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Monday, December 30, 2013

Johnny Carson

After reading a review of the book Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin by a fellow blogger, I eventually got around to getting the book myself.  I have mixed feelings about the whole experience.

On the positive side?  It's a pretty compelling read.  Most of us who spent time watching Johnny Carson really never knew all that much about the man, other than the fact that we had heard he had been married a few times.  Four to be exact.  The book, written by his one-time lawyer, Henry Buskin, is at times very least as far as most of Carson's career at the Tonight Show is concerned.  It's also a fairly complex story about a man who was clearly both very talented and easily driven to rage.  It was a relatively fast read for me, being something I picked up while buying some Christmas presents at a local bookstore.

On the negative side?  Henry Bushskin is, well, a rat.  Over and over again Bushkin talks about how much Carson valued his privacy, and how he trusted so few people in his inner circle.  Some of that trust has clearly been betrayed, for sake of money, by Bushkin.  The author also paints a fairly vanilla picture of himself, and while some bad behavior is alluded to, by and large Bushkin wants to be seen as a "good guy".  I felt slightly soiled for having purchased the book and rewarding Bushkin's rat-esque behavior.

I'll also note that you really don't learn all that much about Johnny Carson's life from the book.  Yes, it's pretty clear he had a tough upbringing, but there are no details to speak of.  You also don't learn anything of substance about Carson's final years, as he and Bushkin had a falling out years before he died.

Would I buy it again?  I'd have to say no, at least not new in a hardcover.  However if you are fan of Carson, you may want to pick up a used copy on-line.  It's worth that price.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

15 Big Wishes for 2014

In no particular order, for no particular reason.

  1. Free Speech.  That people will stop confusing a right to free speech with a right to employment.  The constitution guarantees one, not the other.  This applies equally to mock hillbillies and MSNBC commentators.
  2. Budgets.  That governments will learn to live within their means.  This entails not spending more than they take in.  This means not borrowing money to cover payroll.
  3. Schools.  That schools will focus on academic education, which should be their core, central mission.  Sports have a place in our society, but not when they take resources away from education.  In an era of tight budgets, too many school districts have outdated text books but boy, they do have nice football uniforms.  Many (especially in NEPA) are oblivious to the concept of "bread and circuses".
  4. Politicians.  That politicians will decide to devote more time to listening to constituents and less time being greased by lobbyists and campaign donors.  If you believe that free speech = campaign contributions, then you also accept the notion that some folks (those who give the most) have a right to more speech than others.  Anyone care to argue that point?
  5. Talk Radio.  That national political talk radio slowly withers away and dies.  Too many people confuse a radio "act" for a "reality".  For the record I do like local talk radio, even when I disagree with the slant of the particular host.  Giving local folks a chance to voice opinions is a positive thing.
  6. Congress.  That Congress does its job.  Period.  Pointing fingers at people you disagree with and saying (figuratively) "You Suck!" helps no one, improves nothing and simply justifies the 9% approval rating that Congress currently enjoys.
  7. Local Media.  That local media will devote more time and energy to examining why NEPA has chronically had the highest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania.  There are reasons for this, but yet no one is really talking loudly enough about them, let alone doing something about it.  That's cause for alarm.  Media can help change that, if they want to.  
  8. North Korea.  That someone does something about the Hermit Kingdom.  It is a pox on humanity that this place even exists.  The bloated, obese leader lording of a country full of emaciated people who look like Walking Dead extras is just wrong on so many levels.
  9. Religious Leaders.  That they have less authority in secular society.  All societies.  All religions.  It seems to me that religion has a place in forming the conscience, but once it gets into the public policy realm it almost always ends up badly.  Think Iran now and countless other examples throughout history.
  10. Parents.  That parents spend more time reading to their children.  Growing up I loved it when my mother would read to us.  This a gift that costs almost nothing but continues to give for decades.
  11. The Pennsylvania Legislature.  That the Legislature does two things:  Get the State the heck out of the retail liquor business (a state government shouldn't be in any retail business, period) and gets smaller.  Government in Pennsylvania is too big and it spends too much money.
  12. President Obama.  That he tells the truth, all the time.   I get it, most Presidents are flexible with the truth, but I think Mr Obama has taken the concept a bit too far with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.
  13. Heroes.  That we, as a society, stop labeling people as heroes simply because of their job.  To really be a hero, you need to do something heroic; it's never part of a job description.  Simply being an athlete...or a firefighter...or a policeman...or a solider...doesn't automatically make you a hero.  When we label entire vocations heroes we greatly diminish the definition of the very word and those who have been heroic in the past.
  14. Financial Services Industry.  That the industry focuses on customers and the greater good that helping people achieve long term goals provides to society.  This would be instead of simply chasing a constantly higher ROE.  The business of business is business, but businesses also exists in a larger society, to which they are also accountable.
  15. _________ Special Interest Group.  That they all grow thicker skins.  This includes the NRA (of which I am not a member), the Human Rights Campaign (of which I am a member) and countless others.  There are too many people finding offense in too many areas all too often.  Life is too short to be constantly listening for someone to offend your group/tribe/sensibilities/religion/sexuality/region/point of view.  When you actively shop for offense, you will always guaranteed to find it.  Who needs more of that?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

There is no war against Christmas

How do you wage war against a feeling of joyousness?

How do you wage war against getting together with family and friends?

How do you wage war against the wonder in a child's eyes, the same wonder most of us felt as kids, on Christmas morning?

How do you wage war against deeply held, personal beliefs?

There is no "war against Christmas".  The very idea is, I think, something manufactured by commentators to give themselves something to talk about...other than the joy of Christmas...during the holiday season.  Some folks are just nothing, I guess, unless they have some foe to rally the troops against.  The things that matter the most in life are immune from the concept of "war" that is being spread during these holidays.  Even on religious grounds it makes little to no sense.  If someone's faith is dependent upon a plastic Jesus, Joseph and Mary on a public square...or if that faith would be shaken if such plastic displays were removed...then I am afraid that maybe their faith wasn't very solid in the first place.  If you're a Christian, it's important to remember that the Son of God wasn't born of vivid displays, holiday showmanship or grand gestures by public commentators; He was born in a stinky stable, surrounded by animals.

The stuff that really matters at Christmas is the stuff that you can't see, but you can certainly share.  It's the stuff inside of you.  It's joy.  It's love for family and friends.   It's wonder.  It's a belief that we all have a shot at redemption.

Merry Christmas to one and all!  If you don't celebrate Christmas, then Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Grumble, grumble, grumble, hiatus, grumble, grumble, grumble

Despite protests in my head to the contrary, yes indeed I have had something of a blog hiatus over the past week.  There has been simply too much to do, and besides, I haven't had home Internet access until yesterday.  Just to do a little mental catching up:

  • 98% of my stuff has been moved to the thriving town of West Pittston.  I do have some stuff still in storage, and on my brother's back porch, but it's not much.
  • Both the mental and physical transitions have been hard.  I understood going into this that it would be physically difficult, as I did most of the lugging myself, with able assistance from Ms Rivers and her oldest son.  Most nights I have gone to bed with legs feeling like limp noodles.
  • The mental transition has been interesting.  For a few days I still felt, well, homeless.  I guess it just takes a while for a place to seem like "home", even if you are there, and even if you own it (well have a mortgage on it).  Being surrounded by boxes and clutter is also not good for my mental health.  However, slowly but surely the mental transition is coming along.  
  • Every day that I'm out of Scranton it seems that there is more bad financial news coming out of the city.  By the way, it is nothing short of INSANE that the acting chief of police is getting part of the Supreme Court award, but that's another post for another day.
  • I really do enjoy my new commute into work.  It's the longest commute I've had since about 1988, but I find it relaxing.
  • Maybe it's the introvert in me, but when I am shopping in a crowded store, I sometimes have a slight tinge of anxiety.  Nothing horrible or mind altering mind you, just enough mental swirling to be noticeable.  It goes away as soon as I leave the store, and it's only there when I am shopping alone.  I've noticed it before.  I will have to explore this further.
  • It doesn't feel like Christmas.  Not this year.  I'll have to be twice as joyful next year to make up for the difference.
  • I am working Monday, Tuesday and Thursday this week; from there I'm off until January 2nd.  Since there is no shortage of things to do, the time off will be welcome.
Well that's about all I can write at the moment.  Hardly anything that will set blogger afire, but that's okay.  These are more mental notes to me than physical notes to you (whomever "you" happen to be) anyway.

Monday, December 16, 2013

das Haus verlassen - In gratitude | Naming Names

All is done.  

I sold my former residence in Scranton.

Ms Rivers and I bought a new house in West Pittston, the place from where I am publishing this very posting.

Initial renovations will be commencing, and there will be much moving of boxes and turning of a house into a home over the next few months.

None of this would have been possible without the help of my partner in crime, Ms Rivers.  Collectively, we also had the benefit of working with some great professionals, so I'd like to offer some blog space for some well-deserved thanks.

My Partner
Before thanking anyone else, I have to acknowledge Ms Rivers.  

Dear Chris, 

Thank you for your patience with me in the sale/purchase endeavor. 

Thank you for your honesty, intelligence and grace under pressure.

Thank you for your understanding through the parts of this process that were difficult for me, from making the decision to sell through the myriad of other things that come with big life change.

Most of all, thank you for being my partner as we begin this part of our journey together. 


(One of my favorite Ms Rivers photos)

Selling My House
In selling my property in Scranton I had the benefit of a truly terrific real estate agent, Trish Conway from Century 21 Jack Ruddy Real Estate.  Trish was great at offering suggestions, keeping me focused, and answering my questions (sometimes the same ones over and over again).  Trish is fanatically great at returning phone calls and staying on top of things.  I also really appreciated how creative Trish was in making the final offer for my property work.  I can't imagine having the same outcome with an agent other than Trish.

Buying Our Home
In buying a home, Chris and I had the benefit of having the time to really think about what we wanted, over an extended period of time.  That noted, no matter how much planning you do, all the rules change once you start actually touring properties.  In helping us translate plans into reality, we had the benefit of great search tools and email alerts from Prudential Poggi & Jones real estate.  Check them out if you are buying a home in the Wilkes-Barre area.  Once the time came to start looking at homes, we connected with Paul Pukatch from Prudential Poggi & Jones.  Paul has been patient, available, supportive and has helped keep us on task.

Lawyers, Guns and Money
Well not guns, but you definitely need lawyers and money to make the home sale/ownership thing work.  Chris and I had the benefit of two professionals who helped us in the legal and financing departments.

Our lawyer was actually my late mother's attorney, Edward Monsky, from the Scranton firm of Fine, Wyatt and Carey in Scranton.  Attorney Monsky handled the legal work for both the sale and the purchase and has also helped write new Wills for both Chris and I over the past few months.  Attorney Monsky probably answered the same questions from me about 6 times and was exceptionally calm as I stressed over a mortgage issue dating back to 1992.  He also actually made a last minute house call in order to remove an obstacle from our closing. Finally, he's also just a really nice guy...something in all honest that I only rarely said about a lawyer.

In this part of the home equation, I brought the lawyer, but Chris brought the banker.  Our banker in this endeavor has been Debbie Saracino from M&T Bank in downtown Wilkes-Barre.  Debbie is the very definition of flexible.  Countless emails, many faxes, two conference calls, an impromptu application review and throughout it all Debbie was there at every step.

If you need a mortgage or other kinds of home financing stuff, consider contacting Debbie.

Lastly, in coordinating preparations for the house sale and getting ready to move, I needed additional storage space.  Fortunately, there is a place in Moosic that more than met my needs:  Oak Hill Self Storage.  The owner/manger is a terrific guy, and the facility is spotless and secure.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Goodbye Scranton

In the song "Say Goodbye to Hollywood", Billy Joel wrote the line...

"Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again"

...which is a fitting way to begin this posting.

Yes, after spending the last 25 or so years of my life being a second time Scranton resident (I was born in Scranton but left the area in 1984, returning in 1989), the Electric City and I have parted ways again, probably forever.  The new home for NCFE...and it's the thriving and at the moment not under water* town of West Pittston.  In Scranton parlance I am moving to Wilkes-Barre, as every good Scrantonian knows that everything past Avoca is actually Wilkes-Boro anyway. Or so I was led to believe growing up.

Anyway, I have known that this day...or a day like it...has been coming for a while now.  

Back in 2010 I made a series of changes in my life that put me on a path where it wasn't particularly clear where I would end up, physically, mentally or otherwise.  It was a trying time, and I made some very difficult decisions; good or bad though, there are times in everyone's life where something of a leap of faith is required for there to be any true progress.  Sometimes this progress requires a stripping away of things first, and in October 2010 I had been completely and thoroughly deconstructed.  From there the reconstruction began.  I had no idea then where I would be now, which for me truly is the miraculous thing about faith.  Now that reconstruction begins to pay visual dividends. 

For the record, my definition for "faith" isn't necessarily about religion, but rather it's those big things you do when you don't necessarily have the benefit of data to support your decision. Mind you, I say this as a true Science Geek.  Anyway, faith is what you do when your head isn't of much help in the decision making process and your heart is hopelessly lost in the fray.  Faith is what's left when logic and reasoning use up all their ammunition.  I consider myself to be a highly logical and ordered human being, yet even I understand that there is a place for faith in one's life.  Faith, as much as anything else, brought me to where I am now.

Fast forward over from October 2010 and I'm turning one of those big corners in life.  You know, one of those corners that you look back on in later years and say "that's when it really changed".  And it is really changing now.  A small part of me is a tad bit, well, is almost afraid to be happy at the moment, as if there is some cosmic mojo that will be offended if I allow myself to be contagiously happy for a moment in time.  To that part of me, that feeling, I proudly proclaim the following: "Nope, not this time Sparky!".  I will enjoy this feeling, if for no other reason than the fact that I don't plan on making such moves again for a very long time to come.

As for Scranton, well I wish I could say I was optimistic about the future of the city that really should be the anchor of Northeaster Pennsylvania.  Scranton, however, has yet to hit its nadir.  While things are bad, they will be getting worse.  Probably much worse.  Like an alcoholic, Scranton is still in the...

"I know I am a drunk, but I can handle it" 

...stage.  The city has yet to hit the...

"I am a drunk and I now know that I need to change my life in order to get better"

...stage.  I don't see this changing any time soon.  Reasons?  I've written about this subject time and a time again, but it all comes down to this:  in Scranton, political logic always trumps reality.  The political logic of not wanting to offend city employees, for example, is currently far more compelling than the reality that Scranton can not afford its current workforce.  When that changes, as painful as it will be, will also be the time when Scranton turns the corner.

So goodbye Scranton.  I will be visiting, often.  Part of my employer's office is technically within city limits, and I have two beautiful college-aged daughters living in the city anyway.  I'm also not changing Scranton-based dentist and primary care physician, both of whom I have learned to trust over the years.  For those that remain in Scranton, well I wish you all the best.  Oh, and one last thing:  for God's sake vote.

(*) As in H2O; it's ironic in that I am leaving Scranton, a town that IS under a different kind of water.  For the record, my new home is not in a flood zone.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Road Apples, #143

From the temporary home/hiatus - I write this from the NCFE temporary lodging, as I am awaiting the sale of my existing home and the purchase of my new abode.  Now as I plotted this whole mess, I thought about doing one of those hiatus things that real bloggers often times do.  Then I realized that I can no more stop writing than I can stop breathing.  No matter what, the stuff flows out of me, and it might as well flow here.  Fortunately, I now have amassed enough technology such that I can pretty much blog from anywhere.

Jobs, Job, Jobs - Recent unemployment statistics released last week make Northeastern Pennsylvania number 1 again in Pennsylvania...for highest unemployment rate.  Remember, this means that NEPA has a worse economy as such garden spots as Altoona and Easton.  If you ever were looking for hard evidence for the failure of political (and economic) leadership, look no further than this statistic.  It's worth remembering when you think about this statistic that NEPA is blessed with an excellent location, a willing workforce and decent infrastructure.  So why the complete, total and repeated economic failure?

Nelson Mandela - The founder of the modern South African state, Nelson Mandela, passed away last week.  I've read many tributes from across many political lines, including a very moving one from Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  What's really interesting though is contemplating the fact that many on the hard political right in this country wanted nothing to do with Mandela back in the 80's.  In fact, Mandela was vilified as a terrorist and communist by former President Reagan.  Regardless, Mandela was a Communist sympathizer, maybe in part because many in the West were all too happy to support the former white supremacist/apartheid South African government.   If you neighbor on the right ignores you and helps your enemies, can you be blamed for looking to the left for support?  In the end, Nelson Mandela was a flawed hero, as are all heroes actually.  In my book that makes them all the more extraordinary in that it shows them as being fully human beings, just like the rest of us folks.

Rush Limbaugh - I fully enjoy the good work being done by the folks at "Flush Rush Limbaugh".  Having a group of folks dedicated to pointing out the verbal pollution being spouted by this comedian (and he is a comedian by the way, a point that many of this followers miss) in a real service to humanity.  I particularly enjoy hearing when Rush talks about issues of which he has a lot of experience, namely family values (no children), marriage (he has been married three times; his current wife is something on the order of 25 years younger than he is), the military (he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War) and drug abuse (he is an admitted abuser of prescription pain killers).

EWTN Catholic Radio - I've been listening lately to the local ETWN Catholic Radio affiliate, which  can be found at 98.9 FM in the Scranton/Wilkes-Borro area.  You can link the local affiliate's home page HERE.  A few observations:

It's a very hard-right brand of Catholicism.  

Persecution fears abound.
From listening to it, you would believe that FBI right now, as I type this, is getting ready to arrest the Catholic faithful.  Chief example:  Obamacare and contraception.  Never mind that most Catholics, including those at EWTN, would balk at the notion of an employer, for example, not covering blood transfusions*

You don't hear much about Pope Francis.  In fact, I've heard more about Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II.

They play the same 2011 Commercial from Pennsylvanian's for Human Life over and over again.

What isn't discussed on EWTN radio very often:
The poor and anything even remotely related to sexual abuse scandals.  Neither seem to exist in that slice of the radio spectrum.

All in all, it's pretty sad stuff.  In some respects I think it foster's a bunker mentality among some; if you say "we are being persecuted for our beliefs" enough times, some folks will start to actually believe it.

Now I get it...I am on the left when it comes to social issues.  But I was also raised to believe that, next to loving God, the most important thing for any Christian was to love his/her neighbor (see the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, verses 36-40).  That can't exist in a persecution vacuum, when 98% of your energies are spent wondering how "the man" is going to get you.  For more about the perils of being in "the bunker" seek out THIS FILM.

This isn't the Catholic Church I was raised in; this isn't the Catholic Church that was taught to me by the good sisters, servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  All of this noted, I still do pray.  Whether or not anyone listens is immaterial, for what's important is that I take the time to ask.

(*) Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusions on religious grounds.  If Catholic employers can refuse to offer health insurance that covers contraception shouldn't employers who are devout Jehovah's Witnesses be allowed to refuse coverage for blood transfusions as well?  You can read more about Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions HERE.  I don't say this in any way to mock the belief system of this...or any  Heck, I admire most people of faith.  My point is about hypocrisy and being in the bunker.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

10 observations when moving your stuff

In no particular order, but for many reasons.

1.  You have more stuff than you think.
2.  Whatever amount of time you allot for moving your stuff multiply by three to get the actual time.
3.  You will find that "thing" you thought you lost a year ago, and you'll end up throwing it out anyway.
4.  Because most of your stuff isn't square, most of it will not fit nicely into packing boxes.
5.  "And on the 8th day, God created the hand-truck, and it was good."
6.  National Geographic magazines present a particularly difficult quandary.
7.  You actually, really do own 37 plastic storage containers.  You just didn't know that until now.
8.  You find more lost silverware that you never knew were lost.
9.  You discover that those lost socks went behind your washing machine to die.
10.You discover that you own more medication than is typically found in the average sub-Saharan hospital.

Friday, December 6, 2013

das Haus verlassen, #15

And so it begins...

While just buying a house if fraught with anxiety, selling and buying basically at the same time is an ulcer cocktail.  Never the less, I'm not one for doing things the easy way, so why should this be any different?

Anyway, over the next few days I am getting the current abode ready for the closing, which should happen, like, eventually.  Well eventually in the sense of it has to happen on or before the closing for the new house, which will be next Friday.  Needless to say, next week should be "interesting", to say the least.

It's now just a shell here, with just the essentials, including a computer, a nice chair and marshmallows.  One has to eat.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Days Ahead

Monday 12/02 - "normal" work day.  I was supposed to leave the office this afternoon to travel for a class that starts tomorrow morning, but I decided that less time away is better, so I'm leaving tomorrow morning.  Kudos to my VP who basically said I could cancel the class attendance if I needed to on account of the closing(s).

Tuesday 12/03 - Business travel.  Up at something like 4:30am and on the road by 5:30.  With any luck I will be back in Scranton by 8pm.  The joys and glamour of business travel.  Oh, and since I hoped organize this particular class, I think I will have some hosting responsibilities.

Wednesday 12/04 - "normal" work day, and I think my calendar is packed.

Thursday 12/05 - The great clean-n-move-out.  This is the day when I finish moving out all my stuff and get the house ready for Friday's closing.  It's also the day when JeanLuc the cat starts his 8 or 9 day kitty vacation at Springbrook Kennels & Pet resort.  I don't expect either one of us will be happy about it.  The day will probably start early and will no doubt end late.  I have a feeling that when all is said and done I'll need an Advil drip.

Friday 12/06 - Closing on this house & my official week of homelessness begins (wave to me as you pass under the Davis Street Bridge on I81).  I have to talk to the attorney about logistics, but I am hoping that I don't have to be there for the actual house closing.  I do have the day off from work, and seeing as though I already have a ton of days off from work to spare, I will probably keep it.  Some time will probably be spent fully preparing for the next closing.

Saturday 12/07 - Traveling to Philadelphia to see Chris' nieces participate in Lucia Fest at Old Swede's Church. I will be nice to get a way for the day.

Sunday 12/08 - An actual day of rest.  Maybe I will cook.  Generally speaking I hate cooking, but there are times when it is both necessary and almost therapeutic.

Monday 12/09 - A day off.  I had scheduled this day off a while ago, basically in anticipation of my house closing date changing.  With all signs pointing to a closing on the upcoming Friday, I'm hoping to actually get some Christmas shopping done.  Despite everything else going on, apparently Christmas is still on for this year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A post that isn't about moving, home selling, home buying or anything else of a similar ilk

I was going to write, yet again, about my current all-consuming activities, but then I came to my senses.  Instead, here's just an assortment of random "stuff".

My favorite album titles
In no particular order for no particular reason:

  • Seven and the Ragged Tiger - Duran Duran; not only does it have a cool title, but it has a few good songs to boot (including one of my favorites, "New Moon on Monday").
  • Babylon and On - Squeeze; another great album that I also own that has a cool title.  "Hourglass" is a workout staple for me.
  • Learning to Crawl - The Pretenders; one my the best albums I have ever heard.  I love the back story behind the album as well.  Google it and read for yourself.  I've often times contemplated my own moments in life when I've had to "learn to crawl".  Favorite tracks?  Really, mostly all of them.  
  • Learning to Flinch - Warren Zevon; I don't own the album and I'm not especially fond of acoustic sets, but I just love the title. I don't know if Zevon was thinking about the Pretenders album when he came up with the name, but never the less it's still pretty cool.
  • The Unforgettable Fire - U2; yeah, an album titled after a description of a nuclear bomb explosion is somewhat pretentious, but I like it never the less.  "Bad" is one of my favorite songs of all time.   

Words I use to describe peanut butter
I hate peanut butter.  I despite it.  Here are a few choice words to describe it:  Acrid.  Disgusting.  Putrid.  Vile.  Vulgar.  Nauseating.  Foul.

I don't know how any human being could consume this stuff.

The Number of times BBC America has played "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
At least 476 times, give or take a dozen.

Things that 20-somethings do that irritate me
With no offense intended to anyone, and I realize that there are plenty of younger folks who don't fall under these categories (but there are some...).

  • Pretend to be worldly - You can't be worldly and be young.  Sorry, you can't.
  • Think they are owed something - The world doesn't own you an education, a cellphone with a data plan, or a leadership position just out of college.  Speaking of education, "going to school" isn't a vocation, it's a means to a vocation.
  • Disrespect the past - Want to understand the present?  Study the past.  Don't want to study the past? Well then don't pretend that you actually understand the present.
  • Are suckers for marketing schemes - The folks at Apple must love the average 25 year old.  "Behold, the latest iThing, with new 4% larger screen!".
  • Think that things are free (that really are not free) - Basically nothing in this world is free.  Facebook?  Nah, it's not free; the cost is much of your personal information that is whored out to marketers.

Things I've recently learned to enjoy
Where "recently" is defined as being over the past 4 or 5 years:  Blogs, classical music, BBC America (especially Top Gear), English Breakfast Tea, supporting a local rescue mission, A Prairie Home Companion, stuffed chicken thighs from Gerrity's, Evernote and Mental Floss magazine.

Reasons why I really don't like the winters in Northeastern Pennsylvania

  • Parts of my skin develop a lizard-like quality.
  • Breathing in super cold air does not make my asthma very happy.
  • Two words:  Dirty snow.
  • Three words:  Dark at five.
  • People who drive Jeeps during bad weather and somehow believe that driving a Jeep makes you immune from the basic laws of physics.  Want evidence?  Drive down I84/I380 just after a major winter storm and count the Jeeps stuck between the north and south lanes.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Meeting the "Shake Off The Grind" Thanksgiving challenge

Preface:  I want to note before anything else that this was exceptionally difficult to write.  More like "pain in the butt" to write.  But I'm glad I did.

I subscribe to frequent emails from a great website/blog/personal development resource called "Shake Off The Grind".  You can link to it HERE.

Now with Thanksgiving coming, I have a "I am thankful for..." posting basically written.  Then I received this challenge from Shake Off The Grind.  After reading it, I thought to myself "what the heck" and I'm going to take the challenge.  For purposes of simplicity, the challenge asks you to be thankful for some very specific things:

  1. List 5 people in your life you are grateful for.
  2. List 5 things you're grateful for about your home, community or where you live.
  3. List 5 things about your physical body you are grateful for.
  4. List 5 life experiences you are grateful for.
  5. List 5 personal skills and talents you possess that you are grateful for.

So here goes nothing.

5 People in my life I am grateful for
(Disclaimer - I'm going to limit this to people who are actually alive)
  • I am grateful for the joy of being the father to my oldest daughter, Katrina.  She is exceptionally bright, musically talented and passionate about her vocation.  In a world full of people who just "telegraph it in", she strives to make a difference.
  • I am grateful for the joy of being the father to my middle daughter, Korin.  Like her sister, she is exceptionally bright, shares my love of Science and has a wonderfully wry sense of humor.  
  • I am grateful for the joy of being the father to my youngest daughter, Rebecca.  Like her sisters, she is exceptionally bright, possessing a wonderful singing voice, and is the hardest working 20 year old I've ever met.  
  • I am grateful for my partner, Christine Elizabeth.  At my darkest hour I looked up and she was doesn't get much better than that.  Chris, our life together is a blank canvas, and the world is full of paint.
  • I am grateful for my brother Richard, who helped me at every step of the way as we got the house ready to sell.  Could I have done it without him?  Sure, but he made it far easier.

5 things I am grateful for about my home, community or where I live
  • I am grateful to live in the United States of America, a place where, while politically dysfunctional, you don't get shot/imprisoned/water-boarded for actually saying the government is politically dysfunctional.
  • I am grateful for the community of folks that comprise my employer, especially those with whom I work with in the Scranton office.  We have some of the best and brightest that NEPA has to offer. 
  • I am grateful for having had a home wherever I ended up roaming.  When I think about the challenges that some face just finding shelter, I am reminded of how blessed I have been in my life.  As the saying goes, "not all who wander are lost".
  • I am grateful to live in the area known as Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Be it ever so humble, there truly is no place like home.
  • I am grateful for the virtual communities of which I have been (and continue to be) a member.  I've met some wonderful people and learned a tremendous amount about subjects far and wide.

5 things about my physical body I am grateful for
  • I am grateful that my body is durable.  Despite the nutritional abuse I throw at it, my parts all seem to function well.
  • I am grateful that I have physical stamina.  Despite my inability to get much more than 6 hours of sleep a night, I am always able to get up, get going, and take care of business (and on most days that includes about 30 minutes of cardio).
  • I am grateful for my sense of smell.  While I can't see all that well and my hearing is getting worse as I get older (harmed in no small measure by too much loud music over the decades), my nose can still pick up the stench of peanut butter from a room away.
  • I am grateful that I still have (mostly) a full head of hair.  There is nothing wrong with being bald, and to be honest, if the choice came down to mostly bald or totally bald, I'd say "shave it all".
  • I am grateful for my eyesight.  Yes, while it isn't the best in the world, eye doctors have marveled at how well I've managed to adjust to not seeing well, particularly when it comes to depth-perception.  I tell people that I probably don't really know what "good" eyesight is anyway, as I only know what I have always experienced, which is okay with me.

5 life experiences I am grateful for
  • Age 16, 4H Camp - The first time when I experienced the possibilities that life had to offer was when I worked at a 4H summer camp.  I learned the value of hard work and of how wonderful independence could be.  I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that this first "real" job afforded me.  
  • Age 20, Penn State Harrisburg - While 4H Camp gave me a taste of independence, that feeling was magnified 20 fold when I spent my junior and senior years of college at Penn State Harrisburg.  For me, this is a sacred, special place, as evidenced by the small number of people who are close to me that I've taken on the "pilgrimage" to PSH over the years.  I make it a point to go back to the school from time to time and I am honored to be able to financially support the university in a small way.
  • Age 24, becoming a Dad.  I became a Dad at an early age, and on one hand it was exceedingly frightening having so much responsibility at such a young age.  On the other?  It is simply wonderful being young enough to see your "children" become fully functional adults.  Parenthood changes everything in your life, I will add ultimately for the better.
  • Age 25 (and a half), starting to work for my current employer.  I am very grateful for the opportunities that have been created for me to grow personally and professionally.  I am also very grateful for the ability it has given me to support myself and others.
  • Age 49 (in progress).  I am grateful for the experience to date of selling my home and finding a new place to live.  While it continues to test many things (patience, ability to sleep, finances, etc.), this is one of those "once in a lifetime" things that I will look back on fondly in years to come.

5 Special talents or skills I am grateful for
  • I am grateful for my inquisitive nature.  From an early age I was reading any and every non-fiction book in the house.  And I continue to do that to this very day.  I owe a special dept of gratitude to my late mother for instilling in me a desire for lifelong learning.
  • I am grateful for having a desire to write.  Note that I didn't say "being a writer", because I firmly believe that, for example, Garrison Keillor is a writer; I, on the other hand, am a person who writes.  And I write, at times joyously.  
  • I am grateful for the ability to be graceful under pressure.  
  • I am grateful for having my own sense of visual composition.  There are times when I capture something in a photo and then I end up marveling at what has just occurred.  
  • I am grateful for having a positive outlook.  This wasn't always the case, but I am living proof that we all have a shot at redemption.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

das Haus verlassen, #14

The countdown begins.

Barring one of the largest financial services firms on the planet actually lying to me, the last hurdle between myself and the sale of my house should be removed some time mid-next week.  On one hand I am relieved, on the other I'm exhausted.

Call it "house fatigue".

I thought I would be excited at the prospect of the changes to come, and deep down I am. It's just at the moment I'm really, really tired.  As I've noted before, there's been a lot of effort to get this far, where the effort part encompasses just about everything.  Oh, and I also have the rest of my life that continues to happen around me.  Did I mention that I'm not sleeping all that well most nights?  Mind you this is "not sleeping all that well" by Steve (as in minimal) standards.  Nothing like waking up at 3am thinking about the next series of tasks you need to perform.

Anyway, I'm also tired of complaining about it.

The truth is that it really is the home stretch.  The side of the house that my mother formerly lived on is about 95% ready to go.  I just need to get my brother to handle a few last details.  My side?  Well it is, once again, a maze of boxes and stuff.  But it's boxes and stuff that are on their way out, as in out of here.  Yes, it looks bad. but in reality the looks are deceiving.  And outside of a bed and a couch, I can pretty much move the rest of the stuff by myself, with the moral support of a cat, a hand-truck and a Nissan Rogue.  After all, I moved in here by myself with the help of a Chrysler PT Cruiser, so anything is theoretically possible.  Sadly and believe it or not, the PT Cruiser actually had more cargo room than my Rogue.  Too bad it was as piece of crap (from a reliability perspective).

When I think about it, I actually have less than two weeks here when you factor in Thanksgiving and some work commitments I have for the week after next.  In the scheme of things, that's a blink of an eye.  After vacating here, it's off to a week of temporary lodging (sans cat) until (hopefully) the closing on the new home on or about December 13th.  Could there have been any worse timing for all of this?  Probably not, but then again you don't always get to call the shots in these sorts of things.

When it's all said and done there will be a deep sigh of relief and then sights set on new adventures.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dear United States Senators from the Democratic Party

Congratulations in having "gone nuclear".  Now please don't cry when the tables are turned and the next Republican President wants to nominate the equivalent of Joseph Goebbels to some federal judgeship...and you are powerless to stop it.

Like little kids at Christmas, you will eventually learn that the having is not nearly as sweet as the wanting.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"All in all I'd have to say, its been a rather dismal day"

The title comes from a song by the 1970's soft-rock band Bread.

It was a  rather dismal day, yesterday that is; why?

Well first, since I love cats, it was painful to do what had to be done. The "it" was having my late mother's elderly cat, Sarah, put to sleep.  Sarah was about 19 or 20 years old, completely deaf and had a cataract in one of her eyes.  She also was very frail.  I kept her at the house for as long as possible, but with a closing on the property potentially coming soon (or maybe later...keep reading), I had to act.  Having her go live with someone else was not an option, as given her greatly diminished senses, any other environment would have been hazardous to Sarah.  There just weren't any other viable choices, and it quite literally broke my heart to take her to the Vet.  But I had to do it.  It was the longest 10 minute car ride I've taken in a very long time.  My only consolation is that Sarah, with her skin-n-bones, arthritis ridden body is no longer in pain.

Rest in peace old girl.

Then there is an issue that potentially impacts the closing date for the sale of this property that resulted in too many phone calls, far too much note-taking and far too much uncertainty.  For me, the biggest point of contention is that I've been living with basically a shell of my belongings for months now.  I'm tired of it, and while I'm not a consumption-oriented person, I would like to have the benefits of what I've accumulated.  Those benefits do me no good sitting in a Moosic storage unit.  You can make that plural, as I now rent two of them.  I am sure that it will all get sorted out in the end, but that doesn't diminish the suck-factor of it all.

Here's to days to come when I don't have to get treasured pets euthanized and I don't have to worry about being homeless.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scranton's revenue problem is not the problem

Well, the initial turd hit the fan blades last week:  the Mayor of Scranton proposed increasing property taxes and the garbage tax (from $178/year to $300/year).  All told, I believe that the Scranton Times figured the total increase to be in the neighborhood of about 400% on the average city taxpayer.

It will not be enough.

Consider Pat.

Pat has a problem managing credit.  Specifically, Pat has managed to get so far into debt that Pat can no longer afford to make all of the credit card payments that come due.  Yet Pat continues to spend, using, of course, credit cards.  So what does Pat do?  Pat gets an evening job at the local Kwik-E-Mart.  The extra income is good, and Pat manages to get current on all of the credit card minimum payments.  But there is a problem:  Because Pat puts all of what is earned into bills (including making minimum credit card payments), Pat has no choice but to continue to use the credit cards for some of the daily expenses of life.  What's more, Pat still likes to buy non-necessities using a credit card.

Anyone think that the solution to Pat's problem is yet another job?

Of course not.  All the extra cash in the world will not solve Pat's problem, because Pat doesn't have an income problem.  Pat simply can't manage to live within a budget.  Pat is in capable of managing expenses.  Pat has an expense problem.

Pat is the City of Scranton.

The credit card bills are the debt the city has incurred over the years.  Include in this the insane award given to police and firefighters that will have to be of course adding to the city's debt.  For the record, the award was the direct result of Scranton's mayor following the advice of the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL).  While I know it will not happen, it should be PEL that picks up the cost of this ill-decided "award".  Keep in mind though that Scranton was functionally bankrupt even before this award is factored into the mix.

All of the other bills incurred by Pat...utilities, rent, etc...are Scranton's operating expenses.

In the absence of fundamental changes in how the City of Scranton is managed, any additional revenue Scranton manages to pry from its residents will simply be sucked up like light into a black hole.  There will never be enough revenue to solve the city's problems precisely because the system isn't designed to mange simply incurs them.  The city's budget exists in large part to do just two things:

1) Pay employees
2) Make payments on incurred debt

Scranton's viscous cycle is that #2 is helping to pay for #1.  As #1 increases (with no end in sight, particularly under Mayor Courtright, who relied heavily on unionized city employees to get elected), #2 will  increase a well.  Where does it end?  Well what will ultimately happen is that the city will no longer be able to access credit.  It will not be able to do #2, then #1 falls to pieces.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

das Haus verlassen, #13

It's getting to be crunch time, for real.

In theory, in less than a month from now I will be in my new home.  Note the words "in theory".  Separating theory from reality I have a few (what I hope are) minor issues to work out, including figuring out exactly when I need to move into temporary lodging between house closings.  This is driving things like when I need to get a van to move the rest of my stuff out, when I need to take JeanLuc the cat on this kitty vacation, and countless other details that are so numerous that I actually have a checklist.  Evernote rules, for the record.

While the sale part is creating complexities, I will say though that the purchase end has been fairly stress free.  The owners of the property Ms Rivers and I are buying from seem like very nice people, and they are open to potentially closing early when and if all of the stars that must align actually do so in order to make that happen.  I actually get a chance to meet the former owners, as they have agreed to give us a tutorial on how to operate the wood/coal stove that is located in the first floor living room.

Among the details I am working on during the days ahead will be to clear out the rest of my stuff from the existing property.  Now much of that was done in July and August as I got the property ready for sale, but I did afford myself a few remaining luxuries, such as a desk, television, couch and bed.  Within about two weeks or so most of those will be gone as well.  Have I mentioned that I also need to acquire some additional storage space in order to make this all happen?  The current storage unit is about as crowded as bus in India.

Making this stuff somewhat easier is the fact that I don't have much business travel left in the year.  Maybe one overnight in early December and that's it, well at least until the second week in January.

It will be nice when things settle down, but part of me wonders what it will actually be like.  "Be like"?  Well not so much as in how it will feel to live somewhere else, but more so how it will feel to not have the constant stress of...

...constantly worrying about titles, deeds, lawyers, buyers and paperwork
...coordinating my brother Joe's move
...getting service providers here to do those last minute fine-tuning things
...those impromptu calls by your real estate agent trying to solve some issue
...having most of the temporal things you hold dear locked up in a storage unit
...worrying about how your pet will do while he is being boarded

...this stuff is not for the faint of heart.  I'm thinking that the next move after this will be to a retirement community.  Or a funeral home.  Well God willing not a funeral home.

Time magazine's fat joke

I speak of this.

We get it, the New Jersey governor is overweight.  But seriously, a national magazine has lowered itself to making a fat joke on it's cover?

Shame on Time magazine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Joy of Editing

One of the things I actually enjoy about writing is editing.  Well to be a bit more specific, I enjoy editing when I actually have the time to do it effectively.  For me, editing is almost magical.  It's a way that you can turn something on the left side of average into something that's pretty darn good.  Editing is about clarity, it's about purpose, it's about functionality.  Editing is something of a luxury.

Why a luxury?

Well, if you read half of my "stuff" you probably come to the conclusion that I don't do enough editing.  There are mistakes here, typos there.  It can be a mess.  But this is, at least from my perspective, part of the very nature of blogging.  Part of it comes down to writing style and habit.

The writing style part of me can best be described as "stream of consciousness".  This posting is a good example.  When I write, what you see for the most part is what is in my head at that very moment.  I try, very hard, to not over-engineer what I am writing.  By over-engineer I simply mean that I don't over think or over write my thoughts.  I just pretty much let the thoughts/words pour out over the keyboard, sentence fragments and all.  Yes, what you see here is what is in my head at the moment my fingers cruise the keyboard.  Scary, huh?

The writing habit part has more to do with time.  More than half of what you see in this blog is written in the morning, mostly before I go to work.  I tend to wake up with tons of stuff in my head, and writing creates the perfect opportunity to do something with the stuff.  Being a morning person, I am at my very best during the hours after just waking up, so this is when the writing actually happens.  The only downside to writing at this time is that I usually am very pressed for  time.

I do edit my postings, but I usually don't have very much time for editing.  Thorough editing becomes this luxury that I can only afford on rare occasions.  Those occasions are mostly the rare postings that I write over time for special occasions.  Now at any given time I have about 6-10 postings in draft; of the 6, maybe 3 will eventually see the light of day.  Some of these postings are just abortive attempts at being profound, some are just plain stupid, others are thoughts that I just can't seem to complete for one reason or another.  The postings that do make it to the publish button are usually the best edited stuff I write.  By "best edited" I am referring more to a Lord of the Flies kind of thing (best held in the perspective of someone like me who just causally writes).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Jenny McCarthy Anti-Vaccine Body Count

Someone actually took the time to create a web-page to track the damage being done by the likes of anti-vaccination "crusader" Jenny McCarthy.

What's the issue?  Well in a nutshell, it goes like this:  Ms McCarthy (famous, I think, for being on MTV) alleges, along with a few others, that childhood vaccines cause Autism.  Now I have worked with children that had Autism, so I have...all be it limited...experience in how challenging this can be for a parent.  I have absolutely no doubt that the parents of Autistic children feel a unique kind of frustration at not knowing how or why their children have been so afflicted.  These parents truly are special folks, as raising children is hard enough, let along children with special needs.

The above noted, I'll be pretty direct in coming to the punchline:  there is ZERO evidence that childhood vaccinations cause Autism.  None.  Zilch. Nada.  Don't believe me?  Believe these folks:


The Journal of Pediatrics

WebMD - Study Linking Autism to Vaccinations Was Faked

I could go on, and there is scientific-study based information from major universities, the American Pediatric Association, the World Health Organization and countless other groups that all point to one single fact:  Childhood vaccinations save lives and they don't cause Autism.  Period.

So why does the non-science of vaccinations causing Autism survive?  It's in part because people with large public platforms, such as Ms McCarthy continue to spout their unsupported views.  Part of it is the wealth of false information and pseudo-science that thrives on the Internet.  Part of it is born out frustration with "the system".  Part of it is a basic lack of understanding about how science (and the difference between evidence vs. opinion) works.  In the end though, if this were just a case of celebrities just being eccentric then I wouldn't care all that much, however, in this case REAL HARM is being done.

Now I'm not completely naive here in that I do realize that vaccinations are powerful medicines.  Heck, I am just getting over a two week minor cold brought on, maybe, by my having received a flu shot.  However, two weeks of a minor cold are preferable to all that goes with full-out influenza.  What's more, I don't actually know that the flu shot I got caused my cold.  Cause does not equal effect.  I had an Arby's brisket sandwich for the first time the day I receive the flu shot.  How do I know that the sandwich didn't cause my symptoms?

In the end, we all need to make decisions in our lives based on the best possible information available to us.  If you are a parent and you are wondering about getting your children vaccinated against preventable diseases, who should you believe?  There is evidence to support the fact that vaccinations don't cause Autism.  And there are opinions to the contrary.  Chose wisely:  facts vs. opinions.

Oh, and consider the source for some of those opinions.

My thanks to co-worker Sean Gowden for bringing the Anti-Vaccination website to my attention.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day 2013

Photos from our trip to Arlington National Cemetery this past summer, remembering all who have served and honoring all who have died.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

das Haus verlassen, #12

Activity is swirling around me like Cheerios waiting to go down a sink drain.

Have I mentioned before that I'm pretty much never going to do this ever again?  By "this" I mean selling one house and buying another.  Now I know that other folks do this all the time, but for me, there are times when it is insanely stressful.  Fortunately those times are few and far between.

In other, real (as opposed to simply stuff concocted in my head) news, there was an issue with a prior mortgage on the property I am selling, specifically a mortgage for which there was no record of a payoff...back in 1992.  Yeah banking system!  Anyway, it appears that, thanks to the work of my terrific attorney (which a research assist from yours truly), that issue is about to be resolved.  Assuming the bank in question fesses up and admits to never filing the necessary paperwork 20+ years ago, I now have a clear path towards closing on this property.  That creates a clear path to closing on the property that Ms Rivers and I are purchasing.  

I'd take a moment to celebrate, but that moment could be used for other purposes, like cleaning and stuff.

Part of this equation is my youngest brother Joe moving to live with other brother Chris.  With the mortgage mess almost settled, we are planning on making that change soon.  My brother Chris is a good man for taking Joe in; whether the arrangement works out in the long term is open to debate, but kudos to the Albert Boys for taking care of each other.  
(The Albert Boys, circa August 1970; from left: Chris, Steve, Rich & Joe)

As I may have mentioned before, another point of stress for me is what to do with JeanLuc Albert (my cat) during the days between closing on the existing property and the new property.  Where I will be staying I don't have the option of bringing the Spudster* along, so he will need temporary lodging.  I did some on-line checking and found three nice looking places for him...basically kitty resorts.  Each place allows for visiting hours, but I don't think I could bring myself to visiting him and then leaving.  Call me a big softee, but that cat means a lot to me, and it's hard enough dropping him off for a week.

In very sad cat news, my late mother had a cat, Sarah, who is both very elderly (about 19) and sickly.  She has also not done well since my mother passed away and has lost a ton of weight.  My youngest brother has been taking care of Sarah over the past few months, but he can't bring her along with him to my brother Chris' house (Chris already has 4 cats).  My older brother Rich already also has a plethora of pets.  As for me, I have JeanLuc, who will eventually be joined by the cat of Ms Rivers, Tiger.  We're worried that Tiger will not acclimate well to JeanLuc, as he (Tiger) previously had a very poor living experience with another cat years ago, so we have our work cut out for us in just getting the two cats to live well together.  Fortunately, JeanLuc really likes other cats, so I'm hoping that with some thoughtful transition work, we can get JeanLuc and Tiger to like (or at least tolerate) each other.  However...and getting back to Sarah...she's just too old for this kind of change, and I'm afraid that any kind of move will add emotional stress to her physical pain.  While I strongly dislike the notion of having Sarah put to sleep, I don't know that there are many other open to us.  

Feline heartbreak aside, I also still have a lot to move in order to make the residence switch work.  I also need to rent an additional storage unit to temporarily store my bed, desk and a few other things (including power equipment) during the intervening week.  Oh, and have I mentioned that I'll be doing almost all of the moving work myself?

Living the sporty life...

(*) For the record, I have about a dozen different names for my cat.  It's important that every cat have multiple names.  Anyway, the names include his "formal" name of JeanLuc, as well as JLA, Spud, Spudster, Spudinator, BigGuy, General Sterling Price, Friend...and the list goes on.  No wonder he barely knows his own name.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Scranton Times - A Victory for the Status Quo

The Scranton Times editors explain why Bill Courtright is not going to change much of anything in Scranton as the city's next Mayor.  I pretty much agree,

Yes, you can argue that the paper is "anti-this" and "anti-that", but when it comes to Mayor elect Bill Courtright they are right about the following:  he has no plan. "Getting Scranton back on track" is a slogan, one that says nothing about reducing the cost of governance in Scranton.

As I have often times repeated:

Scranton is functionally bankrupt.

The University of Scranton will not be giving the city millions of dollars.

Commuters will not willingly pay for the privilege of working in the city; in fact, they will fight the commuter tax tooth and nail.

The state and/or the federal government will not be coming to Scranton's aid.

Scranton's homeowners (who already have a lower household income than most in NEPA) can not afford massive property tax hikes.

Scranton's wage tax is already the highest in NEPA and is the second highest in Pennsylvania (only Philadelphia has a higher tax).  Citation HERE.

Scranton already has oppressive business taxes, including one that forces business owners to pay even if they lose money.

The well is dry folks.  There is no more money to be had.  The city's problems lies on the expense...not the revenue...side of the ledger.  Done.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Road Apples, #142

Don't be an idiot - Vote!...From what I can gather from some light reading this morning, there are a lot of idiots out there.

Speaking of Voting | Scranton's New Mayor...I did not vote for Scranton's new Mayor elect, Bill Courtright.  Mark my words fellow Scranton residents:  Mr Courtright is a nice guy, but he is incapable, at an almost genetic level, of thinking creatively.  He will not solve Scranton's festering fiscal problems.  He is shamelessly beholden to the city's employees, and as a result, things will get worse.  As I have noted before, Scranton doesn't have a revenue problem, it has an expense problem.  You can't have a revenue problem when you have some of the highest taxes in the land.  Again, this is going to get worse.

Blog-O-Centric...I am somewhat surprised in my overall posting views over the past few months.  Seriously, I don't know why some folks would like to read this stuff, but apparently they do.  That's not to say that I don't come up with a few good ones every now and then, because I do (I thought yesterday's posting, for example, was pretty clever).  Regardless, while on one hand I don't do this for the attention or the "hits", I am appreciative of anyone who takes the time out of their busy to day to read my thoughts.

House Insanity...Simultaneously selling your house and buying a new one is a pain in the back-side (I would have said "ass" but Gort has used up all of the swear word energy in the blog-o-sphere already).  When all is said and done I will be naming names of all the great professionals who have been helpful in these multi-processes.  Lord knows that you do need help in all of this.  Needless to say there will continue to be many angst-filled postings as the my countdown towards temporary homelessness continues.

Speaking of House Stuff...At the risk of sounding sappy, one of the things I worry about the most in the process of having my current house sold (in the works) and buying a new one (also in the works) is the fact that there will be a temporary period in time where I will need to find a place for my cat, JeanLuc to live.  Now this interim period will probably only be a week, but I really and truly do worry about what I will be doing with "JLA".  When you go from a house full of people to living on your own, that critter that greets you at the door of your new residence when you come home from work (even if it is just to con you into a few cat treats) means a lot.  I have to work this one out.

Weird Dream Department...I am fascinated by dreams.  Not necessarily my own, because for the most part they suck, but mainly because I have to believe that what we dream has to mean something.  While else would we dream?  For example, last night, I had a this odd dream that I forgot where I parked (I was driving an unusual vehicle) and I left the vehicle running.  It was very, very stressful, and I ended up almost waking myself up with the thought "don't worry, it's just a dream".  Maybe it's all a function of the stuff swirling around me at the moment.  Maybe it was extra peppers I put in last night's dinner.  Maybe I'm simply going mad.  Wait, scratch that last one, as while I know I'm an odd duck, crazy isn't one of my characteristics.  If anything, there are times when I think going a bit nuts would actually be healthy.

Tea-Baggers...There will no doubt be much spinning in Teabagland over the Virginia governor election loss.  I can see it now:  "See, the Tea Party can almost win a major state governor election!".  All for naught though, as a loss is a loss, and while the actual vote count was very close in Virginia, it's important to remember that the Tea-Bagger in question was running against a political hack on the Democratic side...and...he still lost.  Had the Virginia GOP nominated someone who didn't have Fred Phelps-esque social views, they would be celebrating a victory at this very moment.  You know, like they are doing in New Jersey at this very moment.  The way things are going, the Tea Party is the best insurance out there that Hillary Clinton will be elected President in 2016.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't be an idiot - Vote!

It's idiotic not to vote.  Simple.

By not voting, you are basically letting "those who show up" make decisions for you.  In what other venue would this be acceptable?

Would the average WalMart shopper allow the cashier to decide what brand of toothpaste should be purchased that day?  Okay, I know, bad example (having teeth does not necessarily equal shopping at WalMart),  but the point still stands.

The reality is that something like 30%+/- of eligible voters will actually show up at the polls today.  Yet our communities are far more important than shopping expeditions to WallyWorld and decisions about taxation, land use, community development, and countless other points are far more important that toothpaste.

In the end, voting matters.  Each and every vote does count.  There are people out there...I will add evil people...that count on voters NOT showing up.  Don't allow these folks to win.  Don't allow others to make decisions for you.  Don't treat voting as being some inconvenience, subservient to a shopping expedition to a place where actual pants are optional.

Don't be an idiot - Vote!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures is a title of an album by the Canadian band "Rush".  It has a clever cover, in that it's a picture of people actually moving pictures, not "moving pictures" as in that old term for movies.

(from Wikipedia)

I've been doing some of my own moving pictures over the past few days.  For reasons that escape me, I have been anointed the keeper of the pictures and other documents (such as letters) that my mother accumulated over the years.  And by years I really mean years:  there was stuff just randomly strewn in a plastic box that ranged from 1937 until the 2000's.

Now I have looked over "the box" a few times in years past.  Times when I was looking for something in particular.  Times when I maybe just felt like re-living the past for reasons that were probably as sad as they were pathetic.

Anyway, recent tours through the box afforded me the ability to gain just a little more clarity of some aspects of my mother's life that she would have never told me about when she was alive.  Note the words "some clarity".  There were dozens of black and white photos from the 1950's featuring an infant, who I strongly suspect is my sister.  Note the words "strongly suspect".  My mother and my sister had a strained relationship, to which I will say nothing more, other than the fact that I have a tremendous amount of respect for my sister.

I probably will still need to spend more time in the box, particularly since I will be moving in December.  I pulled out a few things out for scanning/archiving, and I probably will be doing more of that as well.  There are also things I will need to destroy.  Other things that I will force my brothers to take.  One decision has been made:  all of the old family photos have been boxed up and are headed to my sister in Gettysburg.  I hope that the reflection they provide brings some sense of happiness.  Or clarity.  Or at least maybe a bit of finality.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Response to Tom Borthwick's comment, Mulligan campaign material

My friend Tom Borthwick made a comment to THIS POSTING.  I had planned on replying sooner, but in complete candor, I find politics in general to be slimy (at best), with Scranton politics being particularly and genuinely disgusting.  This made me put off responding, but Catholic guilt compels me to no longer put the response off, and since the text editor for comments stinks, I'm going to reply here.

Anyway, Tom wrote the following:

"This is misleading. The letter, while clever, makes a false equivalence. The statistic from the Census Bureau only includes salary, not benefits. Somebody making less than $20,000, especially if that person has a family, would be eligible for a host of federal subsidies. So if he wants to compare the average salary of a Scrantonian to a firefighter, he absolutely needs to use the baseline salary. Firefights and cops start around $40,000 in this city. 

Also, median income in the city is $36,968. The figure Mulligan used is per capita. I understand per capita is low. That's normal in cities, which tend to have high poverty rates. Blaming that on the unions is silly. 

Mulligan's credibility took a huge hit with me over this piece."

In response, I want to make a few points:

  1. Salary - It was misleading, and I noted it a such, for the Mulligan campaign to use loaded salary+benefit figures in it's campaign ad.  However, I'll note that Tom is also a tiny bit guilty here as well, in that the vast majority of Scranton and police and firemen make WELL OVER the $40,000+/- starting salary he notes.  The better comparison would the average salary (without benefits) for both groups.  While I don't know that number, a good guess would be in the $65,000/year range.  That's still far in excess of the average salary of a working Scrantonian.  The Mulligan campaign blew it by plastering big numbers for "shock and awe" impact, but underselling the salary is wrong as well.
  2. Median Income - Tom is correct, but he is missing the point that the Mulligan campaign is clumsily trying to make...I that in Scrnaton, it's government jobs that pay the most.  In a city that is functionally bankrupt, that's a real problem.
  3. Unions - Yes, the Mulligan campaign is blaming the unions for Scranton's fiscal mess.  Are they responsible for all of it?  Of course not, but Tom is wrong in that they do share in some of it.  I respect Tom's perspective on organized labor, but I can cite countless examples of the police and firefighter unions acting in the worst interests of the city.  Just to amuse myself, I'll list just one:  the insistence, years ago, by the Fraternal Order of Police that the Police Chief be a union member.  Yes folks, they wanted management to also be labor.  And the list could go on, but the central point is this:  the labor unions look out for the interests of union members, not taxpayers.  Unfortunately, the central problem with Bill Courtright, in my mind, is that he ALSO will be looking out for the interests of union members.  Who then looks out for the rest of us?
In my opinion both Mr Courtright and Mr Mulligan and deeply flawed candidates.  However, Bill Courtright has made it clear that he will never take an assertive stand when dealing with Scratnon's public safety unions.  In a city that has an expense problem...we can't pay our bills...Scranton taxpayer's simply can't afford to allow a mayor to be politically beholden to city employees.  That's part of what got Scranton into the mess over the past 50+ years.  The madness has to end.

There are no "revenue enhancements" that will save the day for Scranton.

The University of Scranton will not give the city millions of dollars.

The state will not bail Scranton out.

Refinancing debt only stretches the debut out and makes it more expensive over time.

Scranton residents already pay one of the highest wage taxes in Pennsylvania.

Scranton businesses already pay some of the highest business taxes (including one on gross receipts...meaning that even if your business fails to make money you still owe a tax) in Pennsylvania.

Scranton residents have low household incomes and can't easily afford dramatic increases in property taxes.

In the end, Scranton doesn't have a revenue problem in as much as it has an expense problem.  Dealing with Scranton's expense problem will require dealing with labor costs.  Period.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not the right kind of legacy

Apparently the President is claiming to not have been fully aware of the technical challenges facing the Affordable Care Act website.  All's well and good and I am sure Rep Darrell "Car Alarm" Issa is wetting himself out of  sheer glee over the AFA's technotastrophy.  Stripping away the culture of Washington DC political theater for a moment though, one thing is absolutely true: the President was either not paying attention to the briefings he was receiving about AFA website issues OR he wasn't receiving any briefings.  Pick your poison, because either choice spells poor leadership on the part of the President.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that the AFA is supposed to be the President's legacy.  His "signature piece" of legislation.  If ever there was a time to be paying attention, it was right before the launch of the website.  We, being the American taxpayers expect, and deserve better from our elected leadership and in this case the President failed us.

What's next? Well I am sure that Washington DC Republicans will continue to feign outrage over a program they don't like not working anyway. I am also sure that eventually this mess will be cleaned up and the website will eventually work. However what we actually need is leadership and accountability, and in this case both of those items can only come from the President.  Not from some Brian-dead Canuck technology company.  Not the HHS Secretary.