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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

10 Things to do in a hospital as you wait, and wait, and wait.

As I sit here at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in lovely downtown Philadelphia, I'm pondering just how I spent the last 8 hours.  Oh, and with the prospect of a few more hours to go.  Anyway, here's my list:

  1. Repeatedly re-log into the hospital's visitor wireless Internet service.  For the record, there are probably Albanians in this hospital at this very moment mocking the poor the Internet service.
  2. Wondering at what level the consumption of Diet Pepsi becomes toxic.
  3. Just for the hell of it re-organize your Evernote notebooks.
  4. When done re-organizing your Evernote notebooks discover that you can email a note to someone else.
  5. Look at other hospital visitors and wonder how many of them might be foreign spies.
  6. See the backpack clad University of Pennsylvania students and then take a look at your own backpack.  
  7. See #6 and realize that, at age 49, you are pretty damn lame.
  8. Remember just how very much you HATE watching Jeopardy.
  9. Contemplate the about of "suck" that will exist as you consider the drive back to Scranton at 11pm.
  10. Remember how truly blessed you are that:  you have an employer that allows you the flexibility to spend the day in Philadelphia, you have co-workers emailing you offering you thoughts and prayers, you have loved ones who repeatedly text you to find out how things are going (thank you Ms Rivers!), and you are the one in the visitor's waiting...not the

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, 2013

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But...the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” 

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Here's to remembering everyone who sacrificed, not worrying about what would happen to themselves, but who instead worried about what would happen to rest of us. I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day today filled with family and friends.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Road Apples, #137

Road Apple Accounting...I'm reasonably sure that I have actually written 137 Road Apple postings, let only 106 of them are labeled "Road Apples".  Hmmmmm...I confess that there is a small part of me that wants to go through a "Road Apple reconciliation"  process.  Maybe if I can find that magic pill that allows you to be healthy while not needing sleep.

From the "people suck" department...While running into a local supermarket yesterday I saw a little kitten crying loudly and following a few people across the street.  Tiny little thing.  Anyway, I did go into the market to pick a few things up, but I just couldn't stand the thought of that poor little thing out there all alone.  What if it was abandoned?  Anyway, I just grabbed the one essential thing I needed and headed back outside, determined to bring the kitten home if it was still seemingly lost.  JeanLuc probably wouldn't be happy about it, but he'd learn to adjust (in fairness, JLA has shown a general liking for other cats).  I did check out and immediately headed into the parking lot.  No sign of the kitten.  I asked around and the security guard reported that the kitten had crossed the street into the store parking lot and that a family apparently took him/her.  Partially relieved, I do hope that the kitten is now warm, well fed and loved.  If the kitten was abandoned by someone in the first place?  Well I think there is a very special place in Hell for the souls of those who abuse/harm animals, especially those that are so small and helpless.     

What's I'm Listening the moment it's been some Dire Straights.  Sultans of Swing and Skateaway are two favorites.  Here's a sample:

Credit to Mark Knopfler for being one of those few guitarists with a very distinctive sound.

Philadelphia Bound...Ms Rivers and I had planned on going to Philadelphia tomorrow for a some time with her family, and it seems that the timing is working out for another event as well.  My mother. who has had a history of benign brain tumors (of this variety) recently had some issues arise that caused her to go to the doctor.  The result was the discovery of a abscess near a plastic plate in her skull that requires almost immediate treatment.  Unfortunately there are no hospitals in NEPA with the sophistication to handle this kind of procedure, so she was taken by ambulance to the University of Pennsylvania medical center.  To make a long story short, my itinerary tomorrow will now also include a visit to the hospital.  

The IRS...The use of the IRS to intimidate anyone or any group is simply wrong.  Period. Congress should investigate this mess and people need to be held accountable.  The IRS has scary powers that should never be used for political purposes.  

Speaking of the politics of "gotcha"...we have the hijacking of Congress for purposes of simply and solely "get" a political opponent.  Anyone want to argue that if the former Secretary of State were not a potential candidate for President in 2016 that the whole Benghazi investigation stuff would have wrapped up months ago?  At this stage, 98% of Congressman Darrell "Car Alarm" Issa's investigation is more about political theater than anything else.  It would be funnier if there weren't a death at the center of this whole thing.  Since the Democrats tried to minimize this whole thing for political gain and the Republicans have tried to maximize it political gain, I'd say we were just about done.  Can we move on now?

Losing Religion...When you lose your religion do you gain a pre-disposition towards becoming a drama queen?  I'm just wondering.  The more I read of this guy's stuff the more I'm becoming convinced of the connection.  This is not to be taken as a knock against NEPA's favorite atheist; if anything I give him a lot of credit for engaging with so many people that have nothing better to do than engage in a circular firing squads.  

Boy Scouts...will "allow" gay scouts.  Okay.  Nice of them to "allow" it.  They will ban gay scout leaders.  Logical?  I'm not sure.  The Catholic Church has banned gay clergy for years...and we all know how that one has worked out.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Catholic Whistleblowers

From the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal:

Catholic Whistleblowers urge greater accountability on sex abuse crisis

The Church hierarchy will not like this, but so be it.

Election Results

I got out of the election prediction business a long time ago.  Well, that previous statement is incorrect in that I have never been in the election prediction business at all.  Regardless, the primary is over and it's on to the Fall general election which, in NEPA, basically means that the electing is more or less over for 95% of the races.

My own voting experience was rather disjointed yesterday.  I have an off-site meeting yesterday and today, which necessitated my getting to the poll a few minutes after it opened.  The good news is that the gauntlet of people handing you crap on the way in was manageable.  The bad news was that the poll workers didn't quite have their acts together yet.  Regardless, I was able to vote and get to downtown Scranton where my meeting was being held (day two of the meeting is today, and I need to get there shortly...).

As for the actual results, well, as the younger generation would say "Meh".  There will be a home rule study commission in Lackawanna county, which is good; we will still be paying salaries to row office politicians to run county row offices that more or less run themselves, which is not so good.  Both results are very big losses for the two sitting Democratic county commissioners.  Bill Courtright won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Scranton, which basically means that the voters in the city really don't want all that much to change.  Note to Scranton's voters:

You can run from the city's financial problems, but you ultimately can't hide.

My friend Tom Borthwick lost in his bid to become a Scranton School Board director, which is bad news for the Scranton School District.  I suspect though that it will ultimately be good news for Tom, as he's a very talented guy and it is my concerted opinion that the Scranton School Board isn't a place for talented folks anyway.  What is the SSD a place for?  Three words:  Mostly Political Hacks.

Off to make the donuts...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Follow-up to yesterday's posting, RE: The Scranton School District

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting, I was asked about my feelings regarding challengers for open school district board seats receiving political contributions from district vendors.  It's a reasonable question, so here's my basic thought:  I don't think that it's necessarily problematic for a challenger to receive contributions from vendors.  Why?  Well two reasons come to mind:
  1. It's entirely reasonable that a challenger may not, in fact, know which businesses have contracts with the school district.  I can't find such as list on-line at the Scranton School District website (link HERE).
  2. There is no guarantee that a challenger will, in fact, win (and therefore end up being in a position to influence district vendor decisions).
There are a slew of other reasons why this is okay as well, but the bottom line for me is that elected officials MUST be held to a HIGHER STANDARD of conduct than the rest of us...challengers included...precisely because they are trusted with public money.  

The above noted, I do believe that the "higher road" here would be for a successful challenger (who has received money from district vendors...knowingly or otherwise) to return contributions from district vendors or donate amounts equivalent to those contributions to charity. 

What about a challenger actively soliciting money from businesses that they know are district vendors?  Yeah, that doesn't pass the smell test, but in reality there is no perfect system for preventing all graft, and it's simply not possible to legislate something like "honorable intentions".  At best I think we can and we should be reasonable in how we approach things like preventing "pay to play".  The current system under which a sitting director like Bob Sheridan can actively solicit and receive contributions from district vendors represents a door that is simply too wide open to impropriety.  

As noted yesterday, Director Sheridan should return his district vendor contributions and refuse any future contributions as long as he is a sitting director.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Scranton School Board - Yes, it's that bad.

Robert (Bob) Sheridan is a sitting Scranton School Board Director and, as noted in the Friday (May 17th) edition of the Scranton Times, has no problem accepting political campaign donations from vendors who provide services to the district.

Now according to a policy which makes sense pretty much nowhere OTHER THAN on the Scranton School Board, sitting directors CAN receive donations from district vendors.  Yes, they can.  How, then, would conflicts of interest, such as "quid-pro-quo" situations, be prevented?  They won't, which is precisely the problem.  The only thing preventing "pay to play" in the Scranton School District is the honor and integrity of the district's directors.

Wait, excuse me for a moment.

I'm back.  Sorry, I just laughed myself into a 20 minute coma after writing that sentence about "honor and integrity".

Yes, for real, taxpayers basically have to reply on school board directors to be honest and act in the best interest of children, not outside business interests.  Said Mr Sheridan in the above referenced article, "I work for the better education of our kids".  To which I say the following:

Prove It.

Director Sheridan offers no proof that political contributions from district vendors haven't influenced his votes because this is inherently something that can't be proven or disproved with any degree of certainty.  It's a perfect place for the politician to reside, namely that murky space where money flows and attached strings are basically invisible to all but the donor and the recipient.  In a situations like this, I'm reminded of the following Hunter S. Thompson quote:

"In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile — and the rest of us are f&^%d until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely"

I don't know if Thompson had ever heard of Scranton, but his comment fits the nature of NEPA politics very well.

Now I've waxed philosophical about this for long enough, so now it's time for what we call at work "the ask":

Dear Director Sheridan, 

I am formally asking you to return all district vendor political campaign contributions you have received this election cycle and refuse to take any in the future.  Accepting these contributions creates an impression of corruption and impropriety that simply doesn't have to exist.  Now I get the logic, namely that sitting directors are at a disadvantage by not being able to receive vendor contributions, but so what!  It's a reasonable trade-off to eliminate another avenue for graft.  Let's also not forget that sitting directors have several advantages over challengers in that they get to plaster their names and words all over district communications and get lots of free television air-time via cable public access channels. 

Please prove that you truly do work for the betterment of education by eliminating what is nothing more than a blatant avenue for impropriety.

Best Regards, 
Steve Albert
Resident & taxpayer

Director Sheridan is free to contact me via the blog and I'll gladly post his reply in this space, unedited and word for word.

I'll be waiting.

Probably for a long time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What I've learned from watching too much "House Hunters International"

I don't watch all that much TV, so when I do find something of interest I sometimes get fully immersed.  And so it is with the show "House Hunters International" which I have watched far too much of a weekend or two ago. 

The net product of all this TV learning?
  • Every apartment in Europe looks like it has been furnished by IKEA. All of them. 
  • Foreign bathrooms can have some complex looking toilets.
  • European men have a thing for blonde American women.  They must...that's all the show features.
  • Every real estate agent in Europe speaks English very well...better, in fact, than the average Scrantonian.
  • Never be shocked where you can hide a bedroom.
  • Boho is alive and well.
  • Parents who have grown children living in Europe regularly fly out to see their children. For the record I couldn't get my mother to drive down to York to see me when I got out of college.
Now for the record I happen to really like IKEA's stuff.  In fact I have an entire (except for the chair) furnished IKEA home office.

The boxes...

...jammed into Ms Rivers' Toyota Camry...

...being assembled...

...into a functional, all be it modern, home office.

That's not to say though that I'd like an entire IKEA furnished apartment, although again that seems to be the norm across the Atlantic.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

It's not exactly Moby Dick...

...but then again I don't fish in order to actually catch fish.

In fact, I really could care less if I actually catch any fish. For me, fishing is an excuse to be outside and not think about work, politics, current events or anything almost requires you to be in the moment, all be it a very quiet moment.  Fishing is my reason to slow down, and there are times when I really need to slow down.

My fishing experience dates back to when I was as youngster, when my brothers and I would walk from Midtown Apartments up to Roaring Brook, cheap fishing gear in tow, in a vain attempt to catch fish.  In fact, for the most part, the only critters we actually ever caught were crayfish, which we found under rocks.  That spat of fishing gave way to high school, then college, then marriage, then a career, then kids...and the list goes on.

My current incarnation of fishing started during last year's vacation to Delaware, when in the company of my fishing mentor, 16 year old Alexander, I caught this whopper in Delaware Bay...

...which I'll note was my only catch.  Young Alexander caught *several* more.  Anyway, after this expedition I didn't do much in the fishing arena until fairly recently when I figured it was either fishing or golf.  I don't have anything against golf by the way, but I'm thinking I'm still just a tab bit too young for that particular pastime.

Fishing it is.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Michele Bachmann just plain lies, often...

...and the last example is here:

US News & World Report:

Michele Bachmann May Face Lawsuit Over 'Religious Freedom in The Military' Campaign

It doesn't get much worse than telling straight out lies for sake of raising money.  Political?  No, unless you consider "Stupid" to be a political party.  This would be even funnier if it were not for the fact that she has done this kind of thing before, namely using religious zealotry and paranoia simply to raise money for her own political coffers.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Internet Sales Tax

A few things heard from various talking heads on the pending Internet Sales Tax legislation:

"The legislation is only 5 pages long!" - So said a right-leaning think tank talking head.  For the record, these are the same folks who regularly complain that bills passed by Congress are so long that they can't be read.  I actually think it's refreshing that this legislation is short and to the point.

"This is a Federal matter...Interstate Commerce...States should not have the right to collect this  tax...!" - So says the crew that normally crows about "States Rights".  For the record, these are also probably the same people who whine about "Judicial Activism", that is unless and until the "Judicial Activism" does something that they want.

"It will hurt small business!" - Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't small businesses that run "brick and mortar" know, those that have to charge sales tax...put at a competitive disadvantage by on-line competition that don't have to charge sales tax?  Why should the government even care how, for example, a textbook is sold?

"This is a tax increase!  No tax increases ever!" - How could it be a tax increase if I have to pay the tax anyway by virtue of buying (for example) a book at Barnes & Noble's physical store instead of their website?  What's more, Pennsylvania says that I actually do owe the tax, even if I bought the book on-line (see that little line on your PA-40 form).  This is about the most ridiculous, nonsensical argument I've heard in this whole entire debate.

Here's my bottom line
I don't want to pay any more than I have to for anything I buy.  Period.  But it's simply crazy that the method of purchase I choose dictates whether or not Pennsylvania get's a 6% sales tax off of my transaction.  Yes, each state needs (and should be forced to, as a condition of receiving the revenue) to make the process of collecting and remitting sales tax easy, but the fact remains that making some retailers charge sales tax but not others puts the government in the business of creating a competitive advantage where none should exist.  Internet commerce simply doesn't need government protection.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wisdom of the Facebooks and the Internet

In strolling through the Facebooks and various other underbellies of the Internet, I come across lots of graphics that I find neat, cool, inspiring, or just plain old funny.  I make it a habit to grab what I can, for the simple reason of "why not"?

Anyway, here are a few of my favorites.  Credit where noted on each graphic; none of these graphics were created by me.

I don't trust Tea Party types.

As a kid of the 70's & space geek to boot, this hit home.

About as true as it gets.

Words of wisdom from Dr Lecter.

I love this one.  

Makes me really laugh out loud.

Rush Limbaugh is an idiot...  

...but George Carlin was a genius.  

See the George Carlin picture, above.

There is nothing funny about rape, but this picture is hilarious.

I can't think of a better way to end a posting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Firefighter Cancer Presumption Act of 2011: Noble Idea, Bad Policy

A scenario for you:  A firefighter, after a long career, develops lung cancer.  He was also a pack-a-day smoker for 30+ years.  What caused the cancer?

Well according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (legislators & a governor, not doctors), it was his firefighting duties and not his smoking the caused the cancer.

Now let's make it even more complex:  assume that the firefighter in question, by virtue of his role (as a captain, driver, etc.) spent less time than his peers in burning buildings AND none of his peers developed lung cancer.  Again, what caused the cancer?

Again, according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania...legislators and a governor, not was his firefighting duties and not the smoking that caused his cancer.

By "according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" I specifically refer to a law known as the "Firefighter Cancer Presumption Act, Act 46 of 2011".

You can read a Scranton Times article on this subject HERE.

You can also read a "pro-firefighter" report on this legislation HERE.

From the Scranton Times article:

"Dubbed the Firefighters Cancer Presumption Act, Act 46 of 2011 recognizes every form of cancer found in a firefighter as a work-related illness. The onus to prove otherwise is on the municipality. Before the law, a claim could be filed going back 300 weeks. The law doubled that to 600 weeks."

Note the term:  "...every form of cancer found in a firefighter as a work-related illness".

By the way, 600 weeks is equivalent to over 11 years.

For insurance carriers providing coverage for firefighters, this creates an almost impossible situation.  Why?  Well because insurance companies are in the business of understanding and managing risk.  Knowing what is a cause and what is an effect enables insurance companies to model how much to charge for insurance coverage. If they can't model the underlying risk, then it becomes virtually impossible for them to provide the coverage.  The Firefighter Cancer Presumption Act does just that though:  it makes it virtually impossible for an insurance company to provide this coverage because it says that ALL CANCERS in firefighters are work-related.  The net result?  Insurance companies are dropping coverage for paid and volunteer fire departments.

Now to put this in context, just what are the odds of getting cancer anyway?  Well according the website they are as follows (citation & credit HERE) for all Americans:


Risk of developing
Risk of dying from
1 in
1 in
All invasive sites
Bladder (includes in situ)
Brain and nervous system
Colon and rectum
Hodgkin disease
Kidney and renal pelvis
Larynx (voice box)
Liver and bile duct
Lung and bronchus
Melanoma of the skin
Multiple myeloma
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Oral cavity and pharynx


Risk of developing
    Risk of dying from
1 in
1 in
All invasive sites
    Bladder (includes in situ)
    Brain and nervous system
    Colon and rectum
    Hodgkin disease
    Kidney and renal pelvis
    Larynx (voice box)
    Liver and bile duct
    Lung and bronchus
    Melanoma of the skin
    Multiple myeloma
    Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
    Oral cavity and pharynx
    Uterine corpus

Sadly, Americans have a high chance of getting cancer regardless of occupation.

For the record the law creates a way around the "all cancer caused by firefighting" dilemma:  the firefighter's municipality can conduct a (no doubt wildly unpopular) investigation in order to prove that the cancer in our scenario above was due to the firefighters's smoking habit, but the presumption of facts is in favor of the long as they file the claim within the 600 week window.  The law seems designed to basically prevent municipalities from challenging these designations.

Let's examine this from another perspective:  Is firefighting such a dangerous job that it should be entailed to a presumption of cancer always being work-caused?  Well according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighting is NOT the most dangerous job in America.  Actually it is not even in the top 5 of most dangerous jobs in America.  Here's the list, based on work-related deaths per 100,000 workers (for 2011):

  1. Fisherman (121.2)
  2. Loggers (102.4)
  3. Pilots (57.0)
  4. Farmers and Ranchers (25.3)
  5. Police Officers (18.6)
  6. Construction Workers (15.7)
  7. National Average (3.5)
  8. Firefighters (2.5)
  9. Cashiers (1.6)
  10. Office Admin (0.6)
  11. Business and Finance Staff (0.5)

Reference HERE.  Remember, this law now says that "if you are a firefighter and you have cancer, it is work related", so adding cancer deaths to the above might bump firefighters up on the list.  But why single out firefighters for this special treatment?  I'm not sure, other than the legislation in question is more about appealing to emotions than it is an actual policy remedy.  You could argue that there are greater exposures to carcinogens in firefighting, but what of it?  A tragic work-related death is a tragic death; anyone want to argue that which of the following is more tragic?

a) A firefighter who dies from lung cancer
b) A police officer who dies from bile duct cancer

Remember, the law presumes that the firefighter's cancer was caused by his occupation.  How do we know though that the stress of being a police officer doesn't contribute to bile duct cancer?  Or what if a police officer spent most of their career in the traffic division, being exposed to almost constant exhaust pollution?  Note that police officers have almost ten times the death risk of firefighters anyway, so where is their special treatment?  The whole notion behind this legislation seems misplaced.  If anything, the government should make sure that all firefighters...paid and volunteer... (and all public safety professionals for that matter) are always afforded the best available equipment needed to prevent injury and death.  Buying breathing equipment may not be as "feel good" as the Firefighter Cancer Presumption Act, it seems to me to be far practical allocation of societal resources.

Bottom Line
The Firefighter Cancer Presumption Act isn't about "evil insurance companies denying coverage to heroes"'s about a noble idea, namely that we need to meet the valid work-injury needs of public servants, that has run amok.  This is bad policy, plain and simple, designed by a legislature that is more interested in how things appear than how they will actually work.  It is an illogical leap made by a government officials who are skilled in defying logic.  This is a solution that is wildly in search of a problem.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Note:  I work for a large insurance company, although to the very best of my knowledge my employer does not provide this kind of coverage.