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Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 - Time it was and what a time it was...

Thinking about 2014, as it will soon become something of the past.

Robin Williams...I get a tad bit sad every time I see a picture of Robin Williams.  Such a talented man, so seemingly full of life, someone who brought such joy to others.  His legacy will last for years to come.  If there is one lesson we can all take from his untimely passing though it's this:  it always looks good from the outside, but yet we never know what lies beneath.

The City of inching ever closer bankruptcy, and just about all that's left is the formal designation.  I've been saying this for years, and somehow I don't think it will be long before even the powers that be realize that:
  • There aren't enough assets to sell
  • They can't raise taxes high enough
  • It's not possible borrow oneself out of debt
This will not end well.  Ditto for the Scranton School District by the way.  It's not a good way to end a year, so here's to hoping that the bottom is truly hit in 2015 so that the upswing can begin in earnest.

Cha-cha-changes...With about two weeks left in 2013 I sold my home in Scranton and moved to a home in West Pittston that I purchased with my partner in life and crime.  I've learned a lot in 2014 about things like coal stoves, garbage stickers, the communal activity known as "taking your stuff the recycling center", the workings of small town government and how wonderful it is to have something of a fresh start.  This Christmas was the first, in my adult life, when I didn't actually end up going to someone else's house.

Working for a living...Work continues to roll on and on and on.  Lots of changes, some were good, and some of which were far more difficult to get past than others.  It's kind of sadly amazing in a lot of different ways in that we (as professionals) pride ourselves on our ability to deal dispassionately with what happens in our working lives, and yet the emotions that come with the connections we make at work will not be denied.   I'm all the more convinced that having a thick skin and the ability to chew one's pride (simply just swallowing it is not enough) are as essential as knowing how to use email these days when it comes to living the corporate life.

School...I went back to school, well one class at a time, starting in August.  Mind you I waited until I was nearly over with my second class before I would even admit that I was doing it.  Didn't want to generate bad juju you know.  Anyway, it's a lot of work and as a result it kind of forces me to look at how I spend my time and what I value.  I do have the feeling that, once it is all done, I'll really miss the experience, regardless of the amount of work that it entails.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) the "once it is done" part will not be happening for a very long time.

Dad...I can look at my three daughters with nothing but unbridled pride, and although one is now closer to home, another has moved away.  All three work hard though, all three are quick witted, and all three have good hearts.  If I can be known as anything in life, I'd like that to simply be "he was a good Dad".

Violence...Young black men getting shot or strangled, police getting assassinated, and fingers pointing in all directions.  We are all equally flawed, a point which I think many seem to forget.  As 2014 ends, I will not believe that all young black men are thugs, and I will not believe that all police are trigger happy fascists either.  Enough already with the institutionalized stereotyping!  Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt and deal with folks as individuals, not as members of one group or another.

Health (of the physical kind)...Hey, I turned 50 in 2014.  It's a good age to be actually.  I physically feel pretty good, and when I look at others in my similar age bracket I can point with some pride to the fact that I move well at the half century mark.  More importantly though, in 2014 I recommitted to taking better care of myself.  I owe it to some folks, but mostly I owe it to myself.  I know full well that the parts will start wearing out (they already have...), but unlike an automobile, the best form of prevention for our bodies is action, and I intend to be as active as I can  be for as long as I can be.

Politics...simply disgusted me in 2014.  Period.  The rampant cynicism that accompanies national political debates is nothing short of demoralizing.  No political party has a monopoly on the truth.  Both political parties are beholden to special (as in "not our") interests.  Both political parties rely on a silly, out of date dynamic that consists of demonizing others in order to appeal to an extremist "base".  If you want to tow a political line, then don't do it around me, as I will roundly and verbally trash you.  I don't care if your material comes from Limbaugh or Maddow, as it is all slanted crap.

Reading...I read a lot in 2014, but in some ways I didn't read nearly enough.  Now there is the daily and rabid consumption of the news via the written word, but that's simply business as usual for me.  Among other things, I read (most of) a history of the Popes, a terrific book on the relationship between the Papacy and the late dictator Mussolini, a right-wing Catholic tome about how the world needs to return to the Middle Ages (I kid you not...the mere concept was so outlandish that I just had to read the book), books on introversion, and a few more I am forgetting.  Going into 2015 I am finishing about the 10th book I've read on the topic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. The Mormons).  Yes, this is what I read for fun.

Gay Human Rights...I'm taking the words "gay rights" out of my vocabulary, as 2014 taught me that these are really "human rights".  Now if your religion believes that gays are going to Hell, well then that's the prerogative of your religion, but that prerogative ends at your church doors.  Period.  Oh, and if you want to benefit from doing business in the public square, then you have to serve all of the paying public, not just those who think just like you (of course bearing in mind that a business owner can enforce rules related to basic civility...think of the "you have to be wearing pants to come into my store" rule, which is sometimes NOT enforced at WallyWorld).  Put another way, it's not discrimination when you are told that you can't discriminate.

Health (of the mental kind)...There are things I need to work on, as 2014 had its challenges.  Now I'll note right off the bat that it's never the folks (like me) that admit their challenges that we all need to worry about, so I am safely in the clear in that regard.  I do wonder though why, at age 50, it's still so easy for me to get distracted, why it's so difficult to focus at times, why I have such a difficult time sleeping well and why there are times when I struggle to see what's right in the world around me.  These aren't "new" issues for me, but rather issues I have had to deal with all my adult life.  

Learning...There was a lot of learning going on in 2014.  In addition to the school and house stuff noted above, I'm also becoming proficient in Apple's OS, I learned how to replace a window, I got plenty of practice in the art of digging out bushes with a pick axe, I spent quite a bit of time learning about conservative Catholicism, and I got much better at photo editing.  Much, much more to come in 2015.

Faith...For someone who reads a ton about faith, religion and religious philosophy, I really don't practice much in the way of a formal creed, especially over the past year.  I do know what I believe in, well kinda-sorta, and maybe just as importantly, I know what I don't believe in.  Perhaps my lot in life is to aways be more of a seeker than a finder, at least as far as that concept applies to the Higher Power(s) in the universe.  As the saying goes, "Not all who wander are lost".

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Just tax the University of Scranton"

A familiar comment you hear relative to Scranton's never-ending march towards municipal bankruptcy was noted recently on a Facebook thread:

"I know I might get slapped down for this comment...but we need the University to start paying taxes.  Look at the amount of properties they have amassed over the years..."

Now the issue about the University of Scranton having to pay property tax is complex, to say the least. As I understand it, the exemption technically resides at a state level, and is based on a 1985 court ruling (Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth Pennsylvania), whereby there is a 5 point test to determine if an organization should be exempt from property tax.  That test defines a public charity as an organization that:

• Advances a charitable purpose;
• Donates or renders gratuitously a substantial portion of its services;
• Benefits a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate objects of charity;
• Relieves the government of some of its burden; and
• Operates entirely free from private profit motive.

You could argue that the University of Scranton both does and doesn't meet the above test, but that's not my point.  Rather, my point is this:  To say that the law should be changed to allow for taxation of an organization like the University of Scranton creates more questions than it problems it solves (in my opinion).  For example, if the University of Scranton has to pay taxes, what about Scranton Prep? What about the Hebrew Day School and every other private religious school? What about churches? An Atheist could easily argue that many churches in fact do far less for the community than the University of Scranton does. Do we want to just exempt small property owners, so that large property owners like the University are taxed? If so, how would the Diocese of Scranton, as a whole, be treated?

At the end of the day, I'm not arguing for or against taxing the University of Scranton, but rather what I'm saying is that a government simply can't single out one charitable organization for taxation without creating a whole host of other questions that need to be answered.

I will say the following though:  The refrain of "Just tax the University of Scranton" is just another way to avoid dealing with what REALLY is the central issue facing the City of Scranton, namely incompetent leadership, a budgetary expense structure that has not changed along with the city's population, unrealistic (including pension promises made to employees that are simply impossible for the city to keep) compensation/benefits for city employees and a punitive tax structure.

When all is said and done, complex problems seldom are solved with sound-byte answers.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Everything Holiday Greetings Christmas Hanukkah Kwanza Non-Sectarian Time (and stuff)

I know many people get needlessly upset over the words used to express holiday joy, so I've tried to be as all-inclusive and non-offensive as I possibly could.  So whatever you may be celebrating, or not celebrating, I hope it is enjoyable and filled with family and friends.  Unless you don't like your family, in which case I hope it's just filled with friends.  Or something like that, kinda.

As for me, I'm doing something I have never, ever done before:  I am staying home on Christmas.  Yes, I don't have to go anywhere.  We will have some folks coming over, which is wonderful.  I'm just glad though that for once I don't have to run around from place to place.  It will be a remarkably nice change of pace.

As I ponder things deep and wide over this holiday, I am truly grateful for many things, including the folks that take the time to read my stuff.  Yes, even you Cletus.

(From the folks at the VW Bug Facebook page.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Memory #1 - Children

As difficult as being a parent can be, there is simply nothing that can compare to the feeling you get when you are around children at Christmas time.

Now for the children there is the wonder at receiving gifts, but as I've grown older, I've come to realize that the real wonder is in giving from the heart.  It's not as much about getting that next new game/toy/gizmo/etc., sorry marketing executives, but rather it's about giving of yourself.  If there could be only one lesson that Christmas teaches us, it's that the truly greatest gifts sometimes cost the least.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

North Korea, here's your long distance dedication.

On one hand, I guess we could actually thank the government of North Korea for saving us from another Seth Rogan film (especially all of the promotional interviews that go with the release, where we get to hear Mr Rogan tell us time and time again how much he likes to smoke pot).  And yes, building a film around killing the leader of another country isn't such a great idea.  On other hand though, decisions about what society should consider as being appropriate are best made through discussion and debate, not blackmail.  What's more, I have no doubt that cyber-blackmail has just become the weapon of choice for every bad actor in the world.

Noting the above, and with a tip of the hat to the late Casey Kasem, here's my long distance dedication to the government of North Korea.

Christmas Memory #2 - We were the Beatles

I come from a family where there were four boys that were a year apart in age.  In addition to our sister Michele, my brother Rich is a year older than me, and my younger brothers Chris and Joe are one and two years younger than me.  Growing up with siblings so close in age has both its advantages and disadvantages.  On the plus side, there is always someone to play with, and we were basically our own little gang.  On the minus side, we are pretty different people...certainly now as a adults, but even back then as well...and that meant that there wasn't always perfect harmony in our collective behavior.

(from the left - Steve, Michele, Chris, Joe & Rich)

I actually found the above picture as I was thinking about writing this Christmas series.

Probably the best time though to have siblings close in age was when it came to Christmas.  As I noted in a prior posting, while we were poor, my Mother did always manage to get us some (seemingly) great gifts.  In the gifts, even then, my Mother somehow managed to reflect our own little budding personalities.  The gift I am holding, for example, is (I think) some kind of tool set; to this very day I'm not shy about trying to take things apart, and every once in a while I also manage to put them back together.  My brother Chris is holding the guitar, which he kinda/sorta/a little plays, although it's never been something he seriously pursued.  Sorry, but I can't see if Joe has a toy, and I have no clue what Rich is doing with the toy robot (although I do remember that toy robot).  So much for deep analysis via old photo.

Anyway, we were our own little version of the Beatles  back then, and to a far lesser extent even now.  Not a musical Beatles mind you, but rather the kind of band of brothers that the Beatles represented.

My brother Chris, ever the rebel, would have to be John Lennon.
My brother Rich, being kind hearted and a good judge of character, would have to be George.
My brother Joe, who always manages to find a kind of happiness wherever he lands, would be Ringo.

And I would have to be Paul, if for no other reason than the fact that I've managed to be fairly driven in life and I have something of a head for business.

While things certainly weren't all sunshine, smiles and rainbows growing up, Christmas was always special.

And yes, I am hoping to "get the band back together" at Christmas time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Memory #3 - The G.I. Joe Command Center

Growing up our family struggled financially.  My mother was a single parent and received almost nothing in the way of support from my father.  That noted, I give her credit for always trying to make Christmas something memorable.  Now being a young boy, there were many things that I wanted, including the G.I. Joe Adventure Team Headquarters, which looked something like this:

Yes, it was basically a Barbie Dream House, except for the fact that it was inhabited by dolls that toted around guns.  These were the "real" G.I. Joe's, by the way, complete at 12 inches tall and having the fake hair and Kung-Fu grip.

I remember simply being thrilled to get this for Christmas, and I am sure that my Mom was thrilled that the whole headquarters thing folded up nicely into a square kind of package.

By the way, unlike the radio, I am not even remotely tempted to buy one of these things.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Memory #4 - The Chipmunk Song

Yes, I am referring to this song...

It was inevitable that, around Christmas time, this 45rpm record would be dug out from among the others that my Mother had laying around, and I am reasonably sure that we played the heck out of it.  Over and over again.  And over again.

Of course after Christmas it would disappear, along with the radio.

By the way, there is something of a parody of the song that can be found HERE.  Please do not click on the link if you are a member of PETA or otherwise object to the consumption of Chipmunks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Memory #5 - The Radio

It was kind of shaped like a squat can of beans, except for the fact that it was mostly clear (you could see the transistors), it was blue-ish in color and it had a light inside of it when powered on.  Now I suspect that it was laying around the house year-round, but for whatever reason I only, as a kid, noticed it around Christmas time.

With a bit of researching, I was actually able to find the make and model of the radio.  It was a GE Blue Max P2760 Blue Police Light AM Transistor radio.

The purpose of the radio?  Why to listen to the broadcast of Santa's progress, as reported by the good folks at NORAD.  These days, but the way, NORAD broadcasts this on-line; you can find it HERE.

For whatever reason I remember the house being dimly lit when the radio was being used on Christmas Eve.  That was, I suspect, all part of the plan, namely to make four little boys sleepy on Christmas Eve.

On another note, while I don't collect radios, I do have two vintage radios in my office.  The first is a terrific Sony table radio that actually works really, really well.  The second is an actual Kmart brand radio from the early 60's that I'm quite frankly afraid to even power up.  The Blue Max will be joining that small collection, courtesy of a seller on Ebay.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hate Mail

I get some hate mail from time to time.  I guess it's a cost of doing business when engaged in this kind of activity.  I do, however, struggle with what to do about it.

Do I just completely ignore it?  The drawback to that is it denies me some decent content.

Do I publish and mock it?  I don't like that option for two reasons:

  1. It just encourages the writer(s).
  2. Despite a desire to respond on my part, I really don't want to be brought down to that level of negativity.

Take this little gem that I received on November 25th:

" will be the last thing your liberal ass can post on the #### internet. on "

(Just a snippet, and with the swear word redacted by yours truly.)

Again, what to do?  I could very well republish the posting that offended "Anonymous" (they are always anonymous, by the way) on spite, but why the heck should that person get to decide what I write here?  My $10/year, my content decisions.  Besides, again, why give in to that level of negativity?

Maybe what I should do is simply say the following:

* * * * * *

Dear Anonymous and Offended Reader, 

You do realize that your comment was directed at a blog posting, right?  Maybe you thought I was somehow affiliated with a real news organization.  Sorry to disappoint, but I'm just a schlub who likes to write and this is the Internet, home to a billion cat videos.  That's it.  I'm not making public policy here, and in point of fact I don't take much of what I write here seriously, so why do you?  Life is too short.

Here's my advice to you:  Channel that anger into something more productive, like whittling or playing Neopets.  And for God's sake, if you're going to threaten me, please at least use your real name, if for no other reason than the fact that "Cletus" is easier for me to spell than "Anonymous".

Best Wishes for a Joyous Holiday Season, 

p.s. - I still don't think there is much in the way of difference between the Confederate battle flag and the swastika.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Holidays and/or Merry Christmas

I know a few folks who get themselves into a bluster over the phrase "Happy Holidays".  Words like...

"Jesus is the reason for the season!"

"Political correctness strikes again!"

"War on Christmas!"

...get thrown around like excuses at the end of just about every Boston Red Sox season.

Me?  I don't get it.

Why on Earth would anyone want to offend someone else ordinarily, let alone during a supposed time of joy?  We don't wear signs on our foreheads that say "I'm Jewish" or "I'm an Atheist" or "I'm a Christian", so how would we know what holiday someone celebrates towards the end of December anyway?

I'm perfectly fine saying either "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays", and you can say either to me and I will not mind in the least.  In fact, either will make me happy.

Oh, and there is no "War on Christmas", but rather there is a "War for Ratings" by certain television commentators who simply want to create some holiday hate during what should be a season of hope.  Yes, the fictitious "War on Christmas" is really just a "War for Money" in the form of higher ratings.  Call my cynical, but you can also call me honest.  This is simply the wrong season to be engaging in social issue wedge politics.

 There was a great chart that I saw on-line that sums this up nicely.  Credit to Rachel Held Evans for putting this together.

So the end this on a happier note, here's a favorite Christmas song of mine.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Little Slices of Death

"Sleep, those little slices of death - how I loathe them."

- Edgar Allan Poe

I don't consider myself a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, but man, he was right about sleep.

For the record, I almost never sleep well.  In fact, for me to actually get through a full night and not wake up once, twice, three times maybe is a small miracle.  "Restful sleep"?   That happens to me with the level of timing more akin to cicadas than people.

Now I know I don't get enough sleep, but for me that's like saying I don't get enough dental work.

Every little sound at night wakes me up.

Slight temperature variances both me at night.

The whole activity seems, well, so wasteful.  Now I know that there is benefit to sleep, and in fact I will cop to the fact that at times when my head is full of stuff at the end of the day, sometimes sleeping helps to clear things out.  Score one benefit to sleep.  However, even then I find the benefit more in waking up than in actually snoozing.

I can probably count on one freak'n hand...the number of times in my life when I've gotten such a great night's sleep that I actually wake up feeling refreshed.

Some of this is a self-inflected wound by the way.  Too many energy drinks, I know, but that's in part because I don't like coffee.  So what if Red Bull's chemical composition closely resembles the atmosphere of Titan, as it does taste better than that bitter, repugnant coffee people drink.

One thing I don't do, well at least not very often, is to actually take chemicals to help me stay asleep. I gave up on that actually working, as about 75% of the time it just makes me feel sluggish in the morning without actually delivering the coma-esque sleep I'd like to experience once or twice a decade.  Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night, groggy as heck, but not  getting the benefit of actually feeling better in the morning.

Now I think I at least have solved the mystery, all be it for me, of how to fall asleep.  By and large taking a large dose of Melatonin does help put me to sleep, and I am glad to report it does not make me groggy in the morning.  It's only negative?  It has about a 30 minute window to work; meaning that if I take it and I don't fall asleep within about 30 minutes, I might as well have had M&M's instead.

Have I mentioned yet how much I hate sleep?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ferguson & the B.S.

I know, this may not be all that popular, but so be it.  I've been watching, reading and thinking about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and a few truths stick out for me:

TRUTH - Black males are treated differently in this country by the police.  Call it what you want, including racial profiling, but it's a simple fact.  The way to solve this problem though is by holding the elected officials who run police departments, be that at a local and a state level, accountable.  Police chiefs answer to mayors, and state police commissioners answer to governors.  If either doesn't take a tough enough stand on racial profiling, eliminating bad actors, and making police forces representative of communities they serve, well then a change should be made using the voting booth, not the Molotov Cocktail.  In my mind, black males should have the highest voting rate in this country, because they have the most at stake these days.

TRUTH - The only two people that actually knew what happened in the Michael Brown shooting are the late Mr Brown and Officer Darren Wilson.  Mr Brown can't tell his side of the story, but Officer Wilson has, and that's the best we've got.  Like it or not, Officer Wilson has a right to due process, even if it appears that the late Mr Brown didn't get any.  Again, none of us reading this posting (unless you happened to be on the grand jury that heard the case, and even that's debatable) know all the facts of the case, therefore none of us are qualified to pass judgement.  I know that's painful sounding, but what's the alternative?  There simply isn't a scenario out there that will satisfy everyone.

TRUTH - Burning businesses in Ferguson, especially minority owned businesses, as an expression of outrage over the shooting of Mr Brown is an example of stupid, thuggish behavior at it's worst.  It's proving fodder to the lowest of racist scum in this country.  Those who are peacefully protesting the shooting of Mr Brown should be incensed at the violence being perpetrated in response to the grand jury verdict, and hopefully they are.

TRUTH - Most people will view the events in Ferguson through the lens that they've already established.  Conservative?  Well then, it's those "black people burning up their own neighborhoods again!".  Liberal?  Well then it's "Minorities have justifiable rage at white society keeping them down!".  In reality and despite what many would like us to believe, this isn't a simple issue that can be easily codified and solved.  Sorry about that short-attention span members of American culture.  Too many black men...young and old...are treated as suspects even though they are perfectly innocent, yet it seems that too many black men (mostly young) glorify misogyny, violence and drugs as cultural expressions, even if they don't participate in such things.  I get it in that it's difficult being a black male, yet on the same token, there's got to be zero tolerance for the "I am really mad at the shooting of Michael Brown, therefore I need to steal a TV" reaction because the tolerance of bad behavior simply validates the worst of stereotypes.  On the other side of the equation, too many white folks, men and women, want to believe in the fairy tale of a color blind society.  Sorry, but it's not a question of minorities simply having to "work hard to get ahead"; in reality, they have to work harder than whites to just maintain parody...forget about getting ahead...and most whites aren't willing to work that hard themselves.

TRUTH - The news coverage of what has happened in Ferguson has made it worse.  Conservatives bobbing their heads in agreement to Fox News commentators or liberals doing the same for MSNBC talking heads is just another expression of the "it the other group's fault" mentality that we've created in the United States.  The average American has been conned into picking sides in an ideological war that doesn't actually exist, except for in the minds of power-hungry politicians and (right or left wing) social issue bomb-throwers.  If you are getting your news from only one source these days then you are really not getting the're simply looking for and receiving validation for the world view that you already have burned into your head.  Sorry, that's just the way it is.  Do yourself a really, really big favor:  Diversify your sources of information across all of the ideological spectrum.  Why?  Simple because no one group, ideology or cause has a monopoly on the truth.

TRUTH -  In the end, violence only begets violence.

TRUTH - Ferguson is an avatar for a nation that really doesn't want to face it's on-going race relations issues.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Road Apples, #156

Fan Mail...I really have to get around to posting some recent "fan mail".  Nothing unexpected, other than the usual "anonymous tough guy" stuff.

First Mac Posting...This is the first posting I'm writing on my Mac Mini and new 25 inch HD display.  It's taking some getting used to, but so far so good.  Both the display and the Mac are creating the need to make some adjustments; for example, with a larger display I have to move the monitor back a bit more, and with the Mac the mouse buttons are different.  All in good time though.  On a related topic, by old Acer (well it's really not that old, and in fact I just upgraded it about a month or two ago) is being moved downstairs for others to use.  It's taken me days to clean all old files out of it and get it ready for it's new home.

Ferguson...I wrote a posting on the violence in Ferguson, MO, but in typical fashion I haven't gotten around to finishing it.  No bother, as I'm sure it will not make me any friends anyway (see item #1).  I will say this though:  Anyone who views this situation through a mono-chrome lens...i.e., one where the phrase "those people need to ________" (where "those people" are the police, the protestors, etc) is prominently featured....are simply using Ferguson to simply validate their own world view.  The reality is this:  the situation isn't as simple as getting "those people" to change.

Classroom...My second gradate program class is coming to an end in two weeks, and while I'm sad to see the learning end (and I am learning a TON), it will be nice to not have the pressure of reading and studying week to week.  I can declare a victory of sorts, as I got my first "100%" on a graduate program test/quiz over the weekend.  I've scored just as well on several papers, but this was a first for an actual examination.  Test taking is 75% about strategy, 25% about actual learning.

Happy Almost 1 Year Anniversary...On December 13th I will celebrate my one year anniversary living in "lessor Wilkes-Barre" (aka West Pittston).  Like most things, I've had my share of trips up and down the learning curve, but all and all I am impressed.  Living in a small town is different than living in a city, that's for sure.  Over and above the location though, it's nice to truly have a home.  That's a feeling I've not really had much of before, and it's heartening to know that, at age 50, there is always room for "firsts".

Speaking of Home...My middle daughter was home from graduate studies at UMass for Thanksgiving.  It was nice seeing her...and it was equally nice being reminded that, despite being probably too hard on myself for too many reasons, I seem to have done okay as a co-parent.  Having three hard-working, inquisitive and decent-human-being daughters is a very good thing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

50 Reason to Give Thanks

Simply because I can, and in no particular order.

I am thankful for:
  1. The small physical challenges I have, because they are in fact small and because they serve to remind me that our bodies are not to be taken for granted.
  2. The Beatles.  All You Need Is Love.
  3. My cat JeanLuc and his step-brother, Tiger.  Cats remind us not to take ourselves so seriously, mainly because they never take us very seriously.
  4. My home office, which may not be Superman's Fortress of Solitude or the Batcave, but it is never the less my place.
  5. The gift of being able to continue my education.  It's one class at a time, but so far I've had outstanding instructors and I'm managing to learn some stuff.
  6. My past, as it was my path to today and because it serves to chart my future.
  7. Emily Dickinson, who was Emo long before there even was Emo, and who reminds me all the time to seek beauty in simplicity.
  8. My job, which supports me and mine, and which provides me with a purpose in life.
  9. An inquisitive mind, which has served me well.
  10. Kittens, because they are one of the best antidepressants out there.
  11. Dr Hunter S. Thompson, who was the first to teach me that being a little weird is, in fact, okay.
  12. Dunkin Donuts, for their version of the Cronut.  It's darn good and well worth the 300 calories (once in a while).
  13. The Keystone Rescue Mission Alliance for all the  good that they do and the honor that I have in supporting them in a small way.
  14. Rebecca Albert, for always allowing me to  call her "Stinky" (despite being 21 years old) and for being the hardest working person I know.  I love you Stinky!
  15. Every clothing manufacturer that makes the size Extra Large Tall.  Words can not describe how frustrating it is to wear a shirt that is too short or being forced to wear a shirt that is too wide.
  16. Sylvester Stallone, for making the Rocky movies.  I don't like fighting, but I love stories of individuals who beat the odds.
  17. Christine Elizabeth Rivers, who is a gift from God to me. Here's to the second half of our lives together.
  18. A&W, for making the best diet Root Beer on the planet.
  19. The gift I have to not hold on to anger or bitterness.  
  20. Militant Right Wing Catholic Radio, for entertaining and enraging me.  We all need to listen to ideas and opinions we may not agree with from time to time.
  21. My coal stove, which requires effort to produce heat.  There is something noble about having to actually work for something, be it a paycheck or warmth in the winter.
  22. Everyone who does not call me "Albert".  I really don't like being called by my last name.  Just saying.
  23. The health professionals who keep me running, including Dr James McKenna (my family doctor) and Dr Jan Charnitski (my dentist).  I am grateful to have healthcare professionals who are both extremely competent at what they do and also honest with me.
  24. Korin Albert, who is one of the smartest people I know, and I'm  not just saying that because she is my daughter.  I love you Korin!  Be careful up in Amherst!
  25. Photography, which I thoroughly enjoy, even if I don't get to do it very much.
  26. My sister Michele and the fact that technology has allowed us to reconnect.
  27. Gary, my brother Rich's dog.  I'm not a dog person (see #3), but Gary is just about the happiest, most uplifting and wonderful creature ever to walk the Earth (on 4 paws), and I know he brings my brother real joy.
  28. God.
  29. Boston Mint Tea, the greatest mint tea on the planet.
  30. High quality socks. There is a world of difference between cheap and high quality socks, and they are a worthy indulgence.
  31. Katrina Albert, who lives her passion for helping children and young adults. The best spot in life is to paid to do what you love while also making a difference, which is what Kate does every day. I love you Trini-Bug!
  32. The ability to express myself in writing. I simply couldn't survive without the ability to describe what I feel, hear and see around me.
  33. Mr Rogers, who continues to impart simple wisdom. 
  34. My religious upbringing, which has helped form me. To get to here I needed to go through there.
  35. My brothers, with whom I experienced so much with while growing up.
  36. The gift of temperance.
  37. My co-workers, both now and in the past, who always see more value in me than I ever see in myself.
  38. My Mom, who taught me much by example, even when that example was an unintended "don't be like me".
  39. Berkeley Breathed, for creating Bloom County.
  40. Saturday morning routines.
  41. The family of Ms Rivers, who from the very first introduction have treated me so very well.
  42. The gift of empathy.
  43. Living in the United States of America, which represents the very best and worst that humanity has to offer.
  44. The clarity of thought that comes with growing older. 
  45. The ability to laugh, sometimes at the dumbest of things. It doesn't take much to entertain me.
  46. Those who have taught and mentored the professional me over the years.  My first "real" manager was a housewares buyer named Tina Veverka, who was incredibly kind and patient with me.  Since then I have worked for some great people, up to the present day.
  47. All those who serve now or who have served our country in the military.  We have because they gave.
  48. A (mostly) positive attitude, which I firmly believe is the greatest attribute anyone can have in life.
  49. Daniel Goleman, Melody Beattie, Daniel Pink, Brene Brown, Gordon Livingston, Tal Ben-Shahar, Jim Palmer and countless other authors who have written books that have helped make me a thoughtful, better person, be it personally or professionally.
  50. Everyone who reads this blog, be it once or repeatedly.  I am honored that you have let me share small snippets of my life with you over these past 6 or so years.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dunmore Council approves the building of an actual mountain made of garbage

The posting title is not from The Onion, but has actually happened.

Reference THIS article in the Tuesday, November 25th edition of the Scranton Times.

Here's a key paragraph from the article:

"Council member Paul Nardozzi told the crowd that previous council members had attempted to negotiate a better deal with the DeNaples brothers even before the 1999 agreement that gave Dunmore only the state minimum fee. They denied those requests but offered to help the borough in other ways, he said. "

Let me translate Dunmore-speak into English:  "They told us no, and we simply said 'Yes sir, thank you for the free turkey!'."

Look, I have no issue with the DeNaples family, their businesses, or anyone who wants to make living in an honest and fair way.  This particular action though goes way over the top.

What I do have an issue with here is a simple fact:  they are building a mountain out of garbage, and the beneficiaries will not be the community, future generations, the environment, the economy or anything else of the sort.

The community will have a mountain made out of garbage FORVER.

Future generations will look at this monstrosity and wonder "Why in the Hell did they do that?".

The environment will be put at risk through the possible contamination of ground water.

The only economy that will end up growing as a result of this will be that of the DeNaples family.

Congratulations Dunmore Borough Council:  you once again never failed to fail because it was the easiest thing to do.  Now go off to see Mr DeNaples, get a nice pat on the head, and maybe snag one of those free turkeys.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

10 Reasons Why There Is Nothing Funny About Clowns.

I don't like clowns, and I sure as heck don't find them funny.  What's to like?
  1. They have pale faces.  Pale, as in white.  Pale as in dead.
  2. They have blood red lips.
  3. They have disorganized, stringy hair.
  4. They have freakishly big feet.
  5. They come up to you, invading your personal space.
  6. They are either way too happy or way too sad.  Manic depression anyone?
  7. They sometimes appear in "clown gangs".
  8. They have red noses:  Tumor or raging alcoholism?
  9. They have an almost unnatural attraction to children.
  10. They wear extremely baggy clothes, no doubt hiding things (like balloon animals and meat cleavers).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bill Cosby

I was 8 years old in 1972, when the cartoon "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" began on television.  Yes, I had more than a few kids come up to me and make such enlightened comments as...

"Do you know Fat?"

...or just simply...

"Hey, hey, hey"

It didn't help matters that, around this time, we had a cat and, well you guessed it, we named him "Fat" (get it, "Fat Albert"?).

Anyway, those were my more or less fond memories of Bill Cosby.  These days a cartoon about a morbidly obese child aren't what comes to mind when I think of Mr Cosby.

For the unenlightened, Mr Cosby is facing accusations that he has sexually assaulted and/or raped a large number of women over the years.  You can read about it HERE.  It's not a pretty read.  Of course, this being the culture of the salacious in the Internet age, there are thousands of experts out there opining that the women in question are simply gold-diggers or that Mr Cosby is a serial rapist who has used his star power and squeaky clean reputation to silence his critics.  Me?  I simply say ENOUGH already!

Here are the facts as I understand them:

  • Multiple women have accused Mr Cosby of sexual assaults.
  • Mr Cosby settled a civil lawsuit with at least one of accusers.
  • Settling a civil lawsuit doesn't mean that Mr Cosby is guilty.
  • Mr Cosby has never been criminally charged for any of allegations made against him.
  • It's impossible to know the motivations of every women who has made an allegation against Mr Cosby.  

In my book, claiming that every woman who has accused Mr Cosby is simply a "Gold Digger" is is convicting Mr Cosby even before he has been charged with a crime.

Internet "experts" need to stop engaging in victim shaming, which sometimes is just very thinly disguised misogyny.

Other "experts" need to stop with the cyber-lynching mobs, as Mr Cosby is innocent until proven guilty of a crime.

In the end, we have to let the criminal justice system work, even if it means that we have to be, gasp, patient.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My comment made to the blog "Another Voice"

Refer to THIS POSTING on the blog Another Voice:  Reflections about Contemporary Catholic Belief and Practice.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is an easy one: When your compelling reason to believe is acceptance of a bunch of rules simply because (mostly) older white guys wearing funny hats say you have to obey the rules…as opposed to providing a positive, compelling reason to have faith…then of course there will be disenchantment. This isn't 1900 anymore, and younger folks have access to a wide variety of ideas and opinions when it comes to many thing, including faith.
Now I know faith shouldn't be like buying mustard at the supermarket (i.e. you “buy” the cheapest or the nicest tasting), but nor should it be about “we said it should be this way…because we’re Bishops and we say so” either. There are real, compelling reason to have faith in Christ and His Church, but sadly, much of that gets lost in a sea of regimentation, rules, and social issue bantering that sounds (especially to younger folks) more like HATE than it does FAITH. Having religious leaders saying that someone who is gay suffers from being “inherently disordered” precisely proves my point. Where is the evidence of FAITH and COMPASSION in that kind of statement?
Just my two cents.
Love the blog by the way.
Steve Albert
West Pittston, PA

Friday, November 14, 2014

Road Apples, #155

Scranton's Taxpayers...are going to take 19% hit on their property taxes next year, according to news reports.  As I've said many, many, many times before, Scranton's doesn't have a revenue problem, it has an expense problem.  City leaders can raise taxes all they want, and in the end it will never be enough.

Once Every Two Years...I've gotten my "once every two years" cold this week, which in part explains why I haven't written much.  Actually, I take that back (the writing part...), as I've been working on something, but it's one of those "may never see the light of day" kind of things.  I really have a had a cold though.

Feelings...Why does it feel as if I am in a perpetual state of always trying to catch up on stuff?  Be it at home, work or school, I'm always seeming to be chasing something.

Blogging...I was pondering the following the other day:  "If I lost my job and I had to find something new, what would I do with this blog?.  Job search professionals would probably tell me that I have too much disturbing/controversial/bat $hit crazy stuff here, all of which might hamper my job hunting prospects.  Personal digital footprint and the like, don't you know, and I suspect that my career prospects which would involve working for any elected official or school district in this area would be slim to none anyway.  I guess I should concentrate on keeping my job then.

Kim Kardashian...has created an Internet stir with her nekid butt and (now) front pictures on-line.  Yawn.  I don't see what the big deal is, honestly I do not.

  1. There are a tons of nude pictures on-line already.
  2. Anything can cause an "Internet sensation".
What the world actually needs to do is to stop allowing people to be famous for simply being famous.  How about that for a change?  Now excuse me while I go look at pictures of cats that look like Adolf Hitler (also known as "Kitlers").

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

Because some gave all.

(Arlington National Cemetery, July 2013)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The circle is complete and I am moving to the dark side

It started with an iPhone.

Then I got an iPad.

Now it's going to be a Mac.

Yes, the circle is complete and I am now (almost) fully gone to the dark side.

Actually, and as with most things these days, the story is a bit more complex than I am making it.  We need a new downstairs computer for school work and the like, as the machine used by Ms Rivers' sons has been fully and completely jacked up full of all manner of badware.  If that computer were a person, it would look like the late Johnny Thunders after  trip to the "all you can inject heroin buffet".

(photo from THIS website)

So clearly, the youngsters need a computer and well I have a great one that just received a RAM upgrade (the computer in question is an Acer running at 1.65GHz, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive), so I say donate it to the cause.  This, of course, means that I have to get another desktop computer.  

What to do?  Well, I've been a Windows user since before there were Windows.  I also have some experience using Ubuntu, so it's pretty logical that in order to complete my operating system education I should get an Apple product.  Or that's the excuse I am giving myself.

Now I also have a pretty sweet set-up for my current desktop that includes a monitor stand that allows my to clear my desk surface when I need some extra room.  This means that while an enormous Apple Retina Display screen would look cool, it wouldn't be very practical.  Another consideration is the fact that I have a nice 21.5" HD display that I really would like to continue to use.  Lastly, I really don't want a laptop at the moment, has I have a nice (and small) Lenovo that is infinitely portable and works well.

The solution?  A Mac Mini.  With it I can keep my display unit and re-use my keyboard and mouse.  I can also get an up grade from my current machine.  The latest incarnation of the Mac Mini comes in three flavors, one of which is actually slower than my Acer, so that entry level machine is off the list.  The other two flavors have faster chipsets, so either will do me well.  Another consideration is RAM:  the new Mac Mini's have RAM chips that are soldered into the motherboard, which means that I would  buy a lot upfront, as there will be no upgrades.

The best choice for me?  I'm getting the second tier Mac Mini but adding 8GB more RAM (up to the maximum of 16GB) and I'm also buying the separate unit optical drive as well.  I should end up with a faster machine, the same amount of total HD space and I get to learn the OS X operating system.  Here is a side-by-side comparison of my current Acer vs the Mac Mini:

                      Acer                                    Mac Mini
Processor:     AMD E-450/dual core        Intel dual core i5
Speed:           1.65GHz                             2.6GHz
Graphics:      Radeon HD                         Intel Iris
HD:               1TB 5400rpm                     1TB 5400 rpm
RAM:            4GB, upgraded to 16GB     8GB, buying 8GB more

As an added plus, the Mac will have 4 USB 3.0 ports.

A win all around.  I love technology, even if I end up burning in Hell with Steve Jobs, tormented by the souls of all those Foxconn workers who committed suicide while making iStuff.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Voter #39, West Pittston, PA

In my adult life, I've only failed to vote in just two elections, and I'm glad to report today did not add to that list.  A few random, but related, thoughts -

  • Tom Corporate - Doing my part to send Tom Corbett home.  He can "just close his eyes" on election evening when the results start coming in.
  • Rick Santorum - It's too bad Rick Santorum isn't running for anything, as I always enjoy not voting for Pennsylvania's most smug politician.  Wait, isn't he now Maryland's most smug politician now?  I lose track...
  • Bob Mellow John Blake - Sadly, since I've moved I don't get to vote against convicted criminal Bob Mellow's hand picked successor, John Blake.  It's amazing how a man can hold a seat in the Pennsylvania Senate, represent NEPA, and yet manage to NOT get involved in some of the most pressing issues facing the area.  For example, I've never heard Senator Mellow offer any suggestions as to how the largest city in his district, Scranton, can get out of it's perpetual fiscal pickle; no, Senator Blake is apparently happy sitting at arm's length, instead touting his "values" in campaign literature.  
  • Tom Wolf - I'll confess that Tom Wolf doesn't excite me very much as a candidate, but that's okay.  He was far more tolerable than some of the other Democratic contenders.  Note to (hopefully future Governor) Wolf:  You'll have to deal with the pension crisis, and if you want to actually solve it, you'll end up making some of your union friends unhappy.  Welcome to public service.
  • Democrats - will likely lose the U.S. Senate, due mainly to the establishment wing of the GOP keeping the Tea Baggers at bay during the primary election.  Good for them!  Maintaining the status quo (divided Congress, Democratic President) wasn't getting anything done anyway.
  • Republicans - will actually have to try and govern.  No more running against Harry Reid boys and girls.  Also, presidential primary posturing is sure to incite the Tea Bagger loonies, so it's not a given the the GOP will have anything near a united front in Congress, even with majorities in both chambers.
Lastly, I'd really like to find out where all of that "gambling revenue will eliminate property taxes" money went.  Since just about everyone running for the state legislature had eliminating property taxes as a top priority, maybe something will actually get done (excuse me for a moment while I laugh myself into a seizure).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Road Apples, #154

See Ya October!  I am damn glad October is over with.  Among other things...
  • It's just generally a crappy month for me (see last post)
  • I was  responsible for a major company learning event, which went well (thanks mainly to a wonderful group of folks), but which stressed the heck out of me
  • I finished my first graduate course
  • I started my second graduate course
  • I had to facilitate a session with my larger team on our employee opinion survey results; that in and of itself would be pretty stressful, but two days before I was scheduled to be "on", events dictated that my plan would have to be mostly re-done

I could go on, but again, I'm just glad it's over with.  On the good news front, I lost about 11 pounds.  More on that in a moment.

Elections, #1...Speaking of things that I hope end soon, we have the general election on Tuesday.  I was in Hartford for a few days this past week, and it became infinitely clear that the governor's race there is far tighter than it is here.  Based on the advertisements I saw on television, the challenger for the governor's office, a Mr Foley, is either a genius with all the answers of the very incarnation of Satan himself.

Elections, #2...Speaking of character definition via the media, I've gotten a ton of advertisements for the two candidates running to be my state representative, namely Ms Cipriani (Democrat) and Mr Kaufer (Republican).  Here's the odd thing:  on the biggest issue I see in the race, namely local property taxes, both candidates have the same basic platform.  Now I'll note that I'm going to vote for Ms Cipriani, and here's why...
  • She seems to have some governmental experience; I'm not sure of Mr Kaufer.  Now I don't necessarily think that this is a requirement, but at a local level I do think it helps.
  • The GOP has been in control of the state legislature and the governor's office for a while now, and property taxes have actually gone up.  What makes me think that if Mr Kaufer is elected that will change?
  • Mr Kauffer is touting the drug testing of welfare recipients as a campaign issue.  Here's my thought on that topic: show me the cost/benefit analysis of how such a program will work and make sense.  Also, if a welfare  recipient is taking drugs and as a result loses benefits, what happens to their their children?  This is one of those "appeal to the emotions of angry white people" platform planks that I find disturbing.
Weighty Matter...As noted above, so far since about the beginning or October I've lost about 11 pounds.  Why?  Well, I can list about a dozen reasons, including the fact that my weight has ballooned over the past 6-8 months.  If I keep going, this will be my 3rd major weight loss since I was 40.  All told, I've lost in the neighborhood of 120 pounds over the years, only to see it put back on.  I know, it's not healthy.  Like sleep, I have bad relationship with eating.  I know how to eat well, and when I focus I actually do make good choices.  The problem though is that it takes so much focus that it's almost overwhelming.  I need to find a better balance, and my tactic this time around is to do just that:  focus on the positive aspects of keeping my weight at a reasonable level, not focus on deprivation, and try to better understand how I am feeling when I am tempted to make bad eating choices.  I'm also using some technology this time around, namely an iOS app called "Tap and Track".  You can read about it HERE, and I highly recommend it.

Time Change...We "fell back" on Saturday night.  For the life of me I don't understand why we do this in the first place.  We're just shuffling the clock a bit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I really want to like October

I really, really do want to like the month of October.  It has a lot going for it:  cooler (but not cold) weather, changing leaves, that "back to school" routine finally sinking in, Halloween, pumpkin patch visits, fresh apples and the like.  Yet for me, so many other things have happened in October that the month is mortally tainted.  The "things" I refer to are all either personal or work-related, so there's no sense getting into specifics, other than the fact that the month has not always been so kind.

What do you do about such a thing?  I know that there is always the notion of "taking it back", but even with the grandest of celebrations, the memories of ghosts from the past will always be there for me.  While the good mental health side of me learned a long time ago the value of not obsessing over the past, that ability to keep latent emotions in check isn't something that I'd bet my life on, at least as far as internal struggles go.  On the outside?  Well everything would continue to look fine; it's just the inside that will be something of a mess.

Maybe, just maybe, the thing to do is what I have been doing for just about ever October in recent memory:  namely acknowledge that it will always be a tough month for me and simply move on.  It's simply not possible to completely forget, and in completely honesty, I don't think I want to forget.  That sounds rather masochistic, but in reality it's not that I am enjoying the mental demons playing rollerball in my head, but rather eliminating them entirely would deprive me of some pretty hard-fought lessons life lessons learned.

In the end, I'm going to settle for something of a detente with October; I won't ever claim victory, but nor will I fall to defeat either.

(featured promently in the movie Rollerball)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rush Limbaugh is lying (or mostly lying) about 82% of the time... says's pundit file.  You can read the analysis HERE.

This in and of itself is pretty fascinating, but consider another statistic:  this same website's research indicates that Limbaugh's pronouncements are completely or mostly true about 7% of the time.

Now I know the typical "DittoHead" response will be something along the lines of...

"grumble, grumble, grumble, leftist media elites*, grumble, grumble, grumble"

...but also consider the same site's rating of liberal media pundit Rachael Maddow (you can read it HERE), which isn't spectacularly better.  In fact, the same scale used to judge Limbaugh shows that Ms Maddow is lying (or mostly lying) 49% of the time.

In the end though, it all comes down to one very basic question that the consumers of news commentary have to ask themselves:

  1. Do I want to learn?   OR
  2. Do I simply want affirmation?

Rush Limbaugh doesn't offer item #1; he's strictly a #2 kind of guy.  So is, by the way, Ms Maddow, but to a lesser extent.

Limbaugh tells his people what they want to hear.  He affirms for them a world view that they find comforting, one in which there are boogeyman around every corner, waiting to take bibles and guns away and somehow convert everyone into homosexuality.  He's man who talks family values and military backed American exceptional-ism.  Give him credit for skill though, as preaching family values and the use of military force is a neat trick for someone who has been married four times and who successfully dodged the draft (citations HERE and HERE).

In the end, I think that if you really want to learn, then it requires just a bit more work than the average talk-radio listener** is willing to expend.  It means getting your information from a diverse set of sources.  It means being open to questioning your own assumptions.  Maybe it means listening to both Rush Limbaugh and Rachael Maddow, as the "truth" probably can be found somewhere in between the two of them.

(*) Given the adulation that Limbaugh receives, the millions he is paid, and the fact that he is a darling of Fox News (the most watched cable television news service) why wouldn't he be considered a "media elite" as well?

(**) In case you are curious, the average listener of the Rush Limbaugh show is an older, white male who is on average 67 years old (citation HERE).  Note that the citation is from 2009, so it's entirely possibly that the average age is even older now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Coiled Spring Introvert

Last Thursday my company had an all-day learning event held at our corporate headquarters.  My role in the event as two fold:

1) I had overall responsibility for the event's planning and execution.

2) I was responsible for kicking the event off, introducing some speakers and providing closing remarks.

Overall the day itself went very well, at least in terms of the feedback I received.

Here's the first of several confessions I have about the event though:  it literally sucked everything out of me.  Since the event, I've felt an off sense of internal vacancy, as if my mind wasn't truly present inside of my head, as if I were in a kind of mental fog.  I've felt emotionally out of balance, and it has been difficult at times to focus (negative side effect:  I didn't do nearly as well as I should have on my graduate class final exam).

As to what caused this, I know that it wasn't the planning aspect of the assignment, nor was it the directing of "stuff" during the event.  More than anything else, it was the public speaking part.  And for the record I enjoy public speaking.  What's more, I don't think it was my opening remarks, nor was it any of the introductions I did during the day.  Rather, I am reasonably sure that these feels of mental fogginess arose from my closing remarks.

Now by way of context, I had planning on making closing remarks all along, but half way through the day my departmental vice president, who happened to be at the event, asked that I include a reference to something in particular in my closing remarks.  It wasn't difficult to include this new point, but it did necessitate my changing the kinds of remarks I has already written.  No bother, as I had some time during another of the day's workshops to think  through my re-tooled comments.  The actual comments, as revised, were pretty good, even by my own personal standards.  Why?
  • My deliver was very sound from a technical perspective.  No verbal distractors (the "ummm" you hear some people say when they are results from a disconnect in timing between the brain and the lips), my tone and my inflection were spot-on.  I sounded genuinely passionate.  I was keenly focused.
  • The my revised content married my old comments with the new request in a way that was seamless.
  • I received tons of positive feedback afterwards, including a very nice note from my departmental vice president.
Yes, I stood there in the main auditorium of my company's world headquarters, in front of about 175 of my fellow associates and about 25 guests, and hit a home run.

But again, the whole exercise completely drained me.

Now I had slept well the night before and I was very, very focused throughout the day.  I did all of the things I had to do (including meeting all of the speakers) to make the day a success.  Before my speaking "gigs" I tried to relax and concentrate on the work at hand.  Again, it all paid off, at least in terms of the actual execution.

So why the vacant feeling?

As near as I can figure, it must be a coiled spring effect of sorts.  What do I mean by that?  Well I concentrated so much, I focused so much, I was so present in the mental spring being compressed...that after the moment was gone...the spring was "sprung"...there was nothing left.  Now I'm also very much the introvert, which means that, while I can do a  great job with the socializing aspects of any assignment (and for this event  there was a ton of socializing), at the end of the day those kinds of things take energy away from me.  That vacant feeling?  I suspect it was the net result of having no real energy left.  Again, the spring had been sprung.  Recharging might take a while.

* * * * * * * * * *

Post Script
I wrote most of the above posting on Sunday but I am finishing it on Monday morning (I have the day off...a wise move, given the above).  I slept well last night and I can feel some of that vacant feeling dissipating, slowly but surely.  Yet more proof of the coiled spring introvert in action.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


This is the 1600th posting to this blog since I started it back on  October 27, 2008.  Now to be technical about things, I have not published 1600 postings; the actual number of published postings is 1579.  The difference represents draft postings, some of which might actually and eventually make it to the light of day.   I'll also add that over the years I may have deleted 2-3 postings.

This equates to an average of about:

  • 266 postings per year
  • 22 postings per month
  • 5 postings per week

I'll note that the weekly number is highly suspect, as it seems like (especially over the past year) I am not posting nearly that much.

Anyway, it's still nice to acknowledge milestones, even if it only means something to me.

Here are a few lessons learned in the course of those 1600 postings.

Popularity:  I can greatly increase my traffic through the use of certain magic words and names in my posting titles.  Which ones?  Well these, for starters:  Limbaugh, Introvert, Scranton School District, and the name of the current sitting mayor of Scranton.  This kind of posting, by the way, is guaranteed to be not so popular.

Traffic Sources:  Google.  Period.  End of sentence.  I'll also add that using a German word or two in posting titles greatly increases my German traffic.  I know, "Thank you Herr Obvious".

Intelligentsia:  Sadly, I am not all that popular with the turtleneck wearing crowd, as 82% of my traffic comes from people using a Windows-based operating system.  Only about 8% comes from a Mac.  iOS adds about another 2%.  Maybe I should knock off the comments about how "Steve Jobs in burning in Hell now, being tormented by the souls of all the Foxconn employees who committed suicide while making iProducts".

Comments:  If I want to generate lots of comments, all I have to do is state an obvious truth or two, such as how slavery was wrong and how the Confederate battle flag is a racist symbol.  Note that I do not moderate comments, but I have threatened to  block comments from anonymous trolls who talk a good game but in the end lack the courage of their convictions.  #Truth.

In the end, this continues to be fun, so I don't see stopping.  Here's to 1600 more.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lewis Black, the ACLU and Voting Rights

This needs very little explanation.

No explanation needed, but let's talk voter fraud for a moment.

Now the fact is that the actual number voter impersonation fraud cases are actually very small in this country.  How small?

Well according to a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Washington Post, in conjunction with a law professor from Loyola University, the number works out to be...

31 out of a billion votes cast.

For you math heads out there, that's rate of fraud working out to...


You can read the article HERE.  I think your odds of gaining super-human strength and the ability to shoot lasers out of your eyes are greater than the actual occurrence of voter fraud by impersonation in this country.  But you know what?  Just to be fair, let's take the step of assuming that the Loyola University study is dramatically under-counting voter fraud by a factor of a thousand.  Yes, a thousand.  What would the rate of voter fraud by impersonation look like then?


I'm still thinking that the odds of me  getting lasers to come out of eyeballs are greater than the actual occurrence of voter fraud by impersonation.

Let's take the argument, just for fun, that requiring a picture ID is a reasonable thing to do in order to prevent that minuscule amount of fraud.  This is one of the go-to arguments made in support of such laws.  Here's my retort:  intersections.  Yes, intersections.

You see, requiring all motorists to stop at every single intersection would no-doubt prevent needless pedestrian deaths, would it not?  Of course it would!  So let's have every state legislature pass a law that requires all motorists to stop at every single intersection, all the time, every time.  Come on, that sounds like a great idea, does it not?  

Well of course the above idea is not a good fact it's a STUPID idea!  It's a solution in search of a over-reach and over-reaction of government...but it's the same basic argument made by supporters of voter ID laws.  Could it be that the prevention of incredibly small amounts of voter fraud* maybe, just maybe, isn't the intent of the many voter ID laws?  You can be the judge.

In the final analysis, I do believe that many individuals...outside of the political class that is...who support voter ID laws are doing so because they think it is the right thing to do.  The problem though is that such laws really are not a good idea simply because they represent a big and intrusive solution to an incredibly small (to the point of not existing) problem.  The laws themselves are the real fraud.

(*) Sitting Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, in attempting to defend the state's voter ID law, could not point to a single case of voter fraud that he, as state Attorney General, had prosecuted.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

True Badassery

In these days of talking television heads, blow-hard politicians and radio chickhawks who seem to have no problem putting others in the way of harm, it's refreshing to see someone who is a true badass get the recognition they deserve.  To that end, I present 2014 Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

How much of a badass?

Well consider this:  she is lives in an area where militant Islamic terrorists basically say "if you teach girls to read we will burn their schools down, kill them and then kill you".  So what does this young lady do?  She goes to school anyway and blogs about the right girls have to an education.  Previously mentioned terrorists then shoot her in the head.  So again, what does this young lady do?  She gets better and basically raises a (figurative) middle finger to the terrorists and (figuratively) says "Hey, Islamic Terrorists, F&^k You!" and crusades even louder for the education of girls.

There is a world full of public toughs who could learn a lot from this young lady.

Well done Malala, well done.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why no one wants to go to church any more

I had saved this article from a few week or so ago from the Huffington Post...

Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore

...with the intent of writing a post around it, and as usual it languished in the draft bin until now.

Two items that I think are related to this topic, via the Catholic Church, are:

  • Conflict surrounding the Baptism of the infant children of gay couples.  You can read an article on the topic HERE.  
  • There is also the Synod on the Family occurring in Rome now; you can click HERE for an interesting read on that event.

Here's what I find distressing in all of this:  The Church may in fact say that two individuals of the same sex can never be married.  The Church can say that two unmarried people should not have children.  The Church can proclaim that only certain kinds of opposite sex marriages are considered valid.  All of that is the right of the Church...their church, their rules.  No one is forcing anyone else to join a specific religious denomination in this country.  However, and related to the above, the Church teaches that access to the sacrament of Baptism shouldn't be denied based on the marital status of the parents, provided that there is an intent to raise the child Catholic (reference HERE).  Failing to follow your own rules seems a bit, well, wrong.  Also, the Church in theory has a "love the sinner, hate the sin" attitude regarding homosexuality in general, yet the rhetoric one hears from conservative Catholics is far from loving.  Want proof?  Go to (conservative) Ignatius Press and search for books using the key word "Gay" and you'll see what I mean.  Heck, I'll even do it for you (click HERE and look at the first book you see).  It's impossible to be welcoming on one hand but then with the other point a finger at  a "homosexual agenda".

I know. there are plenty in the LGBT community that are far from loving when it comes to most organized religions, but it's important to note that they don't get to use the whole eternal damnation weapon either.  ActUp, for example, doesn't claim to speak for God, but organizations that they Christian, Jewish or Muslim...should be held to a higher standard of conduct.  Yes, when you claim to be "one of the good guys" then you shouldn't be shocked when, well, people actually expect you to be a "good guy".  Example?  How about honoring your word to love the sinner more than you simply hating the sin, for starters.  Man, that "turn the other cheek" stuff really is hard to pull off, especially when the other party is so very different than you.

By the way, what precisely is the "homosexual agenda"?  Is it to somehow convert others to homosexuality?  I don't know about you, but nothing is ever changing my (hetero)sexuality, so pardon me while I view that concept with just a bit of skepticism.  Fear mongering should be beneath the dignity of a traditional religious conviction anyway, and yet elements of the Church are all too willing to engage in it as part of an extremely misguided "culture war".

So what is the real "culture war"?  That's the one that centers around item #7 of the Huffington Post article, namely false advertising.  In 1950 maybe that was acceptable; it's not in 2014.  Organized religion, meet the connected world, where your failing to live up to your own proclamations will be noticed and will be documented by snarky bloggers (and such).

I'll end this posting with a more personal note.  In my own religious formation there have been times when I've been to church and it has been very welcoming.  My religious experience in college was a good example (disclaimer:  I was the president of the Catholic Student's group my senior year).  Yet, so many others were very far from welcoming.  These were the churches run as cliques where homogeneous groups of folks would just as soon ignore someone new as say hello to them.  Not all are like this, but many are, sadly I will add.  More than anything else though, organized religion...especially the Catholic Church...harms itself far more than any outside force ever could simply by virtue of its inability to live up to its own high moral standards.

"We have met the enemy and he is us." - Walt Kelly

© Stephen G. Albert, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Atlantic City (in October)

Atlantic City is in the news lately, mainly for casinos that are closing faster than you can say "gambling addiction".  That, in and of itself, is a good reason to visit.  I have another reason though:  I've just always wanted to go to the shore in the Fall.  There's just something about the beach when it's cool outside that I find tempting.  Couple the two together and you have last weekend's "AC Getaway".

As a kid the only two vacations I ever remember were to Atlantic City.  Those were back in the pre-gambling days.  

Now for a kid back in those days, a beach...any beach...was reason to celebrate.  It didn't matter if the beach in question was connected to a rotting resort town.  All I knew at the time was that the ocean was there; all other considerations were secondary.

Fast forward a few decades, and I've kept a special interest in "AC", and not because of gambling, mind you, as I really don't do that anyway.  Rather, it's more a connection my younger days, when eyes truly saw the positive in the midst of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Sometimes I wish I could get those same eyes back (something that many adults wish).  

Last weekend's trip came about simply because, looking at the calendar for the rest of the year, I thought that Ms Rivers and I could benefit from a few days worth of escape.  Be it personally or professionally, the balance of 2014 is mightily booked for both of us.  Given that and my longing for simpler times, AC was the logical choice.  The fact that we already did a summer vacation week at Ocean City MD made the choice a bit easier.  Speaking of Ms Rivers, she also had some special childhood memories of AC, back in the days when her family had just returned from missionary work in the Dominican Republic.  What better a place to transition from a tropical island to the United States than the Jersey Shore of the late 60'/early 70's?

Trip rationale noted, here are a few observations.  In no particular order.  For no particular reason than my own entertainment.

Gambling floors were busy at the casinos we visited.  The fact that I think four major casinos have closed in recent memory probably helps the remaining venues tremendously.  Anyway, I've always thought that casino floors have a particular odor about them; think of it as being a combination of cigarette smoke and despair.

By the way, we lost a total of $19.06 in the casinos.  Not too bad for someone (me) who is too impatient to actually figure out how to wager on a slot machine.

I didn't take any pictures of the gambling floors, as quite frankly, they all look alike.  

It was interesting driving in to AC on Friday night, seeing some of the casinos completely lit up, like giant Christmas Trees, while others simply stood there, dark and stark.  Not wanting to be actual vagabonds, we did stay at one of the major resort hotels (sorry, since they are not paying me for a mention I will not be providing any free advertising).  The service was good by and large, and the room was fine for the price we paid.  The bed was a bit hard for my tastes, but that's just me.  The room did have a nice view.
(Three casinos, two of which are actually closed)

We wandered into two other hotels and by and large most of these places are pretty much the same, with the exception of the Borgata.  More on that in a moment.

The Food
The food was inexpensive and good.  We had Italian one night and ate at an Irish pub the second night.  The Irish Pub had this sign, which I just had to take a picture of...

Just a twinge of the ironic in that sign, as I know a few NEPA residents of Irish ancestry that seem to take a dim view of current day immigrants.  Restaurant service was so-so, which makes me wonder what it is like when the town is actually busy.

The Boardwalk
We took many-a-stroll on the (famous) Boardwalk, the first being on Saturday morning.  It was pretty much vacant.
It was an eerie kind of feeling actually.  Now in all fairness, it was overcast and rainy on Saturday morning, so maybe we were just the only folks crazy enough to want to be out at the time.  As Saturday wore on the Boardwalk did get far busier.  
For the record, most of the folks I saw on the Boardwalk did not look like degenerate gamblers, although we encountered multiple pan-handlers.

The Entertainment
Saturday night we went to see comedian Brian Regan perform at the Borgata.  For those not in the know, the Borgata is not on Boardwalk, but rather is in the marina section of AC.  It's a little bit of a drive, but worth it.  The show as pretty good, and the Borgata is exceptionally impressive...a world-class, high-end resort.  I can see why that particular venue is apparently doing very well:  it simply out-classes all the competition.

Other Thoughts
A few other random observations about AC in October:
  • Police...always present, but seemingly oblivious to the pan-handlers.
  • Pan-handlers...speaking of people begging for money, if you are a 20-something young man wishing to be successful in the pan-handing game, it probably makes sense to ditch the Abercrombie and Fitch top and expensive sneakers.  Just saying.
  • body is still digesting the grease from Saturday morning's breakfast at Bill's.  It was good though (at the time).
  • Beach...was nice.  I as you can see in the photos above, they've taken to planting vegetation along the beach side of the Boardwalk, which I think has something to do with preventing erosion.  I get the need, but  it's not the greatest visual.  As I kid I also remember the beach being somehow lower, as in you had to walk down steps to get to it.  Maybe I'm just confused on that point.

Would we go back?  Absolutely!  It was, all in all, a fun and relaxing time.  I'm not sure I would go during the heat of the summer, but as a relatively easy spot to get to, AC is a nice choice to visit off season.