's to hoping that the things finally hit bottom. Like the drug addicts that so many Dunmore residents seem to think don't exist within their borders, I truly believe that Dunmore government will have to hit bottom before they can actually make the substantive changes necessary to live in the real world. You simply can't have things like paid firefighters and the same wage tax that surrounding communities (that rely on volunteer firefighters) have; you can't add to your employee roster when you don't have the money to pay for your existing staff. Dunmore has to live within its means, and the longer its leaders pretend that fiscal gravity doesn't apply to them, the worse the final fall will ultimately be.

Oh, and also for Dunmore, it's my hope that some residents don't have to go through the pain of having a family member addicted to drugs before they seem the real value in substance abuse treatment. Dunmoreans: You may not want it in your back-yard, but I'm afraid it already is.

The Scranton Times
I hope that they continue to investigate the dealings, shenanigans, and down-right questionable actions of State Senator Bob Mellow. I'll be blunt: It is a flagrant conflict of interest that Senator Mellow serves on the boards of institutions he can have a hand in regulating, and it's an insult to Pennsylvania taxpayers that he had the state pay him to rent property that he had a hand in owning. The Scranton Times has done some good work in exposing this, and I hope that they certainly continue and in fact do more.

For Me
Last but not least, I have a few hopes, wishes & aspirations for myself:

- I hope my children stay healthy & happy
- I hope that I don't need a major tragedy to be reminded of just how precious life truly is
- I wish my extended family, friends and co-workers a healthy, prosperous New Year
- I wish that compassion and common sense be my guides in making important decisions
- I aspire to grow & evolve as a person for as long as I am allowed on this Earth


Happy 2010 to one and to all.