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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Steve, a Giant Pig and Gene Stilp

There are times in life when you just realize, at that very moment, something unique is occurring.  Something that is not likely to ever happen again.
And so it was:  having my picture taken with Harrisburg political activist        Gene Stilp, while both of us were fondling his giant inflatable swine.
It can only mean one thing:  Blogfest.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Road Apples, #122

Mittens vs Santorum...apparently both are neck-n-neck for the GOP nomination in Pennsylvania.  Rather astounding actually.  As of about 9am this morning, I think that Rick Santorum has offended everyone other than white males between the ages of 42-60 who are devoted and practicing Catholics.  Maybe.

Steve Ballmer...Is it just me or does Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer look like Gru from Despicable Me?  Judge for yourself:

Still not the best celebrity look-alike I've seen lately; that would go to the Guy Smiley/Mittens comparison.

Scranton City Councilman Jack Loscombe...A story in today's paper (I'd link to it, but the Scranton Times has this pay-per-view deal that I don't care to support) documented the lawsuit by Scranton City Council member Jack Loscombe.  In his suit, Mr Loscombe seeks to have his pension reinstated while serving as a member of council.  By way of background, there is a law in Scranton, dating back to the 60's, that states if a retired firefighter serves on city council his pension is suspended for the term of his service.  The argument by Mr Loscombe is that he has a "right" to the pension.  The argument by the city is that, well, there is a law against "double dipping".  As for me, I think there are two central issues:

  • Mr Loscombe's claim that his pension is some kind of sacred "right" is silly at best, as there is no "right" to a municipal pension.  Mr Loscombe's pension is a benefit of having served the city, but the "right" is far from absolute, as there are numerous instances where a pension can either be attached (by the IRS or a court) or cancelled all together (in the case of a felony conviction).  
  • The city's law against double-dipping seems like a solution in search of a problem.  What's the harm if Mr Loscombe receives his council pay and his firefighter pension?  The pay comes from a different pot of money than the pension payment.
The bigger issue I have with Mr Loscombe is that I view him as having an automatic conflict of interest when dealing with firefighter contract negotiations.  In those situations, who does Mr Loscombe serve?  The taxpayers or the members of the firefighter union?  Typical Scranton.

Supreme Count & "Obamacare"...Just for giggles, you may be interested to know that the very concept of the healthcare mandate came from the Heritage Foundation.  Interesting citation...

"The concept of the individual health insurance mandate is considered to have originated in 1989 at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 1993, Republicans twice introduced health care bills that contained an individual health insurance mandate. Advocates for those bills included prominent Republicans who today oppose the mandate including Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Robert Bennett (R-UT), and Christopher Bond (R-MO). In 2007, Democrats and Republicans introduced a bi-partisan bill containing the mandate."

Citation here.  If the Supreme Court strikes down "Obamacare" then so be it...but scoring political points on the part of the GOP will not solve the very real problem with endless double-digit healthcare cost increases in  this country.  Oh, and let's shoot down the talking point of "harnessing the power of the free market to solve the nation's healthcare problems"; such a notion is a ridiculous joke...at best.  When was the last time you heard of someone suffering from a heart attack "shopping" for the best price for medical care?  You can't buy a pacemaker on eBay either.  The free market simply doesn't function well when the profit motive conflicts with larger societal needs, which also explains why we don't have a for-profit military, police corporations protecting the population and Haliburton running your local fire department.

Yes, I'm very much open to other solutions to the nation's very real healthcare problems, but those solutions need to be more than just political soundbytes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mittens or Mr Burns?

For the record, I'll gladly post an "Obama or Slappy White?" cartoon if one is made available.  Ditto for a "Santorum or Mullah Omar?" cartoon.


Pretty funny stuff.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

As an introvert, should I "act" extroverted?

The above is a question that I dance around all the time.  Well, "dance" probably isn't the right word, because in reality I do act extroverted, all the time as a matter of fact.  Still, there are times when I think about getting more militant about the whole subject, well at least in my own "introverted personal thought bubble" kind of way.

Yes, just because I can stand up in front of groups of folks I mostly don't know...and do it, based on the feedback I have received for a very long time, reasonably well...doesn't mean that I actually enjoy doing it.  I claim far less ability in one area where extroverts excel, namely that of "small talk".  Words like "awkward", "uncomfortable", and "forced" come to mind just about any time I have to engage in casual conversations with people I really don't know.  I can do it, but then again I can also get through a colonoscopy, but that doesn't mean that I want to engage in either at regular intervals.

Another area where I can get somewhat militant in my thinking is that of "collaboration".  Yes enjoying collaboration is, to the business world, what loving puppies and kittens is to the world of pre-teen girls.  I can collaborate in a group very effectively with others, but it takes a significant amount of extra effort on my part.  This is because I feel an inherent pressure to talk to many others (not just a single person, which would be far easier), almost as if I was in a social situation.  I guess group collaboration is, in a way, a social situation.  Anyway, I watched a terrific TED Talk on the subject of introversion last week, one that also touches on introversion and collaboration.



I never really understood why I get so high-strung when working in a group until I watched this & saw just how stressful this kind of thing can be for an introvert.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Atheists, Buses and Advertising

I have been following (I have to confess, mostly via Facebook) the saga of the nascent advertising campaign of the NEPA Freethought Society.  To provide a 20 second summary...

...local Atheists wanted to place an advertisement on the local public transportation system
...those in charge said no, chiefly because they said the advertisement was controversial
...Atheists appealed
...those in charge said no

What's the fuss about?  Well here you go, and be prepared to be shocked...


Has your faith in an old white guy living on a cloud been shocked out of existence yet?  Do you feel as if your way of life is being attacked?  Have the barbarians arrived yet at the gate?

On a more serious...and less snarky...note, basically what the COLTS board is saying is that just the word "Atheists" in and of itself is controversial and offensive.  Now I'm not going to argue any religious points here, because I've found that arguing about religion is like arguing over ice cream flavors:  namely that the right answer is highly subjective anyway, and mostly based upon one's interpretation of "facts".  What's more, and as I have mentioned to others, religion is about FAITH, and FAITH by it's very nature is something that often times exists DESPITE proof (rightfully so I will add, speaking as a person who has some faith himself).  Anyway, the real issue here is one of a word, and the interpretation of it as being offensive.  To that and in response, I offer the following word of my own:

Bull$hit

Not even on Planet Santorum, I suspect, would the word "Atheist" be considered offensive or controversial.  It is no more offensive than the words...

...Catholic
...Jewish
... Pentecostal
...Muslim (well...maybe...at least in places like Texas)

...it is, when all is said and done, just a word.  Sure, it is a word that might stir some debate, but is that really such a bad thing anyway?  My answer is no.  So what is the REAL issue here?  It's more a question of tolerance and acceptance of what is different in an area, Northeastern Pennsylvania, that is infamous for being intolerant and non-accepting of most things that fall outside of what is considered to be "normal".  Now if you are in Scranton, "normal" means white and Roman Catholic.  If you are in Wilkes-Barre, that means white and Protestant.  See a pattern developing?  Darn good thing the advertisement didn't say "Black Atheists", or I am sure that heads truly would have exploded.

Yes, this isn't about protecting bus riders from being offended.  It's about protecting the perception that the outside world...that is anywhere south of Luzerne County or north of the state...doesn't really exist. Atheists?  Well they don't live HERE...they live out THERE!

My personal opinion is that the Roman Catholic Church should be free to advertise on COLTS buses.  So should the Episcopal Church.  And the Baptists.  And the Jews.  Oh, and so should the Atheists.  We are talking about words here folks, and while powerful, words only have the power that we assign to them.  Don't want to have your religious thinking questioned by those darn Atheists?  Then don't talk to Justin Vacula, at least not about religion.  Don't read the Atheist advertisement either.  But let's stop pretending that the outside world, and outside ideas, don't exist in the pristine ethical and religious ecosystem that we call Northeastern Pennsylvania (and in other news, yet another local politician has taken a plea deal and goes to jail...)


Additional Resources:
You can find a video about the controversy, courtesy of WNEP, HERE.

You can link to NEPArtisan's commentary on the issue HERE.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Random Thoughts (from the road)

This will be short, as the evolved 'hunt & peck' typing I use on my tablet is, at best, annoying.

Anyway, I am traveling this week, much to the disgust, I am sure, of my cat. I don't think he is all that fond of the cat-sitter. With travel on business comes a unigue set of challenges, which, after 23+ years of business traveling I have yet to master. Not that anyone who would care to look at me now would notice, as I try very much to fit in with the business travel crowd in terms of camouflage and customs. The one custom I can not mimic all that well though is all the mandatory socialization that comes with these types of things. Yes, facilitating an exercise in front of a large group of folks...most of whom I didn't know...yesterday was less stressful than the full team dinner I will participate in this evening. Such is file though, and as I tell myself all the time, Buger King counter help doesn't get to travel (translation: stop being so whinny Albert).

Wait, where are the 'Random Thoughts'? Well, in the spirit of compliance, here we go:

Motorcycles - last night, while driving to Hartford, I was passed on the right by a motorcycle. I was in the far right lane. He was on the shoulder of the road. It was 8:45pm. He was going 90 mph. It was a highway. Am I the only one who thinks that this sort behavior is idiotic? I was also passed by a pack of bikes before this incident that were traveling even faster, but at least they were not making their own lane.

Note to Andy Palumbo - Please do buy that new coat next year.

Primary Day in Illinois - Can Newt just fade into the sunset already? Does he just want to sell more books? If I promise to buy one will he just stop already? I ALMOST feel sorry for how pathetic his campaign had become.

Well I have to face the reality that my work day must now begin. Off to the races if you will.
posted from Bloggeroid

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Manayunk & Other Philadelphia area pictures

A few more pictures taken last weekend; some were from Manayunk, along the Schuylkill river, outside of Philadelphia.

A stone railroad bridge, with a man unfortunate enough to be in the way.

Detail of the bridge. I always find stone structures to have a certain beauty.

A church in Wyncote, PA.

Cross at the top of the church.

Flowers in a window (dah!).  This particular bouquet was purchased at the flower show.
Flowers, up close & personal.  I love the contrasting colors.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Philadelphia Flower Show 2012

I had the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show this weekend with traveling partner and Philadelphia native Ms Rivers, and as usual had an outstanding time.  The theme of the show this year was "Hawaii".  A sampling of the photographs grabbed by my Sony Alpha...

Not really a flower, but it was right in front of us as we parked in the Constitution Center basement.

There weren't too many tropical-looking flowers that caught my attention.

This has nothing to do with Hawaii, but I love the contrasting colors.

You can't beat the color of a blooming rose.

Another rose.

The color was more Fall in this flower, but I loved the contrast.

Another tropical plant.

I just love how the white and purple contrast in this picture.  So many of my pictures of white flowers basically just washed out this year; I think I need to invest in a better flash...that or adjust for a lower level of light and longer exposure.

The show was sponsored by Subaru, and there was this super-cool 70's vintage (front wheel, not all wheel drive) model surrounded by tropical foliage.


We actually attended the Flower show on Friday, with Saturday morning spent with the extended family of Ms Rivers, including her wonderful parents, David and Elizabeth.  The afternoon was spent wandering the main drag in Manayunk, where I came upon that most endangered of retail species, the independent record store.  $17 later I had a copy of Neil Young's Greatest Hits.  

The only down-side this year:  a complete and utter lack of "the world is going to end" protesters.  Oh well...maybe next year!

From The Onion.com

Sometimes something is funny precisely because it is so close to reality. That's never been more true than a recent mock headline by the Onion.com...

Rick Santorum Relieved No One Has Asked Him About Interracial Marriage

Somehow I think that not so much Rick...but rather his handlers...are the ones who are actually glad this hasn't come up yet.  Who knows, maybe it will.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Harold Camping: Oops, sorry, never-mind.

Apparently high-profile world ending predictions...which didn't come true last October...will not be be coming any more.

Harold Camping Admits He Was Wrong About Doomsday Predictions

Maybe, just maybe, there is hope.  Who knows?  Maybe up next will be a few on the Right who will admit that Barack Obama isn't actually a Muslim intent on stealing your guns, instituting Sharia Law, and converting the United States into a socialist state.  On the Left, maybe some will come to admit that Rush Limbaugh is just another radio entertainer with a big mouth...and that's about it...not some clandestine rich-white guy cabal leader who secretly plots GOP strategy for world domination.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seeing the forrest from the trees

As I ponder things, which I am often found to do, one of the realizations I've come to about myself is the that fact that I have this inability...at times...to maintain perspective.  It's as if my head gets so far down into whatever I am dealing with, so intently and intensely, that I seem to lose the ability to climb back out.  Well I lose the ability to easily climb back out.  Mentally my internal engine gets so revved up that I can feel things racing around.  It's not a frightening thing, but I need to learn to better cope with the phenomena.

Side note:  it's both pathetic and encouraging that I even think of this stuff.  Pathetic because, on some level, at my age one would think that I would have already gotten past this sort of thing.  Encouraging because, on another level, we all have doubt at every age.  I'm just the sick bastard who actually takes the time to write about it...on the Internet.  Back to the posting... 

Monday  was a great example. I have a few, say we say, "higher profile" things I am working on these days, and some wrinkles have appeared.  Nothing that, in the big picture of things, can't be dealt with and handled.  Nothing here that will cost millions of lives and billions of dollars.  Easy to say that now, but for most of Monday it was difficult to pull myself mentally out of the swirls associated with working these issues.

The symptoms of all this?  It's almost pathetic (there's that word again) in some respects.  At the risk of being crass, when I get like this I have to pee, almost constantly.  Somehow my body runs through it's natural resources at an alarming rate with both inputs and outputs accelerated.  No, I am not Diabetic, as I have passed every blood glucose test I have ever taken with flying colors.  Another symptom is that I feel this intense internal pressure, but it's not as if it's a pressure that, for example, "if I only accomplish X" will go away...no, this pressure is far more general and non-specific.  I know, I am probably just describing general symptoms of stress, but so be it.

The most disconcerting thing associated with this whole thing is the fact that, buried deep inside of me, there is this little voice saying...

"You know, you should take a step back, take a deep breath, think about all the positives in your life (of which there are many) and re-focus."

The problem is that hearing this particular voice is like trying to pick out just one person singing in a chorus.  I know the voice is there, and I can barely make it out, but the other sounds over-power it.

As I think about this particular topic in its totality, I'm reasonably confident that what I describe is not unique to me or to my age.  There is, by that logic, some comfort in knowing that we all have this stuff to deal with and that there probably exists lots of advice and wisdom on how to keep focused on the truly important stuff in life.  They key, as I see it, is in not finding magical solutions (which unfortunately some find in the bottom of a bottle...beer/booze/other) but in recognizing the problem in the first place.  The biggest problems we face in life are those that we fail to see as problems in the first place...before it is too late.

Here's to continuing to not cease from exploration...both internally and externally.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Limbaugh Apologizes

What a lack of a conscience and no sense for hypocrisy was unable to accomplish a backlash from advertisers probably did...


Personally I think any guy who trolled the Internet for women, was married four times and was caught attempting to illegally bring Viagra in the US* probably has no business calling anyone else a "slut".



(*) See story reference HERE.

Friday, March 2, 2012

On Gay Rights

I don't believe in "gay" rights.

I believe in "human" rights.

Some people would have you believe that allowing gay folks to get married is somehow a decree by the government that gays are getting special rights.  Tell me folks, what's so special about allowing two people to enjoy the legal and social protections associated with marriage?  Even more than that, what's so special  about allowing two people...two people who are not breaking any laws, not hurting others, minding their own business...to simply enter into a legal contract that binds them together as partners in life?

I know, this god or that god may be against it.  Or so some say.  Fair enough.  Then I say that no church should ever be required to recognize the marriage of gay couples.  Not the Roman Catholic Church, not the Southern Baptists, not the Latter Day Saints.  Nope, for all these churches and more, "Barry and Steve" can just be two nicely dressed men who enjoy each other's company.  For purposes of owning property, being the beneficiary of various types of financial benefits, making end-of-life decisions they can be married.  Churches don't have to be involved in that sort of personal stuff. Hell, I don't think the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the marriages of anyone who isn't married in a Catholic Church anyway.

Now some would have you believe that allowing gays to get married is somehow a sign of the degradation of society.  I suspect that similar folks said similar things...

...about the notion that the world was round
...about allowing Jews to own property
...about integrated schools
...about fluoridated water
...about women wearing pants
...about Elvis Presley

...but yet society has managed to survive all of these threats, and more.  Heck, we are even more prosperous as a species now than we have ever been in the history of our planetary dominance.  So much for the end times.

No, somehow I think that gay bashing and blaming is just another in a long line of societal sports.  Think Jewish pogroms.  Think Jim Crow laws.  Same concept, different century.  Fortunately for us, I think this sport is slowly coming to an end.

One final thought:  some say that gay marriage should be put up to a popular vote.  As I noted in another blog entry, would voters in Alabama, circa 1960, have voted for integration?  Would voters in Georgia, circa 1860, have voted to end slavery?  Would voters in Arkansas, circa 1963, have voted to end Jim Crow laws?  The answers are no, no and no.  Entrusting the majority to grant rights to minorities is illogical at best.  Humans are simply wired for tribalism, and anyone outside of our tribe is viewed with suspicion.  Time to outgrow the tribes.

Let's allow people to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness.  Society will be just fine.