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

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: A Personal Odessey

Well it's nearly the end of 2011 and as such it makes some sense to take a few moments to look in the rear-view mirror.


The Rear View Mirror
One thing I've learned in 2011 is not to spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror.  Yes, reflection & retrospection is a good thing, provided that it serves a useful, forward thinking purpose. Oh, and that it is not done at the expense of living in the now.  Life truly is short & time is fleeting, so why spend too much of it engaged in "if I had only" mental exercises?  In the past we did the best we could at the time, period.  This kind of acknowledgement is an important part of accepting ourselves for who we are as fully functioning human beings.


As A Dad
I have a lot of different names & titles but none is as important to me as that of "Dad".  As I have noted in the past in this space, growing up I didn't really have a functional father, so I have been determined over these past 23+ years to be for my children what I only dreamed of (and saw on TV...although I will confess some relief when I discovered that Mr Brady was actually gay) when I was a child.  Have I been successful? That's not for me to answer, but I will say two things for certain:


...I try very hard to be a good Dad & I don't take the role for granted
...I try to live an example in my own life of what I tell my girls should be important in their lives


To the latter I think some parents fall into the trap of "do as I say, not as I do". For example, we tell our children that they deserve to be in happy, healthy personal relationships, but those words are detrayed if we ourselves live in relationships that are unhealthy. How is this any different than the pot-head parent telling their own children "just say no"?


Note that I do not claim that this notion of "eating your own cooking" is ever easy; in fact I am living proof that this is actually extremely difficult.  But your children are smarter than you think (mine are...), and while even parents are allowed to make mistakes, the error of hypocrisy is very difficult to overcome. 


My "children" are actually adults now, ages 18, 19 & 23 (soon to be 24), so I guess I could look back and point to all my failings, but that would be foolish (see the rear-view miror).  Instead I will offer this:  one is a colledge graduate who is employed in the field she studied in school; one is a Dean's list Biology major at the University of Scranton and my youngest just finished her first semester at West Chester University, also making the Dean's List.  In totality, I think the evidence points to some success in the co-parenting world.


Professionally
This was probably one of the best years I have ever had professionally.  I report to someone who is a terrific manager himself, and the company is taking an interest in my personal development.  Well that last phrase is incorrect:  more correctly, I am being given the opportunity to explore development opportunities (meaning the door is open...but I need to do the walk'n through it).  This year also saw something for me that hadn't happened last since Bill Clinton was President, namely that I received a promotion.


It's all good stuff, and when I think about how difficult the job market is for some, I realize just how many blessings I truly enjoy.  


Personally
Life has its ups and downs, and no where was that more on display for me than in my personal life during 2011.  All told though, I've landed in a terrific place.  As I often times remind myself, sometimes you don't get what you want in life, but over time you always get what you need.  For me, nothing could be more true.  God at work?  I don't know, but sometimes you just have to accept that it's not possible to understand everything.  Faith?  Perhaps.


I'll end this trite tirade with completely different but equally true sets of thoughts:




To the second "W", here's to not ceasing from exploration.


****


End-Note:  In high school I was ungainly tall, extremely thin, fairly bright, very uncoordinated and exceptionally introverted.  In short, I was a pretty weird kid.  I heard about a book called "The Great Shark Hunt" and read it cover to cover over the course of about a week.  At that point I learned, for the very first time, that it was okay to be both smart and weird.  This past year I learned that maybe I'm not so all alone in that department.  Maybe we are all just a little bit smart and weird.  Anyway, a fitting final word from the author of that book...


"I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed."


- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Monday, December 26, 2011

Response to JD's comment

Comment from JD Curtis
Merry Christmas Steve.

And may your upcoming new year be every bit as gloomy, melancholy, darkly introspective, negative, stoic, foreboding, dejected, despondant, doleful, wistful, disheartening, glum, funereal, pensive, trite, and mirthless as your blog is. :)


Now this just begs for a response.

Gloomy...
Well I disagree with that assertion.  I think I can be gloomy from time to time, just like any other human, but please, Eeyore I am not.

Melancholy...
One would think that JD was describing Lydia Deetz.

Actually I don't own that much black.  Except for a pair of pants.  And some socks.

Darkly Introspective...
Okay, guilty on that charge.  But hey, life ain't sunshine, smiles and rainbows...unless you are JD Curtis I suspect.  Oooops, sorry JD...don't think that I am for one minute implying that you are Gay with the whole rainbow comment.  I know you feel about those people.

Negative...
Wrong.  I'm not the one who tells entire classes of people that they are somehow wrong.  Pot calling the kettle black on this one JD?  In point of fact I am one of the most positive people I know.  This goes to show you that anything you read on-line should be held in suspect relative to the truth.

Stoic...
Guilty as charged.

Foreboding...
Not really.

Dejected & Despondent...
There was a point in time when I did feel that way, but not now.  My life now is great, thank you very much!

Doleful...
Full of Dole?

Wistful & Disheartening & Glum...
Again, if you think you can really know someone from what you read in, of all place, a blog...well then I really want to sell you some stuff.  Can I stop by?  I have some real estate that I don't own that is burning a hole in my pocket as I type this...

By the way, since JD apparently do believe all that he sees and reads on-line, for the record I really look like this...

...except for the eyes.  Mine are hazel.

Funereal...
I confess to having to look this word up.  Kudos!  I disagree underlying thought, but I am impressed never the less with the language.

Pensive...
Seriously JD, you basically just started taking words for this list that were simply found in the definitions of other words.  I expect more than just blatant verbal recycling.

Trite...
You do realize that this is:
a) The Internet
b) We both have blogs
...right?  Please do tell me what parts of on-line blogging are not trite? Hell, at least I am man enough to admit it!

Mirthless..
Those that really know me will tell you that I am a pretty funny guy.  Now not as funny as, say, Rush Limbaugh as he makes fun of blacks, homosexuals, and others (but not drug addicts...oops), but funny never the less.


But hey, at least you didn't include hypocritical on your mirthless, gloomy and pensive list.

So Happy Holidays JD...and here's to a mirthful 2012!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Road Apples, #118

Handel's Messiah...As something of a tradition...well to the extent that two years in a row constitutes a tradition...I recently attended a performance of Handel's Messiah, this year at St. Luke's in downtown Scranton.  I can't claim to be the world's biggest fan of religiously inspired classical music, but this is very enjoyable when you hear it performed by a group such as the Robert Dale Chorale.  It makes you realize just how tremendously talented some of the local folks are in NEPA.  I have to thank Ms Rivers for continuing to contribute to my cultural learnings.

Somewhat Less than Classical...Two movies I recently purchased:  Woody Allen's Love and Death and The Fifth Element.  I watched Love and Death the other night with Katrina.  The Fifth Element will probably be screened some time this week.

Unemployment Benefits...Congress is battling over unemployment benefits again.  There is a rather slanted, in my view, article HERE from the New Republic.  I am somewhat skeptical of adding too many conditions to the receipt of something like unemployment benefits, if for the only reason that workers do in fact pay into the system that provides these benefits.  Besides, isn't adding rules to legislation another example of "big, intrusive government"?

Tax Cuts...Coupled with the unemployment benefit legislation is the extension of what I've previously said is an ill-conceived tax cut.  Ill-conceived because this is a bogus tax-cut, robbing the Social Security System simply because Congress isn't capable of actually reforming the tax code in a way that would provide real, long-term tax relief.  Every day I wake up and read the news, and every day I see why the abysmal approval rating of Congress is deserved.

Bloomberg Businessweek...An enormous THUMBS DOWN to the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek.  I subscribe to the magazine and actually do enjoy the content they provide.  So why the thumbs down?  Well my subscription is up in early January, so towards the end of November I received a card from them stating that my credit card would be automatically charged $50 for a renewal on or about December 26th, and that if I wanted to cancel I could do any time before then to avoid the charge.  Fair enough I thought...I'd noodle it over and probably just go with the renewal.  So what I do I see when I reconcile my last statement?  Well sure enough, I got charged $50 by Bloomberg Businessweek...on November 30th.  Yes, they hit me almost a full month before they said they would.  So I called them yesterday morning to get the charge reversed, and low and behold it may take "1 to 2 billing cycles" before the my account is credited.  Yes...they took my money without my permission and will take their own sweet time to make it right.  They suck.

Occupy Scranton...I have to find out if the Occupy Scranton folks were evicted from courthouse square in Scranton yesterday. I don't have strong feelings about this either way, although I will say that this isn't something I would participate in myself.  I also found their "protest" about firefighter cuts in Scranton to be silly at best.  Can you say "tool of unions"?  Anyway, I say let them stay with two conditions:

  1. There isn't any illegal activity (drugs, etc) going on.
  2. Their presence doesn't negatively impact the use of the square by other individuals and groups.  This includes health and safety concerns that might arise from a quasi-permanent camp. 

Basically I don't think the rights of the protesters should supersede the rights of others.  If there is no conflict of rights then I say let them stay.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Test Post

This is a test using some new technology.  More to come.



Truly mobile blogging technology.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scary Newt...

Courtesy of the LA Times...link HERE.  This should scare the crap out of anyone with half a brain.

"Newt Gingrich says as president he would ignore Supreme Court decisions that conflicted with his powers as commander in chief, and he would press for impeaching judges or even abolishing certain courts if he disagreed with their rulings."

Favorite Beatles Covers

A listing of my favorite/what I consider to the be best covers of Beatles songs.  I've listed them in quasi-order..."quasi" in the sense that this is highly subjective stuff.

1.  In My Life
Cover by Johnny Cash.
Ponder this:  John Lennon wrote "In My Life" when he was in his early 20's, but yet a man who was in his 70's and near death records it and bring a a certain level of gritty authenticity to the tune.  Listen to the Cash version and you will hear the song for the very first time.  It's that good.

Trivia:  This is one of my daughter Rebecca's favorite songs.  One of mine too.

2.  Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Cover by Elton John & band.
I think one of the hallmarks of a great cover is that the re-recording artist brings something new to the song.  That's definitely the case with this version of the Sgt. Pepper's tune.  Elton's version has different sound to it, and the pacing of the vocals is completely different.

Trivia:  John Lennon plays guitar on this song & also contributes backing vocals (listen carefully to the chorus and you can hear him).  He is credited for the guitar work as "featuring the reggae guitars of Dr Winston O'Boogie".

3.  Something
Cover by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, et all.  From the Concert for George.
I know this may not technically be a cover, since it is being played in part by another Beatle, but remember that Something wasn't a Lennon/McCartney song.  I just love this version of the song, especially the initial piece where it is just McCartney, a ukulele,  and some light percussion.  This makes me want to sing along.  As originally recorded this song was a pretty heavy love song (Frank Sinatra called it one of his favorite love songs once), but at the hands of McCartney and Clapton is is transformed into what is at first almost a sing-along...then Clapton & company (such as the terrific Andy Fairweather Low) transform it back into a serious piece of emotional angst.

Trivia:  Rumor has it that McCartney didn't want to participate in the Concert for George and had to basically be shamed into joining the concert by Eric Clapton.

4.  Across the Universe
Cover by Rufus Wainright.
I think this was one of John Lennon's favorite songs songs, and I can't help but think that Lennon would really like this version.  It's all in the vocals by Wainright...he has this gritty but simple quality to his voice that makes the song come to life.  It almost has a spoken, poetic quality to it that I think really brings the words of the song to life.

Trivia:  The lyric "Jai guru deva om" roughly means "Give thanks for the heavenly teacher".

5.  Got To Get You Into My Life
Cover by Earth, Wind and Fire.
McCartney wrote this as something of a tribute to Motown, which then gets turned into an actual genre piece by a soul/R&B band (Earth, Wind and Fire).  This speaks to just how authentic a song-writer...and fan of music in general...McCartney actually was and is to this very day.  Truth be told, as a youngster I actually heard this version of the song long before I heard the Beatles version.

Trivia:  This was in the wretched St Pepper's movie spawned by the Bee Gees.


Bonus:  My two favorite covers performed by the Beatles:

Money, by Barrett Strong.
Lennon just belts this one out, and the rhythm of guitars throughout the tune makes you just want to tap your feet.  As is the case in many early Beatles songs you can barely hear McCartney's bass guitar.

Twist and Shout by Phil Medley and Bert Russell
Once again Lennon proves that he can belt out a rock-n-roll tune.  I love the parts in the middle & end of the song where each of the Beatles contributes an "ahhh".  At the very end you can hear one of them yelling "yeah".  I believe that most of the early Beatles stuff like this was recorded live, meaning that all four Beatles played at the same time, instead of the instrument and vocals being recorded individually.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Sweet Lord

I have a Beatles post drafted that needs to be posted (Wow, that sounds rather "heady" does it not?  As in this is some great, long awaited effort...but so I digress...), but in thinking about what I wanted to write I was reminded as to how much I love this song.



Forget the overt religious elements on this song...just focus on the notion of longing to try and understand what higher power(s) might exist.  If that doesn't work, well then just enjoy Billy Preston belting this one out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Local blogger threatened with legal action

Read all about it HERE.

Apparently expressing an opinion is viewed as being illegal in some parts.

Not here though.

For the record I've had both good and bad experiences with chiropractors, although I don't buy the whole "adjusting your spine will cure diabetes and bad breath" nonsense.

Anyway, kudos to Justin Vacula for once again standing up for what he believes in, no matter how unpopular that may be in some quarters.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Road Apples, #117

Non-Posting...It's rather humorous in that I have all these ideas swirling in my head about posting topics, but yet when the rubber hits the road so to speak these ideas most never seem to make it to the page.  I think it's just because I am so very busy these days.  I know, I know, that's a lame-arsed excuse, but it does have the benefit of being true.  In time though, one of the most powerful forces in the universe...Catholic Guilt...eventually compels me to starting writing again.

Sankta Lucia...I had the honor of attending the Sankta Lucia event at Old Swedes' Church in Philadelphia over the weekend.  It's amazing to hear a song that you normally hear in Italian sung in another language...namely Swedish.  In addition to the Christmas carols also being sung in Swedish, the story behind the celebration and participation of the children of Gloria Dei Episcopal Church made it a really nice event.


I don't know that you could ever get me to walk around burning candles on my head.  Then again I'm not a teenage girls, so the likelihood of this happening is not very good.  Many thanks to Ms Rivers for answering all my silly questions about the service and to my oldest daughter for coming along.  Before the service we had a chance to frequent some of the local merchants...


...which thrilled my oldest daughter.  I found one book to be particularly interesting...


I am reasonably sure I am going to burn in Hell over that one.

Now if it would have been just a tad bit warmer.

Christmas Tree...For the record I have put up my small Christmas tree, although it has come down twice at the hands of Jean Luc the cat.  I may yet need to re-examine how and where I have this thing located.

Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle...Republicans in the House all of a sudden want to tie extending an ill-conceived tax holiday to an oil pipeline and Democrats react in righteous indignation (as if they have never tied two completely different things into a single piece of legislation before).  For the record, this tax holiday IS ill-conceived because it simply takes revenue out of the Social Security system revenue stream.  This is YET AGAIN another example of how disfunctional Washington DC really is:  both parties support this, yet if the problem is that people need more take-home pay, then cut the actual tax rates for Pete's sake.  I am beginning to think that the biggest force threatening America isn't global terrorism or something like that, instead it's POLITICAL PARTIES.  These are institutions that exist not for the greater good, but instead for the benefit of themselves.

Keeping a Promise...Okay, my blood pressure started to go up just thinking about those self-centered politicos in Washington DC, so I have to calm myself down.  As I write this, one chapter of my life in formally coming to an end and a new one is beginning.  Someone that helped me deal with all of this asked that I keep them posted on what is going on in my life, so I need to start working on a "here I am" letter.  Actually I confess to I started working on it last night.  Regardless, it's a virtue worth celebrating when we remember to thank someone for the help that they have provided.  I don't do that enough.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hartford Bound

I'm off to my employer's Hartford, Connecticut office later today for a days worth of meetings and interviews tomorrow.  The meetings I have scheduled are mainly just either in support of my main reason for being in Hartford (more in a second on that) or are because I will simply happen to be where others are located.  Either way it promises to be a long day.

By way of disclosure I do go my company's other primary locations with some regularity, with Hartford being the most common destination.  Some, such Ms Rivers, loathe the 3.5 hour drive.  As for me, well I like to think of it as 3+ hours of time where I can think and process stuff.  It's really a gift when you think about it, at least if you are pre-disposed to wanting to think about stuff for 3+ hours.  One of these days I'm going to take the initiative, start something like Rosetta Stone, and learn Italian.  At a minimum I should least find some way to get mileage points for all the car rental time I incur during these trips.

As for my primary reason for travel, I have a staff opening in the Hartford office that I am trying like there is no tomorrow to fill before the end of the year.  The position requires a fair amount of technical expertise, so I am hoping that the selection process is, as a result, somewhat easier. "Easier" by the way is a relative term, as spending the equivalent of several working days either preparing for or conducting interviews isn't exactly "easy", although in fairness it is a hell of a lot better than some of the other things I've done to earn a living in my lifetime.  Maybe, just maybe, the reward if you will for working one's ass off is that you get to call something like interviewing "working one's ass off".

The only wrinkle to this all, as least as far as travel is concerned, is that the weather may be somewhat less than ideal.  So be it.  This is the northeast and it is December, so you will have such things.  Oh, and JLA...



...is always less than thrilled when I travel, but somehow he always forgives me when I return.  I think that has something to do with guilt-induced cat treats on my part.

In any event, it's onward and outward.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Carbondale is Dying

As was reported this past week by the Scranton Times, Marian Community Hospital in Carbondale is closing.  You can read the press release HERE.

What's left?  With a "major" employer is considered to have about 75 employees, then you have to wonder about the health of a community.  In case the case of Carbondale, the community health has been on life support for decades.  Whereas many communities in NEPA (such as Wilkes-Barre and Scranton) managed to survive the death of the hard coal industry, it seems that Carbondale never quite found a replacement and has slowly been decaying these past 40-50-60 years.  Since then it has been a steady stream of businesses leaving, population dropping, and schools closing.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this does raise an interesting question:  should anything be done to hasten the demise?  By asking the question, I'm basically saying that Carbondale, as a municipality, is beyond saving.  There simply isn't anything there and outside of a dramatic reversal, say at the hands of gas drilling (unlikely at best), nothing is likely to change.  Should a community in this condition have the option of going through what amounts to in the business world as a bankruptcy and liquidation?  Even that's a bad analogy, as a bankrupt business typically has at least some assets of value;...in the case of a municipality, there are few real assets (outside of some city-owned real estate, perhaps).  The problem though is that running the city of Carbondale will require more and more in the way of a smaller and smaller tax base., so at some point in time the math simply no longer works.  Hell, the math may have stopped working a long time ago.

Maybe what I am referring to is some kind of dis-incorporation, whereby the city of Carbondale simply ceases to exist, and it is instead folded some other legal body.  Services are re-aligned or changed.  The police force becomes regionalized with the surrounding communities.  Fire protection is modified to fit the tax base. Things have to change.

I realize that the above sounds so...so...un-American.  It is as if we (or more correctly the residents of Carbondale) were somehow beaten, and we Americans hate to lose.  But this is a loss never the less and it's time to face reality.  There will be no big factories built.  There will be no casino.  There will be no mass infusion of federal or state money.  There will only be further shrinking of the tax base.  There will be more decay.

Next up (withing a few days):  Scranton.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Skipping the light fandango

"We skipped a light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor.
I was feeling kind of seasick,
But the crowd called out for more."

- Procol Harum/Lighter Shade of Pale


When I think of my introversion, for some reason the first few lines of the song "Lighter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum comes to mind.  I suspect that this is because my line of work requires a fair amount of extroversion....at times...which does make me sick, in a manner of speaking.  Also, the fact is that I often do feel as if "the crowd calls out for more" in the sense that it really is something of an extroverted world out there, as least as far as the business community is concerned.

Note:  I wrote the above on November 30th and just stopped for some reason.  The muse, if you will, sometimes just comes and goes.  And now for something completely different.



I always wanted to do that in a blog posting.  If you are not a Monty Python fan then I suspect that you will not "get" the above.  Too bad.  When I was a kid I loved staying up until 11:30pm on Friday nights in order to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus on WVIA.  Mind you I didn't understand all of the gags, but it didn't matter, as what I did understand was utterly hilarious.

Anyway, when I started initially writing this posting I wanted to comment on introversion.  Maybe not so much now, but perhaps it will sneak itself back into the discussion fold before I call this posting "done".  I do feel that urge, if you will, to write about me.  That's why I started this whole on-line writing thing years ago.  Oh, and it was years ago.  While this page dates back to 2008, I had a blog on a Yahoo page that went back years earlier.  I keep telling myself that I need to resurrect some of those postings.  Yes, it is all about me in the end.  It's that way though for just about every blogger when you think about it....and at least I will admit that much.  Others?  Well not so much sometimes, but that's okay.  There are some personal musings in the blog-o-sphere that I simply love reading (such as this guy's stuff) because it has such a very real, gritty quality.

None of this has anything to do with introversion, or does it?  I suspect that it does.  We introverts (wow...I just realized...that is almost a contradiction in terms..."we" and "introverts") get our energy from the inside, as opposed to those extroverts who get their energy from the outside.  What is blogging if not an expression of what's on the inside?  What's more, it's more or less a unidirectional expression at that.  Yes, I know there are comments, but I view blog comments being very different than blog posting, if for no reason than the fact that they can often times take on a life of their own.

So here's to skipping the light fandango...