Not Cease from Exploration

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My top 10 wishes for NEPA in 2013

In no particular order and for no particular reason, and with no hope for most of them to actually happen anyway.

  1. Graft - That in the absence of pressure from the electorate, federal authorities continue to squeeze the elected elite in NEPA.  It's rather sad when you look at the number of "not so secretly" corrupt politicians in NEPA who continued to be re-elected year after year, only to fall to federal investigations and indictments.
  2. Electorate - See #1.  That the electorate in NEPA starts to think about qualifications and results when it comes to selecting individuals for public service...as opposed to bizarre notions about what little coal patch someone grew up in, the ethnicity of a candidate or the idea that they may "scratch your back" if "you scratch theirs".
  3. Consolidation of Services - That we end small governments.  Please, someone do explain to me the cultural, political and economic rationale behind the separate governments in West Pittston, Exeter, Wyoming, West Wyoming, Forty Fort and the like?  As I drive through these towns (and many like them) it's insane to think that each little town duplicates services over and over and over again.  Of course we don't need to be naive about this:  the reason behind the duplicity is that it allows for the creation of multiple little kingdoms, complete with multiple little kings.  Time for that to end.  Towns can keep their names, if that makes some folks happy, but there's no reason for services to be duplicated across imaginary borders.
  4. Economy - That NEPA slowly be weened off public sector employment.  I'm convinced that a part of our economic troubles in the area has been an over-reliance of the government for employment.  Coming with that is the still lingering perception among many that the best jobs in NEPA are those that are funded with taxpayer dollars.  They aren't.  Period.  Local chambers of commerce and elected officials need to do more to encourage a vigorous private sector.  Militias are marshalled and politicians rushed into action at the mere thought of a threat to "Da Depot", yet we don't see nearly the same effort and sense of urgency when it comes to private sector employment concerns.
  5. Scranton - That banks will stop lending to the city, that revenues will continue to fall short of expenses and that city leaders will finally wake the Hell up.  If you are spending too much money, the first part of the solution is to stop spending more money.  The city can not and will not borrow its way into solvency.  Period.  As I have said repeatedly, Scranton already is bankrupt...it's just we need to make it legal.
  6. Lackwanna College - That the school reconsiders the naming of the Mellow Theater.  See #1 & #2.  This is a powerful reminder of the chummy relationships that existed between power-brokers in NEPA and how the electorate in NEPA consistently turned a blind eye when faced with rampant corruption.  Bob Mellow was a thief while in office, so why is he being rewarded with this honor?
  7. Susquehanna River - That NEPA pays attention it it's greatest natural resource.  I can think of few more under-utilized natural treasures in NEPA.  We have a major river flowing through our area and yet we do very few things with and for it.  Maybe this comes from back in coal mining days when the river was viewed as little more than a glorified toilet and industrial waste highway.  Anyway, how about every town that sits along the river simply commit to keeping their shoreline clean and debris free in 2013?  It would be a start.
  8. Blogging - That all the good work undertaken by the likes of the NEPA BlogCon squirrel ladies and NEPA Blogs continue. Encouraging the open expression of ideas is an important element of a vibrant society, and I am firmly convinced that the Internet is a powerfully enabling tool in this arena.
  9. Media - That the professional local media outlets, be they print, radio, television or Internet, make the challenging of assumptions a priority in 2013.  I get it, WNEP (for example) has to cover every little local fire, and they have to interview, on camera, the witness who has the poorest grasp of the English language and the worst teeth.   Fine, we can all accept that as a cost of doing business.  But how about more investigative reporting on corruption?  How about some in-depth reporting on why the Scrantoon/Wilke-Boro/Hazelnut MSA has consistently had the highest unemployment in Pennsylvania?
  10. Tolerance - That the residents of NEPA be just a bit more tolerant in 2013.  People who are atheists are not immoral.  People who support the right of a woman to have an abortion are not baby-killers.  Gay folks are simply folks...who may behave differently in the privacy of their own homes than others do.  We don't all have to agree on every nuance of life, but we should all agree that someone else's difference is not a threat to our existence.  We need to stop demonizing, through our words and deeds, those who may not act like the majority.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012: Time it was and what a time it was...

Some random thoughts on my 2012

Politics
Too much of the Presidential campaign over the summer, ended up politically disgusted by the time the actual election came along.  Note the word..."disgusted".  Still "disgusted" by politics.  Years ago I attended an alumni event at Penn State where the speaker was a state legislator from the Allentown area.  He said something like "politics is the only sport for real men", a phrase still remembered vividly to this very day.  He was wrong.  Politics isn't a sport, it's the colon cancer screening of society:  necessary, but still none too pleasant, mostly dwelling in the bowels.  It's a disgusting, dirty business, perpetrated by many who otherwise wouldn't make it in the private sector.

Books
Not reading enough books.  Tons of stuff read all the time, but few actual cover to cover books.  Need to re-think the book strategy.  Part of it is just an inefficient use of time.  Part of it is interest.  Part of it is opportunity.  Regardless, more is needed for 2012.  Tired of looking at Daniel Pink's DRiVE sitting on the desktop.

Domicile
Time to end the self-imposed banishment to Elba.  Too many temperature extremes.  Too many randomly full cat food dishes.  Too many late night knocks on the door for silly things.  Too many decisions made for me about my time.  Difference between being an owner and actually owning.  Too little privacy & there should be no need for extra locks on bathroom and bedroom doors.  A need to be typing the 2013 year in review from somewhere else.  Garage, with workbench, is required.  

Photography
Not enough in 2012.  More of it in 2013.

Eating
Too much bad stuff in 2012.  More good stuff in 2013.

Exercise
Not enough in 2012.  More in 2013.

Cats
More.

Facebook
Less.

Penn State
Rehab (image...).  It ain't about football any more.

Professional Colleagues
Blessed.

Significant Other
Exceptionally happy & truly blessed.  There is much to do.

Blogging
Closing in on 1300 postings.  Closing in on a page view milestone.  Time to consider starting a professional blog.  Or at least consider the thought more seriously.  Enjoyed many local blogs...we produce some world-class blogging stuff in NEPA.

Professionally
Time to start becoming a bit more secure.  Time to start taking some chances.  Time to start using some of the implied authority I have been given.  Time to start cashing in some of the respect earned over the years.  Cashing in some of the chips.  Time to be a bit less subtle.  Time to start using some of the access I've been given.  Time to get over the silly distaste for networking.  Time to let them know I am here.

Fatherhood
Always keep learning and taking nothing for granted.  Learning to let go is the only sure fire way to know that you actually have anything in the first place. Being honest but not too honest.  Parenting is like a symphony:  many different parts, all blending together to hopefully make one sound.  It's different when your "children" are capable of being parents themselves.  Continue to do less "saying" and more "showing", as life is a contact sport.  Always trying to set a good example.  Take nothing for granted.

Family
Time to get down to see my sister this year.  For real.  South Central Pennsylvania is my second home anyway.  Time for more coordination with my brothers.  Enough compromising.  Time to make long term decisions for those who are unwilling or unable. Too much dichotomy between my professional and certain parts of my personal life.  Looking forward to spending New Years on the top of Walton's Mountain with some very wonderful people:  there will be hiking, conversation, food and battery recharging.

Scranton
Playing the Limbo:  how low can it go?  Home for a good part of my life, but there is nothing holding me here.  See "domicile".  Disgusted, see "politics".  Clearly, an escape plan is required.  Cost/benefit equation has tilted way off kilter.  2.4% raise just for leaving is very appealing.

Violence
Far too much.  Solutions to violence shouldn't include more violence.  We've turned death into either a news spectacle or a video game cartoon.  The Boomtown Rats were right:  "...the lesson today is how to die...".

God
Talked, but not as much.  Not feeling abandoned though and not asking for favors.  Life lessons continue, and it's pretty clear that the only way to know where you are going is to first get on the road.  Miss having a church to attend.  Have enjoyed attending Grace Episcopal in Kingston.  Still getting my arms around Protestant church organizational structures:  Wardens?  Sextons?  Democracy is a tough concept in religion when you grew up in a totalitarian state.

Philosophy
Best quote found this year:  "For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to be served, a debt to be paid.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness - happiness is the way.  So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one." - Father Alfred D'Souza

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On guns, gun control and our culture of violence

This is going to be "it".  The one and only time I will wade into the debate about gun control and last week's horrific shooting in Connecticut.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, this country has faces several challenges, none the least of which is that we have a culture where violence is interwoven with the fabric of our society. Note the use of the word "culture".  Professionally*, I use the word "culture" in a very purposeful manner...it means the "unwritten rules by which an organization operates" or something along those lines.  In the United States today, there is an unwritten rule that violence is okay.  In fact, it's been an unwritten rule for a very, very long time, going back to "spare the rod, spoil the child" days until now where you have life-like video game simulations of combat.  We have always tolerated more violence than just about any other western culture.

Here's the thing about culture though:  you don't change it quickly and you never change it easily.

The above statement doesn't mean that you fail to take common sense steps to make people safe.  In fact, the only way I think you CAN change culture is by taking small, incremental steps.  I firmly believe that one of the incremental steps that needs to be taken in this country is to limit access to certain kinds of guns.  So far in this country we can't seem to take even the smallest of steps towards reasonable limits to gun ownership.  Why?

When it comes to gun control, there is a very small core group of people who want to own guns not for sporting purposes, but for the simple (all be it bizarre) "fact" that they believe guns will be necessary when they need to protect themselves from an oppressive government (think Biblical stuff, number of the Beast, bad 70's devil movies, etc.).  This group, who I personally think is at the core of the National Rifle Association (NRA), will never change their opinion on gun control.  They WANT a culture of violence, as it suits their view of the world.  Read about the "ZOG"** for an idea as to what I am talking about.  For these people, a belief in guns is almost like a religious belief, which is why they can't accept reasonable restrictions on gun ownership just as we all accept reasonable restrictions on free speech.

Stripping out the "guns to protect us from the ZOG" and "Jesus wants us to be able to own machine guns" crew, I think that most NRA members actually don't want their neighbors, for example, to own assault rifles.  In fact, these people probably understand to a greater degree than most just how deadly firearms can be in the hands of the wrong people.  Most NRA members, I suspect, realize that assault rifles are designed to kill people, and nothing else.  I had someone once tell me that using an assault rifle to hunt deer would be like shooting squirrels with an .44 magnum.  Simply put there is no reason to own certain kinds of firearms.

So what should be done about all of this?  Well if our "culture of guns" is a part of our "culture of violence", then it seems to me that there are a few reasonable steps that can be taken that will, over the long term, have a positive impact on everyone's safety.  These include:

  • Banning the sale and ownership of assault rifles OR any kind of weapon that can be turned into basically a machine gun.  
  • Banning the sale of large capacity ammunition magazines.
  • Banning the sale of guns over the Internet.
  • Banning the sale of guns at gun shows where there is no ability to conduct background checks.
  • Banning the ownership of guns by people who meet certain mental health criteria.
  • Banning the sale of guns at department stores.  Nothing is more discouraging than seeing the gun racks at WallyWorld being 30 feet from the toy section.

Now contrary to what some of my more Progressive friends may think, I do not believe that this is the only solution to our culture of violence problem in the United States, but it is a common sense area where a small but meaningful impact can be made.  There are other things we can do, and while there are no easy, no simple, no "quick-fix" solutions to our violence problem, some other things I'd like to see change include:

  • Conflict Resolution Skills:  Teach conflict resolution skills in every school, in every grade.  It should be like Reading or English class.
  • Mental Health:  Devote greater resources to mental health screenings and treatment.  Make mental health as great a topic of national discussion as we do physical health. 
  • Violent Content:  Put graphic violence on par with graphic sexuality in terms of access and disclosure. Part of our culture is that a movie showing people making love gets an "R" rating, but a "shoot'em up" movie gets a PG-13.  It simply makes no sense, unless you run it though our culture of violence filter that exists in the United States.

I know there is more than can be noted and done, but it's a start.  In the end, the first step towards changing culture is a simple desire to WANT to change culture.  Maybe, hopefully, that's where we find ourselves now.


(*) I cringe when business leaders talk about changing "organizational culture", like it was swapping Coke for Pepsi in the vending machines.  Many leaders confuse "culture" with "climate", where "climate" is how you feel as a part of an organization.  Climate can often times be changed quickly (get rid of a bad leader and climate improves immediately).  Culture can not be changed quickly, ever.

(**) I am not implying that all NRA members are antisemetic, but rather that ZOG is an example of the kind of conspiracy theory thought that I believe does exist at the core of the most ardent NRA members. They really do believe that they need their guns in order to form militias.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A victory for common sense & fiscal responsiblity

Local news outlets (such as WNEP) have reported that a three judge panel in Lackawanna County has denied the City of Scranton's request for a 1% commuter tax.  You can read more HERE.  This is a victory for common sense & fiscal responsibility.

Common Sense.

The approximately 20,000 commuters that work in Scranton didn't create mess that Scranton is in, so simply put, they shouldn't be responsible for fixing it.  Period.  Who is responsible?  Well in my opinion, the order goes something like this:

1) Elected officials
This includes the Mayor and just about every member of city council for the last quarter century.  These elected officials have regularly spent more than they had and made up the difference using just about every silly idea (including the current silly idea de jour, lease-backs) and borrowing trick known to accountancy. Also, successive City Councils have routinely put members political interests ahead of those of taxpayers by constantly bowing to public safety union member demands.

2) Public safety union officers
I specifically mean the leaders of the police and (especially) fire departments labor unions.  They have used scare tactics and taken advantage of the political ambitions of elected officials to blunt just about every attempt at seriously controlling costs.  When your employer is bankrupt, only in Scranton do workers demand (and get) raises.

3) PEL
For providing spineless guidance.  I also fault them for the city's loss in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which cost the city a $30 million award (which public safety union members "generously" reduced to a paltry $15 million).  If you advise the city...and your advice is wrong...you should be held accountable. As far as I can tell, PEL is accountable to no one.

4) Taxpayers
See item #1...ultimately taxpayer apathy is to blame for poor city administration.


Now the above may sound like "union bashing", but so be it.  More than half of the city's expenses are in the area of personnel costs, and when workers control the terms and conditions of employment...which they do in Scranton...it's no wonder that the city is run basically for their exclusive benefit.  In one sense I really can't blame them:  over the decades, union leaders simply took advantage of elected officials desire to remain in office at all costs.  They get an "A" for strategy, but an "F" for overall impact.

So what should be next?  The city needs to declare bankruptcy and open up all of its contracts for re-negotiation.  This includes labor contracts.  No one...and I mean NO ONE...employed by the city of Scranton should be getting a raise as long as the City is unable to pay its bills.  No one has a "right" to be employed by the city.  No one has a "right" to a raise.  City residents are going to have to...

...accept higher costs for city services
...accept fewer police and firemen on duty

...and most importantly...

...start to demand some accountability for results.

It all starts with the Mayor and City Council, but will soon have to move to the Scranton School Board, which has it's own set of fiscal nightmares.  The connection though is that both the City and School District are funded by the same group of taxpayers, so it's high time for some coordination and cooperation.

In the end, this can either be a new beginning for the city or it can be the last spiral down the drain.  It's time for Mayor Doherty and Mayor (I mean Council President) Evans to face reality and stop pretending as if we can simply kick Scranton's problems down the road a few more years.  A "few more years" is now.

Time to put on the big-boy pants ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Apathy towards greed and corruption in NEPA

While reading a posting of Gort's a few moments ago, I had something of an epiphany:  maybe the reason why there is so much corruption in NEPA is because many here secretly want to partake of it themselves.

Tony Soprano would describe it as wanting "a taste".

It's something of a viscous circle in a lot of ways:  the economy in NEPA has always been bad, therefore jobs are hard to come by.  The solution?  Turn a blind eye when that school board member or businessman skirts the law in the hope that maybe you will be able to, in turn, get a "favor" from them.  Maybe it's a teaching job for your son or daughter.  Maybe it's something else.  Does it really matter?

The above explains quite a bit in the local school board & Bob Mellow departments.  This theory would be ripe for actual study by a local college or university.  Any takers out there?

Regardless, evil exists in part because good turns a blind eye, and in NEPA many a blind eye has been turned over the years.  Let's hope our children learn better.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Road Apples, #132

The Shooting...I'm still not sure what to make of the CT shooting.  Part of me has this visceral reaction, part of me just doesn't know what to think.  I do know this:  I'm pretty disgusted by some of the gut reactions by some, as expressed in the Facebooks.  On hand you have some calling for immediate gun control, on the other you have people claiming that we should be arming schools like they were prison yards.  It's all so very disconcerting.  From my last posting on the Facebooks:

"I'm pretty disgusted with Facebook now...all the "Put God in schools", "turn schools into armed fortresses" and "gun control now" stuff is getting a bit disturbing. 

Yes, I believe in God, but I'm sorry, forcing kids to pray and read the 10 Commandments will not prevent another shooting. By the way, precisely WHICH GOD are we to be putting in schools? The stern God of Baptists or the understanding God of my college chaplain? And what about children who are Muslim, Taoists, Buddhists, and non-believers? Besides, we already have places where people read scripture and pray: they are called "churches", "temples" and "mosques". 

Also, do we really want heavily armed men patrolling our schools? Does a kindergartner really need to see someone with an M16 greet them every morning? What kind of lesson does THAT teach our children? We already have places full of armed guards, locked doors and high-security: they are called "jails". 

While I'm at it, whining about gun control will not solve any problems either. The Genie is out of the bottle already for God's sake. You can no more legislate cultural change than you can morality.

I really don't know what the solution is to all this madness is, but I can tell you this much: it will not be found in or inspired by a Facebook meme.

Rant completed."


Proud Father Department...My youngest daughter is transferring to a school in NEPA, as she has figured out that living away at West Chester just isn't for her. Home sick?  I don't necessarily think so.  My youngest is a very hard working individual and I think it's more a case of her wanted to be able to go to school and continue to work at a job she likes.  You can't ask for much more than that in the parenthood department.

Work...When I do the tale of the tape, I have exactly two more days in the office for 2012:  this coming Thursday and Monday the 26th.  I also have two days of training coming up in Newark, but that's hardly time in the office.  Even with this I think I am still carrying over something like 14 vacation days into 2013.  I have plans for the weekend before New Years, but it will also be nice to have a few days during the week of Christmas to relax and contemplate.  There is much to be thankful for, much to plan, much to do.

Westboro Baptist Church...is apparently going to "protest" at upcoming shooting victim funerals.  Let me get right to the point:  these pigs don't deserve to be in the same state as the heroes and children who recently died.  Never before has a group so tarnished the notion of religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Walking Dead...I tried to watch the Walking Dead last weekend, but I just couldn't.  It's such a dark, dark show.  At first it seemed that there was some hope for these survivors, but now, well, it's all just death and decay.  I don't need the negativity.

Scranton Follies...Apparently the good judges will be handing down their decision on Scranton's commuter tax before the end of the upcoming week.  I've made no secret that I find the tax to be nothing more than a sham, an excuse to perpetrate mis-management of the city, a targeting of a group that can't vote against those who are imposing the tax.  Here's to hoping that the panel of judges forces Scranton's leadership to face reality now, because if they don't, they will simply have to face reality later.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Parents Lied: Monsters Are Real.

It's very difficult to describe the feeling when you ponder that so many children have died in such a horrible, violent manner.

So much potential gone.

So many brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, all gone.

So very senseless.

In the end, I suspect that's the point:  it doesn't make sense.  And it never will.

There's a time and season for everything.  Now's a time to mourn.  We can argue about gun laws later.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day one of the Scranton commuter tax hearing

You can read the coverage HERE (I hate linking to the Scranton Times "Pay to Read" site, but so be it).  My read?  It's not looking good for the city of Scranton.  A few points came up that are worth nothing:

  • It doesn't appear that the judges are convinced that Scranton has exhausted all of its potential revenue sources.  This includes raising the garbage fee.
  • There is some skepticism over increasing the city's debt; to quote Judge Nealon, this is akin to "just throwing deck chairs off the Titanic".  For the record I worked with Terry Nealon a long, long time ago.  Smart...and nice...guy.
  • Even PEL believes that getting $1.3 million from not-for-profits is "unrealistic".  I have a better word:  fanciful.
As I said, not looking good.  The hearing resumes today, and I suspect that testimony will further erode the city's case.   I hope that Ms Evans and Mr Doherty (the strangest of bedfellows) have a Plan B.


I'm thinking that they don't, but that's okay.  When all you do is simply make numbers up (like $1.3 million in voluntary contributions from not-for-profits), coming up with additional fake revenue shouldn't be all that difficult.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Scranton's Commuter Tax Hearing (Today)

Today the City of Scranton's leaders will attempt to convince judges that they have made every possible budget cut, trimmed every expense imaginable and taxed city taxpayers to the brink SUCH THAT they should now be allowed to tax non-residents who work in the city.

This is, as I've noted before, ridiculous.  And I make this statement as a resident and taxpayer of the City of Scranton.

The best website/blog I've found for information on the city's farce (known as its budget) is Consolidated IZA (click to link), which provides far more detail than I would ever attempt here.  However I just can't help but offer a few opinions of my own.

So what have the city's leaders done to get Scranton's fiscal house in order?

  • Provided multi-year contracts to unionized public safety workers that guarantees them a raise each year.  Note that when my employer was trying to cut costs, they eliminated raises for everyone.  Then again my employer has to actually balance a budget.
  • Proposed raises ON TOP OF other financial awards (from bond proceeds) for city lawyers.  
  • Somehow transported themselves into a magical land where TAX EXEMPT organizations should be paying TAXES to the tune of over a million dollars a year in fantasy revenue.  Note to City Council President Janet Evans:  "TAX EXEMPT" means that they "DON'T HAVE TO PAY TAXES".  
  • Continued to kick the ball down the street with a DRAMATICALLY UNDERFUNDED pension plan.

Not to be outdone, city hall employees continue to work as if nothing bad at all were happening.  Hell, public  safety workers GENEROUSLY agreed to reduce an arbitration award from $30 million to JUST $15 million.  They do realize that the city doesn't actually have the money, right?  That's okay, as they can probably arrange for another loan from union affiliated bank at an interest rate akin to what someone with bad credit pays for a used Dodge Caravan at a "buy here/pay here" car sales establishment.  Tell me, who really is running Scranton these days?

So yes, the hearing is today.  Here's what I am hoping for:  No to the commuter tax.  While I agree that commuters benefit from Scranton's infrastructure, the simple fact is this - they didn't create Scranton's fiscal mess, and as a result they shouldn't be required to help fix it.  Period.  A "no" today could hopefully lead to the only real solution to Scranton's financial mess:  bankruptcy, where someone without political motivations will make the tough decisions (including opening up labor contracts) that actually will solve the city's problems.

Mark my words:  as "yes" on the commuter tax only forestalls Scranton's eventual bankruptcy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2013: Reducing my (paper) footprint

I have many goals for 2013:  some big, some small, some well planned out, some just sort of coming to me.  One that has been brewing for a few weeks now has to do with how I handle information, both personally and professionally.  Simply put, I want to dramatically reduce the amount of paper I handle, manage and store.

Why?

Well this particular initiative was more or less born at work, but it makes plenty of sense to apply it at home as well.  We've talked in the office about reducing our printing costs.  Now this isn't an enormous amount of money, but if we can save a few hundred dollars in our office by using electronic documents instead of printing out paper, then why not?  The more I have thought about it, the more ridiculous the whole paper culture thing becomes; in many instances, I was printing paper to read maybe once or twice then simply throwing it away.

Now making this change works for me on a couple of different levels:
  • I don't like waste (a.k.a. I am cheap)
  • I like to be environmentally friendly
  • I like using technology (and I have lots of it)
  • I want to do whatever I can do to help my employer's success
So why not?  If my mission is to reduce my paper footprint, then I need a few strategies to make this happen.  Here's some of what I'm going to do.

Professionally
Up until fairly recently, my laptop has been more a desktop than anything else.  Yes, I would take it home, but outside of my office and my backpack, it was pretty much stationary.  Not any more.  For example, when I get an agenda for a meeting, I'm saving it in a desktop folder and bringing the laptop with me to the meeting.  From there, I am taking meeting notes on documents themselves storing them on my personal network drive.

I'm also slowly but surely going to scan important documents to pdf files where it's something I do receive in paper but want to retain.

Now there are some things that I am going to continue to keep in paper, such as travel receipt copies.  I am going to keep a notebook for ad hoc notes and phone messages.

All told?  I think I can easily reduce my paper usage at work by about 80%.

Personally
I am actually better about managing paper at home, believe it or not.  Where I do maintain paper, such as keeping receipts from bills I've paid, I am going to start using my flatbed scanner to convert them to pdf files.  There are some thing that I want to continue to keep in paper, such as printed out tax forms, but that's all material that can be archived in a storage box.


I know, the above is something of a yawner, but that's okay, as it doesn't take that much to amuse me.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Sean O'Shea

Dear Mr O'Shea,

Congratulations on having been selected as the next President of the Scranton School Board.  As you've probably been told already, many times, you certainly have a tough job in front you.  State budget cuts, professional contracts, decaying buildings, poor test scores:  the list goes on.  However, I think there is one issue that rises above all others, and I'm publicly asking you to address it as your first order of business.

Trust.

Yes, in my opinion trust is the most important issue facing the Scranton School District.  In fact, I'd call it a crisis of trust.  The public that pays for the operations of the Scranton School District simply doesn't trust your Board. They believe that the Board exists as a glorified employment agency for the connected and related.  They believe that the Board puts the personal interests of Directors and Administrators in front of all else, including what should be the central mission of the Board:  educating our children.

As someone with military experience, I am sure you understand how important discipline is in running an efficient and effective organization.  Disciplined operations have a vision, have a mission, and they have values.  And they test all of their actions against this vision, mission and values.  I dare suspect that nothing in the vision, mission and values of the Scranton School Board includes "employment for friends and relatives".  However, as long as the actions of the Board are perceived as being motivated by personal gain on the part of Directors and Adminstrators, all of the actions of the Board will be tainted.

You, now, can make a difference.

Make one of your first actions the adoption of a tough anti-nepotism policy.  Simply put, the District should NEVER hire relatives of Directors or Administrators.  Ever.  Period.  I know, I hear the cries now:  "but the relatives that have been hired were highly qualified!", which may be true, but there are many non-related but highly qualified individuals out there looking for work.  Has the Board ever hired a relative or friend that anyone admitted to being not "highly qualified"?  Of course not!  Again, the issue isn't one of talent:  there is plenty of non-relative talent out there looking for work.  Again, the real issue is about trust, and right now we, the taxpayers, don't trust the Board. As previously noted, this lack of trust taints everything the Board does.

Make the difference Mr O'Shea. Do something shocking:  stop the Scranton School District from continuing to be perceived as an employment agency for the family members of the connected.

Regards,

Steve Albert
Resident & Taxpayer, City of Scranton


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Missing...

...motivation.  I just don't have much of it.  Now last night I could blame the 3:30am attack of stomach sludge that made its way up through my throat.  Gross, but it has the benefit of being true.  Didn't Keith Moon or Bonzo Bonham or some other drummer die of such a thing?  Oh, that was related to drinking.  Never mind, as mine is more related to eating too much fatty food and a nasty case of GERD. Besides, I don't drink...alcohol.

I could also blame the sheer bulk of stuff I have to do at work, because that also has the benefit of being true.  It's nice to be valuable, until that value exceeds your capacity to deliver it.  I'll get over it, but my Catholic guilt is in overdrive.  Yes, it even applies to work.  Especially to work.  No wonder they've kept me all these years.

I could blame the holidays, but that's not neither fair nor accurate.  I actually like Christmas.  I always have as a matter of fact.  Holiday depression is for people that don't have a family.  Or a significant other.  Or a cat.  I have all three categories covered as a matter of fact.

Maybe I can blame the "fiscal cliff", as that's the thing to do these days.  Nah, that would be just stupid.  You  know, like the whole "fiscal cliff" thing in the first place.

No, I suspect that there is no one to blame here.  The very concept of "blame" is so very pedestrian anyway.  More likely than anything else, I just need to get off my butt.

And now for something completely different:  Raj from the Big Bang Theory meets Siri...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Comment to Gort's posting, re: the lottery

My comment in response to Gort's lottery posting (link HERE for the original post).  I do realize that this is lazy blogging at its best, but so be it.  I'm all for recycling to help the environment...or...my blog.

* * * * *


While I do, for example, strongly support getting the state government out of the liquor business, I can't see any reason to privatize the lottery.  One is a business that the state has no business being in...that should be run at a profit by people that know how to run businesses at a profit..the other is basically just another form of taxation.  Why?

First, I'll note that I "support" the lottery to the extent that it does a great job of raising money for senior citizens.  That's great, noble stuff.  Our senior citizens deserve the services the lottery creatively funds.

Second, I do think the lottery basically is a form of taxation...in this case taxing stupid behavior.  The vast majority of folks pay far, far more for lottery tickets than they ever win back.  I had a relative once claim to me that she "wins back more than she pays in".  Then we did the math, and there was the inevitable "oh" moment.  Anyway, I say what the heck:  if someone "enjoys" handing money over to Apu at the Quick-E-Mart AND it helps senior citizens, then I say it's a good deal all around.  No one is forcing me to buy a supermegajumbopowerball ticket.

In the end, why screw this up?  What's more, let's not forget that gambling is a bit like bacon fat:  unless you have a religious conviction against it, for the most part it's okay in moderation.  Too much though is really, really bad for you over the long term.

As for me, I played the lottery once, at work a dozen years or more ago, basically putting money into a pool out of sheer peer pressure.  Otherwise I couldn't be bothered.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

About the Header...

...photo taken of North Scranton Junior High School, looking East from behind the building.  Green Ridge Street is in the background.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Fat Lady Sings...to Bob Mellow

Breaking news from the Scranton Times...

Feds want two years in prison for Mellow

Let's not forget that there are many complicit in Bob Mellow's actions:

  • A political class in NEPA that gleefully kissed Mellow's rear-end at every turn; please, someone dig up a few photos of our NEPA mayors, council members and legislators skipping the light fandango with Bob at his (in)famous Montage Mountain gigs.
  • Non-profit institutions that padded Mellow's ego at every opportunity in exchange for OUR money; as I noted in an older post, the "Mellow Theater" should be named the "Taxpayer Theater", as we...not Bob Mellow...paid for it.
  • A lazy electorate in NEPA. 
  • A culture in NEPA that encouraged and rewarded corruption through naked indifference.  For years local newspapers more or less turned a blind eye to Bob Mellow; it was only after he started serving on local Boards of Directors that they began to take notice.  Speaking of Boards of Directors...
  • A Pennsylvania legislature existing in an ethical Dark Age, where a senator can sit on the boards of institutions he could, in fact, play a role in regulating.


Search this blog for the key words "Bob Mellow" and see just what I mean.

Two years?  Is that a fair sentence?  In my estimation no, but at this stage the mere fact that he is facing sentencing is something of a victory.

Since Senator Mellow was such a member of the "In" Crowd in NEPA, it seems only fitting to offer the following pre-sentencing dedication:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Stuff

I was thinking about opining on the rampant consumption that has overtaken the Thanksgiving holiday, what with stores being open on Thanksgiving Day, but decided against it.  Just too simple.  Besides, I can state an opinion on this particular topic in two sentences:

"Don't like stores being open on Thanksgiving?  Then don't shop at those stores."

Pretty simple, like shooting fish in a barrel.

Moving on, a better topic (for me) also deals with consumption, namely my own.  In fact, I'll point to three areas of my own rampant, Capitalist consumption...

...new car.  Well used car.  But certainly new two me.  It's been just about two months since I got my Nissan Rogue and so far I've been very impressed.  As Ms Rivers noted, the vehicle "fits me".  It's nice to be comfortable in a vehicle, and the gas mileage is surprisingly good.  I enjoy having the extra storage space...it was a snap to fit in a 50" flat screen TV in the back...and I simply feel much safer in the vehicle.  Do I miss my Kia Rio?  Not really.  Besides, I can always visit with it when my youngest daughter is back in town.

...new phone.  My AT&T contract finally allowed for an upgrade, and I just had to ditch the micro-screened Palm Pre that had been gracing my pocket for quite a while.  My choice was a Samsung Galaxy III S, which is one of the best Android phones on the market.  I haven't been disappointed.  The phone has a great screen, tons of available apps, and relatively easy navigation.  The only down-side?  It's something of a pig when it comes to battery life.

...new TV.  For years I have been using a 32" 720p flat screen as my main TV.  Now my "TV Room" (quotes on purpose, as my place is so small that saying I have a "TV Room" implies something that doesn't exist...namely space) isn't all that large, but my TV was simply too small for the space.  So I made the decision to get something bigger.  In fact, I decided to get the biggest freak'n TV I could afford within my budget.  After some shopping around, I landed on a 50" 1080p flat screen purchased from Best Buy.  Actually I had to go to Best Buy twice, as the original TV I purchased stopped having video (but the audio worked) so I had to pack the whole damn thing up for a trip back for a return.  Fortunately for me, it seemed that half the Geek Squad at the Dickson City Best Buy also worked for my employer during the day, making for a relatively easy exchange.  Basically they just gave me a new one of the same model, which has been working fine ever since the exchange.

So there you have it:  I'm all consumed up and ready to go.  Bring on the snow (I now have All Wheel Drive), the need for good cell phone reception (I can now even get calls in the Birney Plaza Kmart) and cheesy Science Fiction, because I'm ready.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving

Just some of what I am thankful for...

My children, who have grown into wonderful adults that make me so very proud.













(an old...but favorite...picture of the Albert girls)

My significant other, Ms Rivers, who reminds me that dawn always follows the night.













(at the Corning Museum, April 2012)

My extended family, who have been there for me when I most needed them most.













(early 90's...Rich, Steve, Chris + Katrina & Miranda).













(at my college graduation, with Mom and Rich)

My cat, JeanLuc (also known as General Stirling Price, Friend, Big Guy and assorted other names that I make up as I go along).  It's hard to articulate just how important a part of your life a pet can be.












(2011, watching TV with me)

My career and the people I work with, the sum of which provides me with not just a living, but a purpose.













(where I spend a lot of time)



I could go on, but the point is this:  I am blessed.

A happy, restful and reflective Thanksgiving to one and all.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trading Heroes for Ghosts

(photo courtesy of the Bishop Hannan HS Facebook page)

"And did they get you trade
Your heroes for ghosts?"
(Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here)

I have this strong urge to avoid writing that which is expected.  I don't know why.  It's not as if I'm some rebel without a cause (or a clue).  For whatever reason I'll get suggestions about a topic or I'll read something somewhere and immediately think "that's a great topic" but then another thought creeps in, that of "yeah, pretty predictable", and the idea fades.  Witness the 6 Scranton Times articles that were sitting in a basket at my desk at home...all good ideas...all ending up in the recycling bin after a cleaning binge with the accompanying acknowledgment that they represent 6 blog postings that simply were never going to happen.

Am I stalling enough?

Okay, I suspect I should get to the point.  Last Saturday night was my 30th high school reunion.  Yes, I said "30", which makes me "old" (times like this I hear Butthead giggling in my head just saying "hehehe, he's old").  Anyway, Despite it being something of a milestone event, kinda, I've resisted the urge to even mention it.  In fact, I wasn't going to even mention it here until about 10 minutes ago when the thought just occurred to me that it's pretty pathetic to not at least broach the subject.

I think I'm stalling again.

Why am I stalling?

It was a nice evening.  Ms Rivers was very kind in really wanting to accompany me, so much so that she had to arrange childcare and the like to be at my side.  You know someone is close to you when they just instinctively know when something is important to you, even if you don't say the words "this is important to me".  On some level this reunion was important to me.  Important not so much because I was able to meet old friends again, as truth be told, I didn't actually have that many friends in high school (or dates for that matter).  No, this was important I think because in high school I never quite felt like I belonged.  Not the most original thought when it comes to the high school experience, I know, but it was even more so prevalent for me.  Why?  The reasons were legion (sly reference to the Gospel of Luke...it was a Catholic high school after all), but part of it was that I was that rare kid who transferred in to a Catholic high school from the public school system.  The flow was usually in the opposite direction.  Also, growing up we were genuinely not well off financially (something I've written about before), something also relatively uncommon among my peers.

The overall equation breaks down to something like this:

   Poor kid
   New kid
   Catholic high school
   Incredibly introverted
   Lacking self-esteem
+ Uncoordinated
================
= Monumental Ball of Teenage Angst

As I said, I didn't really fit in.  I didn't feel like I deserved to be there.  It was not the best of experiences, and over the years I've often wondered if I made a mistake by going to Bishop Hannan.  Did I mention, by the way, that this was a choice on my part?  This wasn't something my mother wanted us (myself and two of my brothers) to do...we volunteered for the effort.  In some kid of bizarre way though the thought never, at the time, occurred to me to transfer back out to a public school.

None of the above, by the way, should be taken as an aspersion against my fellow 1982 classmates.  At the time they were typical teenagers, even if I wasn't.  I did call some of them friend, and I am glad to be connected to them via Facebook now.  During the reunion every single one of them I spoke to was nothing short of incredibly gracious and friendly.  We talked of jobs, relationships (both failed and new...), kids and changing times.  I'm still not much of a social butterfly but I had a very good time on Saturday night.

Most importantly though?  Probably for the first time I felt like I fit in.  Took 30 years, but I felt like I belonged.  I had more shared experiences than uniqueness's with my peers.  This has everything to do with me and virtually nothing to do with them, but it's a grand feeling never the less.  I think this is a great example of what T.S. Eliot meant when it wrote (to paraphrase) "...arriving at the place you started and knowing it for the very first time".

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

About the header photo

The new header photo is a picture I took last December at Brace's Orchard near Dallas, PA.  I had the change the header photo, as pumpkins only have a relatively short shelf life, be that physically or symbolically.  Now that we've gone past Halloween and are approaching Thanksgiving, it's getting into that "stark" period when it's cold, but not so cold as to have snow.   It's as if life has dissipated from the land in sort of way, and all that's left are skeletons.  In this case the skeleton of a tree.

The above sounds rather gloomy, but I don't mean it to be so.  In fact I think of this time as being the precursor to life's re-set switch, as least if you live in these parts.  It's all part of having the benefit of four seasons.

Today's dormant tree is tomorrow budding tree.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The men in the funny hats failed...and other thoughts

I think I've read just about every article, blog and musing posted about the 2012 Presidential election results.    Here's what I've gleaned from it all, along with some of my own observations.

1) It was as much a Romney loss as it was an Obama victory.
Pretty self-explanatory actually.  Romney moved too far to the right to win the primary and then when he tried to pivot to the center for the general election he just demonstrated for the country to see the worst that his critics charge about him:  that he has no core, that his positions are written in sand.

The President had a lot NOT going for him in this election, but was fortunate in having a less-than-stellar opponent, no bruising primary, and a rapid far right always nipping at Romney's heels.  Every time the news reported on "Republican Senatorial candidate and old white guy Mr _______ said in an interview that only tramps get raped and have abortions..." (or some nonsense like that)  it was as if a magical fairy just gave the Democrats $100 million in free anti-Romney advertising.

2) You can't win an election by hoping people will not vote.
Nope, sorry, and many in the GOP (including Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett) seemed to hold this as some kind of Bizzaro-world strategy.  Human nature 101:  people are not always so predictable.  What's more, cynicism is a really, really, REALLY bad thing to peg your election hope on.  They deserved to lose just on account of this point alone.

More people voting is ALWAYS better.  Period.  End of debate.

3)  The men in the funny hats failed.
Romney was counting on the Catholic vote, but lost it to the President.  Citation HERE.  Note that this was despite EXTREME lobbying on the part of the church hierarchy, basically telling the faithful that you can't be both a good Catholic and an Obama supporter.  Heck, from the literature I read, you would think that the President himself actually, personally performed abortions in the Lincoln bedroom.  Newsflash:  something like 90%+ of adult Catholics violate Church teaching on contraception.  Catholics are NOT this monolithic group that only does what their older white bosses in funny hats tell them to do.

Note that I was raised a practicing Catholic, was an altar boy, attended Catholic high school and was the president of my college campus Catholic Students group.  I know Church teachings.  I also know what I was taught by the good sisters, servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:  that Catholics must think and use their brains, which is why God gave them to us in the first place.  Morality isn't something that is dictated to you from a Bishop...morality comes from inside of you.  

4) You must have a plan - simply being "against him" isn't enough.
Classic point:  Romney was going to repeal "Obamacare".  Okay.  With what?  I'm sorry, but "market based reforms" isn't a thing you can replace standing legislation with.  On so many fronts the GOP fell into the trap of letting its disdain for the sitting President get in the way of developing and articulating actual policies that could be sold to the American people as credible alternatives to what the President has done.

5) Romney's immigration plan suffered from being tragically stupid.
I can't stress enough how RIDICULOUS a policy of self-deportation sounds when it comes to immigration.  Say it to yourself over and over again:  "Yes, I expect that millions of illegal immigrants are just going to turn themselves in and go back to the countries they (sometimes) risked their lives to leave".  This doesn't pass the common sense test.  Rick Perry and George W. Bush have been right from day one on this issue, namely that there must be some kind of path to legal citizenship.

6) Self-deception is self-destruction.
When you never leave your own political house, it's inevitable that you miss things.  Deceiving yourself into believing that polls, which are science-based things (not ideological concepts), are wrong because they tell you something you don't want to believe is a fatal mistake.

Now I've already heard the wailing and mashing of teeth at Fox News and other conservative media types about bias.  To that I have one word in response:  Bull$hit.  If you add up all of Limbaugh's listeners and Fox News viewers you have basic equality with "main stream" media.  Yet another example of self-deception.

7) Money can buy air-time but it can't buy votes.
Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers and others poured hundreds of millions of dollars into this election and made no one happy other than TV and radio stations.  See point #6:  repeating an ineffective message over and over again will not make it somehow effective.  Most Americans (especially Tea Baggers) can't define Socialism, so claiming that Obama is in favor of it seems pretty silly to me.

8) You have to control your Loonies.
Hear much from the Occupy Movement during the general election?  Did you say "no"?  Funny, I didn't either.  I did, however, hear lots from the lunatic fringe of the GOP, also known as the Tea-Baggers.  Simply put, Obama didn't let the far left fringe of the Democratic Party control his campaign or his stands on issues.  There was no talk about raising corporate tax rates as a part of Obama's campaign, for example   Yet on the Republican side, Tea-Baggers were practically wetting themselves with joy over the selection of Paul Ryan as the Romney VP.  Yes, I know that Joe Biden's breath probably still smells like shoe leather, but that's not the point, as Joe Biden isn't perceived as being some card-carrying Occutard...but Paul Ryan is perceived as a card-carrying Tea-Bagger.  The Tea-Baggers insisted on far-right stands in the GOP platform, including no amnesty  (they must have forgotten that their hero, Ronald Raygun, actually offered it), and no abortion (not in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother), ever.

Detecting a pattern here?  It's a pretty sad day when the Democrats are seen as being the moderate ones, but give it up to the Tea-Baggers (who I also believe have cost the GOP something like 5 U.S. Senate seats) for making them look so very non-extreme.  Another example of the GOP basically funding Democratic commercials.  Another example also of self-deception, as you get the impression that Tea-Baggers actually think that most American's agree with them.




As I said before the election, I will be fine no matter who won.  Oh, and I am who the GOP should be appealing to:  Middle aged white guy, I have a great PRIVATE SECTOR job, I earn a decent living, I get NOTHING from the Federal government (does that mean I am a "maker" as opposed to a "taker"?), I pay A LOT in taxes and I basically just want the Federal government to not make my life worse.  Yet despite all of this, they really offered me nothing as an incentive to vote for their candidate last week.

In the words of the current generation: epic fail!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Donald Trump: Professional Tool

This was linked on the blog "2 Political Junkies" and I just have to share it here.

Salon.com:  Donald Trump loses it, calls for revolution.

While Democrats and Republicans may disagree on many issues, I think there is one issue all can agree on:  Donald Trump is a Tool.

(from the angryblacklady.com)

The Donald should stick with what he is good at, whatever the Hell that is.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Presidential Election @ 10:30pm, 11.06.2012

If Barack Obama wins, this nation will have four more years of a mediocre President.  Why?  I'm convinced that it is in part because Republicans insist on giving a crap about what adults do in the privacy of their own homes and other assorted nonsense instead of the stuff that really matters.

In my dream world, the Republican Party becomes this group that is pro-business, but also pro-personal liberty and pro-personal choice.  Personal choice, not government choice.  This means staying the out of the abortion debate.  People of good conscience can disagree when life begins, so let's not have big government make this decision.  This means allowing two consenting adults to get married, even if they are the same gender.  What the Hell business does the government have in determining who you should marry?  In my dream world the Republican Party doesn't have old white guys who have been married four times talk about "conservative family values"...it says "family values are just that:  family values, not government values".  In my dream world, the Republican Party stands for a strong defense...of America...not of Germany, South Korea, Japan, and every other place where we are still the world's cops.

Alas, my dream world is just that...a dream.

The Sad State of Election Day, 2012

The Internet is awash with cool graphics and the like touting the importance of voting, so I'm not going to add the clutter, much.

I will say that I have voted in just about every election since the 1982 general election.  Why?  Simply because it's important, and if you don't use your voice, then you allow someone to speak for you.  That's wrong.

What's also wrong?  The political climate we, as Americans, have allowed to be created by people mainly with big wallets and bigger mouths.  We've somehow as a society gotten to a place where it's now only sufficient for a candidate to scream "my opponent is evil" and then expect to be elected.  Forget baseball, we've turned demagoguery into the national pastime.  Even worse?  Yes, I've said "even worse", is that some actually view the demagogues as heroes.  Some people actually believe whatever spew they hear, word for word, from their favorite venom merchants as being gospel truth.  Maybe what's happening isn't so much that we've allowed the demagogues to take over but rather that we've allowed giant swathes of our population to turn into moronic Sheeple, believing whatever their party spokesperson says.

For the record nowhere in the above will you see "Democrat" or "Republican", as both political parties are equally guilty.  The Democrats have George Soros, the Republicans have the Koch brothers.  The Democrats have the Occupy Movement, the Republicans have the Tea Party.  Detecting a pattern here?

As for me, well I describe myself as a fiscal conservative but a social liberal.  That basically means that BOTH Obama and Mittens turn my stomach:

  • If Obama is re-elected I have no doubt that nothing will be done to end our nation's on-going federal spending spree.  Governments, like families, can't really balance a budget by simply increasing revenue all the time.  See the City of Scranton for a great example.
  • If Mittens is elected, then it's open season for religious groups to dictate public policy.  Read Leonard Pitt's great article HERE that says just what I mean.  I'm all for freedom of religion, but that doesn't just mean that you are free to practice your religion, it also means that I am free from you ramming your religious beliefs down my throat. 

However distasteful the choices, I will still vote this morning.  Sometimes the choice really is the lessor of two evils, but that still doesn't take away from the importance of making the choice.

No matter who wins the presidential election I will end up okay.  I just hope though that those who really do have more on the line do take the time to vote their conscience.  Even an imperfect choice is a positive step in a Democracy such as ours. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fun with Dunmore


Saturn's moon Methone, as photographed from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting the Saturn system.

Image courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

From THIS press release:

"It's difficult not to think of an egg when looking at Saturn's moon Methone, seen here during a Cassini flyby of the small moon. The relatively smooth surface adds to the effect created by the oblong shape."

In related news, residents of Dunmore, Pennsylvania mistakenly think the moon is named "Methadone" and quickly proclaim that they are glad it is "there" and not "here". 



Friday, November 2, 2012

The week that was...

It has been a long, long week.  Hurricane.  Power outages.  Meetings late into the evening.  Checking email before I go to bed and as soon as I get up in the morning.  Not getting much of my "day job" accomplished.  Saying that I am glad this past week is over is something of a grand understatement.

By way of context, I work for a large financial services company, which means we have people's money.  Lots of people.  And lots of money.  As a result, we take what's called "Business Continuation Planning" (or BCP) very seriously.  Based on the events of this past week, we rightfully take it very seriously.  I happen to be the BCP coordinator for my division's Human Resources function, which mainly means that, in the event of disaster, I need to represent the needs of the needs of my co-workers and make sure they have up-to-date information on what is happening.  Practically speaking, for much of the week this meant three times a day conference calls...morning, afternoon and evening.  It also meant small novels worth of updates to read, evaluate and determine what to pass along.  Fortunately for me, Human Resources isn't considered to be a "critical function" for purposes of Business Continuation.  Translation:  the company can get along with out us for some period of time.  This didn't mean we got most of the week off, but rather, it meant that most of my peers worked from home for part of the week.

As for me, while our Scranton office was closed on Monday and Tuesday, I was actually in the office.  Well more specifically, I was in Monday morning, until about 1pm.  After the winds started kicking up I figured discretion was the better part of valor, so moved my office home and worked the rest of the day beside Jean Luc the cat.  Tuesday, while the office was technically closed, I was in working, as I didn't have Internet service at home anyway.  So much for working from home.  Hell, who am I kidding? I don't really like working from home anyway.  Regardless, I'm sure that the skeleton crew in the office on Tuesday was glad to know that an Director of Organizational Effectiveness was on-site, ready to solve any mis-alignments of the STAR model that might arise during what was then Tropical Storm Sandy.  Tuesday was a long day, but I did manage to get some work done, despite the storm.

Wednesday and Thursday were more or less normal (but long) work days.  The Scranton office made it through the disaster with flying colors, and outside of some power failures, most of my co-workers on the East Coast managed to get through the troubles without too much inconvenience.  Well except for the three that live in New Jersey.

Today started at the doctor's office, which actually had nothing to do with disasters and everything to do with sinus infections.  Great moments in bad timing don't you know.  Today ended with me leaving to pick up my youngest daughter at West Chester.  She came home for the weekend, hopefully to relax.  She works very hard at everything she does.  Kind of like her Dad.

Today ends with me sitting at the keyboard, trying to abate a nagging cough and contemplating what has been a very long week.  In hindsight it's good to know that our BC Plans worked so well this week.  It's frightening to think that this kind of thing might be happening more often in the years to come.  I know, Noted Climatologist Rush Limbaugh and 3 Albanian scientists tell us that global warming is just a "theory".  A "theory", you know, like gravity, or that prolonged abuse of Oxycontin causes hearing loss.  On that "high" note (pun intended), I bid the work week a fond farewell.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bad

There are times when my head just gets full. Too much stuff. Too many details. I suspect that this is one of the reasons why music exists, to be this kind of mental cleaner.  Yes, in my highly uneducated (from a music perspective) mind, music has a trans-formative power, an ability to right the mental ship, to give you perspective, to calm your soul. Heady stuff, I know, but so be it.

One of the songs that means something to me in this kind of trans-formative way is U2's Bad.  It speaks to me in ways that I'm really not sure I  can even explain, other than to say that I feel better when I hear it.  I can think of no better performance of Bad than at Live Aid in 1985.

So here you go, a great performance of a great song.



As I was dealing with all the storm related and other stuff over the past few days, I could ear the lyric...


If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go
Surrender
Dislocate

...in my head.  Yes, sometimes we all need to let it go.  To surrender. Now I'm reasonably sure the song isn't officially about this sort of feeling, but who cares?  The beauty of art is that no two people experience it in exactly the same way.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Motorcyclist need to watch for Motorcycles


I see this sign and/or sticker around all the time these days, what with the popularity of motorcycles.  I agree with the basic sentiment, but allow me one diversion:  as a percentage of total population, I think there are more idiot motorcycle drivers than there are idiot car drivers.  We will keep the truckers out of this argument.

So many times as I find myself traveling either for business or personal reasons I inevitably am passed by some motorcyclist going something 90+ miles per hour on the highway.  Occasionally I will also witness the "wheelie", while also going something like 90+ miles per hour.  The worst?  That would be the idiot going 90+ miles per hour, doing a "wheelie", sans a helmet.  These folks prove that Darwin was right.

Also, I'm going to comment on the motorcyclist revving his/her big-assed Harley, at 2am.  These things should be banned from residential neighborhoods after about 11pm.  Sorry, but they are loud by design, and while I have no desire to interfere with anyone's freedom, I conversely ask that no one interfere with my right to sleep at a reasonable hour and not be woken up by a "rhummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm pahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" at a audio level high enough to deafen any healthy human being.

Where is all of this going?  I don't really know.  I just feel like this is an long-overdue rant.  If you ride a motorcycle, then good for you.  I just want you to GIVE the same level of respect and courtesy that you ASK for from others.  If you see one of your peers acting like an idiot, then call them out on it.

Oh, and for God's sake wear a f&^%king helmet!  Nothing amazes me more than listening to someone defend the "right" to go highway speeds with nothing between their skulls and asphalt.  Want to not wear a helmet and drive your motorcycle?  Fine, then in my universe you would:

1) Be forced to pay far more for health insurance

and

2) Be forbidden from receiving any and all government assistance for your health care bills in the event that your skull becomes road pate and you end up being a veggie for the rest of your life (if you are lucky that is).

Choices matter, and sacrificing the wind in your hair and bugs in your teeth in exchange for preventing a cracked cranium seems like a pretty damn reasonable trade-off to me.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yeah (local high school sports) Team!

When was the last time, prior to last night, I attended a high school football game?  The honest answer is as follows:  I really don't freak'n know.  It has been that long.

And so the stage was set yesterday when I got the call from Ms Rivers wondering if I would be interested in attending yesterday evening's Wyoming Area vs. Northwest Area football game.  I confess that at first my answer was "no", as I was still at work, had to deal with an a setback on one of my projects, was facing a trip to CVS to score some 'roids for my asthma (which is acting up due to my lingering cold), and I had a business continuation planning (BCP) test for work to conduct at home.  In short, I felt stressed.  Fast forward about 20 minutes and I am leaving CVS, thinking to myself "screw it, I can leave the game, get home by 10pm and complete my test well before 11:59pm" (the BCP test had to be completed on Friday).   So, to make a long story short, I found myself navigating the backstreets of West Pittston PA, looking for a parking spot outside of Wyoming Area's football stadium.

Now for the record, I need to explain my knowledge of, and experience with, high school football.  That would be "none".  I attended Bishop Hannan High School in Scranton, which was notable for being "Tech with ties" (translation:  Scranton Central HS was to the Jesuit Scranton Prep HS...the "smart" schools...as Bishop Hannan HS was to Scranton Technical HS...the "dumb" schools) and for not having a football team.  I'll also note that, at the time of my graduation, I was 6'3.5" tall and weighed about 170lbs...in other words I was more of a goalpost than football player.  Making this even more of a knowledge disaster, Ms Rivers is a graduate of Philadelphia's Girls' High, meaning that her knowledge of high school football is about as laughable as mine.  But man, we both know a hell of a lot about the pension business.  Anyway, the stage was set.

After finding my partner in (un)knowledge, I proceeded to take in all that is high school football.  A few observations:

  • For a small town, this is a community event.  It is as much about having an evening out as it is about sports.  Hell, most of the horde of little kids running around couldn't care less about the game. Most of the people wandering around weren't really paying attention to the game either.  And all of this was okay.  It's really not that much about sports anyway.
  • I still don't get the concept known as "cheerleading".  I couldn't understand more than half the words they "cheered".  It think it's just an excuse to somehow include girls in the process.
  • High school football teams have small supporting army of folks.  It's fascinating watching the sidelines, as it is this odd combination of focus and disorder.
  • High school football is far more fun to watch that college or professional football. More mistakes, bigger plays.  The coaches take more chances.  As a sport, I can understand the attraction.
  • I don't know how people in the South can watch high school football games in warm weather.  It seems to be almost required that the air be cool for events such as this.
I did snap a few pictures with the camera phone, but must are, well, horrible.  I needed better gear, but none was there.  If there is a next time I'm going to bring an SLR.  If there is a next time.  There probably will be.  Maybe.




In the end, I was very glad I attended.  It was as much an exercise in Sociology as it was anything else.  It was also just nice to be outside on a nice Fall evening with my partner in crime.  A splendid time was had by all.

For the record, I did complete the BCP test, with time to spare.

Oh, and Wyoming Area won the game.  Details HERE.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blah, just blah

There are times when a blogger just shouldn't be allowed near a keyboard, and this is probably one of them.  Oh well...found it!

I don't get sick all that often, but I've now been working on the minor-but-annoying symptoms of a cold for something like a week and a half now.  It's getting old.  I'm trying hard not to cough too much, but 'tis not working all that well.

I don't have bad days at work all that often, but today was the exception.  Too many emails, too many changes, too much chaos, too many deadlines, too many times when I felt like I just didn't get it right.  So much having to talk to people.  I'll catch up tomorrow, but Thursday is an all day seminar that will require much in the way of small talk.  I'll end up being exhausted by the end of the day.  I haven't had a chance to get to the gym in almost a week and a half, and I feel like a slug.

I haven't been nearly as productive at home over the past few days either.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's just the OTC stuff I'm taking to counter the cold symptoms.  Man, I despise that "medicine-head" feel.

Making it all so very much worse?  All the political CRAP that permeates everything these days.  Two more weeks of this?  I think I'll end up insane first.  Oh, and I make the previous statement knowing full well that I'll probably be okay no matter who wins the election (and that I'm not going to vote for either Obama or Mittens).

Do I feel better now, having ranted?  Not especially.  One thing is for sure though:  tomorrow I'll just have to do it again. Cue the Kinks...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rev. Dr. Phil Snider

Well worth watching:  Rev. Dr. Phil Snider speaks about pending legislation in Springfield Mo. that would ban "special" rights for citizens who are gay.

 



Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Punkin" Patch

I love the pumpkin (or, as the NEPA natives say, "punkin") patch.  Always have, always will.  My annual Fall trek was this past Saturday, and Ms Rivers was kind enough to tolerate my incessant picture taking.

(tone wall & pumpkins...I love the all the shades of green off-set by the orange.

It's not really a pumpkin patch if they have to import the pumpkins, but still...

I love how the red Massey-Ferguson tractor stands out in the Earth tones of the field.  Wish the house wasn't in the background though.

I love taking pictures of stone walls.

Okay, not the punkin patch, but my new vehicle...but I like the color.

I'm heading to southeast Pennsylvania this weekend, hoping for more Fall foliage to appear in front of my lens.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Big (Science) News

Screw the debates, here's the really big news:  Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B!

Details HERE and HERE.

I can say with complete honesty that this is something I've been waiting to hear for a number of years.  Why?  The Alpha Centauri trinary system is only a hair over 4 light years...practically down the block in terms of galactic distance.  While this particular planet is far too close to Alpha Centauri B to support life as we know it, call it a harbinger of things to come:  if there is one rocky planet in the system, there could very well be others.

It could very well be that, within my lifetime, a planet capable of supporting life as we may know it could very well be discovered in a nearby solar system.  How cool would that be?

Fire up the Jupiter 2.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The farce that is Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. continues...

I've written about this before (reference HERE).  Basically the constituents of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr are not being represented in their federal government because a member of Congress wants to collect a paycheck but not actually show up for work.  This is, at best, shameful.

Anyway, you can read the latest in the Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr saga HERE.

To repeat what I said in July about Rep. Jackson...

"In the end, serving in Congress is a responsibility, not a right.  Show up to work or resign the seat."