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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Response to JD Curtis

JD Curtis was kind enough to reply to my post about resigned Alaska Governor Sarah Palin & the real disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (link HERE), but I think he missed the point of my post. Here's something a bit more direct...

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

JD...

I agree with your premise that there are few realistic alternatives to drilling for oil.

The above noted, my point was that the issues at play here...

...the need for energy to grow an economy
...the need to protect natural resources for future generations
...the economy that relies on the environment (such as fishing)

...CAN NOT be boiled down into an asinine, ridiculous, insultingly simplistic catch-phrase like "Drill Baby Drill!". Palin actually made that phrase something of a centerpiece for her campaign, which (in addition to being asinine, ridiculous & overly simplistic) has now taken on an almost ironically insulting flair.

Put another way, current events prove that some issues simply aren't sound-bytes, despite Palin's apparent ability to only speak the sound-byte language.

Palin should stick to something she actually knows something about, like teaching abstinence to teenagers.


PS...would you expect the American Petroleum Institute to publish something that was constructively critical of the oil/gas industry? Seriously, would you? Come on man, your reference was akin to the financial services industry touting their ethical standards...namely that they may have the facts right, but those facts...and the API's objectivity...could probably be questioned by a reasonable person.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Will Sarah Palin Go To Louisiana and Proclaim "Drill Baby Drill!"?

I think she should.

Disaster Looms As Oil Slick Closes on US Coast

Or perhaps she will proclaim that this is all some plot by the Obama Administration. Regardless, this horrible pending tragedy is proof that complex issues like energy independence can't be boiled down to asinine slogans like "drill baby drill!".

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Post That Never Was

I had a rather lengthy posting all written and just now I deleted it all. I'm just not going to do it.

Instead I'm replacing it all with a simpler thought:

As a parent, I'm in the lives of my children for the long haul. Unlike that boyfriend, unlike that girlfriend, unlike that other adult offering questionable advice, I'll always be there. They may not realize that now, what with my advice seeming far less "fun", I'll be there tomorrow to hear "dad, you were right".

Back To Work

In as much as work is job and I get that there is a difference between it and "fun", I have to admit that there are times when I don't mind going to work. That's especially true when there is a lot of chaotic nonsense going on at home. In a professional organization you would think that so much would be out of my control and to some extent that is true at work. However at work there are distinct rules, written or otherwise, that deal with how people inter-relate and how work is dispensed. At home the rules are much more complex; simply telling your children that they need to pick up after themselves is different that giving someone an assignment at the office, mainly because at work that task is far more likely to be completed.

Then there is the feeling of oppression. No, I don't feel that at work. However, there are times when it seems that some folks at home feel oppressed for whatever reason. This is despite all of the freebies that come with this existence, such as cell phone service, high-speed Internet service, video games, vehicles to drive, etc. These things are in addition to the basics that are provided, such as food, shelter, medical care, etc. Yes, all of that and some feel oppressed seemingly to the point of acting disgusted to towards the parental unit. Maybe I'm missing something here, as I really don't get it, not one single bit.

Now I'll go to work and yes, I do it in order to be paid, but the experience itself isn't all that bad. I have space to work in and materials to do my work. I know what's expected of me. I have some amenities that can be taken advantage of, such as savings plans, a gym, a cafeteria and the opportunity to always learn new stuff. Truth be told, it's not so bad.

What's a parent to do? I know, some ages for your children are more difficult than others, so I'm just going to have to take it on faith than the current bumps in the parental road will eventually pass. They have to, and the remarkable part is that it will happen no matter what. Yes, despite my apparent Ogre-esque reputation as a parent...how dare I ask that the 6 towels be picked up from the TV room...how dare I insist that my children actually think about the long-term consequences of their actions today...I know that eventually they do grow up, even if they don't want to. The best I can do is to be honest, instill a sense for working hard, try to make the best decisions possible, try to provide sound advice when I can and hope that the combination of it all yields a productive adult at the other end of the pipeline. Nice analogy, but it does seem that things get stuck in this pipe an awful lot lately.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another Book To Read

All of Gort & NEPArtisan's references to Hunter S. Thompson compelled me to order this book as I was getting something for my oldest daughter's upcoming trip to Egypt. Since I've given up on trying to finish Artie Lange's "Too Fat To Fish" this will be the next in line, once it arrives.

The Worst Company in America

I heard this on WILK this morning and wanted to share it: the readers of Consumerist.com voted Comcast as the worst company in America.

Read the story HERE.

I would tend to agree. My biggest beef with Comcast is that they are notorious for constantly raising rates. I say that with the caveat that I have not needed to call them for service in decades.

Anyway, you can see a related story on this at the Consumerist.com website. You can find the chart showing all the companies in the running HERE. A couple of things surprised me when I looked at the list:

- Best Buy...I've had mainly good experiences with them over the years
- Apple...I don't use their products, but I had thought they wouldn't even be in the running
- Ticketmaster...Could we have a "most evil companies in America" contest?
- Cash4Gold...Seems to prey on people who are desperate for money
- WalMart...I think they are simultaneously the worst and the best

Interesting stuff.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Self Protrait @ 46

When you are very young, you look forward to birthdays because they mean you get something.

When you grow into your teens, you look forward to birthdays because they mean you can do more things (drive, drink, etc.).

When you grow older you can buy what you want and there are no more age limits (unless you count AARP membership...thanks to Kay Crawford for that little reminder), so the day ends up being more about looking inside than outside.

So here we have me at age 46. Wow, 46. When you are 18 it's almost inconceivable to be this old. The truly scary part is that I'm still that 18 year old inside, all be it more seasoned with the passing years. Even more frightening? I have two daughter who are nearly 18 and one who is actually older.

Where am I now?

Well physically I actually feel pretty good. I've lost about 25 pounds over the past six months without a ton of sacrifice. Maybe that's not such a good thing, as sometimes sacrifice is good for the soul. Never the less, I am trending in the right direction. The only chronic medical problems I have are relatively minor and well under control, so I have no complaints in that department. I've changed a number of habits over the years for the better, including taking much better care of my teeth and not drinking, so I'm hoping that these pay dividends as I grow older.

Mental health wise I am doing well. Yes I've probably been through more than some in dealing with these kinds of issues in my extended family, but that's okay because those trials really have made me a stronger person. In essence you really don't know what you are capable of getting through until you are forced to face the situation. In a strange sort of way I have been blessed by the trials I've had to face.

Career-wise things are okay. I have some responsibility, I'm not underpaid, and I'd like to think that I make something of a difference. Do I deserve to be promoted? Do I deserve more money? Sure, those would be welcome, but I don't think I'm being screwed in any way, shape or form, so I have no complaints.

Intellectually I feel like I'm still learning, so there is a lot to be happy about. I don't ever want to stop learning. I never want to be a physical or a mental loafer.

As a father, I do my best. Most importantly, I try to be here for my daughters in ways that my father was never there for me. They may not understand or appreciate that, but so be it; sometimes you do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. I'm only now really beginning to understand that doing right is its own reward. Yes I wish I had more financial resources to help my daughters, but I have a feeling that you can never have enough of that stuff, so there is no sense being obsessed.

All things considered, it's all okay.

Comments on State Stores

I'm having an interesting exchange with NEPArtisan regarding State Store ownership, and since it's getting a little long in the tooth I'm going to post it here.

You can see the original posting on NEPArtisan HERE.

The last comment by Tom is the one I'm responding to; to save time flipping between tabs, I've pasted it immediately below:

Steve, I understand your argument. For me, it’s a very excellent example of socialism working pretty damn well. Beyond that, their workers do well for themselves because wages and service aren’t sacrificed in the name of profit, since only a delivery of a service, and not profit, is the main motive.

If this goes private, the only people getting in on the stores will be people with big money, shutting out the little guy even more.

In fact, right now the people own the state stores. As in both of us, and our neighbors, and everybody in this state.

I like that

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

Anyway, here is my response to Tom:

Tom...we will have to agree to disagree on this in a few different ways.

Service: Since I don't drink, I don't go into State Stores very often, but the once or twice a year when I do I don't find the service to be anywhere near great. In fact, it's no better than some of the worst private sector stores. The last time I was at a State Store I -

a) Couldn't find the wine I was looking for (a brand I found before at that store)
b) Couldn't find someone to help me find the wine
c) Stood waiting at the checkout until a clerk finally decided to come out from the back to help me.

Profit: The stores do generate a profit. That aside, why run a business that sells a product if it isn't to make a profit? Since the State is abysmal at managing most things, how do we know that the profit being generated really represents the potential of the business? What's more, since the State Stores run as a monopoly, what's to stop them from over-pricing their goods?

Big People/Big Money: By my estimation, the state absolutely represents big money. The state has readily available capital, can borrow at very good rates and has the ability to exclude competitors from the market. That's the kind of stuff that is rightfully called into question when it's done by the private sector. Why give the State a pass?

Shutting Out The Little Guy: Wait, since the State dictates that only the State can sell booze, isn't the State the one who is shutting out the little guy? What about all those small convenience stores that now sell beer...many aren't run by big money interests. Why should they be allowed to sell beer but not wine or spirits?

Who Owns The Stores: The people own the stores? When was the last time that you were given the opportunity to vote on the leadership of the State Stores? When was the last time you were asked to approve the auditors for the State Stores? I just voted for board members for my employer, where I own some stock. How come I don't have a similar opportunity for the State Stores? Want to know who actually owns the State Stores? It's not the taxpayers, it's the bureaucrats in state government who do...individuals who are accountable to no one. Hell, be honest...do you even know who the head State Store person is in Pennsylvania? In the absence of Googling it, I have no clue myself.

I submit that the State Stores aren't a good example of socialism at work. If you want an example of something like that which actually works, review the Japanese Postal Service, which is also one of the largest insurance companies on the planet. No, the State Stores are just a monopoly, plain an simple. Making matters worse, they are a silly monopoly governed by silly rules. Why do I say "silly"? Simple: Maybe someone can explain to me why it's okay to buy Bud Light at Convenient on Pittston Avenue, but Thunderbird can only be bought from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. When last I checked, both can get you plastered, although Thunderbird can also be used to power a gas leaf blower in a pinch as well.

Road Apples, #63

Tradition...I have a tradition whereby I always take my birthday off from work. It started back in 1990, after I had worked on my birthday in 1989 and had a horrible day. After commenting on it to my boss, he gave me some practical advice that I took to heart: you should have at least one good day a year, so don't work on your birthday. I've been taking the day off (or the next business day if it falls on a weekend) ever since. It hasn't guaranteed me a good day, but I guess it hasn't caused any bad days either. By the way, this was the second best piece of advice this gentleman gave me; the first was to always return people's phone calls promptly.

The Catholic Channel...gets an assist today, as just about every news reporting outlet will be virtually all Catholic, all day today. Why? Well we have a new Bishop being installed today in Scranton, and since Scranton is to Catholicism as Provo is to Mormonism, this is big news in these parts. It also helps that the new Bishop, Joseph Bambera, is by all accounts a decent, stand-up guy who doesn't have a problem with talking to the the people he leads. This is something of a far cry from his predecessor, Joseph Martino, who seemed to loathe activities such as actually talking to the flock. I know, that's something of an editorial comment on my part, but so be it; Bishop Martino seemed more interested in instilling his orthodoxy on the flock than actually ministering to their needs.

Senator Mellow's Seat...Is Joe Corcoran actually running for State Senate? Seriously, is he? Now I will not vote for Mr Corcoran so it's not as if I am disappointed in his lack of a campaign, but there is something about this that bugs me. What might that be? Well I almost get the impression that Mr Corcoran believes that he doesn't have to campaign very hard, as he is the endorsed Democratic candidate. The Times said so. Maybe I'm wrong and that does count for something, but it shouldn't. Being endorsed means that you've done people favors, and if the on-going corruption scandal in NEPA has taught us anything, it's that favors and politicians sometimes create problems. As for why I will not vote for Mr Corcoran, well that's easy: the guy doesn't exactly scream change to me, and that's what we need in Harrisburg. In fact, I can think of no other candidate that speaks to the political status-quo for this office more than Mr Corcoran does (although Jim Wansacz comes in second). Hell, I'd write-in Carrot Top before I'd cast a vote for Mr Corcoran. Now who will I vote for? I'm actually still undecided. I think there are a few good choices out there (excluding the above referenced Mr Corcoran), so I'm thinking this one may come down to the wire for me.

Today...Since I do have today off, I'm going to try and do some at least quasi-relaxing things. Maybe a trip to the Eddie Bauer outlet is in order. I also need to run to the bookstore to pick something up for my youngest daughter. First though it will be a trip to the gym, as it was a bad weekend relative to eating right and exercising, so some corrective measures are in order.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

U.S. Senate Race

For the record, I've made it a point to stay away from endorsing candidates for office. Now I've taken this stand not because I lack strong opinions (I have strong opinions on everything...trust me), but because I like the notion be at least seeming to be politically neutral. Given that I'm a fiscal conservative in a social liberal's body, neutrality is something that comes with the territory. Anyway, another benefit to neutrality is the fact that I can criticize anyone I want without having to worry about toes being stepped on.

The above preamble brings me to the real point I wanted to make: I've heard the Arlen Specter attack ad against Joe Sestak and I find it distasteful at best, disgusting at worst. Apparently I am not alone in this opinion. This is nothing more than a 2010 version of Swiftboating, and in my opinion it has no place in a serious campaign. Senator Specter can point fingers all he wants at the votes taken (or not taken) by Congressman Sestak, but the line must be drawn at impugning Sestak's military career. As was the case with John Kerry, the only fact about Congressman Sestak's military career that matters is this: he served his country. Period. End of story. Unless there is a dishonorable discharge somewhere in the mix, I view every soldier as having served with honor and dignity. For what they give us, they deserve no less.

The right thing to do here is for Senator Specter to pull the ad and apologize for airing it in the first place.

Finally, the rub against Arlen Specter is that he is willing to do just about anything to stay in office. This ad certainly makes that case, big time.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Her Name Is Rio...



Since I've droned on and on about this, I feel compelled to note that the great car hunt has concluded. By way of explaining recent history (if you want to call it that), I've been pondering getting another car for a few months now, and being the logically inclined person that I am, Ive done all manner of research and evaluations trying to find the perfect fit for both my budget and my 6'3"/230lb frame. Like most things human though, you can only do so much with logic, so I confess that there is some part of illogical "feeling" in the whole process of picking something so intimate as a car.

So what of it?

Well my research pointed to a Toyota Yaris as being the car I wanted. It had a few attributes that I was looking for...

...very good on gas
...low cost of ownership
...record for reliability
...enough room for me & a passenger or two (when needed)

...so yesterday I decided to pull the trigger and head over to the Scranton Toyota dealership to actually see the Yarii they had on the lot (which I had been following on-line for a while anyway). At first I loved the in-person look of the car. Kinda bulbous, but all the better to fit a kind of bulbous Steve. Then I sat in the car. Deal over. Now I knew that the Yaris has the instrument cluster in the center of the car, so intellectually I was prepared. However sitting in the car and seeing behind the steering wheel just a padded dash was somehow disconcerting on some level. It felt very, very strange...almost uncomfortable.

Yes, it was a strange feeling. Mind you I drive different cars all the time. My job takes me to Connecticut and/or New Jersey every month (sometimes multiple times per month), so I'm used to driving different kinds of cars. I've had everything from a Cadillac to a Volvo and lots in between, so different normally doesn't throw me for a loop. This was very different though.

So what to do? Well I had also noticed two Kia Rios at that the same dealership, so after taking a gander at a few (more conventional looking) Corollas, I wandered over to peer at them. One was white with a tan interior, the other was dark red with a gray interior. At first I wasn't very impressed, as I really wasn't looking for something with four doors (despite the groans from my family members). However I sat in them and it just felt right, and the red one looked kind of sharp in a "cutting edge of South Korean economy car technology" way. It also had a few things going for it...

...2009 model
...better than average reliability record (not at Toyota level, but far above, say, Chrysler)
...nearly as good as the Yaris fuel economy
...a decent stereo (with a USB port) that I can connect my Sirius receiver to
...more than enough room for the above referenced bulbous frame
...only 9000 miles

...so it was off for a test drive. It handled well and felt right, so it was time to do a deal. When all was said and done, I got it for about two grand less than a similar model for sale at the local Kia dealership.

So the quest has been concluded. I pick Rio up on Tuesday and I hopefully then begin a few years of worry-free driving. By the way, it looks something like THIS.

Interestingly enough this make & model wasn't on my short list of potential cars. I guess this means that logic can only take you so far, at least when it comes to cars.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fanatics of ALL Stripes

Two things that caught my eye recently...both interestingly related...


Facebook Follies
There is a Facebook group called "DEAR-LORD-THIS-YEAR-YOU-TOOK-MY-FAVORITE-ACTOR-PATRICK-SWAYZIE-YOU-TOOK-MY-FAVORITE-ACTRESS-FARAH-FAWCETT-YOU-TOOK-MY-FAVORITE-SINGER-MICHAEL-JACKSON-I-JUST-WANTED-TO-LET-YOU-KNOW-MY-FAVORITE-PRESIDENT-IS-BARACK-OBAMA-AMEN"

Please, please, please...someone try to defend this. I beg you. Had this group been created about George W. Bush I would have been just as outraged. Since when is it funny, hip, ironic, cool or even moral to call for the death a President? That's what this does, and quite frankly I find it disgusting.


South Park Creators Threatened
The creators of the quasi-cartoon South Park, Matt Parker and Trey Stone, have been threatened with death by a Muslin extremist group. Now I don't know how credible the threat is, but it doesn't matter, as in this day and age you have to take this stuff seriously. For the record I don't really like South Park, but gee, I express that feeling by simply not watching the show.


You are free to make all the connections you want between these two items.

Common Sense Tax Reform (or at least a start…)

I read an interesting article the other day from The Hill (Capital Hill Publishing) that outlined a proposal from Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). There are several articles out there on the proposal, including this one from the DailyCaller.com.

There are positives and negatives to the proposal, but at its core it has one attribute that I really like: it begins the process of simplifying the U.S. Tax Code. Note the word “begins”, as I’d hope this would only be the beginning of such an exercise. As I’ve noted before, the current tax code is an overly complicated mess of social engineering…constructed by both political parties…that is build on a foundation of good intentions gone awry.

Now those on the political left have a tendency to be wary of any reform, as they believe any thing that lowers taxes inevitably makes the system less progressive. I believe that’s a false assumption, as the current system’s encouragement of consumption (via tax-subsidized debt) and punishment of saving (via taxing it) is actually extremely regressive for the working classes. Furthermore, perpetuating a system that is so complicated that most folks don’t actually understand it is as far from a progressive ideal.

Think about it: the wealthy can pay to have accountants take care of their finances, but what about the working class? Honestly, do you think that the lady who sits in the Jackson Hewitt cube at the mall is a tax expert? How many of the working poor can complete an IRS 1040 Long Form (which is what would be required for a working family to take advantage of all possible tax breaks)?

Look, I work in an industry that is predicated on the current tax code, so I genuinely could be harmed by any large-scale tax code overhaul. Even given that I support this kind of effort, as the good outweighs the bad. I’d much rather see my industry move towards a model where people saving more so because they need to and less so because complicated tax rules encourage them to do the right thing.

America needs a flatter, simpler tax system. I personally think we should be taxing consumption, not savings or income, but that’s a bit too “way out” for most folks, so I’ll settle for supporting the Wyden-Gregg proposal...for now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Federal Takeover of Health Care"

"...Crafting a federal takeover of health care..."

Someone was kind enough to post a comment to something I wrote about the Tea Party, and in the response they cited the above phrase. I want to take a moment to ask a single question in response:

If the new health care legislation requires people to buy private health insurance, how could it be a federal takeover?

I am serious in asking the question. I could see the argument being made if...and only if...the legislation created a single provider system, but it doesn't. Note the word "provider", as that has never seriously been considered in any form during the recent debate. Now a single "payer" system had been debated, but even that's far different than a "federal takeover" in that such a system basically would make the government the paying agent for health care, but not the entity that provides the actual coverage (a.k.a. the "provider"). In a single payer system private health care professionals would still "provide" the care. This is enormously different than, say, the national health service that exists in the U.K.

Is it all just semantics? Absolutely not, because words do matter. It's not coincidence that the word "Obamacare" is used by Tea Party members and the their GOP sponsors. It's called sloganeering, and it's been a tactic employed by spin doctors since well before the term "spin doctor" was ever invented. No need to think about this stuff...we can just call it "Obamacare" and dismiss it out of hand. It's this kind of sloganeering that turns a fact...that the legislation requires people to buy private insurance...into the bizarre fiction that this equates to the federal government "taking over" health care.

As for me, I don't want to pay for YOUR health care. If you get sick YOU should have to pay for it, not ME. YOU should be required to get health care insurance because in this country we don't turn people away at hospitals, yet in those cases the bills and expenses are just as real as they are for anyone else. Currently that the cost for the uninsured is spread out among all of us who do have coverage and that's completely ridiculous. Oh and please don't tell me that insurance isn't needed and that the health care providers can sue the person to recoup unpaid bills, as that's just YET ANOTHER form of cost shifting (who pays the lawyers? who pays the court costs? what if they can't recover the money anyway?). My real beef with the current legislation is that I think EVERYONE should have to pay SOMETHING for coverage. On public assistance? Well guess what: part of your beer or smokes money should be forked over to pay for at least a portion of your health care insurance. It's cruel, but everyone needs to have some skin in this game if we are going to control costs. No more free rides and no more cost shifting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Chinese Wall of Leadership

I was reminded today why I am a firm believer in the notion of a Chinese Wall when it comes to business and personal relationships.

By way of backtracking (and for those not inclined to click on the above link) a "Chinese Wall" in business is a kind of organizational barrier that prevents one part of a firm from being influenced by another. It's a fairly common notion, particularly in the financial services industry where you may have different parts of firm representing both buyers and sellers of securities.

Anyway, I've always believed that leaders need to have some degree of separation between their professional and personal lives, especially when it comes to individuals who may have manager/subordinate relationships. Why? Simple: it's just too easy to allow your personal friendships to influence your professional decisions. That doesn't mean that these kinds of influences don't exist, because that would be denying the obvious. Instead what I am arguing is that such relationships can't be front-of-mind when interacting professionally. Then there is the issue of perception: we'd like to believe that people get ahead as a result of their competencies and abilities, not personal relationships.

Yes, in some professions competency is in part measured by the ability to cultivate personal relationships. But even when it comes to something like sales, is that the only competency? Moreover, the ability to develop a personal relationship with a leader doesn't necessarily mean that a person has the motivation or talent to extend that ability to beyond "the boss".

In the end leaders have a singular obligation to make the best possible decisions; when those decisions involve people they need to be measured against a singular yardstick of what will best advance organizational goals. Note "organizational", which isn't always the same as "personal" (be that my "personal" or my friends "personal"). Can they be the same? Can what's best for me and my friend be the same as what's best for the organization? Sure they can, but that's never a given. I'm not advocating for some silly notion of capitalistic martyrdom (where we always sacrifice ourselves for profit), but instead I'm simply saying that leaders are paid to lead for the interests of the collective, not the personal.

All of the above makes me very suspicious of individuals who maintain very close personal relationships with either a boss or subordinates. I've always told those I could influence that this kind of mixing of relationships is unhealthy at best, damaging to both the relationship and the organization at worst. I know this is a high standard and I know that it creates difficulties, but I view it as being part of the cost someone needs to assume if you want the mantle of "leader".

Despite What Modern Society Tell You...

...you can not buy happiness.

There is no "happiness" app for the iPad or iPod touch or the iPhone.

Happiness isn't an option available in that new car.

There is no happiness pill (and if there was, we would all be taking it).

If your friends make you happy, then that's great; what do you do when they leave though?

There is no government-funded happiness entitlement.


I will never, ever understand why some people always insist on looking for happiness on the outside, because it can never be found there, ever. They treat it as if it were this grab-bag gift, with the only real trick being that you simply have to buy the right bag. I think part of this is a failure of education, as we spend so much time these days teaching children to memorize things for tests that we don't spend any time talking about the deeper, more important things in life. When I think about it more though, education is just a side issue; the larger issue is that so many of us actually really do believe that happiness is this external thing. As a society we have become drunk on our own success, and like a drunk, our common sense has become dulled to the point of virtual non-existence.

You can sum everything I'm trying to say into a single quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself"

He's right.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I'm A Morning Person

I am not ashamed to admit that I am solidly a morning person. This morning I woke up at about 6:30am, all on my own, and I've been at it ever since. Now the trade-off is that I really don't have tons of energy in the evening, and my idea of "staying up late" is midnight, but that's a reasonable trade-off I suppose.

As to why I'm I a morning person, well I'm not as sure of where that comes from. Part of me thinks that it must just be the brute force of genetics at work, as I seem to just be compelled to wake up with the sun each day. I know there could be learned aspects to this all, but I do have three brothers and to the best of my knowledge none of them share my affinity for starting the day off early (even on weekends). I do think that being a morning person comes with a certain amount of natural optimism. No, I am not claiming that non-morning people are negative, but for me waking up in the morning means two things:

  1. I get another day on this Earth.
  2. I get a chance to "make it right" today. Whatever I did yesterday is history, and I now have a chance to make it a little bit better today.
The first part is kind of morbid, I admit, but hell I am being honest here. I think you get one shot at life, so you have to make the most of every moment. It all counts, every single minute and second.

Here's to mornings, even when they are chilly and damp.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

From the Road

I'm in wonderful Clarion PA today, getting ready to attend an orientation program for my oldest daughter's upcoming trip to Egypt. I am very honored that she was selected to go on this trip, but I'd feel better if they were going to a place with an ever-so-slightly better human rights record. Oh well, at least there will be a lot to see. Getting there may be a problem due to Icelandic volcanoes, but that's a topic for upcoming discussion.

Well, typing without the benefit of my full-sized keyboard is something of a struggle, so I'm going to keep this short. Here's to high tide, green grass and clear air over central Europe.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea-Bagging

I didn't attend the Tea Bagging rally in Scranton, as my oldest daughter is in from Kutztown and I thought it would be more fun to spend time with her instead of listening to a bunch of angry white folks talk about how they are being oppressed. Well that and I figured that I could always turn on Fox News and get all the information I need from Tea-Bag central. I did, however, drive by the rally twice. The one thing that struck me? It seemed more like a Lou Barletta campaign rally than anything else. Tons of Barletta supporters and signs.

Fitting when you think about it: the worst rap against the Tea Baggers...one I am sure they are trying to shake...is that they are kloset klansmen. Who shows up in force at their rally? Why the guy running for office who has been warning about the "great brown horde" infesting our nation. To quote that great Canadian philosopher Alanis Morissette, "...isn't it ironic, don't you think?".

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From the "It's Just Creepy" File...

...we have volunteer firemen who set fires so that they can put them out. The latest incarnation recently happened in Susquehanna County.

Employee admitted setting Bingham's Fire.

Now I know that this kind of behavior is by far and away the exception, but I always find it interestingly creepy that you hear about volunteer firemen setting fires just to put them out, but you almost never hear of professional firemen doing this sort of thing. We did have a fireman guilty of setting a fire in Scranton, but that was a scam to get insurance money (as less enlightened person would use the phrase "Jewish Lightening").

This does point to one of the reasons why I choose to live in a city: professional services. Nothing against volunteer firemen, but I feel better knowing that myself, my family and my property are protected by full-time, professional public safety employees. Those folks in Scranton, particularly the Scranton Police Department, are really, really terrific. I've never had a bad experience with a Scranton Police Officer, and in fact years ago I had to deal with an officer over a very sensitive issue and he could not have been any more professional.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If I Could Pick 5 Famous People...

...to have over for dinner, who would I choose? Actually this isn't an original idea, as our company magazine has had this feature for years. Idea theft aside, here are my choices & why (note that I've limited my list to people who are actually alive):

Howard Stern - There are few people out there in the world who I consider to be ground-breaking geniuses in their field, but Howard Stern definitely fits the definition. People don't realize that Stern practically invented talk-radio. He was spinning a small number of records per hour and spending the rest of the time talking before Limbaugh ever started his act. He was doing stuff in the early 1990's that still makes me fall off my chair laughing.

Sir Paul McCartney - Another genius. Two hundred years from now people will be listening to "Hey Jude" like people listen to Beethoven now. Consider that, barely into his twenties, the man helped to change popular music as we know it. By the time he was thirty he had conquered the musical world. Talent like this only comes along once or twice a century.

Maureen Dowd - I don't always agree with her, but I confess to devouring her New York Times columns. I love her writing style...it's simple, straight-forward but always bright. She never backs away from a controversial topic, and while I think she sometimes comes down too hard on the Catholic Church, she always backs her comments up with common sense and logic. Her recent comparison of women in the Catholic Church to women in Saudi Arabia was harsh, but she made more than a few good points.

James Gandolfini - Tony Soprano was probably the most complex, most well-written, most expertly portrayed lead male character on TV series ever, bar none. The only one that even comes close in my mind was Daniel J. Travanti's portrayal of Frank Furillo on Hill Street Blues. Gandolfini's Tony Soprano managed to be both ruthless and sympathetic, cruel and kind all at the same time. Pulling that off requires genius-level talent. This was the last TV show that I actually had to watch every week.

Dr Sally K. Ride - Who better than to sit next to Tony Soprano than a Physicist? I always secretly wanted to be an astronaut, but since actually having depth-perception is something of a requirement, I've never been in the running. All the more reason to have one over for dinner, especially someone as passionate about space exploration as Dr Ride. I could sit and talk to her about astronomy for hours.

It Ain't For Sale

Some things can never be bought, no matter how much you may believe otherwise. My favorite non-saleable? That would be happiness.

You see, I just don't think that there is anything you can buy that can truly make you happy. Can you buy things that can momentarily bring you some joy? Sure, but true happiness doesn't come from without, it comes from within.

Believing that having a "thing" brings about happiness is nothing more than another form of addiction. Conceptually, that parent who buys their children every toy imaginable because they think it will make their kids "happy" isn't all that far from the drug addict who believes that just one more "hit" and the pain will all go away. No, the pain will still be there when the drugs fade from the system or when the toy becomes an object of boredom.

It doesn't stop there. I'm currently embroiled in a struggle with others about making long-term decisions. Specifically...

On one side of the fence we have those who believe that all that matters is that we make decisions now that make folks immediately happy. Give them what they want, after all we want people to be "happy", right? Life is short.

On the other side of the fence (my side), I believe that you have to think about the long-term consequences of actions. If you do something now that makes you immediately happy but yet could cause real, tangible harm in the future, then maybe it's not such as wise decision. Actions have consequences, and simply choosing not to think about them is short-sighted and stupid.


Hey, in the end you chose your reality. I have this sneaking suspicion though that some realities may be a bit more "real" than others.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Just A Quick Note...

...as I am feeling especially foul this morning. Maybe it was the lights and my computer that were left on all night (I know, it's only electricity...that I pay for...), maybe it's the overcast glumness outside, maybe it's because my hair is thinning, maybe it's that I have a class today. Who knows.

Well actually I do know. The trick is to express this artfully.

There are times when I feel as if we've failed as a nation with our young people. We've raised a generation to believe that things like cellphones and mobile access are givens in life that just magically appear and just happen to work month after month. We've done out best to insulate them from the reality that in life sometimes you win and sometimes you don't win. We've taught them that the only people that matter are the slim and the glamorous, but yet we are nation full of obese young people. We have done an outstanding job of separating choice from consequences, reality from economics.

What have we done? We've taught them that the single most important thing in the world is to feel good. Yes, feeling good reins over all. The problem is that if you try and feel good all the time, you are less equipped to handle things when you don't feel good. Same thing goes for winning: when you are taught that everyone is a winner, in reality no one wins and when you do fail to win, that fall is especially hard.

We've become a nation of the soft dullard, where "sacrifice" is something that you see on television (even better viewed via mobile access on your cellphone), but never actually consider yourself. Why? Because it doesn't feel immediately good when you sacrifice. Since so many are now devoid of the ability to handle things like sacrifice, not feeling good all the time, and all believe that all have an inalienable right to technology. Ever see someone pay for groceries with an Access card while using their Blackberry cell phone?

In short...

We lead people to believe that they are entitled to things that in reality are optional.

We lead people to believe that you need to look like Jennifer Aniston to be happy, but yet we still love fast & junk food and we don't want to put any effort in at being healthy.

We lead people to believe that winning is a right.

We lead people to believe that sacrifice is something that others do.

Our collective attention span has now decreased to a maximum of 140 characters.


It's no wonder that the use of anti-depressant medication has increased approximately 75% since 1996.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Extremists Suck

A posting by Mark Cour reminded me of how much extremists, of all stripes, suck.

His particular post was about PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals...oops, I mean People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) reminded me that good intentions, if taken to an extreme, almost always result in asinine behavior. Yes, I do believe that animals should be treated fairly at the circus, and no, I don't believe that poor chickens should have their beaks clipped off. However, advocating a completely vegetarian diet (we are not designed for that by the way...just open your mouth and look at your teeth...we are constructed as omnivores) and throwing red paint on people who wear fur is more comical than anything else. Do animals have "rights"? I don't believe that the term "right" is the same when you compare me and, say, a naked mole rat. For me, it's more like the reverse: I have an obligation to not torture animals and to not encourage others to do so.

Extremists don't just exist on the left-hand side of the lunatic fringe. For example, on the far right you have the various sundry "Militia Movement" groups who carry lots-o-guns, stock up on MRE's & preach against the ZOG. Not familiar with the ZOG? Well that would be the "Zionist Occupational Government" to those not familiar with the terminology of the far, far, far right. No, these folks don't protest at the circus, but instead the sit in their camps, horde ammunition, and listen to circa 1992 Billy West impersonations of former Mayor Dinkins, inserting "Obama" for NYC's last black chief executive. Personally I think many Tea Party members are simply in the larval stage of being militia members.

I could go on, as you have various groups who...

...spike trees for Jesus (anti-logging environmentalists)
...advocate the murder of doctors who perform abortions
...advocate for state succession (Texas, Alaska come to mind)
...advocate for the sabotage of nuclear facilities (No Nukes man!)
...follow the band Fish around (sorry, I just wanted to stick that one in there for comic relief)

...all in the name of supposedly good intentions. All of these groups have at their core one central philosophy: they know better than we do, the unwashed majority of citizens who go to work, pay our taxes and just try and do our best. Oh well, I'll just wallow in the mire of my ignorance as I eat a chicken sandwich, praise the victory of the Union over God-forsaken rebels, and enjoy the benefits of both logging and electricity.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quotes On Learning

"Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back. "
~Chinese Proverb

I read that and it instantly clicked with me, mainly because it's true. Personally I am at my best when I am learning new things. At my worst I am sitting here (literally and/or figuratively) on my butt doing nothing. If I have one wish for myself as I get older, it's that I never be afraid to learn new things. The alternative, it seems, is a kind of death.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What's The Most Offensive Thing You've Ever Seen On TV?

Here's my vote...from Family Guy, the "Prom Nite Dumpster Baby" musical.



The most ironic part? The show is on Fox, which also happens to host the favorite news channel of many who profess to fight for "family values". I wonder if Lynne Cheney wrote a letter to Rupert when this was aired?

Scranton Council President Evans & the FBI

There is a very interesting Random Notes column in today's Scranton Times (link HERE). Interestingly enough, the column infers something that I received some information on earlier this morning, namely that the President of Scranton's City Council, Mrs Janet Evans, may not have been summoned to the FBI but rather asked to meet with the FBI. Now that difference might sounds trivial, but it's not, chiefly for one reason: you never play games with Federal authorities. They have more money than you do, they have more resources than you do, they are more patient that you are (by the way that phrase is something that a lawyer at work once told me). In short, you don't mess with them or waste their time.

If Mrs Evans did in fact ask to meet with the FBI, then there are only three possible outcomes:

Outcome 1 - She provided credible, concrete proof of illegal activity on the part of Mayor Chris Doherty.
If this is true, then we should see much more investigative activity around the Mayor and his family. A raid on his house perhaps. A raid on the OCED office. The Mayor himself being questioned at length by the FBI. Here's the kicker: if you don't see these things happening, then there is no Federal investigation of the Mayor.

Outcome 3 - She is simply naive & believed the Federal authorities are as interested in rumor and innuendo as she is.
If this one is true, then she has succeeded in making herself look like an ass. As noted in the paper, a council speaker can scream "Pay to Play! Pay to Play!" at the top of their bitter little lungs, but awarding a contract that doesn't require bidding to someone that contributes to a political campaign is not illegal. It may not be the best policy, but...

a) Some contracts can be awarded without bidding
b) People are free to financially support candidates of their choice

In the "this does not necessarily mean that department" consider the following: Senator Mellow's committee has contributed in the past to the campaigns of Mrs Evans. Does that automatically imply a connection between Mrs Evans and the Senator? No. It's true...search through her campaign finance reports from, I think, the early 2000's...and you will see at least one contribution. That doesn't mean that there is any kind of "quid-pro-quo" between the two. Look, the business of campaign contributions is a dirty one, but dirty doesn't always mean "illegal".

Option 3 - This is a political ploy on the part of Mrs Evans to "harm" Mr Doherty's Senate campaign.
This is, I think, the point made in the column this morning. I sincerely hope this IS NOT true. I shutter to think that Janet Evans is so incredibly stupid as to think that she can "use" the Federal Bureau of Investigation to score cheap political points against a small town Mayor. "Incredibly stupid" I say? Perhaps that's not strong enough of term; how about "moronic" instead? Wasting the time of Federal agents is about as smart as telling Guido jokes at Satriales in Kearny, NJ.


Here's my bet:

Option 1 - Unlikely.
If the Feds had something on Chris Doherty, they wouldn't need the help of Janet Evans and we would be seeing other activity.

Option 2
- Likely.
Mrs Evans is used to being told by her followers that every word she puts forth is gold, so it's entirely possible that she might think Federal authorities would be similarly wowed. The problem is that there is a big difference between a professional FBI agent and, say, Ray Lyman.

Option 3
- Somewhat likely.
Mrs Evans is shrewd, and some of her supporters are even shrewder. These kinds of folks never miss an opportunity to kick an opponent. The problem is that Federal Authorities don't like being used as media cannonballs. Bad move.


Mark my words here: This will not help Mrs Evans AND this will not harm Mr Doherty. What does it do? It simply adds fuel to the notion that Janet Evans' is a one-trick pony, who does nothing other than try and harm Chris Doherty at every turn. Sadly, we actually need her to do more, like help to govern the city for example.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Road Apples, #62

Judge Joan Orie Melvin...should resign from the State Supreme Court if allegations that her family strong-armed legislative staffers to help in her campaign are true. The full story is HERE, but I'm thinking that more is coming out on this case. Note that this isn't a Democrat "gotcha", as there are plenty of instances where Democrats have done precisely the same thing (and God only knows just what Senator Mellow has done over the years). Once again it appears that politicians used OUR MONEY as if it were their own.

Cars...Well I'm moving forward with getting another car. With a second daughter in college, I'm going to need one, so while I don't like spending money this time it can't be avoided. I find this kind of thing to be very stressful, the part being spending money. I actually like the notion of researching vehicles, etc, and I've already been doing some of that.

Cars, Part II...I'm still not sure what I ultimately want to get. I have a certain amount of money that would allow me to get a decent used car, or I could go and use that money towards a new car. I don't want to have another payment to deal with, but the single most important thing for me at this stage is to have something that will be reliable and not cause me constant mechanical stress. I need less of that sort of thing, not more. As a result, I've pretty much given up on American made cars for this go-around. I love my 2005 PT Cruiser, but it's just had too many different things break before they should, so I've pretty much learned my lesson about American car quality. The quality of the Korean made cars (Hyundai and Kia) is better than the American made stuff, and they have incredible warranties, so I may go that route. I actually did own a Hyundai years ago, and it was a pretty decent car. Maybe I'll go that route or maybe I'll visit the Kia dealership that isn't all that far from my house. Regardless, I'll probably have this whole mess figured out by the end of the month.

Ray Musto Gets Raided...This story is all over the news (including HERE). In a way this is kind of sad: the Feds are now doing what voters in this areas should have done years ago, namely weeding out the self-serving politicians that believe they had an entitlement to public money. I don't know Ray Musto, but I do know this: when the FBI comes to your house with a search warrant, then they at least think that maybe you're implicated in something.

This Past Week...has been long. I was in Hartford yesterday, so that made for a 13 your day. I also have tons of things to try and accomplish today, none of which are getting done while I sit here any type this. On that note it's away I go to earn a living.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Celebrating" The Confederacy

It was reported in multiple news outlets recently that Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell issued a proclamation designating April as "Confederate History Month" without referencing, in any fashion, the very reason for the existence of the Confederacy in the first place: the grossly immoral institution of slavery.

Well it appears that the governor's plan went askew, as people did notice the omission and the reaction was not positive. As a result, the proclamation has been amended. See story link HERE. As quoted from the governor's office and referenced in the article:

"The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed."

The revised proclamation has the following additional text:

(slavery) "was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders."

What, you think so? As I noted in a comment on NEPArtisan's blog, not referencing slavery when discussing the Confederacy is like not mentioning the Holocaust when talking about NAZI Germany. Make no mistake about it:
  • The Confederacy's claim of "states rights" as an excuse to do whatever the hell it wanted was conceptually repeated by the NAZI Party in their unraveling of the Weimar Republic.
  • The actions of Confederate soldiers were no more honorable than the actions of the Wehrmacht. German soldiers fought to maintain Hitler's evil regime; Confederate soldiers fought to maintain Jefferson Davis' evil regime. "Protecting their homeland" you say? Well then you can make the same argument about the Gestapo I suppose.
  • The reason for existence of the Confederacy, which boils down to the notion that white people are better than black people and therefore have a God-given "right" to own them like livestock, is no more noble than Hitler blaming the Jews for every ill that befell Germany.
In the final analysis, apparently Governor McDonnell was hoping that the Revisionist History Fairy would be visiting Virginia and somehow make people forget about that little detail called "slavery" and instead have us all believe that Confederate soldiers were just a bunch of patriots who whistled Dixie as they fought to protect their farms from the "evil" federal government. Well guess again. There are few things more evil than the notion that some humans are equivalent to livestock, so there is at least some comfort here in knowing that the governor's best laid plans have gone asunder.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

And Who Says The Federal Government Never Gets It Right?

Score one for the Feds, with their absolutely correct decision not to allow I80 to be turned into a toll road. Story link HERE. This was a bad idea for many reasons, including...

...it does nothing to but encourage continued waste and duplication between PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission.
...I80 is a critical transportation link across the state, particularly in Central & Western PA; you basically can't get around in some parts of rural PA without hoping on I80.
...this would mean that there would be no non-toll route between eastern & western PA.

Now Gov. Rendell & the do-nothing Legislature have to start earning their paychecks to come up with a solution to highway maintenance that doesn't involve us paying for something we already pay for.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lazzy Blogger

I occasionally go through these fits where I write constantly. Those are easy to identify because there will be two or sometimes even three postings on a given day. Scarier still is the fact that I often have even more stuff that I've written that I don't post. Like some kind of over-board junkie though, I go through those phases and then it becomes more difficult to write for a few days. Such as been the case lately, as I've not been as motivated to pound away at the keys. Not a good idea.

Why? Do I feel some compulsion to grace the world with my musings? Do I actually take what I do here THAT Seriously? Hell, am I even that good at this anyway?

The above are perfectly reasonable questions, and as luck would have it I have perfectly reasonable answers.

The "why" question is pretty easy to answer. In some bizarre way I feel like a power-lifter trapped in Woody Allen's body, like a dancer reincarnated in the body of someone with two left feet, like Eric Clapton with his hands chopped off. I have the heart for expression, but not necessarily the equipment to pull it off. No bother though, as this has never been about being good at writing, observing or sharing thoughts. Like a good American, this is about me. More specifically, the act of writing this nonsense helps me sort out my own thoughts on the topics that are on my own mind. The act of expressing myself in this "public square" enforces a kind of righteous discipline that compels me to actually think about that I am thinking about. It helps to create order out of sheer chaos. Yes, despite what you may think, the mostly disorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian sh*t I write here actually have a 1000 times the clarity of the actual thoughts running through my head at any given time.

This is, in a very real sense, a kind of therapy. That's why I feel the compulsion I suppose.

Now I think this blog has about 559 postings. I also have approximately 61 pages of material from MySpace and Yahoo 360. I also have notebooks full of stuff. The point? I guess it's that this doesn't represent a recent development in my life. Hell, I've always been writing nonsense in one form or another. It's just now the technology and my intestinal fortitude have both evolved to the point where it can take this form.

That's the "why" & the public compulsion part. Now on to the other questions.

Q: Do I take what I do THAT seriously?
A: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that I seriously enjoy writing (although I would enjoy not making quite so many typos). No in the sense that I don't have any illusions about how meaningful it is to anyone outside of me. You know what? That's okay. One of the true strokes of genius I have had in my life centers around the notion that I don't have to care what other people think...I don't let others define me...I define me. I bought this ticket, I get to ride this ride. Damn, if I only could have figured that out in high school.

Q: Am I even good at this anyway?
A: Honestly I don't think it matters. What does matter is that I enjoy this, and in life if you can find one or two things you can enjoy that...

1. Aren't illegal or immoral
2. Aren't known carcinogens

...then I think they are probably worth doing.

On a final note, ladies and gentlemen, Mr David Gates:


Monday, April 5, 2010

iPad Mania




All of the hullabaloo (wow...I must be old, as I used "hullabaloo" in a sentence) surrounding the iPad reminded me of this classic Berke Breathed cartoon. I actually bought one of the Bloom County compilation books just so that I could take this page out and laminate it for my desk at work.

"Bananamanager"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Kind of Proust Questionnaire

  • Your most marked characteristic? Curiosity
  • The quality you most like in a man? A firm handshake and the ability to look you in the eye (for me it's "eye", as I can't see through both at the same time)
  • The quality you most like in a woman? Compassion
  • What do you most value in your friends? That they give a crap on those rare occasions when I need someone to give a crap
  • What is your principle defect? A limited attention span
  • What is your favorite occupation? Working in the yard
  • What is your dream of happiness? Living on the beach
  • What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? Being falsely accused and convicted of a crime
  • What would you like to be? Content...and about ten pounds thinner
  • In what country would you like to live? A warmer version of Sweden (where people spoke English)
  • What is your favorite color? Dark red
  • What is your favorite flower? Lilac
  • What is your favorite bird? The Cardinal
  • Who are your favorite prose writers? I don't think I have one
  • Who are your favorite poets? Emily Dickinson & Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Unless Bill the Cat counts, I don't have one
  • Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? I don't have one
  • Who are your favorite composers? Lennon & McCartney, Difford & Tilbrook, David Gates, Anderson & Ulvaeus
  • Who are your favorite painters? Monet, Leonardo da Vinci
  • Who are your heroes in real life? Anyone serving overseas in the military
  • Who are your favorite heroines of history? Mother Teresa (does that count as history?)
  • What are your favorite names? Garrison, Katherine, Kay
  • What is it you most dislike? Peanuts and peanut butter
  • What historical figures do you most despise? Hitler & Stalin
  • What event in military history do you most admire? Gen. William T. Sherman
  • What reform do you most admire? The Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • What natural gift would you most like to possess? A photographic memory
  • How would you like to die? Preferably never...but if I have to, on my feet
  • What is your present state of mind? Mildly calm
  • To what faults do you feel most indulgent? That sounds almost contradictory
  • What is your motto? Life is a journey