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

Monday, January 31, 2011

I Despise NEPA Winters

I love the change of the seasons.  Just when you have had it with hot summer days we start to get cool Fall days.  All good.  Spring is wonderful with warmer temperatures, flowers blooming, rainstorms, and just this feeling of renewal.  Summers are wonderful, giving you opportunities to do just about anything outdoors.

Then you have Winter.

I am slowly but surely growing to despise Winter.  Of course falling yesterday evening on some ice put a kind of exclamation point to that thought.  Note though that it was an exclamation point, with the whole rest of the sentence in tact. That sentence basically says "Warmer Climate!".

Now I don't mind a little bit of Winter.  I just get to the point in, say, January/February when I've just had enough.  It seems as if the month will never end.  It's so cold and stark outside.  So very sterile.

As I write this it is the end of January and I'm nursing some injured ribs, courtesy of falling on some ice.  A combination of time, a heating pad and the judicious use of Vicodin will no doubt get me though this little set-back.  That noted, I'm looking forward to the day, perhaps some time into the future, when I'm living in a climate where a "cold Winter day" is about 40 degrees.  Now that would be nice.  Very nice.

Time for more heating pad.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

If the U.S. has been so concerned about reforms in Egypt...

...why is it that we are only now hearing the President talk about the subject?  Oh, riots and such.  Egyptian society has been operating under more or less martial law for something like 30 years now and all of a sudden we're now talking about human rights?

Now I can't just blame President Obama, as we have had Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush (mark II) who are just as guilty of supporting the dictatorship of Mubarak.

One last comment on this subject:  the Christian Science Monitor reports that Vice President Biden has described Mubarak as not being a dictator.  Story link HERE.  Now I like Joe Biden, I really do.  Heck Joe Biden is from Scranton so he is practically my "homeboy", but he his dead wrong on this subject.

Guam is a small island

Watching The Bachmann's reinterpretation of U.S. history reminded me of this. Never let it be said that either party has a lock on stupidity.




The scariest part? He was so serious when he was saying this.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenger Disaster

In memory of the heroes who gave their lives to further science & exploration.  I remember vividly sitting in my apartment at school and seeing this very clip on television.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Learnings & Observations

A mildly introspective rant on some things I've learned about myself, life & other stuff in general over the past few months, for no particular reason other than the fact that I've paid for this URL.

John Mellencamp is right
"an honest man's pillow is his peace of mind"

I think too much
I really do, but fortunately there is an antidote:  just start doing.

I always assume the best intentions in people
This is both a blessing and a curse.

I am steeped in Catholic guilt
Next to Jewish guilt, Catholic guilt is one of the most powerful forces in the galaxy.  Right up there with gravity, black holes and cosmic strings.

I am inherently positive
That is when I am left to my own devices.

I am not a writer
I do love to write though.  There is a difference.

I own 5 books of poetry
I own zero books on sports.  Oh, and I love ABBA.  And I am straight.  Go figure.

I've re-discovered National Public Radio
This is what happens when you let your Sirius subscription run out.  This has been a good move.

My daughters amaze me
I can't believe that I actually fathered such wonderful children.

We need a modern day version of Hunter S. Thompson
Where are the modern-day writers who can make politics actually interesting?  Chris Mathews annoys me.  Glenn Beck is a cry-baby drama queen.  

Sometimes the answer is only about 50 feet away
You just need to be open to it.

My capacity to learn
I have an almost infinite capability to learn.  This is a good thing for a 46 year old.

I have "sorta" rediscovered the concept of Faith
I'm not claiming any tent-revivals here, but I have seen & experienced some things that have given me pause.

Fear
Always be skeptical of fear.  Always.  Respect it, but be skeptical.

And on the 8th Day
God created frozen pizza (for middle-aged men who live alone).

Are these the good old days (& we just don't know it)?
Maybe Carly Simon was on to something.

Languages & Music
Are two things I wish I had an aptitude for but don't.

zSXxx65ttnm 
My cat sat on my keyboard and typed the above...I swear, it's true.  This is his contribution to NCFE.  Thanks JeanLuc!

Local bloggers
There don't seem to be many local (Scranton/Lackawanna County) bloggers.  That's a shame.

Exercise
Is something that makes you healthy both mentally and physically.  It's like dietary fibre:  all good.

Old NCFE Postings
I tried to re-read some of my postings from the October/November, but it was pretty difficult stuff to get through.  That noted, none of it is getting deleted.

Facebook
The Facebook folks apparently have an algorithm that determines the order that your friends appear.  Just goes to show you that there is no such thing as "random" in the universe.

I like what I do for a living
I get paid to do stuff that's sometimes down-right enjoyable.  And I work with some mighty talented folks. Score!

Partners
I am lucky in that I have some outstanding healthcare professionals that have helped me maintain a healthy life.

I wonder
How my sister would feel about a visit this summer?  Perhaps a D&T day?

Introspection
Is some damn healthy stuff.  Just like dietary fibre & garlic.

The Blues
I think I am now qualified to sing the Blues.  I just lack the actual talent to literally sing the Blues. Oh, and there is the whole "being a white guy" part.

I usually sleep well these days
Without much in the way of augmentation either.

The Bachmann Speaks, Again

You simply can't make this stuff up.



Please, someone defend this twit.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Bachmann Speaks

Taken directly from Minnesota Republican (& self-proclaimed Tea-Bagger leader) Michele Bachmann's alternative SOTU speech responsel:

And, the President should repeal ObamaCare and support free market solutions like medical malpractice reform and allow all Americans to buy any healthcare policy they like anywhere in the United States.

You can read the full text of her speech HERE.

Let's parse this one out.

"...repeal ObamaCare".
"ObamaCare"?  The system proposed by the President would require people to buy PRIVATE health insurance.  Maybe this should be "AetnaCare" or "CIGNACare", or just "MegaInsurerCare" because in the end, it is the PRIVATE insurance companies that get bigger here in the President's plan; there isn't any new healthcare delivery system called "ObamaCare" in the legislation passed last year.

"...support free market solutions"
We have had decades of "free market solutions" for heathcare and yet medical inflation has averaged something like 12% per year. Oh, it must be all the lawyers fault...

"...medical malpractice reform..."
You mean the thing that adds MAYBE 5% (my citation says 2%, but I will be conservative) to the nation's healthcare bill?  Now I agree that there is a dire need for reform in this area, but I'm not STUPID ENOUGH to believe that eliminating some malpractice suites or limiting damages will actually make a dent in medical costs.  By the way, don't throw the "but...but...defensive medicine" argument at me, because I'll ask for proof that doctors over prescribe/test solely as a result of malpractice threats.

"...allow Americans to buy any healthcare policy..."
This is the crux of what The Bachmann is saying, namely that it shouldn't be your employer that provides healthcare coverage for you, and it shouldn't be the government.  No, it should be YOU that buys it as an individual.  As I have said many times, I'd like to see the person among us who is better at negotiating premium costs better than, say, the Human Resources department at IBM.  Anyone here think that they have MORE LEVERAGE than a company paying millions for employee coverage?  Yet those same companies with all of their buying power haven't been able to keep medical inflation in check.


What The Bachmann is actually pitching here is a plan to get employers out of the healthcare benefit loop.  That should scare the crap out of you, because if "MegaInsurance" has been successful in ripping off the IBMs of this world, just think what they will be able to do to you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quasi-Obscure ABBA

Okay, I am a straight male who also happens to really dig ABBA.  I know, this is not the most typical of situations, but so be it...I simply appreciate catchy music.  Anyway, here is one of my favorite ABBA songs, one that you don't really hear all that often.

"Hey Hey Helen"

Rational Tea-Bagging Thought

This article caught my eye on Monday.

Tea Party members agree that everything is on the table.

Being a fairly conservative guy when it comes to fiscal matters, I generally agree that the government spends too much money.  As a realist & non-politician, I don't understand the logic of trying to reduce the size of government while making vast swaths of it off-limits to the budget ax.

Am I suggesting that our soldiers be denied equipment, pay, penicillin shots, etc.?  Hell no!  What I am suggesting is that within a defense budget of $700 billion, there is bound to be areas that can be cut, made more efficient and the like.

Am I suggesting that defense work be outsourced to the Halliburton's of this world?  Hell no!  But we need to talk about whether or not, for example, we need all of these over-seas military bases.  We need to talk about which weapons systems are actually wanted and needed, vs. those that are simply the pet projects of some member of Congress.

If we seriously expect entitlement spending to be open to budget reductions, then the whole budget should be open as well.  No more sacred cows.  No more political posturing ("I am for a strong defense!  Senator Doe is not because he wants to deny our soldiers the equipment they need!").

Monday, January 24, 2011

Venturing Out

It is a balmy minus 3 degrees outside this morning in my part of Scranton-land.  Inside it was a little more tolerable 59 degrees, although that necessitated turning on the space heater for a a bit.  The heating situation where I currently reside is "complex"; suffice to say I dress warm.

Soon though it's time to venture out and start the day.

I was thinking about this notion of "venturing out" to go start my car a few minutes ago (yes, I did just go out and start it) and it occurred to me that this sort of thing...a cold morning and having to go out...can also be something of a metaphor for changes in life (something I know something about).

Yes, sometimes no matter how cold it is outside you have to venture out to get your day going.  Simply huddling inside under a blanket may sound appealing, but in the grand scheme of things even the most timid eventually come to the conclusion that it is all just a waste.  You may be warm, but it's a coma-esque kind of warmth.

When you fail to venture out you certainly could be wasting your time.  Things will not be done.  New things will not begin, old things may not be concluded and the vast majority of our life's work that resides in the middle of things will remain stagnant.  All for some sense of temporary comfort?

Yes, it's pretty cold outside now, at least physically, but when I think about venturing out I am reminded of, how over the past five months, I've done a lot of venturing out. Sometimes it was painfully cold (metaphor inserted), but somehow I managed to not turn back and hide under the covers.  Cold yes, but no regrets.

Here's to venturing out...be it on cold days or in cold lives.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Road Apples, #89

Weekend...This as been a "work on stuff I have been putting off" weekend, and my TV/computer/office room has the assorted files and papers laying around to prove it.  How bad is it?  Well I had to break out a portable table just to handle some of the stuff.  The good news is that I'm more than half way done with the big project I have been working on; the bad news?  I really put this one off for far too long.  Sometimes I think that I put myself through far too much stress via procrastination.

Reading...I recently finished reading the autobiography of Babba Booey, which frees my time up for some other books.   "Other books" means three that I'm now working on...

The Shaker Adventure (Margaret Fellows Melcher; via of Ms Rivers)
Life (Keith Richards; via brother Chris)
Create a Guilt-Free Life (Karen Bouris; via Amazon.com)

This is in addition to my normal load of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Scranton Times, Mental Floss, PC World and Fast Company.  And I wonder why I've never gotten around to learning how to play guitar.

By the way, I highly recommend the Babba Booey book to anyone who is even a passing fan of Howard Stern.  The book is a very easy read and is remarkably funny at times.

Sirius...Speaking of Howard Stern, I've cancelled my Sirius subscription.  Call it a victim of economizing.  Well you can also call it a victim of practicality as well, since most of my longer distance driving is done via rental car and most rental cars these days have satellite radio.  That, coupled with my five minute daily commute means that it just wasn't worth paying $14/month to listen to just Howard Stern.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted and Babba Booey to ya'll.

Blogger Geek...I had the distinct privilege of having a bite to eat yesterday with NEPA's most popular local logger, NEPArtisan.  It's a damn shame Tom & I aren't in charge of the world (or at least just Scranton), because we certainly think we have all the answers.  Well I suppose that goes with the whole blogging thing.  Anyway it's always a pleasure to talk to this young man...he is going places, literally and figuratively.

Fingers Crossed Department...I'm keeping my fingers crossed for oldest daughter Katrina, as she is working on some post-graduation employment plans.  I am so proud of my girls!

Scranton Times...I mentioned the other day that I have no problem with the local newspaper charging for web content access.  That's still true mind you, even though it took me a just a week to use up my monthly quota of 10 "free" article views.  I do wonder though if the Scranton Times will continue to be able to charge what they do for website advertising, given the fact that their site hits will no doubt be decreasing by a fairly sizable clip.  I for one will not be linking to any more Times articles, which in and of itself should decrease Times website hits by at least one or two.

In the "I Don't Care" Department...Some random things I really don't care about...

...professional football in general & the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular
...idiots that manage to walk into shopping mall fountains & then cry lawsuit
...just about anything that psychotic representative Michele Bachmann does*
...local high school sports shows
...drunken school board directors who issue dramatic resignation statements**

(*) Although I will note that the best way to ensure a full 8 years of Barack Obama would be for the GOP to nominate Ms Bachmann for President.  A KKK Grand Dragon would stand a better chance of beating Obama than Bachmann does.

(**) How about just saying "I am a drunk, therefore I should not be on the school board" instead? For the record there is a reason why I personally don't drink.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bye Keith

MSNBC and it's new (part) owner Comcast have sacked Keith Olbermann's show.  Story link HERE.

I really couldn't watch Olbermann all that often.  While I agreed that some of his favorite targets needed to be exposed ("Bill O" and "Comedian Rush Limbaugh"), the show was, by and large, so blatantly partisan that it became almost predictable.  Republicans bad. Check.  Dick Cheney is mean.  Got it.  Can we have something new now?  On the flip side, Olbermann was not more extremest on the left than O'Reilly is on the right.

From a technical perspective I liked Olbermann's style.  Very conversational, sometimes very funny, always intellectual.  Olbermann is also a terrific writer (check out his tribute to his departed mother).  He is a very talented guy.

Why the sacking?  Olbermann's show was one of the highest rated on MSNBC, so it's not entirely clear that this decision was an economic one.  Given the new ownership interest of Comcast you have to wonder what's next.  I don't trust Comcast, not in the least...this reinforces that feeling.

YouTube Weekend

As I continue to hold "YouTube Weekend" hostage until Gort's return...



The video quality is a "D", but the song is definitely an "A".  Nobody makes music like this anymore.

For the record, there is a video of yours truly and my oldest daughter singing this...somewhere.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Scranton School District: Come Clean

I have a challenge for the Directors of the Scranton School District:

Identify every single relative (spouse, in-laws, children, grandchildren) of every single Director and administrator hired over the past 20 years.

Tell us, the people who pay 100% of the operating costs of the district, tell us how many people were possibly employed not because they were the best qualified but because of their connections.  Let's see if there is...or is not...a nepotism problem in the district.

Now I'm a realist, so I fully realize that the chances of this actually happening...that the SSD will actually come clean about "school district as employment agency"...are slim to none.  Perhaps this is something that The Scranton Times might be interested in pursuing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Repealing "Job Killing Obamacare"

Okay, so the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to repeal "job killing Obamacare".  Now what?  Well, basically nothing, that's what.  But I'd like to take a second to parse the phrase du jour in play.

"Job killing"...oh, this is because providing healthcare is supposed to harm small businesses and thus "kill" jobs.  I guess we have to thank the completely unbiased (ouch!  my nose just grew so long that it poked the wall in front of me) U.S. Chamber of Commerce for this bit of wisdom.  Look, there is no doubt that providing healthcare coverage is expensive, but what is the alternative?  The reality of this situation is that people need healthcare coverage.  It is a necessity in our society.  You can argue who should pay for it, but in the end the old Hell's Angels saying applies here:  "ass, grass or gas, nobody rides for free" (with apologies for the crude reference, but I am trying to make a point).

Why not take this to the extreme and get employers completely out of the business of providing healthcare coverage?  You know, I suspect that is probably the underlying desire of some in the ultra pro-business sector.  That is, in my estimation, a horrible idea for one simple reason:  I can't negotiate a better rate for coverage with CIGNA (for example), but my employer can.  I have zero leverage when it comes to talking price with the mega-insurance companies.  You have none too.  That's the dirty little secret of the individual healthcare coverage market.

"Obamacare"...Funny, but I think the only real alternative to requiring individuals to purchase PRIVATE healthcare coverage is to require the creation of GOVERNMENT bureaucracy around healthcare.  Based on the rhetoric you see coming from some fronts, you would believe that President Obama created some U.S. version of the British National Health Service, but the exact opposite is true:  the "reform" passed simply builds up the PRIVATE system of healthcare coverage in this country.  We all know how efficient and effective the PRIVATE system of healthcare coverage is these days.  (*cough* 12% annual healthcare inflation over decades *cough*)


Let's call this one like it is:  it's simply a political "gotcha" designed to appeal to a small sector of the electorate.  This posing by the U.S. House adds NOTHING to the real debate about the best way to deliver effective and efficient healthcare to Americans.  That's right:  Nothing...zero...zilch...nada.  If anything, it's just about creating a pedestal for Republican presidential candidates in 2012.

Yes, argue that the current bill is flawed, because it is in fact flawed.  But where is the alternative?  Simply pointing fingers and engaging in political sloganeering is nothing but an exercise in government at its very, very worst.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Medical Tests that Every Man Should Get

I saw this advertised on a TV commercial & looked it up.  Pretty useful stuff.

You can link HERE.


Get the Preventive Medical Tests You Need

Screening tests can find diseases early, when they’re easiest to treat. Talk to your doctor about which preventive medical tests you need to stay healthy.
 Body Mass Index
Your body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of your body fat based on your height and weight. It is used to screen for obesity. You can find your BMI by visitinghttp://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi.
 Cholesterol
Once you turn 35 (or once you turn 20 if you have risk factors like diabetes, history of heart disease, tobacco use, high blood pressure, or BMI of 30 or over), have your cholesterol checked regularly. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.
 Blood Pressure
Have your blood pressure checked every 2 years. High blood pressure increases your chance of getting heart or kidney disease and for having a stroke. If you have high blood pressure, you may need medication to control it.
 Cardiovascular Disease
Beginning at age 45 and through age 79, ask your doctor if you should take aspirin every day to help lower your risk of a heart attack. How much aspirin you should take depends on your age, your health, and your lifestyle.
 Colorectal Cancer
Beginning at age 50 and through age 75, get tested for colorectal cancer. You and your doctor can decide which test is best. How often you'll have the test depends on which test you choose. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need to be tested before you turn 50.
 Other Cancers
Ask your doctor if you should be tested for prostate, lung, oral, skin, or other cancers.
 Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be tested for gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, or other sexually transmitted diseases.
 HIV
Your doctor may recommend screening for HIV if you:
  • Have sex with men.
  • Had unprotected sex with multiple partners.
  • Have used injected drugs.
  • Pay for sex or have sex partners who do.
  • Have past or current sex partners who are infected with HIV.
  • Are being treated for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985.
 Depression
If you have felt "down" or hopeless during the past 2 weeks or you have had little interest in doing things you usually enjoy, talk to your doctor about depression. Depression is a treatable illness.
 Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm 
If you are between the ages of 65 and 75 and have smoked 100 or more cigarettes in your lifetime, ask your doctor to screen you for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is an abnormally large or swollen blood vessel in your stomach that can burst without warning.
 Diabetes 
If your blood pressure is higher than 135/80, ask your doctor to test you for diabetes. Diabetes, or high blood sugar, can cause problems with your heart, eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves, and other body parts.
 Tobacco Use 
If you smoke or use tobacco, talk to your doctor about quitting. For tips on how to quit, go to http://www.smokefree.gov or call the National Quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW.

YouTube Weekend

Still holding "YouTube Weekend" hostage until Gort's return.
****
Ahh the 80's, when hair was feathered and video directors tried to create "art".




Anyway, the song by Simon LeBon & company is pretty cool.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Road Apples, #88

In the Truly Scary Department...Researchers have determined that the pathogen that causes Mad Cow disease, the prion, can be transmitted through the air.  Story link HERE.  Prions are nasty little chunks of protein that are virtually indestructible (being resistant to high temperatures, radiation, etc.).  Maybe the Vegans are on to something.

Don't Retreat, Reload...So Sarah Palin officially reacts to the shootings in Arizona by whining that the media is picking on her.  A judge and a 9 year old child are dead (along with others).  People in critical condition.  And the greatest harm is to Sarah Palin?  Typical.  This is the same lady who quit being governor of Alaska because, in theory, of the media attention paid to her family.  This is the same family that she dragged out continuously on the campaign trail.  "Blood libel"?  Does she even know what the Hell that even means?  If she actually did I doubt she would have used the phrase in her video clip.  In case you are not sure what I'm talking about, read THIS definition of the term.  I've said it before and I will say it again:  Sarah Palin is a twit.

Anti-Nepotism Policy...The Scranton School District has an anti-nepotism policy that, apparently, doesn't prevent nepotism.  Maybe it actually does, but there are loop holes large enough to drive a truck through.  Here are my thoughts on the subject:

  • Is nepotism bad?  Yes, it is.  It's simply too tempting for leaders to use their power to promote their families at the expense of the public good.
  • Does this mean that potentially good candidates might not get a job if such a policy were actually in place & enforced?  Yes, it does.  But the solution is pretty simple:  if you have a family member who wants to work in the Scranton School District, then simply don't run for a District leadership position or don't work for the District.  There is no right to public employment.
  • Who is harmed?  Public trust.  How do we actually know that a particular candidate for a position is the best qualified when there may be over-riding personal/financial reasons in play on the part of those making the hiring/promotion decisions?
I'm not slamming any particular person in this blurb, but those holding a public office must uphold the highest possible standards of conduct.  That means sacrifice sometimes.  That noted...

Childish School Director...NEPArtisan covered this particular topic quite a bit, so I'll be a lazy blogger and simply re-direct to his blog for background (HERE). Here is my bottom line:  If a sitting School Board Director doesn't think a particular candidate for a position isn't the best qualified (or is violating a non-existent anti-nepotism policy), then that Director should simply vote NO for the personnel action in question.  Simply skipping out of the meeting is childish, and I am being kind.  In fact, I'll raise the bar just a bit more...any Director who simply skips out of a meeting rather than making a difficult vote should RESIGN.  School Directors have the positions they do because we need them to make decisions, not run away from making decisions.

The previous two blurbs have a common theme:  Public Service is an HONOR, not a right.

Are there Amish in China?...I'm just wondering after seeing commercials and advertisements all over the place for the "Amish fireplace".  Background information HERE.

Turn It On Again...is a great song by Genesis.  I did a little reading about the song and discovered that it is about someone obsessed with a TV news anchor.  That noted, and since I have "Morning Joe" on in the background, it seems fitting to end this post with the video clip, of course dedicated to my favorite television news person & media crush.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Scranton Times to Charge Fee for Web Content

Article link HERE.

The article outlines the fee structure, such as the fact that for $20 you can get a year's worth of on-line content, provided that you are a subscriber.  Not a subscriber?  That will cost you $7 a month.

Who will this cheese off?  I suspect that first and foremost, those who like to copy and paste Scranton Times content word-for-word into postings on a "certain message board" will most be highly upset.  After all, some of the individuals at that "certain message board" have stated that they are boycotting the Scranton Times, a fact that you wouldn't be able to tell based on all the content you see plastered all over the place.

As for my opinion, it's pretty simple:  I don't care.  Well, that's not entirely correct.  I suppose I care from the standpoint that I like to link to Scranton Times content here, but that's more of a convenience than anything else. I buy the paper most mornings on my way to work, so I'm going to get all the content I want anyway.  The reality here is that the Scranton Times owns the content that they create, so they are no obligation to give away any of it.  Newspapers do serve a greater public good, but let's not forget that they are also for-profit businesses as well.

So if this action upsets you, all I can say is this:  cry me a river.

If you run a business with the expectation that it will turn a profit, it's pretty reasonable to me that you would not want to give that product away for free.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Can't Read...

...the stories about the 9 year old girl who was shot in Arizona.  I just can't do it.  It's not for lack of intellectual curiosity or desire to stay informed, as I have both in abundance.  It's because the notion that someone snuffed out the life of a true innocent, a little girl who did nothing other than want to see her Congresswoman, is just horrifying in ways that I find distressing (at best) and nightmarish (at worst).  Being a father will do that to you.

I don't know if this has been floating in my head for a while, but I was talking to a good friend yesterday about hate.  Why do some people engage in hateful things?  Why are some people just knowingly cruel?  Why do something when you know that the main, targeted result will be someone else's pain?  I know, we all need to do difficult things in life, we all need to have difficult conversations with others.  We all cause some degree of pain for others.  That's the "contact sport" element of life.  But that's not what I'm talking about at this moment.  You don't bring a gun to a Congressional meet-n-greet without the notion in your head of causing pain.  It's so very alien.  I simply can't process that kind of feeling.

I'm not going to engage in a "talk radio is responsible" kind of argument.  Not going to do it.  Others, smarter (and dumber) than I can and will do that kind of stuff, and that's okay with me.  All I'll say is this:  maybe it's time to stop throwing the hate bombs, stop the finger pointing, and simply start changing behavior.  Compromise isn't a bad word, but vilifying someone simply because they disagree with you on some matter of political discourse IS BAD.

Enough on this.

Rest in peace Christina Green.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Neutering Literature, follow-up

Leonard Pitts, an African-American, also agrees that neutering classic works of literature is a mistake.

Leonard Pitts column, January 10, 2011.

Worth reading.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Neutering Literature

Every once in a while you see something in the news that really catches your eye.  THIS STORY did that for me.

Now if you are not inclined to click on the above link, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version:  a new edition of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" has been edited to replace the "N-Word" (also known as "nigger"...more on that in a moment) with the word "slave".  Maybe the idea here is to not offend readers, but I think it does the opposite.

Now is the word "nigger" offensive?  Yes, it is a very offensive word.  But the world is full of offensive words.  Is the intent here to pretend that this particular word doesn't exist?  Or that the word wasn't frequently used during the time when these works were created? 

To answer my own questions...

One need only listen to much of more urban music to hear the word in question used very frequently.  Clearly, kids these days know that this word exists.  Now whether they know that it is offensive...and why it is offensive...is probably another question.  Maybe it's not the works of Twain that we need to strike this word from...

and

This word was used very frequently during the time of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  That's a simple, basic fact.  

So why edit the word out?  I honestly don't know.  I simply don't buy the "not to offend readers" argument.  Maybe, just maybe, it's not the readers who are being protected.  Maybe it's the misguided sensibilities of adult editors that is actually being protected in this case.  Regardless, any time art is "edited" everyone should be offended.  How is this any different that putting a pair of shorts on a classical Greek sculpture

Editing a classic work of literature is wrong, regardless of the intent. Period.  End of story.


A final thought:  George Carlin once observed that there "are no bad words...there are bad thoughts...bad intentions" and I am inclined to believe him.  That's why I generally speaking shun the replacement of a certain word with "the N-Word".  I do understand how offensive that underlying word is, so I'm not going to over-use it, but let's not forget that it is just a word.  The world needs to pay more attention to intentions behind how this word is used and maybe less attention to its use in literature.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Learning to Crawl


It was 1984, and I was in my second year of college when The Pretenders album (back then they really were record albums) Learning to Crawl came out.  To this day it's one of my favorite collective pieces of modern popular music.  Like most great musical works (including Fleetwood Mac's Rumors or The Beatles' White Album), its creation was steeped in angst.  In the case of Chrissie Hynde the angst was driven by the deaths of two band members, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon.

What's so great about Learning to Crawl?  Well first you have to start with the title.  "Learning to Crawl", what does that mean?  Well when I think about it, it conjures up a state where you are so low that you can't even crawl.  In my limited life to date, just when I think I've reached a state where I think I'd need to "learn to crawl", something else would happen and I'd end up seeing that the past trials were just minor league stuff.  Now I'm not complaining, as the trials I've had in life probably pale in comparison to those of others, but I will not claim a life of sunshine, smiles & rainbows either.  "Learning to Crawl" is a state of mind you reach when you are truly low.

Then there is the music.  I've read where it's not uncommon for Ms Hynde to actually cry when she plays the first track on the album, Back on the Chain Gang.  That song happens to be one of my favorite pieces of music, ever.  The raw emotion of the song just seems to penetrate me.  I could go through the songs one by one, but why bother?  I just think it's an outstanding collection of music, that is also exceptionally well played (check out the guitar work on Thumbelina for example).  Pay attention to the drum work on the album too, as Martin Chambers was one of the best drummers of the era (make that "is" as he still plays).

This seems to be a pretty appropriate way to end this post...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mandatory Purchase of Health Insurance

I was completing an on-line continuing education course yesterday for my insurance license, and one of the topics was the Social Security System.  Easy enough stuff, but it did spur a thought on my part:

If "Obamacare" is illegal because the Federal Government has no authority to mandate the purchase of health insurance, wouldn't the mandatory contributions into the Social Security System also be illegal?

How is one different than the other?  It gets better actually:

Social Security is technically an insurance program in that the amounts paid into the system are not returned to the individual taxpayer like an investment program, but instead go into a fund that, for all intensive purposes, simply provides something that looks like an annuity at retirement

In essence, your Social Security payroll taxes are actually insurance premiums.

I'll be waiting for all those opposed to Heath Care Reform to now come out against the unconstitutional mandate known as Social Security.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In the cartoon character department...

...we have Michele Bachmann considering a run for President.  Story link HERE.  Hey, maybe she can team up with Ricky Santorum and run on the "lunatic fringe" ticket.

As for me, I'd vote for Opus-n-Bill long before I'd ever vote for Ms Bachmann.

Wait though, Ms Bachmann does have something in common with Opus the Penguin and Bill the Cat:  she too is a cartoon character.

Road Apples, #87

Gerry Rafferty...Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty passed away yesterday.  Story link HERE.  His well known songs included "Right Down the Line", "Stuck in the Middle with You" and "Baker Street".  True story:  when I was temporarily working in Florham Park (NJ) in 1997 I had the lyrics to "Baker Street" posted outside my cubicle.  Why?  I really don't remember the reason, other than the fact that it just seemed fitting at the time.  Here they are...

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
This city desert makes you feel so cold.
It's got so many people but it's got no soul
And it's taking you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it had everything

You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you're tryin'
You're tryin' now
Another year and then you'll be happy
Just one more year and then you'll be happy
But you're cryin'
You're cryin' now

Way down the street there's a lad in his place
He opens the door he's got that look on his face
And he asks you where you've been
You tell him who you've seen
And you talk about anything

He's got this dream about buyin' some land
He's gonna give up the booze and the one night stands
And then he'll settle down there's a quiet little town
And forget about everything

But you know he'll always keep movin'
You know he's never gonna stop movin
Cus he's rollin'
He's the rollin' stone

And when you wake up it's a new mornin'
The sun is shinin' it's a new morning
You're goin'
You're goin' home.


Rest in Peace Mr Rafferty.  You're goin' home.

Medical News...On the medical front, I received some very good news yesterday.  What would that be?  Well my blood pressure, which had been border-line high for a long time, seems to have dropped down to a quite normal 120/90.  Yesterday was "decision day" in that my doctor and I had agreed that if it was still elevated after the holidays I would agree to go on some kind if medication to treat it over the long term,  Now for some that may not seem all that terrible, as there are probably millions of Americans who are blood pressure medication.  For me though it was daunting, as I'm really not a pill kind of guy.  I take two pills every day as it stands, a vitamin and a 20mg Prilosec, and even that troubles me in some small way.  The vitamin just make sense, but it bothers me that I can't control my really bad case of acid reflux through any other means.  Conversely, I was able to reduce my blood pressure through a combination of weight loss and dealing head-on with the personal stressors that negatively impact my life.

As a side note, I do have something of a cold/sinus thing going on (which explains why it is 5:30am and I am writing this).  I think it's because I have been exposed to germs from foreign lands, you know, from places like Egypt or Wilkes-Barre.  Oh well...time heals most things, including sinus infections.

Repeal!...Yes, the GOP and Tea Bagger crew and hell-bent on repealing health care reform.  G - I - M - M - I - C - K.  Any kind of repeal will not pass the U.S. Senate.  This is all about placating the politically active Right, not about actually addressing the fact that health care inflation in the United States has been running at an annual increase of about 12% for the past few decades.  Where is the alternative?  "Market Based" reforms?  Newsflash:  the free market doesn't work for everything.  Want proof?  How many here want "for profit" police?  Or a "market based" military?  I'm not advocating any one solution, but I am advocating some solution, something that is non-existent for most of the talking heads on the extreme Right.  Oh, wait, they have advocated lawsuit reform...which is a good idea, but most estimates that I've seen indicate that frivolous lawsuits add a whopping 3-5% to the nation's health care bill.  Next...

Budget Axe...House Republicans want to cut an initial $100 billion from the federal budget.  That's not a bad thing.  The initial cuts will include $35 million from the Congressional budget.  That's also okay.  Here is a suggestion though:  Let's make members of Congress take the same health care benefits that the average WalMart employee enjoy.  This would serve two purposes:

1.  Reduce the federal budget.
2.  Get members of Congress to understand what "market based" health care is really all about.

Somehow I don't think that will not be happening any time soon.

Home...I've been working over the past few weeks to make my domicile more of a home.  This includes more pictures, a better organized kitchen, and, most recently, place mats.  Yes, place mats.  It's amazing how the little things make something of a difference in your life.  Note though that I almost never eat at my dining room table (in fact it is a bit of a stretch to even claim that I have a dining room...it's more like a room that stores my Trek and has a table in it).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rest In Peace Gerry Rafferty

Not So Proud News

From the Daily Beast, "30 Cities with Worst Smoking Smoking Problems".

#1 is Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a smoking rate of 24.6%.  Well thank God that isn't us.

#2 is Wilkes Barre-Scranton with a smoking rate of 23.5%.  Oops.

Now I guess I should do my normal smoking disclaimer before I ramble on further.  Disclaimer?  Well it's this:  I don't care what someone else does to their own body.  What I do care about though is what that action negatively impacts me or my family. Fair enough?

The problem with smoking is that it almost always negatively impacts others.  For example, we have the "smoking section" of an institution.  That's a joke by the way.  Smoking/Non-Smoking sections within a facility make about as much sense as "peeing/non-peeing" sections of a swimming pool.  Tobacco smoke simply doesn't obey the law.  Then we have the much-increased healthcare costs associated with the addiction to nicotine.  Simply put, no one can pour crap into their lungs and expect there to be no negative impact.  The problem is that this voluntary activity (smoking) is always fatal, it causes damage from the first cigarette, and the drug in question basically makes it nearly impossible to quit.  Now some tobacco apologists will claim "but, but, fast food is bad for you too!", which while true is a flawed argument relative to smoking.  Why?  Well if you are actually starving to death, a Big Mac could save your life.  That Big Mac has protein in it, calcium, and tons of other good things (in addition to tons of fact).  Bottom line:  Even fast food has some intrinsic value; tobacco usage has ZERO value.

Anyway, this is one list I am ashamed we made.

PS - What's with "Wilkes Barre/Scranton"?  That makes NO sense.  Every hear of "St Paul/Minneapolis"?  Or "Fort Worth/Dallas"?  Or "Long Beach/Los Angeles"?  Come on, Dan Flood is dead and decomposing, so maybe we can stop the nonsensical naming convention.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

YouTube Weekend

I continue to hold YouTube Weekend hostage until Gort's return.

From Eric Clapton...with the incredible (and late) Carl Dean Radle on bass guitar.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 1, 2011: The Year Ahead

Some things I'd like to see in 2011.


President Barack Obama
For 2011 I'd like to the President continue to work as hard (and as effectively) as he did at the end of 2010. I don't agree with everything that was done in December policy-wise, but I do appreciate the fact that, basically, "crap got done".  America is a slightly center-right country, especially when you consider fiscal issues, not an ideologically pure right or left nation.  Yes, he should continue to fight the good fight when it comes to those social issues that are important to his core constituency, but there is a real crisis in this country when it comes to enormous deficits...deficits that are being bankrolled by the Chinese...that needs to be addressed over the next few years.  Politics is the art of compromise, and we need the equivalent of Rembrandt in the White House in 2011.

Scranton City Council President Janet Evans
For 2011 I'd like to see Mrs Evans check her personal ambition and instead channel that energy towards actually governing in an effective manner for the taxpayers of Scranton.  Talk to and work with the Mayor.  Don't put my interests (as a taxpayer) subordinate to the interests of unionized city employees.  Realize that city council speakers just speak for themselves, not for the vast majority of Scranton's residents.

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty
For 2011 I'd like to see Mayor Doherty focus on being Mayor of Scranton.  I hope he eschews other political ambitions and campaigns for the next few years.  I'd like him to do his part to work with the members of Scranton City Council with whom he typically disagrees.  He needs to set the positive example for cooperation, even as some may be more interested in conflict for sake of furthering their own political ambitions.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett
For 2011 I'd like Governor elect Tom Corbett to take off the politically tinged glasses and face reality.  That will probably happen anyway, but it's still worth mentioning because it's my concerted opinion that Mr Corbett rode a wave of fairy tales to victory.  Fairy Tales?  How about the one where you can cut taxes, kneel to the oil and gas industry and not make tough spending decisions?  Yes, there are ways to reduce spending in State government, but given the governor's seeming inflexibility when it comes to revenue, the math simply doesn't work.

Representative Barney Frank
For 2011, I don't want Representative Frank to change at all.  Not a bit.  See this video.



What?  You can't "catch" homosexuality from shower spray?  Damn, and I've been washing myself down with benzine after taking gym showers all these years for nothing?

Okay, I am just kidding...about the benzine part.

Quitter Sarah Palin
For 2011 I wish the half-term governor of Alaska continued success as a reality-TV star.  Stick with that Sarah...and just that...and the world will be a better place.

Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner
For 2011 I'd like to see the tan-man spend less time clowning to the base and more time working with the President.  As I alluded to under the President, America is not an ideologically far-right country, which means that extremists of both sides of the isle need to realize that they don't have a mandate to force through agendas that look good for campaign fund raising but make for bad overall policy.  For example, the notion of repealing Health Care Reform makes for nice fund-raising fodder, but replace it with what?  A "market-based" system?  Wait, we've had a "market-based" system in this country since freak'n World War 2 and health care costs has risen something like 12% per year every year.  The free market is great at producing better, cheaper toasters, but it stinks when it comes to complex economic models such as what exists for the delivery of health care.  Less ideology Mr Speaker and more actual pubic (as in entire public) service.

The Editors of The Scranton Times
For 2011 I'd like to see the powers-that-be at Shamrock Communications actually, really and truly work to create a regional newspaper for NEPA.  Physically it takes me about 20 minutes to get to Wyoming (Pennsylvania), but in terms of news coverage it might as well be Wyoming (the state).  Yes, we now see the odd story in the Scranton Times about a fire somewhere in "the Heights", but that's about it.  How about one newspaper that comprehensively covers the news in both Scranton and Wilkes-Barre?  We talk about the need to present a united front on things like economic development, but yet the media doesn't seem to do much to help facilitate that very concept.

For Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien
For 2011 I'd like to note that I am fine with Mr O'Brien running for re-election as Lackwanna County Commissioner.  Fine indeed with it.  But while holding this office I'd like to see him focus on this office.  As I noted under Mayor Doherty, no more politically higher office distractions.  If Mr O'Brien has an eye on a congressional seat, then let him quit the county payroll, get a full-time legal gig and then campaign on the law firm's dime, not mine.


Miscellaneous, personal & insider shout-outs:

  • Gort42...for 2011 please return.  The local blog-o-sphere is just not the same.
  • Mr Borthwick...for 2011 I'd like to see the "observations" continue, as they fit nicely into my attention span (namely short).
  • Mr Owens, Mr Ballmer, Mr Cordani, Mr Strangfeld, Mr Immelt, Mr Palmisano, etc....for 2011 how about fewer jobs in Asia and more in the United States?
  • Mr Clapton...for 2011 I'd like to see a tour, with a stop within, say, 200 miles of Scranton.
  • Ms Rivers...for 2011 don't change a thing (well with one exception).
  • Mr Palumbo...for 2011 how about adding a comment button?  Come on, I can't believe that the suits would have a problem with that!
  • Ms Marshall...for 2011 how about cashing those co-pay checks a bit quicker?
  • Ms Carey...for 2011 continue to call'm like you see'm ("chicken $hit" and all).
  • Mr Willett...for 2011 (at least for January & February) I'd like to you repeat over and over again the following mantra "Steve is a very valuable employee who deserves a large bonus".
  • Ms Albert (the oldest)...for 2011 I'd like to see gainful employment, of the full-time sort.  It would be nice (but not required) if that employment were not on, say, Pluto.
  • Ms Albert (the middle)...for 2011 I wish you continued success in all your studies, but don't let intelligence though get in the way of hard work. 
  • Ms Albert (the youngest)...for 2011 I wish you satisfaction at a job well done as you graduate.  
  • Ms Albert (my mom)...for 2011 I wish you good health and good spirits.
  • Mr Albert (my oldest brother)...for 2011 I wish you a job...with benefits no less.

Happy New Year



This song always comes to mind when I think of New Year's Eve, despite the reference to Christmas Eve.