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Thursday, June 27, 2013

"God's Law" cited as a reason to stop a Pennsylvania Representative from speaking

State Representative Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) was blocked from speaking on the floor of the Pennsylvania House about the Supreme Court's recent DOMA ruling.  The reason for silencing Representative Sims?  According to Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) it was as follows:

"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," 

You can read an article about this HERE.

Open rebellion against God's law?  I wasn't aware that the Pennsylvania Legislature was governed by "God's Law".  Which "God's Law" would that be, by the way? The Law of God as dictated by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church?  Maybe the Southern Baptist Convention?  Perhaps the Episcopal Church of the United States?  Maybe the 7th Day Adventists?  Or maybe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?  United Methodist Church perhaps?

Anyway, I wasn't aware that, in addition to his ability to interpret God's Law, Representative Metcalfe had the ability to look into the immediate future and "see" what Representative Sims was going to actually say before it was actually said (that which would be so offensive to "God's Law").  Heck, maybe he can use this power to help me pick lottery numbers next week.

People of good conscience, regardless of political affiliation, (and including my own State Representative) should be disgusted by Representative Metcalfe's actions.  Period.

Maybe, just maybe, the Pennsylvania Legislature is governed by the Laws of Pennsylvania.

Maybe, just maybe, ideas need to be debated, not silenced.

* * * * * *
Update, 06.28.2013

The following is a statement from my representative, Kevin Haggerty, related to this issue:

"Meet Brian Sims. My fellow Democratic Representative whose life I support and always have whether Brian knew it or not. Now it's a national story and it should be. People like Brian Sims are why we have our own country in the first place. There is no second place."

You can find it on Representative Haggerty's Facebook page; link HERE.

Good job Kevin!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Making myself homelss

As I've noted here before, saying that "Steve is a bit tightly wrapped" is like saying "there will be a Wednesday next week".  I am tightly wrapped.  I enjoy routine.  I like control.  I like to  be able to analyze and predict.  I like a degree of certainty.

Enter the house sale.

I am now the sole owner of a property in the South Side of Scranton, a property that I formerly owned with my mother.  It's a double house, and I currently live on the smaller of the two sides.  I've never planned on living here forever; in fact the details of my arrival here lurk in the bowels of this blog, so feel free to browse.  Regardless, and as the late John Lennon once observed...

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans"

...and life has gotten in the way of my tidy plans to deal with my housing situation.  This is all a fancy way of saying that I'm going to sell this house.

I've never sold a house before.

I've always known where I would be living.

After selling the house I will need a place to live.

For me, this is stressful stuff.  There are a number of ways this could work out, and I am working with professionals on all of this, so maybe it shouldn't be that stressful...but it is.  I could very well be going to Hell in a Bucket...

Welcome to my brave new world.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

About the header.

The new header picture was taken at Great Falls National Park using a telephoto lens on my Sony Alpha.  The park covers both sides of the Potomac River, northwest of Washington DC, where there are rapids that make the river generally not navigable.  You can read more about the park HERE.

Here are a few more pictures of the park.

It's a beautiful place...well worth visiting if you are in the Washington DC area.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Sunday Ritual

"What do we have in life, really? If we're lucky we get to a certain age, and we have each other. We have the food we like. We have our crazy little rituals. And we have each other."

David O. Russell 
(from HERE)

For almost a quarter century I took my mother grocery shopping on Sunday afternoons.  Just about every Sunday afternoon.  I would arrive at about noon.  My mother (and most of the time my younger brother Joe as well) would take a few minutes to get ready and we would head off.  I helped my mother with financial matters, so sometimes we would need to stop at an ATM (my mother couldn't see well enough to use the ATM, hence my assistance was needed) and then head off to a store or two to pick up some stuff.  From there it was off to get something to eat, at the restaurant of Joe's choice, which meant that it was almost always Pizza by Pappas.  The last stop was to a supermarket, which over the last 10 years or so was always Gerrity's in Moosic.  Once back home I would pay bills for my mother (I would write out the checks and she would sign them...sort of...and it's a good thing that staying on the signature line is apparently optional in banking), and do any small repairs that were needed before the Sunday ritual ended, usually in the neighborhood of 3-4pm, depending on the stops made, bills to be paid and repairs to be made.  I wasn't all that fond of the last Sunday of the month, as that's when I would need to reconcile my mother's checking account against her freshly arrived bank statement (a time consuming process).

Now over the years the ritual did vary somewhat; for example towards the last few years of her life my mother increasingly had difficultly walking for extended periods, so the shopping before eating part slowly evaporated.  I'll also note that I would, as needed, take my mother places during the week, if required.  On those rare Sundays when I couldn't partake of the ritual...mostly due to a vacation on my part...I would also take her on the Saturday before leaving or the day I returned.  For my part, there were very few things I insisted on in the ritual; the two that come to mind actually had more to do with my brother Joe than anything else:

1) I refused to eat at Burger King
2) I would insist that we sat at a table, not a booth

The latter was because I would end up sitting next to my brother and I inevitably would end my being short-changed in the space department.

For the record, I didn't always enjoy the Sunday ritual.  My mother could be very difficult, and I do confess to waiting until the very last moment to get it started.  Part of what made it difficult was the fact that while yes, my mother could be difficult, she could also be very nice on occasion.  She was incredibly unpredictable, making the whole endeavor very stressful.  When she was in a good mood, the time went by quickly, but in reality there was very little rhyme or reason to it all.

By and large though, over more than two decades, the guts of my Sundays were devoted to the above described ritual with my mother.  I do confess to having many Walter Mitty-esque thoughts about what it would be like to actually have a Sunday to myself.  A Sunday to actually plan stuff to do on, a Sunday to maybe even relax.  Now I do have that kind of Sunday, and even a few Sundays in, I still find myself adapting.  It seems, well, "odd".  Part of me seems to be thinking that I'm neglecting something.

Time to create a new Sunday ritual (or two).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Intellectual Property

After a long meeting in Hartford a few weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with very creative co-worker about intellectual property.  It's an interesting concept for me on several levels.

As someone who writes* for pleasure, I've had my material stolen by a local message board, used by other bloggers and quoted a few times.  I do mind the "stolen" part, as some anonymous Internet message board Troll taking something I've written here and claiming that they have in fact created it is simply dead wrong.  But then again message boards are, at times, havens for the worst that the Internet has to offer.  I don't so much mind my material being used by others and quoted, as long as I get credit.  Disagree with something I've posted?  Fine, just give me credit.

At work I grapple from time to time with the notion that ideas I generate and the things I create there are, in fact, the intellectual property of my employer.  Now I'm not claiming to have created a cure for cancer at work, but I think I've come up with a good idea or two over the years, but never the less if I make it at work using company resources it basically belongs to the company.  The only remedy I see is to keep good notes (mental or otherwise) on these good ideas, in the event I need to leverage them in the future for other endeavors.

The above noted, I suspect, is simply the cost of doing business in any kind of endeavor that involves creating "stuff".  Being intellectually honest for a moment, I also freely admit to being inspired by what I see and hear from the creative endeavors of others.  There is, in all of this, a kind of wonderfully creative loop that benefits everyone.

(*) I don't consider myself a "writer"...good or otherwise...but rather someone who writes.  "Writer" implies a degree of skills that I neither claim nor aspire to.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Slavery and the Bible

Anyone who has spend any tine reading the Bible and considers the topic of slavery will tell you that there is nothing in the Bible...old testament or new...that states it is morally wrong for one person to own another.  In fact, the Bible is full of advice on HOW slaves should be kept.  Prohibition?  Heck no; if anything, the Bible is something of an instruction manual on slavery.

Take for example the first book of Timothy (1 Timothy).  This book of the new testament represents a series of letters written by the Apostle Paul to a minister in Ephesus, basically providing guidance and support to a young Christian church.  1 Timothy references slavery several times.  Here are some examples*.

1 Timothy, Chapter 6, verses 1 and 2:

"Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and (his) doctrine be not blasphemed."

"And they that have believing masters, let them not despise (them), because they are brethren: but rather do (them) service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.  These things teach and exhort."

Now there are many other references to slavery in the Bible, and just to make the point I'll list just one more, from the first book of Peter, chapter 2, verse 18:

"Servants, (be) subject to (your) masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh."

We won't even bother going into the old testament, which is rife with slavery references.  Oh what the heck, here's one.

Book of Exodus, chapter 21, verses 20 & 21:

"And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall surely be punished."

"Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he (is) his money."

Point made.  Not only does the Bible say it's okay to own slaves, but it describes how slaves should be treated (beating is okay, just don't beat them to death or the master should be punished).

What's the point of this post?  Well simply put, the Bible gets it wrong about slavery.  Very wrong.  Every good Christian would agree that, in this day and age, the mere concept of slavery is morally abhorrent.  Yet those who believe that the Bible is incapable of being wrong are left trying to explain the slavery verses as either:

a) Having to be taken in the context of the time (when slavery was "okay")

b) Being metaphors for something else (such as the relationship between man and God)

Now I've seen a third explanation, one of "...but slavery was different back then..." (see reference HERE), which I condemn as being, well, full of crap.  Owning someone is, well, owning someone, period.  If you own another human being you are engaging in slavery.  That fact that you may treat your slaves well doesn't make it "slavery lite".

Anyway, either way noted above represents a slippery slope for anyone who takes a literal interpretation of the Bible to heart, for then everything in the Bible could potentially be either taken in context or metaphorically.  There is simply nothing about the Bible's treatment of slavery that would make it so different...that it falls into it's category of "Everything BUT slavery should be taken literally".

So, if the Bible...

...gets it wrong about slavery OR

...treats slavery within the context of the times OR

...treats slavery as a metaphor

...then isn't it possible that the Bible also gets other things wrong too?  Maybe other things written in the Bible have to be taken within the context of the times?  Maybe other things in the Bible aren't so much actual instructions as they are metaphors for other things?

I'm not condemning anyone who posses a strong faith and views the Bible with honor and reverence.  What I'm doing is pointing out an obvious contraction in everyone who uses the Bible some kind of moral brick to throw through the windows of others who they deem as being possessive of moral failings.

To quote the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 7:

"So when they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

(*The citations provided are from the King James Bible, with apologies to the good priests and sisters who taught me religion in high school.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Your Parents Lied: Monsters Are Real

From this morning's Scranton Times:

Mother & Daughter's Allow Handicapped Brother to Rot to Death

This is one of those times when we are all reminded that some of us aren't nearly as evolved as the rest.

From the article:

"This is the worst case of neglect I've seen the last 26 years," said Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola at a press conference Wednesday. "This family, the mother and two sisters, basically let this young man rot to death."

Mostly like at the root of this?   Money.  From the article:

"Family members expressed concern that if they placed Mr. Gensiak in a personal care facility, the financial support they received from his Social Security benefits would dry up."

When you live in a society that GLORIFIES money and possessions, is there any doubt in anyone's mind as to the lengths that some will go to in order to have "stuff"?  Moral failings? Sure, there is an extreme lack of personal morality at work here, but I'd argue that this is a kind of avatar for the society we, collectively, have created.

This poor man's suffering has ended; let's hope that whatever is considered justice here...knowing full well that justice can probably never truly be done in this carried out swiftly.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

(The late) James Gandolfini on SNL's Weekend Update

Rest in Peace Mr Gandolfini.

A great actor who died before his time.  About his only equal (in my mind) was the performance of Daniel J. Travanti as Captain Frank Furillo on Hill Street Blues.  Both played complex a "good guy" who had a few personal demons...and the other a "bad guy" who (obviously) had a few personal demons as well.

I also liked the fact that Mr Gandolfini was a television leading man who didn't like Brad Pitt.  He was an actor that looked more like "us" than most television leading men ever do.  I also appreciated the struggles his Tony Soprano character had with his own children.  How wonderfully dramatic:  a mobster who controlled an entire mafia family...and had people killed...but couldn't seem to control two teenagers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Picard Brothers Fight

As people who know me can testify, I am a bit of a science fiction fan.  Especially Star Trek.  One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek:  The Next Generation was the least science fiction oriented.  The episode takes place after Captain Picard is rescued from the Borg (a villainous species that captured him and used his knowledge and expertise to almost wipe out humanity) and the captain and crew are taking shore leave on Earth.  Captain Picard goes home to France (Yes, it get can he be French with a British accent?  But hey, it's fiction...) to spend some time with his bullying older brother Robert.

You can view the key scene in the episode below:

Picard Brothers Fight
(Sorry, but the Google folks will not let me embed this particular video.)

Anyway, as previously noted, the episode has nothing to do with space or technology, but everything to do with that feeling that some of us get when we feel this almost constant pressure to always fix things and come out on top.  That's a lot to carry, and I confess to having these feelings myself from time to time.  It's difficult to to face one's failures, and as JeanLuc's brother Robert notes, you sometimes have to carry them with you for a very long time.

As for me, I'm neither going undersea nor into the stars.  I am, however, spending some time away to clear out some of the cobwebs from my head.  It may not be as effective as a fight in the mud with one of my brothers, but it will have to do.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day

I suspect, like most things in life, being a good father isn't something you arrive at all of a sudden in life.  Rather, it's something you strive for, work at, try to do from the moment you become a father until the day you are no longer on this Earth.

What do I think makes good father?  Here are a few random thoughts.  Being a good father is about...

Teaching your children that there is no greater gift in life than that of independence (especially true for daughters).

Not knowing all the answers, but at least being able to ask the right questions.

Not just telling your children that you love them but showing them that you love them as well.

Not just showing your children that you love them but telling them that you love them as well.

Having the courage to tell your children the truth, no matter how painful, especially when it's the truth they don't want to hear.

Finding subtle ways to teach lessons that don't seem like lessons.

Always being respectful...not for what it says about others, but for what it says about you.

Always being a source of optimism & solutions, no matter how grave the circumstances.

Pridefully talking about your children to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Having nicknames for your children (here that Trini-Bug, Stinky and Fen-Fen?).

Driving down the Central Scranton Expressway, in the winter, with the windows down, singing alone to ABBA songs with your daughters.

Demonstrating the value and nobility that is always found in hard work.

Fixing things.

Showing your children that you're never too old to learn.  Intellectual curiosity is a gift that every age should enjoy.

Laughing...a lot.

As painful as it can be, allowing your children to fail, and then being there to help them understand why.

Showing your children that change always provides opportunities.

Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there who wake up every morning and try and get it right.

Friday, June 14, 2013


My younger brother delivered a eulogy at my mother's funeral yesterday.  Had I delivered it, this is what I would have said.  The end.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It wasn't supposed to end this way for my mom, Doris Albert.  Nope, it wasn't.  One of the toughest people I've never known shouldn't have had to die all tubed up like some kind of junior high school science experiment gone wild.  Bitter?  No, I am absolutely not bitter.  I really am not.  Last Friday at 2pm it became my mission to carry out my mother's final wishes and see to it that her life ended with dignity, and nothing was going to stop me.  I, along with my brothers, were "successful" (an odd choice of words given the circumstances), and as such my current feeling is more akin to relief.  I will say though that I just wanted my mother's final days to be somehow different.  As if there is this "good" way to die, because in the end the outcome is just the same.  I also just wanted a chance to just say goodbye, which in a way I did get.  I also have the consolation of those last few words before she went into surgery on May 28th.

Thinking about it, we (all sons) believe they (our moms) will live on forever.  Of course this flies in the face of every shape and form of reality, but then again we sons grow up to believe that we are somehow indestructible as well.  If we are indestructible, then of course our mothers must be as well, right?


Doris Albert could be a hard person.  She was tough in ways that are still difficult to describe.  I say this not just as her son, but as professional adult who has had more than a few life experiences of my own to which I can draw such comparisons.  My mother was demanding and opinionated.  For the record, I don't think it's possible to successfully raise four boys as a single parent without being demanding and opinionated.  From 1985 forward she rarely showed any emotion other than, well, sometimes "pissed off".  That wasn't the case prior to 1985, but so I digress.  The stories of why my mother was who she was mostly escape me; I know some details, but I suspect there are far more I don't know and will likely never know.  And this is okay.  I do know that my mother truly loved her children, words aside.  All of them.  She may not have always been capable of fully expressing that love, but she tried in her own way, and I suspect that she carried far more regret in her small frame than any of us could ever understand.  Now that regret is all gone, and so is the physical pain she endured for so very long.

My mother meant the world to me when I was growing up.  At age 5 I remember her carrying me up to Mercy Hospital as I endured the worst stomach ache imaginable (one that end up being a burst appendix and resulting peritonitis).  I remember her rescuing me when I fell into the deep end of a swimming pool.  I remember her tickling me as I walked upstairs when I was young.  I remember almost constant lectures on the importance of being well educated.  I remember the vacations in Atlantic City.  I remember the lessons on the importance of punctuality and working hard, lessons not so much "taught" as they were "shown".  I realized very later in life that some of the lessons she taught weren't quite so direct; more of the "live not by my example" variety, but they were lessons never the less.  One of these important lessons centers around my own need to cultivate more...and deeper...friendships.

Now for the record, despite my mother's inability to express much in the way of emotion I know for an absolute fact that she was deeply and exceptionally proud of her grandchildren.  My mother had a soft-spot for intelligent, independent women, and all of her grandchildren fit that description.  All of them.  In a small but very real way this made her exceptionally happy.

In the end we are all inexorably shaped by our parents, and I am no exception.  As I write this and think about my mother, I realize that her story doesn't end here.  No, it's up to her children, yours truly included, to carry her "better angels" into the future, not just through the stories of life we all have, but through our actions.  By this standard her legacy, if you will, is ever-evolving.

Rest in Peace Mom.

Your Son Steve

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The IRS & Tea Bags

As I've noted before, no group should be targeted for special scrutiny by the IRS solely for political beliefs, even groups that basically want to do way with much of our government.  It's simply wrong.  However I think that most folks are missing the real, substantive point underlying all of this: we have a taxation system that is only marginally about gathering revenue to run the government.

Social Engineering.

For decades, both political parties have used the United States Tax Code as a blunt force instrument to sometimes cajole, sometimes basically force people and organizations to act in certain ways.  For the public good, if you will.  The problem though is that by engineering the tax code to change behavior, we've created a system that is exemplified by needless complexity, a propensity for abuse and a disconnect between taxpayers and the government they support.

Good intentions.

Surely, the intentions behind the social engineering of the tax code have been more or less noble.  Who doesn't want to encourage:
  • Home buying (mortage interest credit)?  
  • Saving for retirement (tax deferral of retirement contributions)?
  • Exploration for oil & gas (tax write-off for basically digging a hole)?
  • Having children (dependent tax credit)?
I could go on, but the point is made.  These are good things, but we have to keep in mind not all have been successful and besides, not all exist at the same level of social good.  What's more, they all come at a cost:  most people are incapable of completing their own tax returns and fail to understand a system which they are ultimately responsible for monitoring via the election process.

In my opinion there is no way to "fix" the United States Tax Code.  It's simply beyond repair.  It's been added to, modified, hijacked by special interests and grown into a system that's virtually impossible to manage anyway (just ask the Tea Baggers).  The only real solution is to start from scratch, to create a wholly new system that is based on the underlying need to fund the government, NOT encourage "good" behavior.  

Don't hold your breath waiting though.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Good, The Bad & The NSA Shuffle

I heard my younger brother (& talk radio fan) ramble about "fascism" due to the recently disclosed National Security Agency's (NSA) data gathering program.  He also added an "Obama is a Fascist Dictator"in for good measure.

Let's stop there for a moment, take a deep breath, and think.

First, is this truly a concoction of President Obama?  Hyper partisans such as my brother forget that it was former President George W. Bush who pushed through, with a fair degree of Democratic support, the marketing department named Patriot Act.  You know, the same act that wanted the government to be able to track what books you borrowed from the library.  Oh how soon they forget!  Bottom line?  This isn't a product of Democratic or Republican party policy; rather, this is a product of a bunch of people in Washington DC who seem to think that as long as bad laws have cool names ("The Patriot Act!") they are somehow okay.

Second, what does collecting this data really mean?  In going through my mother's documents, I've discovered that she kept mortgage payment receipts for about 5 years.  Lots of data there.  Was it useful?  Did she have the ability to somehow analyze and use this data for some meaningful purpose?  I suspect that something is similarly true with the government:  there is a lot of data out there and the government is collecting it, but having it is different than actually using it.

Third, people put tons of stuff out there in cyber space.  Really personal stuff.  And then some of these same people get upset when the government and Facebook mine this same stuff?  Hypocrisy anyone?  No one forces anyone to join Facebook or send emails.  Neither are sacred rights.  If you want to have the advantages of modern, technology-driven, communication, then you have to accept some degree uncertainty with regards to confidentiality.  Am I suggesting that people live in caves and become hermits in order to avoid "fascist government"?  Of course not.  I am suggesting though that there are risks associated with just about every endeavor.

Finally we live in a self-correcting society.  Disclosure of programs such as the NSA's is a good thing, proving that the system...and our society...still works.  It is right and proper to have discussions and debates about things that the government does in the name of keeping all of us safe.  Let's just not lose perspective and, along with that, remember that there is a business these days built around blustering in the media...some folks enjoy blowing things out of proportion.  The worst offenders?  Talk radio hosts.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Mom

My mother passed away on Friday at the Medical Center of the University of Pennsylvania in downtown Philadelphia.  She was 77.

Starting in 1985, my mother endured a series of about 7 (I lost count of the exact total) benign brain tumors that were removed in separate surgeries spanning almost 20 years.  Since she had been tumor free for almost a dozen years, we assumed that the worst was behind her health-wise.  However before Memorial Day my mother had some issues at the site on her skull of one of her prior surgeries; she was immediately admitted to the hospital in Scranton and, upon further examination, was transferred to the University of Pennsylvania for more specialized care late on Friday, May 24th.

I was fortunate in that I was as able to visit my mother 4 times while she was at Penn.  The first time was on Saturday, May 25th and my mother was feeling well.  I knew this because she complained about how cold her room was.  The second time was on Tuesday, May 28th; I arrived in her room after she received a sedative in preparation for an initial surgery that afternoon.  She was conscious, all be it barely, and I was glad to be able to say hello and spend some time visiting with her.  The third visit was on Monday, June 3rd, and by then my mother was in the Neurology ICU.  She was not conscious.  That was a difficult visit, as my mother had a ton of devices connected to her, all resulting from an unsuccessful second surgery that prior Thursday to treat two different infections that were ravaging her brain.  The final visit was on Friday, June 7th, along with my three brothers.  By then the dual infections had most likely caused all of her higher brain functions to cease and she was now being kept alive by a ventilator.  With agreement from my brothers, my mother's life support was removed at about 2:40pm.  She passed away at 3:05pm with my brothers and I at her side.

There is no "good" or "easy" way to die; death is always hard.  I take solace though in the fact that my mother is now at peace.

(My Mom as a young girl)

(1952 girls softball team; Mom is standing on the far left)

(July 1972 - A young Steve is the photographer)

(1977, vacation in Atlantic City, NJ)

(My college graduation, May 1986)

(Mom, grandchildren & my sister, early 2000's)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Radio Silence

I don't think I've ever gone this long...more than a week...without posting.  However circumstances are such that my energies have been directed towards family business over the past week or so.  I actually do miss writing here, but anything I would write would be about the same topic anyway.  As I've tried over the years to be opaquely transparent (I know...contradictory) in this space, what's front of mind for me will end up being front of this page shortly.

Until then, here's a picture of a cat.