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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Liz Randol for Lackawanna County Commissioner

When it comes to the upcoming county commissioner's race, there are a few things that I know for certain.  They include:


Corey O'Brien...will NEVER, EVER receive my vote.  Never.  He likes to spend money on "stuff" but then claims poverty when the discussion turns to the much needed county reassessment.  Sorry Corey, I'm not buying it.  Not all of us are idiots, and in fact some of us realize that you and other politicians simply don't want the reassessment completed precisely because it will point out many properties that are either not on the tax rolls or which are assessed at dramatically low rates.  Hmmm, might these properties belong to the well connected?  Too slick Corey, way too slick.

Speaking of slick, nice move on Attorney O'Brien's part in naming Ms Jeanette Mariani as his running mate...well nice move if this were 1980.  I get it:  he needs to "balance the ticket" with someone having a different ethnic last name.  Being a woman is a plus too.  But Ms Mariani's only real claim to fame is that she is the mayor of Blakely, a town containing about a 6,700 people (reference HERE). Are we to believe that having an Italian surname and being a small town mayor from "up da line" is qualification enough for county commissioner?  Certainly I can argue that being mayor of Blakely isn't.  I have nothing against Ms Mariani, other than the seemingly cynical choice of having her as a running mate for Corey O'Brien.

Jim Wansacz is also on my list of people to NEVER, EVER vote for in ANY election.  Why? Mr Wansacz was part of the "self-service" state legislature in Pennsylvania that was remarkably good at taking care of themselves, but remarkably poor at taking care of state business.  I'm sure Mr Wansacz is a personable enough guy, but what other work experience does he bring to the table for the county commissioner position?  As previously noted, I hold his experience in the legislature AGAINST him.

Other candidates include various current and former Scranton School Board directors.  Anyone who believes that the Scranton School Board was/is an efficient, effective governmental body that managed tax money well and always put the education of children first needs a pre-frontal lobotomy.  Do I sound angry?  Good, because I am.  The Scranton School District suffers from a bloated administrative staff and places far too much emphasis on sports.  What's more, the board gleefully accepts the fact that their solicitor is also the head the Scranton Democratic Committee (as I have noted before, this is a blatant conflict of interest).  So Mr Jeffers, Mr O'Malley, sorry,  you are disqualified in my book.

So where does this leave me?  Well I actually found a candidate that I am reasonably excited about:  Ms Liz Randol.  Why?  Just a few reasons:

  • She is well educated and has professional (as opposed to school board hack or self-serving legislator) experience in government 
  • She doesn't seem connected to the "politics as usual/right sounding last name" crew
  • She (is obviously) a woman, and it's about damn time our county commissioners consist of more than just middle-aged white guys
  • She has an extensive resume that includes countless volunteer activities...clearly she is dedicated to giving back to our community


You can find a link to Ms Randol's webiste HERE.  You an also hear her being interviewed by Steve Corbett on this WILK link.

By way of disclose, I am not related to, nor have I ever met Ms Randol and I do not plan on contributing to her campaign.   I do think, however, she is the breath of fresh air that Lackawanna County needs in a county commissioner's seat.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Now Starting the 48th Year

In theory, with age comes wisdom.  Note the word "theory", as I've seen some glaring examples of where that isn't necessarily the case on either end of the spectrum.  Anyway, I am a year older so I should be a year wiser to boot.  So what has this wisdom taught me?  Well allow me to ponder.  Note that I'm not going to claim that this is all "new" or original stuff and or thought.

Forget Acid...The most corrosive thing in the universe is guilt.  Now I'm not claiming that all guilt is bad, but too much, especially when senselessly applied, certainly isn't healthy.  Be guilty if you steal something; don't be guilty if you fail to live up to someone unrealistic expectations.  Be guilty if you intentionally harm someone; don't be guilty for protecting yourself or those you love.

Have Fun...One of the smartest things I've heard in a long time comes courtesy of Ms Marshall, who told me "adults are allowed to have fun too".  Sounds simple, huh?  Well not so for me, as it has taken a long time, figuratively speaking, to realize this simple point.  No matter how old you are, fun should be a part of your life.  Don't know how to have fun?  Watch some kids and go from there.

Learn Baby Learn...Never stop learning, ever.  Your mind really is like a muscle...it is healthiest when you exercise it frequently.

Take Calculated Risks...If you take no chances, you are guaranteed to fail.  Now this doesn't mean I'm advocating doing stupid things...hence the "calculated" part...but never the less it's important to reach beyond the comfort zone with some frequency.

Assuming the Worst...isn't necessarily the best or the wost strategy, but it should be done strategically.  Think about your assumptions and weigh them against an honest assessment of reality.  Weigh what both your head and your heart tell you.  Speaking of trusting your head vs. your heart...

Trust Your Head...All things being held equal, if you are conflicted between your head and your heart, trust your head.  Logic has the benefit of consistency, something that isn't always true with emotion.  Logic also helps you see beyond the rage or rapture that the heart has a tendency to instill on a situation.

Everyone Has A Story...No one has a perfect existence.  Those smiling folks you see walking around at the mall? Chances are their existence is as messed up as yours...maybe even more so.  Never assume that the world is full of happy people and your are somehow the odd one out.

Don't Assume...that your life is somehow all mapped out for you, be it for good or otherwise.  It is amazing how unpredictable your life can become when you least expect it.

You Don't Have The Answers...No matter how smart, insightful, skilled or otherwise clued in you may be, you simply don't have all the answers.  At best shoot for having a few good questions.

Appreciate The Small Stuff...We walk around consumed by all these big issues that plague our lives, and in doing so we miss so many small, wonderful things.  

Have A Pet...be it a dog or a cat.  Nothing helps you feel more appreciated than a small creature that relies on you for food, shelter and companionship.

Read Poetry..,Poetry is one of those wonderful paradoxes of the universe whereby a collection of words creates something that is far greater than the sum total of the individual parts.

Just Do...Sometimes when my head is swirling about me and I'm lost in a fog of indecision, it helps to just start doing something. Be it cleaning, organizing files, or whatever, sometimes the best therapy involves some action.

Be The Master Of You...Don't believe that others, be they friends, family or any individuals, have some magical power over you.  Only you control you because only you have to live within your own skin.  Certainly think of others, certainly be charitable, certainly care, but at the end of the day, never forget that you have a responsibility to be in charge of, and take of, yourself.  No one else will do this for you.

The World Is (Mostly) Gray...Forget all those idiots who see everything as being black or white.  I think there is far more gray out there than anything else. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Morris Arboretum

More pictures from the Morris Arboretum.







The arboretum has a fernery that is apparently "guarded" by a cat.


I suspect the cat was more interested in the Koi that were in the fernery's pond.  Needless to say we didn't let him in.  He seemed somewhat disappointed.


As noted the other day, I loved this place and will definitely be back, perhaps in the Fall.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Road Apples, #98

Blogger Geek...For the benefit of basically just myself, I've made a few tweaks to the page, including the addition of a new photo (more on that in a bit) and a title bar.  I know, not exactly Earth-shattering news, but then again I make a concerted effort to not change page elements all that often.  Actually I really like the current NCFE layout, and the title bar was added basically because I don't feel like wrestling with Photoshop at the moment.

Morris Arboretum...As referenced above, I added a new photo to the blog title.  This particular photo was one of about three dozen that I took while at the Morris Arboretum yesterday.  Specifically, the photo is of a fountain that is a replica of one at a mosque in Spain.  How do I know this bit of detail?  Well that's courtesy of a terrific guide who indulged me as I was constantly snapping photos while asking all manner of silly questions and making countless mundane comments.  I was at the arboretum yesterday and it is a heck of an impressive place.  Drizzle aside, it was a great day for walking around all the beauty of nature combined with a few very well placed man-made structures.  Making it all the more striking is the fact that this place is in the greater Philadelphia area.  With a daughter going to West Chester University in the Fall, I have a feeling that there may be a return trip to the arboretum in my future.

Another photo from the trip...


Many thanks to both generations of Mrs Rivers for the tour.

You can find more out about the Morris Arboretum by clicking HERE to access their website.

Easter @ Home...Today is Easter Sunday, so I suspect I should make a comment or two about the holiday.  Or maybe I shouldn't.  Oh heck, why not?  I'll first state that I haven't gone to church to celebrate the season.  I'm not opposed to going to church for this or any other reason, but circumstances were such that I'd end up having to go alone, and well I've made a vow to myself that there are just certain things in my life that I simply refuse to do solo anymore, with one being the aforementioned church attendance.  There are other things that fall into this category as well (walking around Lake Scranton is another), but they all center around a common theme of trying to change old habits, patterns of thinking and ways of going about my life.  If Easter truly is about rebirth, then perhaps is rather fitting to be talking about changing old (bad) habits, such as those that invoke feelings of loneliness and general patheticism (I know, that isn't a real word, but think "the act of being pathetic"...hey, it's my daughter that is the English major, not me).  A church and I will become reacquainted at some point in time in the future.  For the time being though I'm just going to go on the premise that God simply understands.

On a Lighter Note...since this posting has taken a decidedly serious turn, I'm compelled to end it on an every so slightly lighter note.  Or* maybe not, depending on your perspective.  Anyway, here are about five minutes of some of the best music ever recorded by human beings.  From Abby Road...




(*) By the way & in response to a comment I received, I do realize that it is improper to start a sentence with a conjunction.  In fact I know that there are many English-language rules that I break all the time.  I'd like to think though that it's a bit more acceptable to break a rule if you at least realize that you are breaking it in the first place.  Or so I tell myself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Happy" Good Friday

I actually saw a news feed from a TV news talking head that started with "Happy Good Friday".  Now having been raised an observant Catholic, I thought to myself "gee, that sounds kind of odd".  It took me a while to figure out precisely why that seemed like such an odd statement, but it finally occurred to me that I was taught that there was nothing "happy" about Good Friday.

Now I'm religious or religiously educated enough to understand all of the subtleties associated with Good Friday, but what I do know that this is the day on which the faithful believe Jesus Christ was crucified.  Somehow the words "happy" and "crucified" don't seem to mesh very well together.  Now I do get it relative to the whole "salvation for mankind" deal, so perhaps on that level this is room for "happy", but still it seems to be a rather morbid concept to associate with the joyous.  Especially in this day and age.

Yes, it seems that there is no joy or happiness to be found in the concept of sacrifice in this day and age, unless you happen to be a soldier I suppose.  For most of the rest of us, the conditioning is in place such that we don't want to sacrifice anything.  Hell, we don't even want to be inconvenienced.  Remember, it was our society that created the very concept of fast food (getting food isn't enough...we have to get it fast, and if we have to wait five minutes for that burger, well damn we are going to be soooo upset).  The concept of "me, as the center of the word" is almost becoming ingrained in our DNA like a predisposition to an extra digit.  Maybe, hopefully, rightfully the pendulum will swing back one of these days and finding happiness in sacrifice for others will become fashionable again.

Maybe it really should be "Happy Good Friday" after all.

As a final note, one of the things that I've written and actually found insightful/inspirational was a posting from 2009 that I've pasted below.  Some things just seem well suited for an annual dust-off and display, and this is one of them

Repost...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

At the Garden of Gethsemane

One of the most insightful (at least for me) biblical stories is found in the Gospel of Matthew, and deals with Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane. In case you are not overly familiar with the story, it takes place the day before the Crucifixion of Christ. The details aren't so important to this discussion, other than Christ goes to this garden to pray, knowing that he would be betrayed by Judas, turned over to the Romans, and ultimately put to death.

Now what's so insightful about that?

Consider This: According to Christian teaching, Christ...being God...knew that by going to Gethsemane he would ultimately be put to death. At any point he could have changed his path and spared his own life, but he chose not to. He consciously sacrificed his own life, if you believe in Christian teaching, for the greater good of all mankind.

Consider This: To this day, people make conscious choices that ultimately lead to their death. For example, Father Mychal F. Judge, a Franciscan priest, went into the south tower of the World Trade Center after it had been hit by an airplane to minister to the wounded. While history doesn't record whether or not he thought he would die, it's pretty clear he knew what he was doing was exceptionally dangerous.

In the final analysis, some of us will be faced with our own "Garden of Gethsemane", where we need to make a choice between self-preservation or preservation of the greater good. Ultimately that is the most personal of decisions that anyone can make, and furthermore I doubt any of us are prospectively capable of saying what we would do if put into that situation. There is, however, no greater love that can ever be expressed than through the thoughtful and conscious act of sacrificing oneself for the greater good.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Road Apples, #97

Toys...I continue to spend time learning how to fully use my now (very) smart phone.  The phone in question is a Palm Pre Plus and I continue to be impressed with all the "stuff" it can do. I have something like a dozen apps that I've installed on it, and some have turned out to be really useful, such as Weather.com.  Yesterday I got it set up to sync with my gmail calendar (now I just have to start using it...the gmail calendar that is).  Very smart indeed.

Chief Duffy...The saga continues of Scranton's police chief who insists, *gasp*, on actually fighting crime.  Why the audacity of the guy!  As I wrote earlier, Scranton's police union has filed a grievance, complaining that the chief shouldn't be stopping crime.  You simply can't make this stuff up.  As I mentioned this whole situation to a colleague at work we were both amazed at just how utterly idiotic this makes the police union look.  This is, I suppose, what happens when you let your emotions (emotions such as "I want to really screw the mayor because I think he is screwing me") get the best of you.

Graduation...In the "you are really getting old" department, my oldest daughter is graduating from college early next month.  Go figure...I think of myself as barely being an adult, but yet now I have a child who is getting a college degree.  Damn, life truly is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

Janet Evans...There has been something of an on-going war in the local media about the status of Scranton's City Council President, Janet Evans.  Specifically, Ms Evans is on a disability leave from her job as an English Teacher at Scranton High School due to some kind of back injury.  Apparently the Scranton School District (SSD for short) believes that they owe no one an explanation as to her status, how much she is getting paid, etc.  Not helping matters is the fact that the SSD's chief lawyer is the chairman of the local Democratic Party.  Anyway, it is puzzling that Ms Evans can sit for long hours at a Scranton City Council meeting but yet can't sit for long hours at school.  What's more, to her credit, she looks very healthy.  The bottom line though is that if you want to be paid by the public, then you should be prepared for lots of public scrutiny, period.

Conflict of Interest...Speaking of the SSD, the Chairman of the local Democratic Party would, you think, be inclined to do whatever he could to minimize the damage done to local elected Democrats, right?  I would think so, especially a Democrat who has some popularity, such as the previously mentioned Janet Evans. Fair enough.  What's not fair?  Well how about the fact that this same Chairman is ALSO the chief lawyer for the Scranton School District.  This leaves me asking the following question:  When Attorney McGrath is facing a conflict between his duty as Solicitor for the SSD (protecting the interests of the SSD and the taxpayers who pay his salary) and his role as local party boss & protector of Democrats (by, for example, protecting Ms Evans), what does he do?  Here's the answer that exists at least in my part of the private sector:  You simply don't allow even the appearance of such a conflict of interest in the first place.

I'll say this again...and again...and again...it is a conflict of interest for the same person to be BOTH a party official AND a Solicitor for a governmental body.  Recent events point this out in a most glaring manner.

Will this glaring conflict be resolved?  Of course not, as those same SSD Board members who could force Attorney McGrath to make a choice between these two conflicting roles will not precisely because they are beholden to him as the local Party Boss.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Self Inflicted Union Wounds

The Scranton Times reported yesterday that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP...the union  representing Scranton's police officers) has filed a grievance against the City of Scranton because...get this...the Chief of Police participated in an arrest while off duty.

Yes, the FOP leaders are upset that Chief Dan Duffy is fighting crime.

Here are a few words that came to mind when I read this story yesterday:

Stupid

Asinine

Ridiculous

Selfish

Nonsensical

Short-sighted

and so I could go on.

I want to note that I think Scranton has an excellent police force, and I've never had a bad experience with the public safety professionals that protect the citizens of Scranton.  In fact a number of years ago I was involved with a particularly difficult situation where a member of the Scranton Police Department was nothing short of outstanding in how he handled events.  In short, the officers themselves are true professionals, but what their union leaders are doing in this particular situation makes them look like idiots.  That, folks, is a real crime.

Speaking of real, the real issue here is that the FOP wants to always find new and creative ways to "stick it" to Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.  Fair enough.  However this is one instance where they have done more harm to themselves than anything else.  What sympathy I had for union workers in general from events in Wisconsin is eroded when nonsense like this comes to light.

I applaud Chief Duffy for more than doing his job.  As for the FOP leadership, well I suggest that they heed the old carpenter's adage when it comes to their public pronouncements:  measure twice, cut once.  Do you REALLY want to argue that Chief Duffy shouldn't be stopping crime?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tea Partying with Ayn Rand

As I understand it, Ayn Rand is something of a favorite among the Tea Party crowd.  Fair enough, and with Atlas Shrugged coming out as a movie, I'm sure many will be singing her free-market praises from the highs and the lows.  However, I wonder how many of that same ilk realize that she was also very much pro choice?

"One method of destroying a concept is be diluting its meaning.  Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living."

As quoted from Ms Rand herself (citation HERE).

Not enough for you?  Well how about I double down on this one?

"Abortion

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).
Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?"

(Ayn Rand on abortion...citation HERE).

Now since for many abortion is the only issue by which people are judged, does this mean that, for example, Pennsylvanians for Human Life will be telling one and all to boycott Ms Rand's work?  After all the stand of a politician on abortion seems to be the only litmus test that some apply to the voting decision...as if somehow every other stand the politician make take is now somehow "soiled"...then why wouldn't Ms Rand's work similarly be "soiled"?  Would not her stand on abortion make her "evil"?

These questions...and more...will not be answered by a Tea Bagger near you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fewer Blogger Units

I look at my recent postings are realize just how little I've actually been writing lately.  I'll pull a tea-bagger and blame it on the IRS...namely my having to finish the 2010 taxes.  Well that and a few other things.  Anyway, I've got a few budding posts in my head about...

...the extremely blatant conflict of interest that exists in the local Democratic Party leadership
...why some on the extreme Right seem intent on income redistribution...upward that is
...the whole Janet Evans mess (not news by the way, despite what the Scranton Times points out)
...whether there are enough angry white people to create an audience for Atlas Shrugged in NEPA
...thoughts on the county commissioner's race in Lackawanna County

...but for the moment I'll just have to wait a bit.  I do have a new phone (one of THESE) to set up and learn how to use, which is yet another distraction from the important business of self-expression.

And now for something completely different...

...ladies and gentlemen jeux Sans Frontières.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catholic Schools Closing

There as been much in the way of media coverage over the closing of four Catholic elementary schools in NEPA.  You can read a story about this topic HERE.

Anyone who is "shocked" or "saddened" by this probably has been in a deep coma for the past ten years.  Hello, this has been happening almost constantly now, probably to the point where parents of Catholic school children accept the possibility as just another cost of the education.  Yes, it has become that common.

I am, as you can probably tell, not surprised or shocked by this; as Bishop Bambera noted, the numbers just don't work out.  In the absence of some massive cost shifting via mechanisms currently being debated in the Pennsylvania Legislature, this trend will probably continue until such time as Catholic education becomes something of an even more elite treat for the families of the well-off and connected.  Put another way, there will never be another Bishop Hannan HS again, but Scranton Prep will always live on.

And so it goes.  I some ways I do admire the notion that there are parents out there who sacrifice for their children's education, even if the education they get may not necessarily be better than what they would receive in a public school.  The notion of sacrifice is all too often forgotten in our society today.  When parents believe that they are entitled to the McMansion, then shelling out a few thousand for Catholic school does tend to take a back-burner.  Growing up my experience was different, as my mother truly had to sacrifice to send three of four Albert boys to Catholic high school.  We were living in a housing project and she was working nights, so I know that it was extremely difficult for her to come up with the money to pay our tuition, but she did it never the less.  That kind of nobility is generally lacking in our society today, and it certainly manifests itself in some small way via the decline in Catholic education.

One final note: former Bishop of Scranton, Bishop Martino, regularly got skewered for his handling of school closures (including by me), and rightfully so. Bishop Martino seemed happiest when dictating to the flock, and almost seemed incapable of expressing compassion in a meaningful way.  I can't say the same for Bishop Bambera.  While I did not listen to all of his recent remarks about school closings, what I did hear was someone who genuinely seemed to feel the distress of this flock.  This is not an easy business, but Bishop Bambera seemed well equipped to handle it. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bad People

Something I've been contemplating lately:  are there truly "bad" people in the world?  I'm thinking that the obvious answer is yes, although that's yes with a caveat.



First and foremost, I suggest that we strip away the "lunatic mass-murders" from the equation.  There goes the likes of Kim Jong Il, Adolf Hitler, George Banks and such.  Why?  Because I'm thinking in those cases you are dealing with people who really aren't functional human beings; they are individuals so flawed that they probably don't have the same mental machinery as you or I do floating around in our collective skulls.  Someone like Hitler was so different that he was probably human in genetics only.  Note that I'm not giving him (and the others) a pass, but rather I'm suggesting that they are above and beyond simply being "bad".  These folks are evil.

Second, we have to consider the scope of this thing.  George Carlin once commented that there were no "...bad words.  Bad thoughts.  Bad intentions...", which rings true for me.  We all probably have bad thoughts...I know I do.  As for bad intentions, well I suppose that goes along with bad thoughts:  are you bad for having them or bad for acting on them?  It seems to me that "intentions" takes the notion of a thought one step further, in that it seems to represent a motive behind an action (in other words you have already done something).  So I'm going to conclude that bad thoughts are relatively common, but bad intentions are far less common.

Third, we have to consider just what constitutes "bad".  Is this a going against societal norms kind of thing?  It can't just be a matter of religion defining what constitutes bad, as different religions have different views on this kind of thing.  Equating the concept of bad strictly to a religious morality perspective basically ties you into a "I worship the RIGHT God but you don't" circular argument, which gets you nowhere.  Case in point:  divorce.  The Catholic Church considers divorce to be bad (and I quote , "Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law." Citation HERE).  That seems mighty "badish" to me.  Then again other organized religions, even ones fairly close to the Catholic Church in terms of rituals don't have nearly such a "badish" attitude on the subject (and I quote, "While the Episcopal Church believes that marriage is a sacrament intended to be life-ling, the Church recognizes that situations exist where civil divorce or annulments are necessary." Citation HERE).  On the other hand there are some fairly universal things considered to be bad, such as theft, murder, inflicting intentional harm of someone, assault, etc.  I'm going to conclude that while there some gray area in the the definition of what is considered "bad", there is also some basic agreement as well.  Maybe, just maybe, a definition for bad could be something like this:  it is an action where the motivation is purely self-interest but which in the pursuit of that self-interest inflicts substantial harm on others.

Decisions, decisions.

In totality I do believe that there are bad people out there, namely people who personally act in ways that intentionally cause harm to others for sole benefit of themselves.  They aren't mass-murders, and maybe in their own minds what they do is somehow justified, but never they less the harm they inflict outweighs any benefit created.  That's a sad thing to conclude, especially for someone such as myself who was raised to believe that people are good.  People are good.  However, sometimes conditions and circumstances make good people do bad things.  In the end it's maybe the sum total of those bad things vs the sum total of the good things that really determines whether or not someone is a "bad person".

Feeding the Monster

The above title is what I am actually doing these days.  Put another way, I'm finishing taxes which has a side benefit or detriment of allowing less time for "stuff" like blogging.  Oh well, I think the world will survive.  What's more, it gives me a chance to reference a really cool Beatles song.



Some breakfast with the Beatles if you will.

Song link HERE.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Road Apples, #96

Shutdown...Now that a government shutdown has been avoided and both sides can claim victory, will "the man with the tan" actually admit that there was a compromise reached?  As I recall he couldn't actually utter the word "compromise" in the past, as it would get him in dutch with the likes of Limbaugh.  Anyway, the compromise reached is a good thing.  Government isn't the enemy, but rather intractable politicians fit that bill.

West Chester...I took my youngest daughter to West Chester University yesterday for incoming students day. It was a nice day for travel, and the Cherry blossoms were in bloom in that part of the state.  The last time I was at West Chester it was a horrible, wretched day, for a variety of reasons;  not this time around.

IKEA...I had the chance to stop at IKEA on the way back from West Chester yesterday.  Damn those folks sure do know how to do retail.  It's probably a good thing that there isn't one close by, as I'd probably end up spending far too much time and money there anyway.  For about $15 I got a ton of stuff, including two umbrellas, a cutting board, and a few other things.  Score one for the Swedes.

Coolest Name Department...The previously missing cobra from the Bronx Zoo has been named "Mia" (get it...M.I.A.), which is pretty cute.  Even cuter?  The bogus tweet that claimed the cobra's actual name is "Mrs Justin Bieber".

Blogger Fest...Apparently there is an upcoming NEPA Blogger Fest on April 29th from 6 to 9pm (follow Facebook HERE). Spring is in the air, and along with it comes flowers, showers and primary election candidates, so the timing could not be better.  The location continues to be in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre neutral zone of Pittston, although I'd argue that is actually a part of "lessor Wilkes-Barre" (note that I have been corrected on such things in the past by a certain resident of another part of lessor Wilkes-Barre...but so I digress).  

Uncle Buck's...Speaking of "lessor Wilkes-Barre", I had the opportunity to have dinner at Uncle Buck's BBQ in the thriving metropolis of Plymouth yesterday (that would be "Plimmit" to you Wilkes-Barre residents).  The place was opened by a former co-worker, and I have to report that the food was outstanding.  Highly recommended.  You can find the address to Uncle Buck's HERE.

Favorite Einstein Quote...I was referencing this quote over dinner at Uncle Buck's yesterday...

When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute-and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity.

Genius lies in the making the truly complex simple, which is why Albert Einstein was a true genius.

 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shutdown

Shutdown is where the government is headed.

On the left we have the brigade of the wishy-washy:  those who think that, while money not be the root of all evil, it can certainly cure all evil.  They are idiots.  Just throwing money at problems has never solved the serious issues we have faced in this country (which is why we have so many serious problems).  These are folks who, while basically well intentioned, seem to forget that sometimes the greatest act of kindness you can perform for someone is to tell them the truth.  For example, the truth is that no one is entitled to a particular lifestyle.  Don't like you current one?  Then work your ass off and get a new one.

On the right we actually have two factions:

Old Guard Republicans who are genuinely interested in reducing the size of government but who also know that "winning" most of what you want is actually a good thing.  This isn't the most fiscally conservative crowd in the world, despite how they may crow now.  Remember, the size of government has grown just as fast...if not faster...under Republican administrations (even "Saint" Ronald Raygun).  This crew is just looking for a way out of the shutdown.  This is where "the man with the tan*" resides as well; pay no attention to the tea-bagger tendencies you see him spew...at the moment that group just happens to be his puppet master.

On the lunatic fringe of the Republicans we have the tea baggers who seem intent on just letting the government shut down (there were a few hundred bagger demonstrators in Washington DC shouting "shut it down" yesterday) just to prove that somehow government isn't really needed.  Tell that to soldiers in the field and government workers at home.  Speaking of government workers, my very conservative younger brother works for the Office of Mine Safety.  His comment on all of this:  "sometimes people forget that there is a face behind every government worker".  It's the tea baggers who seem to feel that any compromise is equivalent to surrender.  Mark my words:  they will be their own undoing.  Government is about compromise.

Where do I fit into all of this?  Government does need to go on a diet, we need to spend less and the tax system needs to be simplified.  The wealthy should pay more as a percentage of their income simply because they have received far greater benefits from our society.  There should be a social safety net in place to prevent those who are destitute from incurring real harm.  But for those who are able-bodied work should be the requirement.

In my mind, no one is entitled to money from the government to run a lifestyle. For example, I'm sick and tired of seeing people using an Access card to buy groceries then proceed to pay cash for cigarettes.  Oh, and they are talking on their cell phones while they are doing this stuff.  Hello! If you need government assistance for food, then obviously you don't need as much since you apparently have the cash on hand to buy drugs (I mean smokes) and talk on a cell.

Society does need a re-order, but it's not going to happen because a bunch of wishy-washy folks on the extreme left or nutty tea baggers on the extreme right have a lock on the truth.  The truth, as it has often been said, is to be found somewhere in the middle. 



(*) Speaker John Boehner is from Ohio.  How is it that he was so tanned in January/February?  He is not from some swarthy country and it's not as if he is going home to Florida.  The guy looks like George Hamilton.  Between the stress of being Speaker, hours in tanning beds and constant smoking, I'm thinking that Speaker Boehner will not exactly be enjoying a healthy later years.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Remember When...

...singers actually had good singing voices?  You know, in the days before auto-tune and Britney Spears.  Anyway, in keeping with that thought Olivia Newton John comes to mind.

Proposed New Packaging for Cigarettes in Australia

The Australian government is proposing that all cigarette packages be a dull olive color, contain graphic images of the harm caused by smoking, contain a written warning and only display the brand name in small text at the foot of the package.

Here is a sample:



The intent is to strip away the marketing aspects of cigarette packaging that makes it appealing to people.  Personally I think it's a great idea.  It is not as if the packages contain any false statements (smoking really does cause mouth and throat cancer).

Of course this will not happen here, as we would never want to discourage people from smoking by forcing them to acknowledge the truth about their drug habit. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ryan Budget Proposal

Paul Ryan...Congressman from Wisconsin, released the de facto GOP budget blueprint yesterday.  You can read about it HERE.  This budget isn't as much about fiscal policy as it is about ideology.  For example, it clearly makes the case that the well off should be taxed less (dropping the highest personal and corporate tax rates).  It also basically begins a massive shift on health care costs.

The biggest flaws in the ideology here, in my opinion, are two fold:

Health Care...somehow consumers can keep medical inflation in check through the magical power "of the free market"; that's a sad, laughable joke.  Having a heart attack?  Gonna "shop" for the best quality @ lowest cost doctor?  Gonna haggle on the price of that insulin at your local CVS?  Simply put, the free market doesn't work when a consumer is captive, which is why "free market" reforms for health care don't work.  Health care costs go up at double digit rates annually simply because service and product providers want profits that go up at double digit rates annually.  Insulin, for example, isn't a commodity that lends it self to being "shopped" for; if you are diabetic, you buy insulin regardless of the price.

In addition, the Ryan plan will only increase government funding for the Medicare replacement at a rate indexed to GDP; note that health care costs have typically increased at a 10%+ rate over the past 20 or so years.  GDP may, in a very good year, increase by 3%.   So who will be paying for that cost gap?  Hint:  You and me, unless of course the "free market fairy" comes along and magically makes it better.

Tax Rates...I agree that tax rates should, in general, be lower and the tax code should be vastly simplified.  It's a crime that most American's can't even complete their own tax forms.  However, simply lowering the top and corporate tax rates...without vastly reducing tax evasion loopholes...does nothing other than give those that have even more.  Make no mistake about it:  Congress is no more interested in having corporations pay their fare share than Courtney Love is interested in personal hygiene.

Now there is this Limbaugh-esque inspired fantasy out there that somehow the United States has the enormously high corporate tax rate, which on the surface is true; however if you turn over the rock you'll see that effectively there are so many tax dodges in this country that it's probably impossible to even determine the effective, actual corporate tax rate.  There is a great article on this topic HERE.


Bottom Line:  I'm all for things like personal responsibility, but at some point you have to wonder why those that have so much need even more.  This applies to corporations, wealthy individuals and those in the health care service delivery chain.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Let's Play "What Are The Odds", UConn Edition

Okay, in light of the basketball championship between Butler and UConn, I thought it might be fun to play a game called "What are the odds?".

Here's how the game works:  I'll list two completely different things and you guess which is more likely to happen.

Ready?

Here we go:  What are the odds of...

...dying from some form of cardiovascular disease

OR

...a UConn basketball player actually graduating with a college degree


The a answer?  Well here we go...

The odds of dying from some form of cardiovascular disease in the United States, according to the American Heart Association is roughly 1 in 29, or 34.3%.  You can find the data HERE.

According to a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, UConn's graduation rate for basketball players is 31%.  You can read an article that lists the graduation rates for 21 of the NCAA Tournament teams HERE.

Yes, you read that correctly:  You have a greater chance of dying from some form of cardiovascular disease than a player on the UConn Huskies has of actually graduating from college.  Quite frankly that's some disturbing stuff.

Now in case you are curious, the graduation rate for Bulter, UConn's opponent in the final tournament game is a very respectable 83%.  That's in keeping with the best of schools in the tournament.

The moral of the story, at least for me is pretty simple:  UConn is a jock factory that is more interesting in winning basketball games than it is in actually graduating the young men who are lured to the school.  Many of these student-athletes are given an opportunity to get a free college education from a (in theory) respected university; what's more, they are one injury away from actually needing that college degree to earn a living.

Three things need to happen here:
  1. The administration of the University of Connecticut should be ashamed of its abysmal graduate rate, and make positive changes to increase the team's graduation rate.
  2. The NCAA should bar teams with such horrendous graduation rates from tournament play.  
  3. The professional sports media should be paying more attention to this issue, as this game should in fact be about the student-athletes who give it their all.  
I don't follow college basketball, but I do know that this time around I will be hoping for a Butler win.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Likely 2012 Republican Candidates

I have laundry a-spinning around, so what better time to wax philosophical about potential 2012 Republican candidates?  By the way, there is a good resource for this kind of information (of the factual kind, as opposed to my snarky kind) HERE.  Anyway, here is the list and my stupid/silly commentary. Note that I'm not going to mention every Tom, Dick and Limbaugh-wannabe who is considering a run (sorry John Bolton).

Michele Bachmann
Ms Bachmann is a Congresswoman from Minnesota and is certifiably insane.  I can't believe that anyone, well outside of immediate family and people suffering from head-trauma would even consider voting for her.  Want 4 more years of Barack Obama?  Then support Michele Bachmann.

Haley Barbour
Mr Barbour is the current governor of Mississippi and a former chairman for the GOP.  He also speaks with such a southern accent that you'd swear he was doing voice-overs for a remake of Deliverance.  I have nothing against Mr Barbour, outside of the fact that he's probably more of an ideologue than anything else.  If the party were united behind him I could see him posing something of a challenge to Obama.

Herman Cain
I've actually heard of this guy by the way, hence inclusion on this ridiculous list.  The Republicans will nominate a black guy to be president right after the College of Cardinals nominates me to be the next Pope.  Next.

Mitch Daniels
Mr Daniels is the governor of Indiana, which is a fairly conservative state (home and J. Danforth Quayle).  I like Mitch Daniels...not on every issue, but he seems more intellectual and honest than many of his peers.  I also believe that he is not well liked in the hard-core talk radio circuit, which is a plus.  He was born in Western Pennsylvania by the way. 

Newt Gingrich
Mr Gingrich is famous for two things:  first for getting kicked out as Speaker of the House and second for serving a former wife divorce papers while she was in the hospital getting treated for cancer.  Obviously a "family values" candidate.  To be honest, when Mr Gingrich is NOT running for office I do enjoy listening to him speak on economic issues.  Stands zero chance of getting nominated and even less chance of (if a miracle happened and he did get nominated) beating Obama.

Mike Huckabee
Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is someone what I really want to like.  There are elements of his personal story, such as his weight loss and advocacy for healthy living, that I find compelling.  However, it's become clear over the past few months that Mr Huckabee will resort to all manner of truth bending (to the point of breaking...see reference to his comments a month or so ago about Obama, Kenya and Boy Scouts) in order to win favor with the tea baggers of this world.  I think the guy has a shot at the nomination, but in the end I don't think he will get it precisely because he is a nice guy.

Ron Paul
Texas Congressman Ron Paul is nuts, but not in the same way that, for example, The Bachmann is nuts.  No, Congressman Paul actually actually nuts about serious issues, which is actually rather refreshing.  For example, as The Bachmann is railing on about how Obama was born in Kenya (or is that Indonesia?) and is a Muslim, Congressman Paul is talking about the perils of not auditing the Federal Reserve.  The Libertarian in me...the one who thinks that people should just be left alone to do what they want as long as no one else gets hurt in the process...really likes Ron Paul.  While I don't agree with Ron Paul on many issues, I really do admire his honest "I don't care if it's popular or not" attitude.  Precisely because he is honest he will not get the Republican nomination, as hardcore politicos...the kind that run primaries...only want to be told what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.

Tim Pawlenty
Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty isn't someone that I know an awful lot about.  I do like many things Minnesota...Prince and Garrison Keillor come to mind...so I'm going to keep an open mind about Mr Pawlenty.  In looking over this stance on the issues I'm not sure there is an awful lot that stands about about Mr Pawlenty.  They all seem to love God, unborn babies, and guns.  Next.

Mitt Romney
Also known as Guy Smiley.  There are a few things that stand out about Mitt Romney:

1) He is the policy father of President Obama's Healthcare Reform act
2) His father was an executive at a failed car company (AMC)
3) He is a Mormon

The first two things will probably not mean a hill-o-beans when it comes to hard-core Republican voters.  The third probably will. I actually think Romney will probably get the nomination, eventually, but the Evangelical Christian base will not be all that excited about Mitt in a general election.  As someone who has spent quite a bit of time studying Mormon beliefs (and I actually once made something of a field trip to Salt Lake City once), I can basically state for the record that Mormon's don't actually have all that much in common with main-stream Protestants.  That's not a negative value judgment on my part by the way, as I actually find the Mormon faith to be fascinating (hence the studying of it) and the LDS I have met to be nothing short of extremely friendly.


What a long, strange trip it will be.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trip, Stumble and Fall

I think the above is an actual title from some 50's or 60's song, although I'll man-up right now and state that I'm not motivated enough to actually look it up.  I mention it though because yesterday morning an iron (as in the clothes variety) and I had a close encounter of the singeing kind.

The target was the finger next to my thumb on the left hand. 

So what's the connection? Well I have to confess that I am something of a klutz.  Uncoordinated if you will.  Quasi-accident prone.  Lacking any sense of dexterity and basic rhythm to be kind.

(The Brothers Albert:  Chris, Steve, Rich & Joe)


As a kid I did endure some rather light-hearted banter from my brothers on this very subject.  Sure, each of the "Brothers Albert" has his own special skill, but in addition to that I had my own special anti-skill, namely the whole klutz thing.  The reasons for this are at least somewhat clear...

...I am just a big person (6'3") with big, duck-like feet (size 13 wide)
...I don't have good depth-perception
...I'm not a person who can dance or has any natural sense of rhythm
...I am perfectly willing to be casual when handling things that are hot, sharp, etc.
...I distract very easily (Squirrel!)

...all of which equates to a propensity towards band-aides and neosporen.

Take this year for example:  now in 2011 alone I have managed to break some ribs (falling on ice) and burn a finger.  I blame (mostly) ice for the whole rib fiasco (which meant that I spent February in some real serious pain) and I blame my eyesight for the iron incident yesterday morning. 

On the good news side, I haven't managed to fillet myself yet this year with a box-cutter, but then again I haven't gotten around to replacing those ceiling tiles in the kitchen either.  I suppose that I should be both more grateful and cautious at the same time.  Note the word "suppose".

So I'll end this by noting for the future that anyone who ends up spending significant time with me going forward should come prepared with basic first aid skills.  Oh, and don't ever let me separate frozen hot dogs with a sharp knife.  Been there, stabbed that (with "that" being my right hand, a few years ago).