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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hunting

Today is the first day of deer hunting season in Pennsylvania, a day cherished by traditionalists and bemoaned by animal rights activists.  Where do I fit in the this spectrum?   


It's a dirty business.


Killing is a dirty business.  I don't care what you kill.  An enemy soldier, a fish, a white-tail deer...it's all dirty stuff.  I can't get myself to do it.  Now I have stepped on a bug, ran over a pigeon (it sounds like you are running over a plastic bag by the way), and probably inadvertently hit a squirrel every now and then.  All well and good, but I try not to kill things intentionally.  I just don't think I have the right to destroy something that's alive.


Contractions.


Noted that I eat meat, therefore I benefit from the killing of creatures.  Some are rather tasty to boot.  However I  would swear off beef forever if I had to actually kill the cow myself.  Same for chicken.  Fortunately I try not to eat much pork.  I know this is something of a contraction, but note above that while I think killing is a "dirty business", I don't call it an "unnecessary business".  There's a big difference.


Necessary Evil.


Personally I think modern hunting falls into the "necessary evil" department.  Deer herds that are not culled through hunting grow so large that individual animal starve, are more likely to get hit by cars (or literally exploded by trucks), or suffer painful deaths via transmitted disease.  So it is necessary, but it is a necessity we created as a society.  By destroying natural predators we have to fill the top-o-food-chain role ourselves.


Sport?


Let's not fall into the trap of calling hunting a sport though.  Why?  Well let's examine the combatants in this "sport":


The Deer - Has a brain that weighs about 0.23 kg.  Has some well developed senses, but basically relies on luck...and inept hunters...to survive.  Is armed with, well, nothing.


The Hunter - Has the most highly advanced brain (weighing in at about 1.4 kg) to ever to evolve on planet Earth.  Except when intoxicated.  Often times comes with advanced technology, such as GPS to navigate the environment.  Is armed with a high-powered weapon that shoots a metallic projectile at many times the speed of sound over a great distance.


Sure, shooting the gun requires some skill, but the deer basically doesn't stand a chance against an even average shot.  In fact, when you boil it all down to the basic stuff, a deer's only real defense is luck.  


A dirty, necessary business indeed. 
  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Playlists

The current edition of Rolling Stone is dedicated to the playlists of 50 famous "musicians" (quotes because some on the list aren't actually people that I consider musicians...i.e., someone who can play an instrument).  It's worth reading if you are so inclined (link to online edition HERE).


Anyway, it got me to thinking about my favorite playlists.  Now I don't like the whole Ipod/ITunes set-up, so I don't technically utilize playlists.  But the underlying concept is the same...lists of songs by category that I love.  So for reasons of my own entertainment (and because I've been so very serious over the past few months) here's a not-so-serious look at the blogger's favorite playlists.


Beatles Playlist
I love the Beatles.  I don't really have a favorite Beatles album, because they are all my favorite.  Anyway, here are my favorite 10.


1.  Something (George)
Probably one of the most beautiful songs ever written by a human.  Catch the version done by Paul McCartney during the Concert for George (link HERE).  If you are guy you are probably looking for someone like this...if you've already found her, well then you are blessed.


2.  Fool on the Hill (Paul)
During high school I thought this was written about me.  These days they call it "emo".  Back then it was just "feeling sorry for yourself".  It's still a touching song.



3.  Help (John)
Pure unadulterated Lennon, screaming for help.



4.  We Can Work It Out (Paul)
Eternal Paul optimism.  By the way, Paul didn't work it out...he ended up breaking up with the girl the song was written about (actress Jane Asher).


5.  The Long and Winding Road (Paul)
Forget McCartney's personal opinion on the subject...the Phil Specter version, complete with lush strings...is perfect.


6.  The Ballad of John and Yoko (John)
Almost funky.


7.  Got To Get You Into My Life (Paul)
Earth, Wind and Fire does a good cover of this (link HERE).


8.  Hey Jude (Paul)
Simply one of the best pop songs ever written.


9.  In My Life (John)
I've written about this before.  A guy in his early twenties wrote this lyric. That's an insane amount of genius.


10.  If I Needed Someone & While My Guitar Gently Weeps (George)
Just great George songs.




ABBA
Not everyone's cup of tea, but who cares?  I've been an ABBA fan since they first emerged from the real great white north.


1.  Fernando
This is actually a beautiful song.  Cool video too, with Benny playing an "ABBA" guitar.


2.  Hole In Your Soul
If I know you and you call my cell, this is the ringtone that plays.  Like a lot of ABBA tunes, the lyrics are somewhat regrettable, but the tune is great.


3.  Take A Chance On Me
The song screams "sing me!".


4.  Dancing Queen
Gay...okay I know it is.  Too bad.  I dig it.


5.  SOS
This song is down-right powerful.


6.  Knowing Me, Knowing You
One of the best break-up songs ever.


7.  The Name of the Game
"I was an impossible case...".


8.  Super Trouper
You can't go wrong with a song written about a spot-light.


9.  Ring Ring
Pure pop.


10.  Mamma Mia
My daughter Katrina once performed this during a talent show...made me proud.
(Note:  I HATE the song Money, Money, Money, so that would never be on any list I come up with.)




Rolling Stones
I can't come up with ten, as I am not a big Stones fan, but here are 5.


1.  Brown Sugar
A great song that manages to also be offensive to boot.  Score.  Great guitar lick, great rhythm guitar work by Keith. 


2.  Bitch
I hate the title (I don't like the "b-word") but the song rocks.  Another classic bit of Keith.


3. Happy
I love the whole "Made in the Shade" era.  Listening to Keith sing makes me feel good about my own lack of vocal skills.


4.  It's Only Rock-n-Roll (but I like it)
"If I could stick a knife in my heart...".


5.  Jump'n Jack Flash
Another great lick.




Supertramp
My favorite 5.


1.  Goodbye Stranger
The song builds like an orchestral piece.


2.  Oh Darlin'
I just love this song, ever since I first bought a copy of Breakfast in America.


3.  Dreamer
A Roger song that I like.


4.  Crime of the Century
There is just something about this song that I really like.  Maybe just the vocals.


5.  Breakfast in America
I think this is technically a polka.






Elton John
I could come up with 20.  Here are 10.


1.  Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Genius stuff.


2.  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
It's about looking forward, not back.


3.  Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Elton John + John Lennon = Genius squared.  Best Beatles cover, ever.


4.  Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Elton rocks.


5.  Philadelphia Freedom
Orchestral.


6.  The Bitch Is Back
There's that word again.  Anyway, great guitar work by Davey Johnston.


7.  Daniel
Touching.


8.  Rocket Man
A cousin to a certain Bowie song.


9.  Island Girl
The lyric is almost offensive.  Great song though.


10. Mamma Can't Buy You Love
Not everyone's cup of tea, but I dig it.    

Professional Influences

Only part of my job actually involves the act of "teaching"; in fact, if you were to break down a typically average period of time it would look something like this:


20% Actually teaching people how to do (or about) things
50% Leading my staff (coaching, solving problems, etc.)
25% Working on my own projects
05% Personal development stuff (reading, researching, etc.)


Now this isn't intended to be anything approaching a time-study, but is more just top-o-my head best guess.  


Anyway, of the stuff listed above, the part that takes the most energy for me, as a flaming introvert, is the teaching part.  While that part of the job only takes up about 20% of time time, it probably takes about 80% of my mental energy.  And for the record, I think I do it well.  If you know me, being my own worst critic, you'd know that the phrase "I think I do it well" is tantamount to high praise to give myself.  I also get generally good feedback from my audience members.


Speaking of feedback, I received an interesting bit of feedback after concluding a class on our firm's "Business Structure, Products & Services" this past week.  The feedback?  Well it was, and I quote:


List one Strength of the class:  "Steve's Personality"


I thought that was a gas.  I told a friend of mine something along the lines of "and all the while I didn't think I had one".  That was tongue-in-cheek, as I know I have a personality.  Somewhere.  In fact, I may have several laying around.


So how did I learn to do this part of my job?  Well I probably started to learn some of these skills back in high school, when I would act in school plays.  It was a way for someone who was painfully shy to be someone else for a period of time.  Seriously, I kid you not...acting was this outlet that gave me permission to do all the things I was mostly afraid to do in the real world...including talking to people (audience members) I didn't know.  The "real" Steve would never do that sort of thing.


Flash forward to my present employer, and early on in my career I would conduct enrollment meetings for employees who wanted to (or were being required to) participate in their employer-sponsored retirement plan.  That was just an extension of high school acting.  I would be quite and unassuming up until the point where the meeting would begin and then it was "zap", super extrovert.  After the session I would thank everyone for attending (or being forced to attend), answer a few questions and then take the next hour or so (if I had the time between sessions) to decompress.


It was that experience that helped me get my current job.  Well that and the fact that I had the opportunity meet the leader of the learning team in previous assignments.  That person, Jean M. (I'll save her the embarrassment) was one of those one in a thousand people who you work for that actually gets what you are about.  Jean saw talents in me that I didn't believe I had, which made getting my present job a lot easier than I thought it would be.  I learned quite a bit from Jean over the years.  What did Jean teach me?  Well the total list is too long to actually detail here, but I can point to two big things:

  1. Introverted Trainers...Jean, like me, is a flaming introvert.  She is also one of the best classroom facilitators I have ever seen in action.  If Jean could be such an extrovert in the classroom, then so could I.
  2. Be In Command...Jean was always in command of the audience.  When you were in class with Jean, your eyes were glued to her.  She was funny but serious at the same time.  She owned the classroom space.
I've tried to share these lessons with my own staff over the years, particularly #2.  If you do this kind of thing for a living, you have to own the classroom space when you are in front of the room.  Oh, and it doesn't matter who is in the audience.  I've conducted sessions for everyone from new hires to senior leaders.  My tact is always the same:  it's my classroom and during my class I own the space.

Another influence?  Well this one is kind of difficult to believe but it's true:  Jimmy Swaggart.  I would watch Jimmy Swaggart's show every Sunday, religiously (pun intended).  Being a good Catholic I didn't "buy" his message necessarily, but I was always enthralled by his style.  Watch him preach if you don't believe me.  Listen to his inflection.  See what he does with his hands (holding a Bible, for example) when he preaches.  Feel the emotion he puts into his sermons.  Watch how he prances about.  It's really incredible.  I know others probably have that act down just as well, but Swaggart is the man.  When I am really into a class I can feel myself channeling a little Jimmy Swaggart in that I'll start using my hands more, I'll go from practically yelling down to the softest of voices (just to really make a point) and I'll generally just start prancing among the people in attendance.

You simply can't make this stuff up.





Coda...Jean M. retired a few years ago, but I still stay in touch with her.  Why?  See above:  it's not very often you get to work with someone who really "gets" you.  She is still teaching me things.  As for Jimmy Swaggart, well I'd love to attend one of his revivals, although I don't see that happening in 80% Catholic NEPA any time soon.  That's a shame, as the man is a master of his craft. Watching him speak is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball...he's that good.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's The Things You Don't See

I was talking to a friend at work the other day, swapping stories that you don't ordinarily hear in casual conversation.  The details aren't all that important, and are not at all tawdry, but what struck me was that this person that I thought I knew had this story about their life that no one would have ever guessed.  I'm sure that they could have been thinking the exact same thing about me, but I doubt it (seriously, who actually ponders this sort of crap other than maniacs like me?).  


Anyway, the larger "story" here is that some of us seem to walk around in this kind of self-generated cloud, never seeing that for everyone you pass by there is probably a story that equals your own in terms of joy, horror, angst and general madness.  It's astounding when you...or at least I...actually sit and ponder it.


I suppose there is a learning in all of this, at least for me.  What that exactly is, well I'm not too sure.  It could be as simple as "stop being a chicken shit and don't feel sorry for yourself" or as deep as something that requires massive doses of poetry to fully understand.  Whatever it is, well it did may me think.  Okay, just about everything makes me think, but that's besides the point. 


Sometimes it's the things you don't see that are the most interesting.

Bread: She's The Only One

I love this song...


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dylan Thomas

One of my favorite poems that I recently re-discovered.




DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT
by Dylan Thomas


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Thanksgiving

"There are places I'll remember
All my life so some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all"


- John Lennon, In My Life




Most people don't realize that, while most of the Beatles songs are credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, in reality they actually didn't write very many songs together.  If you are a big Beatles fan you can almost always tell by the lyric which Beatle actually wrote the song*.  "In My Life" screams John Lennon, with it's touch of edgy angst that overlays a far deeper meaning. What's more, while the above lyric seems so very deep, it's worth noting that it was written by someone who, at the time, was barely in his 20's.


By the way, Johnny Cash does the best version of this song ever...better even than the original I think.  If you are so inclined you can listen t it HERE.


But that's enough Beatles analysis for the moment.  On to the topic at hand.


As someone who is going through a divorce, this is the time that is supposed to so very difficult, namely the holidays.  Understand that there is this enormous part of me that wants to throw the middle finger at the world and all  those who have told me "how hard this will be for you".  It feels as if I am some kind of pledge going through hazing.  I loathe the notion that I am so transparent, so predictable, so utterly "human".  I hate the notion that I am this kind of lab rat that eventually does find the cheese.  But then I know some people have told me "how hard this will be for you" out of loving concern.  Part of this particular holiday is the notion of giving thanks, so I'm just going to be thankful for all those who have cared enough to be concerned.


What precipitated these kinds of thoughts?  Well being a guy who is so tightly wound that you need a box cutter to get through my layers, it's not something that I consciously thought; rather, I woke this morning from a series of what I would call "melancholy" dreams.  Not nightmares, but just dreams that had this sad kind of tinge to them.  Maybe, just maybe, there is a part of me that says I don't have to throw the middle digit at the world.  I just have to be in the world, and in as much as I want to think of myself as unpredictable and unique, you can't escape the gravity that comes with reality.  The reality here is that this is a holiday and my life is now different.  


So this is Thanksgiving, and as I wrote the other day, I truly have a lot to be thankful for "in my life".  I do have people around me who care, and while some things in your life end, there are always new things that are beginning inside and around you.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll spare the angry throwing of middle digits and simply be thankful instead.  I've never been good at being angry anyway.  






(*) For you non-Beatles experts, there is a cheap-n-easy way to tell which Beatle actually wrote which song:  it's usually the one signing the lead vocals.  "The Long and Winding Road" is a classic Paul song, just as "Help" is a classic John song.  That noted, there are several song where there was some collaboration in the lyrics ("Getting Better" was written by Paul, but John contributed the line "can't get much worse").

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Road Apples, #81

Road Apples...I realized that I haven't deposited any road apples lately.  I guess it's a concentration thing in that I've had been concentrating on pretty much one thing at a time lately.  Good or bad?  I'm not sure.


Weight Loss...I've realized that, in losing some weight (see "Divorce Diet Plan") it comes off in some of the strangest places.  Case in point...my feet are smaller.  I swear they are smaller.  Slippers that were tight a month ago now can be wiggled off.  My neck, once massive in size, now looks like something you'd see on a baby pigeon.  


Coincidences...I was talking to a colleague at work the other day and discovered that she almost ended up working at the same place I did in 1986 as we both graduated from college.  I took the job and she ended up working in banking.  Six degrees of separation man, six degrees of separation.


John & Yoko Photos...The Everhart Museum in Scranton will be hosting an exhibit of photgraphs for "John & Yoko - A New York Love Story" The exhibit will open at noon on Friday, November 26th and continue on display through December 31st. Well worth seeing.


Sarah Palin...Just to maintain my status as a quasi-political blogger I guess I should make an actual political reference.  To that end, I'll simply say this:  I admire Barbara Bush & I agree with her that Ms Palin belongs in Alaska...just Alaska.

Speaking of Alaska...I am going to send a box of tissues to cry-baby Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller, who apparently lacks the huevos to simply admit that he lost to Senator Murkowski.  Cry me a river Joe, cry me a river.

Let the (budget) Battle Begin...Well the sides are lining up for the "mother of all budget battles" in Scranton, with the Scranton Times cozying up to Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and public safety union representatives engaging in a full-court "gloom and doom" press across the fruited Scranton plain.  This will get worse, far worse, before it gets better.  Personally I think both sides need to be stepping down the rhetoric and stepping up the negotiating.  NO ONE will win in a prolonged budget battle because neither side has a monopoly on the truth.  Union labor costs have to be reduced in Scranton, but so do administrative costs as well.  

Kitten...Note to my daughters & friends:  Okay, I agree.  It would be nice to have a kitten.  I think the "Steve should have a cat" people fall into two categories by the way:

1.  Those want a kitten to see & play with themselves (*cough* Becca *cough*).
2.  Those who think it will just keep my company.

Truth be told, both reasons work for me. Anyway, I will be "cat shopping" with oldest daughter Katrina this weekend.  Potential names include "Bill" (as in Bill the Cat) and Nermal.  I'm leaning towards "Bill", even if it is a girl.

Hartford...I was in Hartford for much of yesterday and today.  The business end was pretty successful; I taught some new employees about our organizational structure and spend 90 minutes talking to a group about how important it is to recognize and document customer complaints.  Mission accomplished, I think.  

Books I'm Currently Reading...I have two going at the moment:  the autobiography of Gary Dell'abate (Babba Booey from the Howard Stern Show) and just a general book of poetry.  Yes, I ago from Dylan Thomas to spanking midgets.  If anything I am certainly eclectic.

Font-gate...I apologize for the seemingly different fonts that appear on this particular entry.  If this service were not free I'd proclaim loudly that it wasn't worth the cost.

Monday, November 22, 2010

...and the Rock cried out no hiding place

The title refers to an old spiritual (you can listen to it HERE) that I first heard on a Science Fiction show (one written by an Atheist no less).  Complex, huh?


Complex.  Now there's a subject I know something about.  In point of fact I think I have the knack to make just about everything complex.  Maybe I should only have one resolution for 2011:  Simplify.


With that in mind I'm going to keep this...well...simple.


Here's to simplicity in all things.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thankful

Someone I know from work has been posting daily "I am thankful for..." notes on Facebook, which I think is just terrific.  It made me think of some of the things I'm thankful for, so why not list'm now?


First and foremost, I am thankful for my children, Katrina, Korin and Rebecca.  Smarter than I know, more perceptive than I give them credit for, they give me a purpose far greater than myself. And I love them very much.   


I am thankful for my family, especially my mother.  At age 46 I'm still learning things from mom.  


I am thankful that, through the miracle of modern technology known as Facebook, I have been able to reconnect in a way with my sister Michele. 


I am thankful to have been blessed with a small but caring group of people that I call friends.  I used to think that "friend" was something I was to someone else...now I know that it's a two way street.


I am thankful for the people I have worked closely with at the office over the years.  I receive far more from them than I could ever hope to give.  The fact that I can walk down a hallway in large office and have so many people say "hello" or "good morning Steve" never ceases to amaze me.  


I am thankful that I have a job that challenges me and allows me to grow as a person.  I started with my current employer when I was 24 years old, and it feels as if I've grown up there over the years. 


I am thankful for my health, with which I am truly blessed.  I hope one day to be spoiling the hell out of my grandchildren.


I am thankful for having discovered Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melville, Hunter S. Thompson, T.S.Eliot, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, Robert Burns and countless other authors with names I have forgotten.  It's amazing how much personal insight you can gain from words written by someone else.


I am thankful for the gift of music...not playing it, but simply being able to hear it. 


Last but not least, I am thankful to whatever Higher Power out there deems me worthy of a curious mind and a desire for personal growth.  I could not stand to live another minute on this Earth if the requirement were that I could not somehow do something every day to make myself better.    

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some Recent Feedback



It was kind of amazing for me really.  I've been somewhat "not myself" over the past few weeks and months, and while things have vastly improved, I had experience to get some rather raw feedback from a colleague on Monday who basically kicked me in my behind.  The message was something along the lines of (my words, not theirs) "people rely on  you to make decisions and make things happen, and over the past few weeks you haven't been doing that too well".  Now I'm probably exaggerating the extent of some of my failings, but the message was clear:  I wasn't myself and it was harming more than just my own innards.  Probably the more revealing part for me was the fact that people actually do rely on me.  I never really thought of myself that way.  Sure, I know that, for example, my daughters rely on me to some extent, but people at work?  Anyway, pretty much from the moment I receive that rather candid assessment I decided that the exile to my own private Elba had to end. 


Along those same lines, a very senior leader in the office with whom I've had to work with on an issue recently sent me the following in an email:  "...take care of yourself.   There are a lot of people who need you to do that all around you.... ".  Again, I guess I never really thought of myself as being someone who people actually relied on and needed, at least not professionally.  The person who wrote that to me didn't have to...they have tons of responsibility and little time for encouraging me...but never the less it must have been pretty apparent that I needed the lift. 


The moral in all of this?  I guess in part it's the fact that you never really do understand how people perceive you until you stop being that person, even if it's for a short period of time.  Who you are...who I am...somehow matters in some strange sort cosmic of way.  I'm sure that this spate of life's challenges will throw more monkey wrenches my way, but at least now I have the benefit of some outside perspective.  


Lessons learned indeed.  




PS...As you can tell I am a very big Ralph Steadman fan, which is something of a requirement for just about anyone who has ever seriously read Hunter S. Thompson.  One of these days I have to get something of his framed.  I do have lots of wall space to decorate.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Knowing When to Hold & When to Fold

For the record, I don’t play cards. Hell, I don’t even play the lottery. About the only games I do play involve the Xbox 360 and something called the “First Person Shooter”, a genre of games best suited to 13 year old boys and psychopaths. Oh, and I’m 46.


Anyway, it seems that the Lackawanna County Prison Board consists of some players, as they apparently have decided to stop holding and start folding, at least as far as the county prison administration is concerned. I am referring specifically to the article in today’s Scranton Times (link HERE) where it is noted that county prison warden Janine Donate has apparently resigned her position…or was asked to resign her position.


Is this right? Is this fair?


Well “right” is a subjective term, least as far as politics are concerned. This is, by the way, as much about politics as it is anything else. This firing has some of the stink found during the whole Iraq prison scandal, you know where the sergeants got jail time, but the generals got to walk. While Ms Donate is organizationally far above a sergeant, the fact remains that the generals…in this case the prison board members…get to walk. That’s a shame.


The greater shame will be if the departure of Ms Donate is somehow intended to be a kind of deflection from the real mess at the county jail. What real mess? Clearly there are problems at the facility, as one nearly vegetative former prisoner proves. Also and as I’ve noted on several occasions, the banishment of Father Pickard from the prison (conveniently after he warned the administration that a certain prisoner was in physical danger), in a position he held for nearly a quarter of century, is definitely a red flag that things stink behind bars. Make no mistake about it: Father Pickard spoke far too much truth to a group of administrators who prefer a squishy version of the truth. Unfortunately a human skull isn’t so squishy when it is being stomped on.


In my opinion, probably the biggest impediment to real progress at the county jail lies with the board itself. They, as the functional equivalent of a corporation’s board of directors, are ultimately responsible for what happens in the jail, not just Warden Donate. That accountability can not and should not be deflected by the departure of anyone below them. I’m not sure what by-laws govern the naming of board members, but perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at who is really running the Lackawanna County prison.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(David) Baker Street

"Windin' your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well another crazy day
You'll drink the night away
And forget about everything"


- Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty (from the album "City to City")




The legal saga of former Scranton Housing Authority Director David Baker is apparently coming to a head.  Scranton Times article linked HERE.  You can read the article for all the details, so I'm not going to be repetitious.  No, I have another ox to gore here:  namely the potential sentence.


Before I get to that, I should offer the following disclaimers:  


Mr Baker is presumed to be innocent, and nothing I say here implies otherwise.


I've never met Mr Baker, so nothing I say here is indicative of him being a bad person.  For all I know he is a wonderful, all be it well-connected, person.  


Disclaimers noted, here's my beef:  Apparently the charges Mr Baker is pleading to have a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.  This is for someone originally accused of stuff such as fraud, bribery and witness influencing.  Nasty, nasty stuff.


I know, a year in the pokey is nothing to sneeze at, and hell I don't have an extra 5G's laying around, so I can't really complain.  Well, actually I can.  Here's why:  if you are caught with 280 grams cocaine (not selling it...simply having it) the federal minimum sentence is 5 years in jail (citation HERE).  


Ponder that for a moment.


Try and blow your mind away with 28 grams of crack (for those of your not familiar with the metric system, 28 grams is not a lot of stuff) and you must go to jail for 4 years longer than someone who allegedly engaged to fraud, bribery and witness influencing.  Oh, and this nefarious stuff involved public money.


I'm not trying to minimize the harm that drug use can cause.  My point is that authorities have a tendency to minimize the harm of white collar crime, especially when that crime involves messing with my (and your) tax dollars.  Put another way, cause personal harm and you go to jail for 5 years; cause harm to the public trust and mis-use public money and the penalty is 80% lower. 


The system is, quite frankly, messed the hell up.  Anyone in a position of authority who is found guilty of these kinds of crimes is doing far more harm in totality than any crackhead holding 28 grams.  The crackhead has a reach as far as his/her spindly arm can extend; the white collar criminal has a reach that extends far beyond his/her grasp.  Why the difference?  I think it's because our society has a preference for the clean, the tidy, the influential and the connected.  All of those things describe a typical white collar criminal, while none of them probably describe the average crackhead.  Drug abusers are not clean, they are often unkempt, they can't even influence their own behavior (let alone others) and the only connections they have are usually to their dealers.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Separated At Birth?

First we have Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church (I know...most Baptists probably hate that reference)...



Then I discovered actor Angus Scrimm from the 1979 movie Phantasm...



For the record I despise the actions of Phelps and his motley crew.  No family of a fallen soldier should ever have to put up with the antics of this group.  These families gave their all...their own flesh and blood...and yet this group is allowed to stick a hot poker into the fresh wounds of the grieving.  It's nothing short of shameful and disgusting.


Thanks for Justin Vacula's blog for bring this thought to mind in the first place.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beware of Bloggers on Angst

I wrote the other day about all the stuff I've been writing furiously over the past two months.  How bad was this?  It was a daily ritual.  I'd feel some level of angst over something...it didn't matter how big or small...it didn't matter what it was...and I'd instinctively reach for the keyboard.  The next step was to pound out whatever was in my head in an almost Hunter Thompson-esque mescaline & ether fueled rage.  It would literally fly from my toxic neurons to my fingertips, as if there was some kind of sewer line connecting the two.  Some of it went into private blogs, some of it went into documents that I would type, print and save in my special "angst" folder, ever at the ready.  None of it was ever used for anything.  All of it was so very, very dysfunctional.  It was all so very raw.


Almost all of it has been deleted, shredded or discarded.  "Almost" because in looking at the sum of it over the past few days, there were bits and pieces that made some sense.  That's been saved.  The rest of it ended up becoming destroyed bits/bytes or little scraps of paper in an anonymous garbage can I found in my travels.  Anyone emptying the trash in this undisclosed location...provided that they had the interest & some scotch tape...would be in for some interesting reading.  Luckily my name isn't on any of it.


Am I ashamed of this behavior?  Not really.  I sure as sin would not be writing about it now if I were, that's for sure.  


No, there is a lesson in this for me, and probably others also predisposed to angst-fueled writing jags.  The lesson?  Writing "it" down can be a form of therapy, but it can also be an exercise in illusion.  I wasn't writing to understand my feelings; I was using to try and somehow empty them.  That was the illusion:  they are still here.  Writing furiously simply made me feel worse, not better.


I still write about stuff that I'm feeling, good or bad.  But it's more measured now.  I don't react and write.  I think and write.  More important than that?  I understand that feelings are to be felt, not emptied onto a page and somehow wished into oblivion.    

Saturday, November 13, 2010

8 Lessons

I'm sitting here thinking about some of the lessons I've learned over the past few days, weeks and months.  Granted, "learned" doesn't necessarily mean the same as "applied", but that's one of the lessons I suppose.  I'm also not going to claim that I'm done with some of the tough learning that's going on in my life; hell, the best (or the worst) may yet be to come.


So without further delay, here are the top 8 things I've learned recently.  Some are repetitions to other things I've written, but this is my therapy session anyway (but never the less vicariously enjoy if you are so predisposed to do so).


One:  You Can Only Analyze Certain Things [work in progress]
I'm an analytical kind of guy.  I love to take a problem, dissect it, turn it inside out, think about it constantly and just generally "fix" it.  That's great when the issue at hand actually has a solution.  The Achilles heel for me has been lately that I attempt to apply these analytical skills to things that have more to do with emotions than anything else.  What happens when you do that?  Does the word "torture" ring a bell?  This has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn, and it definitely a work in progress.


Two:  The Truth Hurts...But Not As Much the Alternative [learned]
The longer you hide from reality, the harder it becomes to re-join it.  Lesson definitely, 1000% learned.


Three:  Writing Only Takes You So Far [learned]
I would write pages about how I've been feeling.  Every granular detail.  Now for a 'normal' person that's a good thing.  For me, it went to an extreme.  I would literally feel something and immediately write it down in complete, raw detail.  It was almost as if I was trying to dump feelings onto a page so that I didn't have to feel them any more.  That doesn't work. In fact it became counter productive.  Over the past few days I've probably shredded 30 pages of stuff.  I don't need reminders, as the important stuff remains where it belongs, inside.


Wait, am I violating this lesson already?


Four: Talk About It [work in progress]
I've only recently started to talk about things that have been bothering me for nearly a decade.  How healthy is that?  Seriously, major crap in my life that I've kept bottled up, completely to myself, for years.  I'm wondering why I am alive to even write this.


Five:  "Alone" Is A Relative Term [learned]
You can feel alone in an apartment or in a crowd.  The feeling is pretty much the same. What's important is that you are okay with yourself.


Six:  When The Dam Breaks, There Is A Flood [learned]
I went through years where I purposefully would think through all the things I wanted to change, but like Walter Mitty, my thoughts were synaptic than anything else.  Once I decided to make some changes, it really just sort of poured out.  All that was required was that one little crack.


Seven:  The Timing Is Never Good [learned]
Trying to 'market time' your life is futile.  When you need to make big changes in your life there is never usually a good time.  


Eight:  Your Kids Are Smarter Than You Think [learned]
Mine definitely are, and if you have them, yours are too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waterloo, Post Script

 
I wrote the other day about facing something of a personal Waterloo, and since that was so deep, meaningful and utterly filled with angst, I'm feeling compelled to write a follow-up.

Yes, the battle was enjoined and has concluded.  What was important here was that I faced the situation head-on and spoke my peace.  I did both.  Did I win?  No, not really in the most literal sense of the word; in fact, you could argue that I technically lost, at least at over the short-term. But in a bizarre sort of way I won just by getting through it.  What's more, I learned a few lessons along the way.

One of these lessons I described to a friend in the following manner:  problems in life are an awful lot problems with your teeth...the more you put them off, the more the painful and expensive the treatment becomes. 


Another lesson? Honesty is a powerful, powerful tool.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thought for Today

"Most people can look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and a collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives."

- Frederick F. Flack

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lennon and McCartney


There is a wonderful comment made by Paul McCartney that I heard once in an interview that I was thinking about today.

During the late 60's, Paul and John were engaged in some epic musical battle while creating the modern-day classical music that we all know and love.  In the heat of the battle Lennon looks at McCartney, pushes his famous granny glasses down his nose just a bit, and says "it's me Paul" (or something like that). 

What's so remarkable?  Simply put, that's love.  It was Lennon's way of saying "Hey, it's me.  Cut the bull$hit and be real with me.  I know you and you know me."  It's kind of remarkable.  How many of us have a relationship were we could say all that with just a little gesture?  How many of us can say we have someone in our life...friend, brother, sister, spouse or lover...who could do the same thing for us?

That's what I'm shooting for in life.