Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's Tough

There is a story in today's edition of The Scranton Times about a high-school aged young lady who attempted to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.  According to the story there are implications that social media pressures may have played role in what happened.

I'm not going to debate the merits or detriments of something like Facebook.  Smarter people than I can do better justice to the topic.  Besides, social media hasn't created additional pressures for young adults; rather, I think it simply has amplified what pressures that already exist by something like a factor of 100.  You see this all the time when it comes to the subject of bullying...Facebook didn't invent bullying, it just made it instantaneous and much more efficient.

As a parent I feel bad for young adults these days.  The society we have created for them, one where "having" is the Gospel, is one where it's virtually impossible to actually have some kind of contentment.  What's more the good and the bad now come at light speed, creating so much data to assimilate that it's no wonder even the brightest of young adults must walk around in a daze.  So very much to try and understand happening all at the same time.  Oh, that and the fact that you aren't anything unless you have the latest gadget from Apple.

So here's to teenagers in 2011..."old" folks like me maybe quick to be critical, but the fact is that most of us are secretly grateful that we aren't 15 in 2011, as I doubt many of us could actually cut it in the world we have helped to create. 

The Things You Learn

I've noted here a few times that it felt as if my life were somehow on hold for a very long time.  I've been pondering this even more over the past few days, and while life will always be a work in progress, I do think I've come to a few conclusions about "stuff" that are probably worth sharing.

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans" 
(John Lennon, Beautiful Boy)
I think life requires an awful lot of work to pull off.  Think about it:  as you are trying to get through the daily stuff, you have to always have your eye the future.  If you are a parent, you are doing this for yourself and for your children.  It's not enough to be okay now...you have to be thinking about being okay 5-10-15 years into the future as well.  Now there have been times in my life when I really couldn't think about my life two weeks into the future, let alone years to come.  When you don't feel as if you have a future to even think about it's probably a sure sign that you are not in a healthy place.

As for me and as for now, I actually do have a future to think about.  In fact, it's this interesting mix of the known and the unknown.  More than anything else though, it's actually compelling to think about, as opposed to being something that I consciously try to avoid.


"Guilt:  The gift that keeps on giving"
(Erma Bombeck)
I am utterly convinced that guilt is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, right up there with gravity and inertia.  Well it especially is if you were raised Catholic or Jewish.  While I'm thinking that I've made a lot of personal progress over the past few months in re-orienting my life, this is one I still actively deal with on a daily basis.  It is almost as if I have been programmed to always put my own needs, wants and desires secondary to absolutely everyone else in the known universe.  How bad did it get?  Well I'll note that a medical professional told the me the following...

"You know Steve, adults have the right to be happy too..."

...and it nearly blew my socks off!  Think about it:  why in the hell would that ever be a shock, surprise, enlightenment for any functional adult human being?  Yet it was something like that for me.  I had this programming inside of me that said I always had to put myself second in every situation.  I've learned...and am learning...that this isn't the case, but it's still something I work on even now (and I probably will work on for a very long time).  I do put the needs of, for example, my children first in my life, but I don't feel guilty though that I can't (for example) by them all brand new cars.  I've learned that, being a decent human being kind of guy, I can do my best for them and not have to feel guilty about doing the impossible. 

Another important & related lesson: to be an effective parent it helps to be a healthy parent.  "Healthy" relates to the physical, the mental and the emotional.  As a parent I have to model behaviors to my children.  Being hypocritical by telling them one thing but doing the opposite isn't good for my children and it sure as hell isn't good for me. 

Back to guilt:  it has a place in life.  You should feel guilty if you knowingly, for example, do someone harm.  It shouldn't, however, be this default setting in life that is always on.  As a person I do my best to make good decisions based on what I know at the moment.  Sometimes I make good decisions, sometimes I've made really bad decisions.  Mostly though I've always tried to do my best.  That's a good thing.  When you try to do your best...and you can believe that...guilt ceases to be quite the corrosive force that it can be in some situations.  Sure, I will still second guess with the best of them when it comes to my own actions, but I'll do that with an eye towards learning and growing, not simply engaging in some mental flailing.

 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Naming of (my) Cat(s)

"The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES"

- T.S. Eliot


As I'm sitting here waiting for an Advil PM to kick in, for some reason I was thinking about the above poem as I contemplated the various names I call my own cat.  So for no other reason than my own entertainment, here are the various names I call my own cat.

His given (by me) name:  Jean Luc
The name he had before I got him:  [nothing...he wasn't named]

Other names...

...JLA (his initials)
...Predator (because he thinks that he is)
...Felis Catus (look it up...)
...Domestic House Cat (see above)
...General Sterling Price (the name of the cat the original movie True Grit)
...Pyewacket (reference HERE)
...Pyeis Wacketus (see above)
...Chairman Meow (suggested by THIS guy)

 Okay, the Advil is kicking in...time to make some golden slumbers.

Music

I don't consider myself to be a very cultured person when it comes to most things.  In fact I usually fake my way through acting as if I have some degree of manners and understanding of the finer things in life.  Note though that in point of fact I'm basically just a grown-up kid from the projects who wasn't exposed to things like the classical American songbook and olive oil until well into my adult life.

The above doesn't mean though that I can't at least try to appreciate some of the richer stuff that can make the world a more interesting place.  Well this is true with the possible except of some food types.  Sorry, but (for example), I'm simply not going to eat things like squid, organ meat just about anything that involves exotic cheeses.

That back-drop noted, I want to see Marvin Hamlisch perform with the NEPA Philharmonic last night, and it was simply a wonderful evening.  I could be proud of myself in that I did recognize some of the songs that Mr Hamlisch wrote (including the theme from the movie Ice Castles).  The orchestra sounded really, really great, least to my ears.  Mr Hamlisch, in addition to having more talent in his toenail droppings than I probably have in my entire body, was warm, funny and just overall entertaining.  He really engaged the audience, and more so than anything else, you can tell that this is a guy who simply loves music.  Even if no one was listening this guy would still be playing.

The evening was not with out the odd sight or sound though.  First, I was probably just about one of the youngest persons in attendance (and I'm 46).  Definitely an older crowd.  Second, in the second half of the show there was something that sounded like a steam radiator releasing pressure every few minutes.  That was very annoying and I can't believe that as a regular course of operation this was a normal thing to occur.  Maybe something was broken. 

Anyway, I'll end this extend thought by noting that, from time to time, I would close my eyes as the music was playing.  Why?  I almost felt as if I needed to restrict my other senses just so that I could devote even more of my processing power to simply hearing what was some very beautiful music.

It was a splendid, splendid time, music included.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Road Apples, #95

Burger King Video...This video made the rounds this week.  All I will say is this:  My children, being fairly well adjusted, well behaved and smart, will most likely end up ruling the world if this is what the competition is really all about.

Newt Gingrich...Newt decides to be against intervention in Libya, but only after the President actually intervenes.  Before the President acted Newt was actually for intervention.  Reference HERE.  I guess the world was a different place...on March 8...2011.  I enjoy Newt's more intellectual approach to some issues, especially when it comes to economic empowerment, but man the guy can pander with the best of them.  Maybe Newt had a dose of some "tea" between the 8th and now. 

Free Cell Phone Service...I saw an advertisement for free cell phone service in the newspaper the other day, so I did a quick Google search (results HERE).  Now I really don't want to learn any more about this, but as someone who pays for cell phone service for three young women, I can tell you that cell phone service is actually a costly proposition.  Why, in this day and age of tight budgets, is anyone getting something like this for free?  Cell phone service is a privilege, not a right.  There are parts of our society that seem to think that everything is a right these days.

LinkedIn & Social Media...I recently received a LinkedIn connection request from someone who is basically a complete stranger.  Never heard of the guy.  I've received things like that from Facebook as well, and my tendency is to just ignore the request.  But the bigger question is this:  why?  Why say that someone is a professional colleague when you don't really know the individual?  How can you call someone a "friend" when you've never met, never spoken to, never even heard of before?


JeanLuc...is my cat, and he was neutered yesterday.  Poor guy, and while I feel bad for him, the fact is that I don't want a cat running around urinating on things, and I want him to be just an indoor cat, so the neutering is the right thing to do.  What was telling was that I actually missed the little guy night before last.  It was actually odd to not have him ambushing me from behind a bed-skirt in the morning.  Ah, the simple joys in life...

Speaking of Simple Joys...I am going to hear Marvin Hamlisch perform with the NEPA Philharmonic on Saturday. A splendid time is guaranteed for one and all.  Now if it could only manage to get into the 50's again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why? Oh, and some feedback too...

I will let this comment speak for itself...

Steve,

Do you realize that on your entire blog there is not
one single comment?

At what point does one realize that their worldview might be muddled and they actually examine other perspectives with something other than a mind that is completely closed?

March 23, 2011 9:37 PM


Now there was a follow-up to comment to this (you can read both comments and the original post HERE), but I'm going to take a moment to respond to JD's thought.  In the true spirit of lazy blogging I've obviously decided to make an entirely new post out of the whole deal, lest I lose the opportunity to put something up that requires basically no effort on my part.

JD's underlying point...that since I don't get many comments obviously my perspective is somehow flawed & I am closed-minded...is flawed in and of itself.  Why?  I offer the following proof:  I disagree with virtually everything JD writes in his blog.  Virtually all of it.  I don't comment on it though, mainly because I simply don't want to.  Why argue with someone when I know it will have ZERO impact on them...on me...on anyone? JD can think and write whatever he wants, and while I may not agree, that doesn't make his points any less valid.

To quote the great Denis Leary, "wake up and smell the maple nut crunch!". 

These are BLOGS man!  This isn't intended to be anything other than mindless steams of opinions by mostly rank amateurs who simply like spewing the written word.  Note that I PROUDLY consider myself to be in this class. 

Can this stuff have an impact?  Sure it can! But let's not claim that blogs written by numskulls in Scranton Pennsylvania are somehow important enough to warrant serious debate.  They aren't.  If one of us once in a while says something that spurs a thought, makes an intelligent point, make someone laugh, then great.  Value added.  But let's not somehow claim we are creating anything other than evolved (ooops, sorry, I don't think JD believes in evolution, but that's another point all together) versions of message boards where people would talk about which star is "hot" and how to succeed in Dungeons and Dragons.

Motivation.

At a very basic level I don't care what people think of what I write.  Well, with one exception.  Anyway, I'd be writing this if even if no one other than me was reading it.  That was the case for years when I had a blog via Yahoo that I am absolutely sure virtually no one knew even existed.  I simply don't do this to be "controversial"...I do it because I like to write, and having a URL and something that is in an open environment creates a certain discipline that I would lack otherwise (in other words it was probably a good thing that no one read those Yahoo blog entries).  Don't get it?  Listen to the song "The Guitar Man".

One final point:  while I don't care if 2 or 20 or 200 people read this stuff, I am deeply honored that anyone, including JD, actually makes the time to stop by and see what I am spewing about at any given time.  Something I do to basically entertain myself once in a while entertains someone else, and that's a fine thing indeed.


"...but he never seems to notice he's just got to find another place to play..."

Apple Approves (then pulls) "Gay Cure" App

There is a bit of an uproar over Apple's recent approval of an IPhone App that is designed to support a "cure" for homosexuality.  You can read about it HERE.  Note that after I began writing this Apple decided to pull the App (story HERE) but being a lazy blogger, I didn't want to lose the content (or the work...).

It is an interesting story on a few levels, and as someone who supports "Gay rights" (or as I like to call it "Human rights") I certainly do have an opinion on the subject, namely I find the whole thing laughable.  I think like-minded supporters of Gay rights should just dismiss this whole thing as a bunch of silly nonsense.

Think about it:  if a developer wants to develop an App that claims "Rainbow Trout are actually space aliens" would anyone take it seriously?  That's about how seriously I take the whole "Gay cure" stuff.  Actually my oldest daughter wrote a great paper on this a few years ago, with the bottom line being that there is zero objective proof...zero...that homosexuality can be "cured".  How can you objectively "prove" that someone no longer has these kinds of feelings?  I can be gayer than an Easter Parade and simply say "I'm not" and low and behold, "Cured!".  Sure, I'm certain that there a groups a-plenty that claim all sorts of success rates in getting homosexuals "straight", but I view that with the skepticism it deserves, as such claims are more often than not made by groups in the "gay cure" business.  This is no different than what snake-oil salesmen (even in modern days; see Kevin Trudeau) have been doing for centuries.

There are people in this world who WANT to believe that homosexuality can be cured, as I suspect that it makes them feel better about their own sexuality on some level. OR maybe they genuinely believe this stuff.  Either way, who cares?  I say simply talking about "homosexuality cures" gives the whole subject more credence than  it actually deserves.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Idea Whose Time Has (NOT) Come

AT&T wants to buy T-Mobile.  You can read about it HERE

My gut reaction is NOT against mergers and acquisitions, even by the largest of firms.  This, however, is a very bad idea, and I say this is a long-time AT&T Wireless customer. 

Why?

The wireless industry seems to be in dire need of more competition, not less, if for no other reason than encouraging better customer service.  Currently AT&T routinely leads polls in terms of bad service (sample rant HERE), and there is no indication that getting bigger will make AT&T more customer friendly.  In fact I'd argue that it will probably make it worse, as more subscribers will simply strain the service delivery system of AT&T.

This move seems to just be about adding customers to the book and expanding AT&T's network.  Funny, but doesn't AT&T already provide the best coverage of any provider already (if you believe their spin)?

Will the merger spur innovative products?  No, as it's not the wireless providers that seem to be driving technology innovation in this space.  You can thank hardware & software providers (Google, Apple, etc.) for what we have seen in this area, NOT AT&T, Verizon and the like.

Will the merger result in lower prices?  Well for example it costs virtually NOTHING for a provider to send your SMS message over their networks, but yet the wireless providers make enormous sums of money off of the service (reference HERE). Having fewer competitors will simply spur the wireless provides to keep the status quo when it comes to things like text messaging.

What is in this merger for the customers of AT&T and T-Mobile?  Probably nothing, as neither company is in danger of going bankrupt.  Unless there is something in this for US, then I say reducing the number of major wireless provides by 25% is a bad idea.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

From the "you might be old if you remember this" file...



Pretty catchy song.

Road Apples, #94

Sleep...I hate sleeping.  I hate it so much that I wish I didn't need any.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  However, my mortal body does requires require some sleep, and low and behold I've gone two days in a row getting about seven hours per night.  Now by way of disclosure I did take something to help me sleep Friday night (something I don't normally do), but that wasn't the case last night.  While I did need to take Becca to work this morning for the start of her 6am shift, I went back to bed for two more hours.

By the way, I will confess getting a good night's sleep does, in a sort of way, feel good.  I think my problem is that I can't often relax enough to actually fall asleep and then sleep well throughout the night.  Then there is the waking up with the sun thing.

PJs...Ever see someone walking down the street (or in a store) wearing pajama bottoms as pants?  I was driving this afternoon as saw that (again...as I've seen it many times) in the guise of a young lady walking down Pittston avenue in Scranton wearing NY Giants PJ bottoms.  Call me crazy, call me old-fashioned, call me late for supper, but I'm thinking that is taking "casual dress" to unacceptable levels.

Menthol Cigarette Ban...The Food and Drug Administration is contemplating a ban on menthol cigarettes.  You can read about it HERE.  Now I always found it amazing that the government says that some drugs are "bad", you know like 'ludes, cocaine, speed, etc. and some "drugs" are good, such as alcohol and nicotine.  Well how about we just call it even and call them all just drugs?  Anyway, the interesting thing about menthol cigarettes is that the added ingredient actually helps deliver the drug nicotine more readily into the blood stream by opening up the air passages.  Wickedly evil in a medical kind of way.  Word play aside, I'm all for the ban.  About time.  Some'm while you got'm, cause hopefully you won't got'm much longer.

Limbaugh Laughs at Japanese Suffering...Reference HERE.  Yes, earthquake, tsunami and 10,000+ dead is real knee-slapping stuff.  What a funny guy!  By the way, isn't "compassion" a family value?  Isn't "el Rushbo" all about traditional values? Score yet another victory for hypocrisy.

Congress Protects Us...from NPR...Worried about the budget?  Worried about pollution? Worried about energy policy?  Worried about foreign wars?  Don't worry, the U.S. House of Representatives has got you back:  they are protecting you against something even worse:  the horror that is National Public Radio.  Reference HERE.  Bet you didn't know that you needed protection from "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers"!  Rep. Ron Paul pointed out that this is nothing more than a way for some to claim that they are fiscally conservative while ducking issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (reference HERE).  Again, more hypocrisy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Recent High Water

I've made a vow to myself to do more relaxing things, such as taking photographs.  To that end I ventured off the road last weekend, just a little, when the Susquehanna was nearing its crest.


The bridge is between Pittston and West Pittston (I think...my "Greater Wilkes-Barre" geography is no where it should be).


The water was moving very fast, although it didn't really smell, which was somewhat unexpected.



The bridge above was a bit further down-stream, with apologies again for my lack of Hayna Gulch geographic knowledge.  Good thing I am receiving something of a tutorial on all things "greater" Wilkes-Barre.

One last parting shot...


What was neat was that in West Pittston (I think) it was relatively easy to get right down to the river.  Having never been this close to a rising river I wasn't sure what I'd see...body parts...old cars...copies of Gov. Corbett's budget...but to my surprise it was just flowing brown water.  Oh, and a lot of mud.

All told, it sounds like the damage this time around was minimal.  This is a truly good thing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Philadelphia Flower Show

A few more pictures...





Note that if there really is evidence the world is going to end on May 21st then I'm definitely going on a 100% chocolate diet.

I like the purple rose picture, as it has this great dimensional quality about it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Defining Irrelevant

From Dictionary.com:

ir·rel·e·vant

[ih-rel-uh-vuhnt] Show IPA
–adjective
1.
not relevant; not applicable or pertinent: His lectures often stray to interesting but irrelevant subjects.
2.
Law . (of evidence) having no probative value upon any issue in the case.

**********
Now that we have the basis of the discussion covered, I'm going to talk about something that is irrelevant, namely the Lackawanna County Democratic Party's recent endorsements.  You can read about it HERE (sorry, no more links to the Scranton Times). 

Think about it:  why on Earth would you EVER want Attorney Harry McGrath (Democratic Party Boss, who is also the solicitor for the Scranton School District by the way) telling you who to vote for?  Oh, and please, don't insult my intelligence by saying "endorsed" is different than "tell you who to vote for", as why have an endorsement process if not to influence voting decisions?  What's more, what criteria was used in "the back-room" to determine these endorsements?  No offense to Attorney McGrath, but who I should vote for as a registered Democrat is between me, the candidates in question and the voting booth.  No room for "party bosses" in that last sentence by the way.

I loathe political party endorsements.  I view them as being, you guessed it, irrelevant; what's more I fervently believe you should view them as irrelevant as well.  Why?  Well a representative democracy works when YOU chose someone to act in YOUR stead to get stuff done from a public policy perspective.  It fails when you delegate that responsibility for informed choice to someone else, even with the best of intentions.  Yes, I do realize that no one can pull that voting lever for you (well...maybe make that "should pull that lever"), but never the less this is all about power and influence where none should exist.

I'll take this one another step further:  I strongly suggest that obtaining a party endorsement is probably a BAD thing relative to the quality of a candidate running for office.  The endorsement process simply raises too many questions, most of which ultimately make you wonder about "quid pro quo" arrangements.  These include:
  • What are the business relationships between party bosses and the endorsed candidates? For example, one of the County Commissioner candidates is on the Scranton School Board...you know, the same group that decides on a contract for a board solicitor (read up).
  • What are the family relationships between the party bosses and the endorsed candidates?
Now I'm not claiming that there should be an automatic assumption of guilt, but I am saying that back-room endorsements simply raise so many questions that a reasonable person should walk away thinking "this doesn't make any sense".

Do yourself a favor:  ignore what party insiders tell you, be they Democratic or Republican.  They have no business thinking for, speaking for or acting for you.  Be a smart participant in the political process by making informed voting decisions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Road Apples, #93

Japan...My prayers go out the the victims of the multiple tragedies in Japan. 


Nuclear Power...Much wailing and mashing of teeth will commence (and has already commenced) about nuclear power in light of events in Japan.  I understand the concern, but the reality is this:  nuclear power provides about 20% of the total U.S. electrical capacity.  Translation...it isn't going away.  Time to move away from hysteria and on to practical solutions to make the plants safer.  Interesting enough, from what I've read it wasn't the earthquake in Japan that caused the issues at the power plants; rather it was the tsunami.


Don't Know Your History?  Blame the Media...Hey, it works for The Bachmann.  Story link HERE.  Let me lay it on the line:  Republicans should be embarrassed that this twit is considered a serious Presidential candidate for the party.  By the way, aren't people like The Bachmann supposed to be all about "taking personal responsibility"?

Libya...The score is shaping up to be Freedom 2, Despots 1.

Yours Truly...was referred to as a "high church-man" this past weekend.  I believe that this is a compliment; at least that's what I am taking it as...unless told otherwise...I think.  Anyway, related to this I attended my first (ever) Episcopal service recently, and I have to say that I was very impressed.  It was a combination of both the familiar (the Nicene Creed) and the different (a rather ad hoc process for offering the sign of peace).  More not ceasing from exploration in action. 

Political Bullcrap...The Scranton Times is all over the recent county Democratic endorsements.  Now what's the word I'm thinking of?  Hmmmm...oh, yeah, "irrelevant".  There is a larger post residing in this blurb.  More to come.

Speaking of Politics...of the "not bullcrap" variety, I was honored to attend a political campaign event for the Tom Borthwick's Scranton School Board run this past Friday (although I offer apologies for not staying long).  I almost never attend political events, but this young man deserves support. It's time to put someone on the SSB who isn't just another local political hack.

It Surely Will Be Spring Soon...as I saw several robins on the way to work today. 

Pants Hangers...File this one under "it's the little things in life"...well that or "Get a life dude!".  Anyway, I finally have enough pants hangers & actual space to hang pants.  I know, "big freak'n deal", but hey, I've always wanted to hang all my pants.  I HATE folded pants.  It's hard to tell what kind of pant you have, there are creases in the pant, etc.  Hanging pants is the natural evolution of clothes storage.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Philadelphia Flower Show

I've always enjoyed planting flowers, and even more so I've always enjoyed smelling flowers.  It's with that in mind that this year I attended the Philadelphia Flower show today (Sunday).  It was quite an experience.  I'll save the details for later, but I will share some photos.





Beautiful...simply beautiful!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Booze Fest!!!!

7:30am and it has probably already started.

What, you may ask?

Why the drinking associated with the St. Patrick's Day parade in Scranton.  Now to be fair about it all, the drinking at bars actually doesn't start until 9am or so (seriously, you can drive past many bars in Scranton this morning, at 9am, and see people drinking), but I am sure that there are many out there who are "limbering their drinking muscles" at home in preparation for today's festivities.

Yeah, yeah, up the Irish and all that, chased the snakes out of Ireland, etc.  Irish Pride.  I get it.

I guess what I don't get is how any of that equates to...
  1. Drinking alcohol at an insane hour of the morning.
  2. Drinking mid-morning.
  3. Continuing to drink into the afternoon.
  4. Vomiting in gutters.
  5. Brawls outside of bars.
...and the list goes on.  The parade is an excuse for people to drink insane amounts of booze, period. 

As you can tell, I don't view Scranton's St. Patrick's Day Parade as being anything like a "family friendly" event.  Well it is if your family plays games like Beer Pong instead of Monopoly. 

I know that the parade is a bid deal in Scranton, as I understand there will be something like a hundred thousand people in town for it.  Businesses must be very happy.  But when the dust settles, in my humble opinion this event is more a cause for shame than it is pride.


I don't suspect that some folks who read this will agree with my opinion about the parade, but so be it.  Sometimes you gotta call'm like you see'm.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Quick Comment on Penn State & Budget Cuts

Penn State changed my life. 

Want to know what I think about Penn State?  Read up.

Proposed cuts by Governor Corbett will decimate the institution which gave me so much more than an education.  I, for one, will do my part to fight the asinine budget proposal by the governor.

I've pasted below an email from the Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association that says a lot. "For the Glory?"  Well Penn State needs us now.

- Steve Albert. Class of 1986, PSH



Dear Penn Stater,

This week, Penn State learned that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal includes massive, unprecedented cuts in state funding for the University. The $182 million in proposed cuts to Penn State would be devastating to the University, its students, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The budget proposal has the potential to change the face of Penn State as you know it and to curtail the special relationship it has had with the Commonwealth for nearly 150 years. In other words, this budget proposal would push Penn State in the direction of privatization—which Penn State strongly opposes.

At a March 9 press briefing, Penn State President Graham Spanier said the cuts “could fundamentally change Penn State and our sister institutions in the state and have major negative impacts for the citizens of Pennsylvania and their families…. The direct impact of these cuts would be to undermine the support of in-state tuition for Pennsylvania resident-students.”

"We are willing to do our fair share, but this is not our fair share," Spanier said at the briefing.

"We are hopeful that our message will be heard in Harrisburg, and that they will understand the larger picture we're talking about here,” Spanier continued. “We hope the members of the legislature, in consultation with the governor, will moderate substantially the scope of this cut."

When former Gov. Ed Rendell tried to cut Penn State’s funding last year, arguing that Penn State was not a public institution, Penn State alumni rallied to support Penn State—and their voices made a big difference.

We’d like you, and all alumni, to rally again in support of our alma mater.

Please contact your state legislators and ask them to do everything they can to restore funding for Penn State at a level that allows it to maintain its in-state tuition rate and its 24 locations across the state.

In your note, please remind them that the state’s annual appropriation for Penn State helps Penn State:
  • continue to provide an in-state tuition rate;
  • maintain its many campuses across the state;
  • offer majors you often can’t find at other in-state schools;
  • keep up the quality of a Penn State education;
  • and boost the state economy.

You can find your state legislators via the Penn State Grassroots Network website and then use the site to e-mail them directly. You don’t have to be a Network member to use the site, but I also urge you to join the Grassroots Network and regularly raise your voice as an advocate for Penn State.

Finally, I invite you to be a part of Penn State Capital Day on April 5 in Harrisburg. Capital Day will bring together alumni and students to share with state legislators the importance of continued state support for the University and remind them of the many benefits Penn State brings to the Commonwealth.

Please sign up online for Capital Day and urge other alumni to take part. Thank you for your continued support of Penn State.
Roger L. Williams
Roger L. Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g
Executive Director

Penn State Alumni Association

Philadelphia, Sweden

My first job out of college was working for Bon Ton Stores (at the time known as S. Grumbacher & Sons), so to this very day I do have something of an interest in retail.  My youngest daughter would call that "gay" for a middle-aged guy, but so be it as I've already noted that said term comes up quite often in her dad vocabulary.  Anyway, it is with that mentality in mind that I made a pilgrimage yesterday to something of a retail mecca, IKEA.



Bottom line:  I was really blown away. 

IKEA does something that really great retailers do:  they make it more than just about acquiring stuff.  Going to IKEA is something of an experience.  Hell, there is even a specific way you need to shop.  You start out at the top floor showroom and follow a guided path through a series of displays that show IKEA products functionally used.  Think furniture showroom, but really cool looking furniture at very reasonable prices.



Now IKEA is a home furnishings store by trade, but they also sell a wide variety of stuff that runs the gamut from dishtowels (I got a few) to chocolate (I got some) to lighting (got that too) as well as "stylish, reasonably priced, you assemble" furniture. 

Back to the experience. 

So you walk through this guided tour of IKEA designs for the use of their products, with constant distractions provided by bins of smaller, really cool stuff (as noted above, that's where my money went yesterday).  I could have spent two hours just wandering the path.  The path ends where you started, but this time you front the IKEA cafeteria.  Oh, and yes, they do prominently sell Swedish meatballs in the cafeteria.  Therein lies another neat thing about IKEA:  when I was a very young man, many of the cool department stores had restaurants.  IKEA is, by very definition, cool.

The merchandise is by and large simply packaged with lots of notations about who designed that particular product.  That was also impressive, as it made you feel like that $5.00 lamp was somehow a "designer" piece.

After leaving the showroom, you go downstairs to a more traditional retail space where you can find bulk displayed smaller goods.  That section takes you to the area where you pick up any furniture/large goods you found in the showroom (I there is a whole system for noting item numbers, etc.; again, think "experience").  That space reminds me of Sam's Club, except for the fact that, unlike Sam's Club, it's NOT the entire store.  You end up, eventually, at a checkout.  Most people who shop at IKEA seem to do the self-checkout deal, but I needed a bit more assistance so I opted for the more traditional ring-out.  The associate who helped me warned that I would have to buy a bag, for a whopping $0.50.

The final toll for me at IKEA was about an hour and a half of time and a $38 debit to my checking account (for which IKEA gave me a 1% credit by the way).  the take?  Dish towels, a whole bunch of pant hangers (2 for a dollar), an under-cabinet light for my kitchen, chocolate (made in Sweden), some shelf brackets, a wall-mounted mirror for my bathroom and probably a few other things that I'm forgetting.

I left IKEA with two complaints:

  • Swedes must have small feet, as I couldn't find an XL sized pair of $1.99 slippers
  • The store I visited outside of Philadelphia was actually difficult to get to, despite it's enormous frontage along the PA Turnpike
Neither are game changers in my book.


I'm going back.

1.5% vs. 50%

Just a quick note, with more to follow. 

1.5% is the approximate percentage reduction in the Pennsylvania legislature's budget for the next fiscal year per Gov. Corbett.

50% is the approximate percentage reduction in the Pennsylvania's university system's budget for the next fiscal year per Gov. Corbett.

Please, please someone try and defend this madness.  Personally I'd like to propose the following rule that would apply to all governors in Pennsylvania henceforth:

"You can only cut spending to educational programs if you make similar percentage cuts to the executive and legislative branches of government."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Hartford

If "Boston is Scranton with crabs" (per Big Pussy from the Sopranos...or was that Paulie?) then does that maybe make Hartford "Dunmore with hot-dogs" by comparison?  Just wondering.

Anyway, I'm in my hotel room now, coming down off of a days worth of meetings, getting ready to have dinner with some of the people I work with at a TBD restaurant.  Unfortunately the UConn women are playing basketball tonight, so the downtown eateries will no doubt be crowded.  Perhaps a slight road-trip to the Hartford 'burbs is in order (note that if you are from NYC you no doubt think that "Hartford 'burbs" is redundant).

The whole business dinner thing presents challenges for me in a couple of ways:

  1. I am not a very adventurous eater, so I always end up feeling like I'm a fickle 8 year old (no offense RC) when I order at a fancy restaurant...with "fancy restaurant" being defined as just about any place where they don't ask "would you like fries with that?".
  2. I don't drink alcohol (well almost never), so there's that reason to stare at me as well.  I've actually once had the spouse of my last Director come right out and ask me if I was a recovering alcoholic.  The answer is "no" by the way.
  3. Being rather large, sitting between people gets uncomfortable, so I usually like to get an end seat.  More on that in a second.
  4. Making small talk/conversation is stressful for me...so...
  5. I usually end up having to "lower my fluid level" multiple times (which for me is more a nervous thing...well that and all the non-alcoholic beverages I end up consuming).  This makes sitting on an end all the more important.
In short, it's complex stuff.  Trust me in that this is NOT a function of the company I am eating with, as the folks I will be with tonight are all fine, upstanding citizens who are a joy to be with; it's just that pretty much any amount of socializing is taxing for me.  That's the "extreme introvert" at work for you.

The above noted, I do get it that I am truly blessed to even be in a position to have a business dinner.  My neurosis taken into account, there are folks who would kill to have this "problem".  Yes I am grateful for a good job and better co-workers, it's just that I am so uncomfortable and/or feel so awkward in most social situations.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Orie Sisters

If you like stories about...

...political intrigue
...back-room wheeling and dealing
...courtroom drama

and

...blondes

...then you have no doubt been following the saga of the sisters Orie.  Or at least you should have been.


Don't worry, there is plenty of time to catch-up before the retrial.  You can read all about it HERE

I don't have any opinions as to guilt or innocence, but man, this is going to make a hell of a book one day.  I can see the title now:  Legally Blonde:  The Orie Sisters.  Oh, wait, there was a movie by that name (Legally Blonde) already.  Damn.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Blogging

It appears that one of the long-time local bloggers, Gort, may (emphasis on "may") be returning.  Reference HERE.  If Gort is returning it will be a good thing indeed.

Why?  There simply isn't a lot going on in the local blog-o-sphere, not that I am in position to comment much on this subject, given that I've only had this blog since October of 2008 (although I did have a Yahoo blog for a few years before that, but so I digress). I've seen a few blogs come and go; probably the best abortive idea was the "WILK Watch" blog, where the writer would comment on the various local shows hosted on a local radio station.  Like I said, great idea, although not one I could pull off as it would require actually listening to WILK for extended periods of time.  Sorry, but I just don't have the stomach for that kind of thing.

Anyway, my point in all of this rambling is, again, that there seems to be a lack of local blogging.  There are some folks who write regularly (Mark Cour, Another Monkey & Tom Borthwick's NEPArtisan come to mind), and we have our more-or-less local celebrity blogger (Andy Palumbo's terrific blog), but there doesn't seem to be much else out there.  If I'm wrong and am missing a ton of local bloggers, I'll gladly stand corrected.  I'll note though that I have no idea what would be an appropriate number of bloggers for an area like NEPA.

It does make me wonder why some people start these kinds of endeavors but then simply don't keep going.  Wait, that's wrong actually; I do know why...you need two things to make the blogger thing work:

  1. Writing...you have to enjoy writing.  Note I didn't say "writing well".
  2. Exhibitionism...you have to be something of an exhibitionist of sorts.  Well that or an attention whore.
To the first point I definitely qualify, as I really enjoy writing.  Am I a writer?  Hell no, I am a person who writes.  Hollis Gillespie is a writer.  I, on the other hand, am something of hack (sorry Ms Rivers), but I am a hack who does enjoy what he does. 

To the second point, well that's an interesting thing to ponder when it comes to yours truly.  I am an extreme introvert, so the written-word exhibitionism is a difficult pill to swallow.  I think as a person I've always needed a creative outlet, and since I can't paint, draw, sing, or play any musical instruments, this has to suffice.  I have also found this to be something of a therapeutic outlet for difficult times.  What doesn't matter to me is whether or not anyone really pays attention to this spew.  I'm like the Guitar Man, except for the fact that I've never really had a crowd in the first place.


In my estimation if you don't have both of these drivers, then you simply aren't meant for the world-o-blogging.  Then again consider the source here:  I've readily admitted to being a hack.

Regardless, here's to hoping that Gort has returned.

Clean-Up Time

I actually have this random list of things pinging around in my head, but rather than do the normal thing and write a Road Apple list, I thought I'd be a bit more narrative.  Watch out, this may not be all that pretty (think John Cleese sitting at a desk, naked, saying "now for something completely different").

Note that I'm fighting the urge to start this next paragraph with the word "First".

I've been pretty damn busy lately.  The past few weeks have involved some business travel, and that continues next week.  Next week also involves some personal travel as well, but more on that later.  Coupled with the travel I actually have other things to do, and who would have ever thought that?  Well more correctly, if I go back a few months I never would have thought that, but so I digress.  Anyway, I actually ,from time to time, have "like" some social things to do (I just like to say "like" because it makes me feel "like" I am younger). And who says we are not still evolving?  Well at least I like to think that I am evolving.  Maybe there is an extra thumb in my future.

The flip side to being relatively busy has been that my room-mate, also known as JeanLuc the Cat, is spending more and more time alone.  I'm worried it will make him even stranger than he already is, which could in fact be somewhat interesting.  JLA's future though does contain someone rather ominous:  his getting "fixed" (note that he is not currently broken).  I have a feeling that JLA's life will be changing rather dramatically once he is "repaired".  That date though is at least two weeks away, as I don't want to do it until I know I will be home for a few weeks straight.  I do need to support the little guy.

One nice thing about JLA is that he isn't especially long-haired, which means far less cat hair flying about and around my abode.  What's worse though is the thought that I probably have cat-litter particles just about everywhere here, as I keep the litter box in the kitchen.  Why the kitchen?  I can't put it in the basement, as my mother (who lives on the side of this double house) has a long-haired cat named Sara, who has made known her disdain for JLA in no uncertain terms.  Litter box location noted, it's important to have a fully functional vacuum cleaner laying around, and since my current years-old Royal bag-less model is currently in the business of shredding belts, I bought myself a small Hoover canister vacuum yesterday.  Being something of a clean-freak (my daughters once got me a Mr Clean doll for Christmas...go figure), I can't wait to see how well it works.  My mother has an Oreck vacuum that can suck the fuzz off a peach, so that's what I'm ultimately shooting for, one day, in my quest to effectively clean.

One final thought:  I was looking through some older postings the other evening, and it does occur to me how much things...and I for that matter...have changed over the past six months.  Better?  Absolutely.  While there are challenges a-plenty (try getting a lawyer to do anything...), all told I am in a far better place now than I have ever been in, least in a very long time.  It's almost frightening in many ways in that part of me is almost afraid that somehow something will happen to make it all come crashing down.  Think "getting struck by asteroid" kind of stuff.  Oh so irrational, but never the less lurking in my skull.  Part of continuing to grow as a person...and I firmly believe that the key to good mental health for everyone at every age is continued personal growth...though lies in always trying to understand how you feel and running those thoughts through something of a reality filter.  Here's to keeping the reality filter unclogged.


Post Script:
I've just spent about an hour and a half cleaning up some old files.  Yes, there has been some real clean-up today.  Mission quasi-accomplished.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Newt Gingrich

Former Speaker of the House, twice divorced strong advocate for family values, and server of divorce papers in the hospital Newt Gingrich announced today that he is forming a committee to set up a website that will determine whether he should set up an exploratory committee to consider running for President..maybe.  Or something like that, I think.

Anyway, story link HERE.

Supreme Court & Westboro Baptist Church

The US Supreme Court has upheld the "right" of Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals for US service members, as long as that picket takes place on public land.  You can read the story HERE.

I find the sacrifice of oneself for our country to be one of the ultimate expressions of giving and nobility.  Every member of the US armed forces who dies in combat is a hero, period.  It doesn't matter if the cause was justified or not, as they were following orders and willingly put themselves in harms way.  Heroes, period.

I find the actions of "Pastor" Fred Phelps and his mostly family-based congregation from Topeka Kansas to be repugnant to the extreme.  These people picket and chant anti-homosexual rants at the funerals of people who are not gay, but happened to be convenient opportunities to publicize their "cause".

In my simple, humble opinion, there is no such thing as an unlimited right to free speech.  You should be able to say whatever you want...and so should Fred Phelps.  But saying that "you can't disrupt a funeral with your free speech" is VERY different than "you can't have that free speech".  If "Pastor" Phelps wants to rant, for example, that Tony the Tiger is a gay icon, then that's fine with me...just don't interrupt my breakfast doing it.  Now that's a very silly example but it's no more silly than the connection "Pastor" Phelps tries to make between gays and dead heroes.

If we, as a society, can't provide to the families of dead service members an environment where they can grieve the deaths of their sons and daughters in peace, then we as a society have FAILED those very same heroes.  We have failed them, period.

Yes, I fully realize that service members die to uphold ideas like free speech.  Yes, "Pastor" Phelps should be able to spew his nonsensical rants.  My point though is that nothing should institutionalize the idea that "Pastor" Phelps' right is greater than the right of those families who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  Let "Pastor" Phelps rant, but keep that rant out of the eyes and ears of grieving families.  

5 Reasons Why I Will NOT Get An IPad

Apple's LOA CEO Steve Jobs announced the new IPad version yesterday.  You can read about it HERE.

I do my very best to avoid Apple products in the same way that most people should avoid buying used furniture from a crack house.  Why?  Well here are a few good reasons:

  1. Hypocrisy - Apple tends to preach "peace, love and granola" as their corporate image, but the reality is that they are just about a shrewd as you can get in business.  I'm sure that most of Apple's sock-less users would be shocked to learn some of the secrets behind how many of their products are produced (but you can by clicking HERE). 
  2. Virtual Keyboards - I can't stand virtual keyboards.  Maybe this because I didn't learn "keyboarding" in school, but instead I learned how to "type".  I need the rhythm and tactile feel of keys.  Yes, I know, I am old.   
  3. Arrogance - Apple decides that they don't like Adobe Flash (for just one example; I could also say USB drive, replaceable batteries, etc.), therefore you can't have it.  Looks like you will not be doing that web-based training on your company provided IPad any time soon.
  4. Closed Architecture - I am a fan of open-sourced environments, so Apple's insistence that they...and only they...can decide what you can see, what you can hear and what you can do on their products (wait, make that YOUR product after YOU buy it).  Apple basically thinks for you.  Speaking of thinking for you...
  5. Too Much Ease of Use...To this very day I have trouble figuring out iTunes.  It seems so simple that anything you want to do outside of what Apple wants you to do becomes almost impossible. I want some buttons and controls so that I can customize my experience to my needs (not what Apple thinks my experience should be).
I'll stay stuck outside of planet Apple's orbit, thank you very much.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feedback

I heard from someone who read my HSB 50 comments and asked the following question:  Well how would you feel if one of your daughters were a lesbian?

Fair enough question, so here is my answer.  It is, by the way, the same answer that I've actually given to my daughters, consistently, over the years.

I want my children to live full, happy lives.  It's my hope that such a full life includes being in a committed, loving relationship with someone who is honest and respectful to them in all ways.  If that person happens to be the same sex, then so be it.  I don't care about the genital organs in question...I care about how that person treats my daughter (make that plural).

Ubuntu Update

Just a quickie:  I continue to be very impressed with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS that I installed on my Sony Vaio.  The Sony is now lightening fast (for reference sake, it has a dual-core processor and 2gb of RAM) and all of the installed hardware on the machine works like a charm. 

Fast?  Well here an example: 

Sony Vaio boot to open web browser (at home)...about 30 seconds

Lenovo ThinkPad boot to Lotus Notes (at work)...18 minutes

A better comparison is to my Gateway netbook, which boots to a browser in about two minutes.  That's still significantly slower than Ubuntu.

Now in defense of the ThinkPad, Lotus Notes takes a decent chunk of time to load with it's seemingly centuries old code.  Also, the ThinkPad is navigating through a corporate IT infrastructure that would make a CIA Geek go "damn, that's intense!".  Rumor has it that my employer has a version of the WOPR running in a basement somewhere in New Jersey.

Note to anyone associated with my employer:  that last sentence is a joke, all be it a very bad, 80's dated joke.  Joke as in laughter. Laughter as in things that lawyers and compliance directors (well some of them...I know one that is an exception) probably need to do more of for reasons of general health and qualify of life.

Anyway, my only remaining challenge lies in getting my Lexmark combination printer/scanner/copier/ de-louser/heater/tiller/water-pic working.  Note that I haven't really tried yet, mainly due to a lack of time. 

More to come, but so far I'd give Ubuntu an "A" for performance and ease of navigation.  If you have an old virus ridden desktop or laptop that you want to bring back to life, do yourself a favor, live dangerously by spending the $10 to install Ubuntu.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

George F. Will on Teach for America

By way of disclaimer, my oldest daughter is hoping to participate in this program upon graduation.  That noted, conservative commentator George F. Will wrote a great column about the Teach for America program.

You can read the column HERE.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin, Take 1...At this stage it's glaringly clear that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's actions to severely limit collective bargaining rights among pubic employees is mostly about reducing the political power of unions...unions that traditionally support Democratic candidates.  This is juxtaposed against the Citizen's United decision, in which the United States Supreme Court gave corporations free political spending rights*, effectively bolstering the political power of a major group of Republican party backers.  Yes, Wisconsin is more about political strategy than it is about budgetary strategy.

Wisconsin, Take 2...It's also very clear that state and local level politicians who receive significant financial support from public sector unions have not always acted in the best interests of taxpayers.  Think of it this way:  if you significantly helped your boss receive a promotion, would not expect that same boss to be at least somewhat beholden to you when it came time to deciding your salary, benefits, work rules, etc?  Look, the point here is this:  don't believe the sheer, utter bullcrap you hear from the extreme fringes, be they on the right and left, in this debate.

What to do?


Right...The right needs to acknowledge that public sector employees should be able to join unions that can effectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions.


Left...The left needs to realize that the pubic coffers aren't an open checkbook.



Solution...The political system needs to change so that public employees can no longer negotiate with someone they help elect.  Perhaps management in public sector labor negotiations should be represented by a pool of individuals who represent taxpayer interests, as expecting elected politicians to do this is like me expecting my cat to not drink out of the toilet.


(*) Not "free speech" rights, as I fervently believe that if you equate "free speech" with political contributions, you inevitably end up having to conclude that those with the most money get the most (the loudest) speech.  How is that in any way good for our political system?  Is it not at the heart of American democracy that "all men are created equal"?  If a politician listens to you because you gave him money but ignores me because I did not then how could you conclude that we are "created equal"?

Good Blogger/Bad Blogger

Bad Blogger...It's been a few days since I've written anything, but I have a few good excuses in the guise of taxes, student financial aid applications and a few other things percolating in my general vicinity.

Good Blogger...I have been informed that this blog entry will be referenced in the March issue of ACCESSline, Iowa's 25 year-old LGBT+ newspaper (I know, that reads like a canned press-release kind of thing, but I wanted to get the name right).  As someone who occasionally travels to Iowa, I am particularly glad that I've written something that adds to the discussion about human rights in the state.  Note the term I use, as I don't consider the notion of treating someone differently on the basis of their sexuality to be anything other than that of human rights.  I basically don't care who you sleep with, you shouldn't care who I sleep with, and the government sure as hell shouldn't care who either of us sleeps with (take that Ricky Santorum) via "rights denying" legislation.