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

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.