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Thursday, May 29, 2014

All in a day's work

A portion of what I do for a living involves group facilitation.  Calling it "teaching" or even "training" would be misleading, as those words imply that I am actually imparting valuable academic or technical skills.  Rather, much of what I do in front of an audience has more to do with getting people to try and think about things a little differently.  The "things" could be about leadership challenges, performance management, organizational design, or similar topics.  It's a nice way to earn a living.

The above noted, today I had scheduled an hour and a half session on the subject of leading through change.  Some might call it "Change Management", but not I, as I don't think you actually "manage" change in as much as you plan for it, you certainly experience it, and you make decisions about how you will react to it.  Anyway, today's session was being co-facilitated with me by a senior business leader.  This is someone who is genuinely very good in front of a classroom, which actually makes the job both easier for me and, truth be told, more exciting (like most folks, when I work with someone who is talented, it always brings out my "A Game").  It's a great topic, a terrific group of folks was scheduled to attend and I had a great co-host.  What could go wrong?

Before I get around to answering my question, allow me a moment to talk about preparation.  For me, preparation (before facilitating) is important, but it's possible to be over prepared.  The way I look at it, I want to know the material I am covering, but I don't want to be locked into specific words or patterns.  I want the ability  to stick to a core message but also be able to ad-lib where it adds value.  I want to be as verbally nimble as is possible.  I want to have a sense of where the free range begins and where it should end.  The benefits to me are obvious:  it's simply more fun (and more challenging) for me know that I really will have to make split-second decisions about what I am saying...and how I react to my co-facilitator and to the audience...throughout the engagement.  The benefits to the audience are real as well:  I end up engaging in more of a dialogue than a monologue.  What may seem seamless and cohesive on my part really isn't seamlessly put together before hand...I simply make it work as I go along.

Back to the question:  so what could go wrong today?  Well part of the preparation I always do for these sorts of things involves getting to the room well before the session begins.  In my mind this is absolutely essential, and when I coach people who don't have a lot of training/facilitation experience I always recommend that they get to the facility well in advance to...

...check out the feeling of the room.  How does your voice sound?  Are you comfortable?
...make sure everything work.  This includes everything from markers to computers.
...make sure the room is set up properly.  Are tables/chairs properly located? through your material a few times, mainly to make sure it flows well.

So it was that I arrived at my room an hour before the session today in order to get set up and hopefully run through my parts a time or two before the show.  Alas, it was not to be.  First, I had a technology issue related to my laptop and the jumbotron I was porting into in order to share a PowerPoint presentation.  Apparently I now lack certain drivers to make it all work.  Now I am very, very knowledgeable when it comes to our facility's A/V equipment, so I didn't expect going into the room that I would encounter a problem beyond my ability to resolve.  It was there though, in the guise of a black screen.  A call to our A/V support line and some time with a technician yielded the bad news:  My laptop was not going to work as planned.  The resolution?  Move down to the other end of the room where an older projector was located (one that "liked" my laptop).  Okay, so I moved my equipment, and my materials, and all the stuff I put out for the attendees to the other end of the room, and with 15 minutes to spare I was sure I could get at least one dry run completed.

Then I got the call.

The call was from my middle daughter, informing me that her Ford Focus was busy focusing on not going over 15 miles an hour and was now at the mechanic, awaiting a diagnostic.  I didn't have a good feeling about it.

Nevertheless, 10:30am came around and it was time to start the event.  Despite my inability to get in any prep time immediately beforehand, the session went off without a hitch and I think my co-facilitator and I did a reasonably good job of raising the level of discourse as it relates to leadership and change.  I'll eventually get the post session attendee survey results, but my immediate reaction afterwards was pretty positive.  

By the way, after the session was over with I spoke to my middle daughter and then the mechanic, who informed me that the Focus is fried worse that Courtney Love after a weekend bender. Oh, well...all in a day's work.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Got Hypocrisy NEPA? No Death Penalty for 16 Year Old Shooter

WNEP has reported that the alleged shooter of a Scranton cab driver will not receive the death penalty if convicted.  You can read the story HERE.

Even more instructional are some of the comments this story has received on-line.  Here are some samples -

"Well this story just proves are country is headed down the sh#ter. He should get the dealth penalty or if they can’t by law (which is a joke) just say he died while in custody from another prisoner. I feel sorry for the victim and his family. This YOUNG MAN IS A PUKE! But truly the sadest part is get ready to pay 80-100k a year in taxes just for this scum bucket to rot as he gets 3meals, roof over his head and still is unproductive since he was getting welfare. This country will never make another 100years if we don’t get back to our ROOTS like our forefathers would want! Well maybe when China takes us over I doubt they will give in to BS like this."

"Just need to kill him. Our state blows the criminals have more rights than us law abiding citizens."

"Fill in some potholes with his body parts"

I think you get the drift.

Now remember, this area is well known for its strong Roman Catholic faith.  Wait, now there's a thought:  what does the Roman Catholic Church say about the death penalty?  Why let's check it out.

As quoted from (now Saint) Pope John Paul II, addressing when the death penalty can be justly applied:

"in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady immprovement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

Citation HERE.

In other words, outside of someone perhaps like Adolf Hitler, the death penalty can never be justly applied. Note that there is no caveat that says "unless they senselessly killed a nice person".

I often times wonder how many people adamantly oppose abortion but yet are fully supportive of the death penalty?  I wonder how many of the individuals who posted rabid comments, such as noted above, gladly proclaim themselves to be "Right to Life"?

Newsflash:  You can't be Catholic, "Right to Life" and supportive of the death penalty for this 16 year old.  Well you can, but let's call it out for what it is, namely HYPOCRISY.

As for me, well, I don't claim the mantle of being "Right to Life" or even a good, practicing Roman Catholic either for that matter.  I do, however, believe that both abortion and the death penalty are tragic things, and both should be legal, all bit it as rare as possible.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


While at the Mystic Aquarium on Sunday I happened upon the penguin exhibit.  These are, without a doubt, some of the most photogenic creatures on Earth.  The seem to pose for the camera.  Anyway, here are some pictures of penguins.

Lastly, this isn't a penguin, obviously, but I like the photo never the less.

Glad to be wrong (& other gay thoughts)

I am thoroughly, completely and utterly thrilled to be wrong regarding Governor Tom Corbett's potential appeal of marriage equality in Pennsylvania.  The Governor did surprise me in not pursing an appeal of the decision, but politics (and make no mistake about it...this was a political decision on the part of Tom Corbett) can be a complex business at times.  Regardless, I'm giving the Governor a symbolic ^5 for doing the right thing this time around.

While we are on the subject of marriage, I'm increasingly finding that the arguments against equality  boil down to three things:

1) The Bible says that homosexuality is wrong
2) Marriage has traditionally been between one man and one woman
3) The purpose of marriage is procreation, and two individuals of the same gender can't procreate

Let's parse these out.

The Bible & Marriage
I am not a biblical scholar, and I do know enough about the Bible to be dangerous.  So that noted, let me quote the Book of Leviticus, chapter 11, verse 10 (King James version of the Bible):

"And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:"

What this means is that you can't eat shellfish.  No shrimp.  No crabs.  No lobsters.  If it lacks fins and scales, you can't eat it.  The Bible is very clear on this point.  Luckily the conjunction used is "and", not "or", so all those that want to eat catfish and still stay within Biblical guidelines are safe*.

Now some say "well, you have to view that chapter within the context of the times in that it probably wasn't actually safe to eat those things, therefore the Biblical prohibition made sense then...", which I completely understand and agree with.  My point though is the following:  If the Bible is wrong about lobster, shrimp and crabs, it can no longer be viewed as being completely infallible for other things as well.

Where does this leave us?  Well it means that if you are a Christian and you want to shrimp, lobsters or crabs, then you have to rely on a human interpretation of Leviticus in order for that act to not be considered an abomination.  Who gets to decide?  Who gets to reinterpret Leviticus?  I don't know.  Heck, I don't even like shellfish.  I do know this though:  if someone can over-ride the Bible and say that eating lobster is no longer an abomination, then I'm thinking similar abominations are subject to nullification (or at least qualification) as well.

Oh, and lest anyone think that I'm picking on the poor lobsters, the following other things are also prohibited in the Bible:

Mixing fiber types in clothing (Leviticus 19:19)
Bowl haircuts (Leviticus 19:27)
Tattoos (Leviticus 19:28)
Getting your fortune told & astrology (Leviticus 19:31)

Lastly, and this is my favorite, did you know that castrated males (regardless of whether the castration was voluntary or an accident) are not allowed into church?  Well let's consult Deuteronomy, Chapter 23, verse 1:

"He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD."

Now I personally find that the King James version of the Bible has some funky language, so let's go with another translation for this verse, this time the New Living Translation:

"If a man's testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD"

Point (painfully) made.  Next.

Marriage Tradition
"Traditional marriage is between a man and a woman and it should stay that way" is how the line goes.  Now I could go down a long list of past traditions that have not survived the test of time, even religious traditions, but that would be like shooting fish in a barrel.  No, let's instead look at what the very word "tradition" means.  Here's a definition (from Merriam-Webster on-line):

Full Definition of TRADITION
a :  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
b :  a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
:  the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
:  cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
:  characteristic manner, method, or style tradition
It's almost surreal to think that any of the above should trump the basic happiness of others.  "Just because it has always been that way" just doesn't hold a lot of weight.

Marriage and Procreation
This is an easy one:  if you believe that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation, then you end up invalidating the marriages of...

...two widows who marry and are past child-bearing years
...a couple where one or both individuals suffers from infertility
...any couple who makes the choice not to have children

I'll take this one step further:  the only people who I think should be able to claim that the purpose of marriage is procreation are the Duggars (and folks like then), as they are walking the talk.  No one else gets to make this claim.  That may sound flippant, but so be it in that it also has a ring of truth.  In a way I do admire the Duggar family, as hypocrisy doesn't seem to be something they practice, along with a few other things.  Note that I'm not sure if they eat shellfish though.

Lastly, and this is a true story, I was listening to the local militantly conservative Catholic radio station the other day and a commentator was claiming that these marriage equality decions, if not overturned, would result in the "end of our civilization".  Why?  Because in the words of the speaker, "procreation would stop".  Mind you this was an older adult male speaking, claimng that marriage equality would apparently turn us all gay, stopping the replenishment of our species.  I will leave that comment and line of reasoning to stand on its own.

(*) Catfish don't have scales.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Observations about a small Massachusetts town

From having been here a few times now...

There aren't many places to get a decent breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.

They take their pedestrians very seriously in that cars actually stop for you.  In Scranton one gets the impression that cars actually accelerate when you begin to cross the street.

At least one town (Webster) really cares about cats.  There is a place called "Cat Connection" whereby homeless kitties have a place to go.  Yes, as pathetic as it sounds, I've stopped there twice to make funny sounds at the cats in the window.  If I lived here I would be volunteering to help.

The economy doesn't seem to be all that great.

Things are older here, especially buildings.

They love donuts.  There is Dunkin Donuts, Dippin Donuts, and Honey (something or other) Donuts.  No word on whether there is a Timmy Horton's tucked in some corner somewhere.

Speaking of DD, you can't tip the counter staff here.  That was hard not to do.  The young folks that work at donut shops have a tough job (you try to remember all those silly drink types) and they don't get paid much.

Scranton suffers from grand old homes being turned into apartment buildings.  Webster suffers form just really old apartement buildings.  Some of these buildings were probably designed for two units, but not have something like six packed into the same space.

It just seems colder here.  Not sure why.

The Maple trees are big and grand.  There is something almost universally beautiful about the leaves on a Maple tree when, after first appearing, reach full size.  That says as much about rebirth as any religious ceremoney ever did.

Scranton has the remains of the coal industry, small New England towns have the remains of the textile industry.  Yes, long before that shirt of your was made in Bangladesh, it was probably made in some small American town like the one I am writing this from.  The old grand mills are everywhere here, with their enormous hulks sitting along river banks like beached and rotting whale carcuses.  

This place makes me what to read Thoreau.

There are empty cigarette boxes everywhere.  The smoking rate must be close to epic Chinese porportions in these parts.  At least in China lungs are accustomed to so much industrial pollution that a camel or two probably represents a breath of fresh(er) air.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I've always just said no

Yes, I've really always just said no.  To drugs that is.  And, for the post part over the past 15 years, alcohol as well.


I guess I should parse this out just a bit.

I have had opportunities to take "drugs" (quote marks to make a point, as there are, in reality, lots of different drugs out there, some legal and some not so much) of the illegal kind, but I can honestly say I have not tried anything.  Nope, nothing.  Not a single joint, hit, line or whatever the heck else unit of illegal drug use comes in these days.  It has simply never appealed to me.  Now granted I am admittedly wrapped tighter than most folks, but the odd thing is this:  I have never even seriously considered trying an illegal drug.  I think part of the dynamic is that I like being in control of my own life and of my own head.  The idea that I could ingest something that would change how my brain is considering the world around me sounds frightening in ways I can't describe.  It also simply sounds really, really, really stupid.  Yes, I said stupid.  Why on Earth would I ever want my conscience changed?  Any such change would not be real, it would instead be an illusion created by the interaction of chemicals in my head, a fantasy of the short-lived variety that is no more real than the monsters I was affraid of as a little kid.

Alcohol is a slightly different story for me, in that while I have always been very much against the use of illegal substances, there was a fairly long stretch when I would, in fact, drink booze.  Even then I never really liked the taste of alcohol, but rather I liked the ever so fleeting feeling I would get of aloofness that consumption provided.  That too though came with consequences, and as I got older it became clear that my body did not like the afterwards that comes with alcohol consumption.  Case in point:  vomiting into a hotel garbage can at 7:30 in the morning after having had hard liquor and wine the night before is about as far from glamorous as one can get.  Glamorous?  It stinks of being sadly pathetic.  I'll also note that my late father was a raging alcoholic all of his life, a fact that was always in the back of my head as I would be vomiting into that garbage can.  So it goes that I pretty much stopped drinking alcohol a long time ago, and outside of an occasional glass of wine, I don't touch the stuff.  This sometimes turns heads (as it did during a work dinner last week), but so be it:  I decide that sobriety is better for me than the alternative.

Looking back, I do regret those times when I was drinking.  Oh, and thanks to genetics or some other unknown factor, I could never have "a" drink (it was always...well up until recently...a plural number of drinks).  Anyway, there is nothing to be proud of when you are in a dorm shower stall, on your knees, throwing up what looks like some internal organ into a drain.  It didn't make me any friends, but rather it just made me look and feel like a weak minded putz.  To this very day I remember the sensations of both being drunk and being hung-over...neither are what I would call "fond memories".

What would I say to some young person who is wrestling with decisions about drug and alcohol use?  That would be the following:  Simply don't do it.  These things create a short lived fantasy that over the long term rots your mind, your body and your soul.  Alcohol and drugs don't add anything to your life that you are not already capable of adding without them.  They are, in fact, nothing but a net subtraction to your life.  They distort a reality that is truly wonderful enough without distortion.

In the final analysis I like the fact that at any given time I am facing the world with my eyes, ears and all of my other senses fully functioning and not incumbered by some chemical crap running through my veins.  I like my reality, warts and all, as it has one thing going for it that I never get from alcohol or drugs:  it is real. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

8 Thing I learned while reading election results, May 20 2014

In no order and mainly for my own amusement.
  1. Never underestimate the power of the Scranton Times to help form public opinion.  NEPA is full of older folks who still read newspapers...and newspaper editorial pages.  I think the Times did more to sink the proposed change in Lackawanna County government than either of the majority commissioners ever did.
  2. "Taco Cat" spelled backwards is "Taco Cat".  Seriously, I learned this while trolling for election results.
  3. Well done political advertising is worth far more than what you pay for it.  Just ask Tom Wolf.
  4. Chuck Volpe is something like 0 for 56 in the election business, directly or indirectly.  Some advice for Mr Volpe:  Plastics.
  5. Luzerne County really stinks at reporting election results.  "Hayno or no?"
  6. At this stage, I'm thinking there is a zero point zero chance that Tom Corbett will not appeal the striking of Pennsylvania's "defense of marriage" act by a Rick Santorum backed (and President Bush appointed) judge.  Given Tom Wolf's margin of victory and the number of people who would probably vote for Benito Mussolini over the sitting governor, he has a lot of base to suck-up to, and nothing makes the PA-bible belt happier than defending the population against imaginary un-biblical threats.    
  7. My next (and new) State Representative will be Eileen Cipriani, who Ms Rivers apparently knows.  Good thing I voted for her then.
  8. My former State Representative, Kevin Haggerty, lost in his re-election bid.  This is a loss for NEPA as a whole, as Kevin was truly insane, in the best sense of the word insane.  Insane as in truly speaking his mind.  Insane as in engaging with people he disagreed with.  Insane as in really challenging the status quo.  I hope he finds another way to serve.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Playboy and Metal

I was driving home from work yesterday and for some reason the following thought wandered into my head: I wonder whatever happened to Playboy and Metal? I suppose I owe you a bit of a flashback in order to make sense of that statement, so here we go...

(My college ID, circa 1982)

When I was starting my junior year of college at Penn State Harrisburg, I got my first taste of living on campus, specifically in a dorm. In my case, it was the third floor of Wrisberg Hall. On that fateful day in August of 1984 as my friend Tom was helping me move all my junk into my shared dorm room, I remember walking by the room that was apparently occupied by two individuals named "Playboy and Metal". I swear to one and all this was true: the sign on their dorm room door said "Playboy and Metal", not their actual names (which I never knew), but simply "Playboy and Metal".  From the looks of the room, these two were ready for the high life, with a big rug and lots of extra stuff. And then there was the physical sights of Playboy and Metal themselves.

Playboy, as I recall, was on the short side. A squat kind of guy. Maybe the kind that, had it been 60 years prior, would have made a decent coal miner. 1000 years prior, maybe a decent bridge troll. Oh, and there was the consummate 70's pornstache (well make that "pornstache wannabe").  Playboy seemed to have lots of Playboy branded stuff.

Metal was tall and skinny, clean shaven and ready, it seemed, to get into a fight at a moment's notice.  Think of him as being a kind of proto-Tommy Lee.

For the record I could very well have the descriptions of Playboy and Metal completely reversed.  I suppose it doesn't matter all that much anyway.

Also, and this is stretching my brain cells a bit, I recall that Playboy and Metal may...I repeat MAY...have had about 160 IQ points (in total, between the two of them).

I don't ever recall interacting with Playboy and Metal.  I think they were too busy with "chicks" most of the time, and I was too busy feeling insecure.  Besides, do I look like the kind that would actually hang out with someone named either Playboy or Metal?  If they were definition of 80's cool, then I was their opposite.

(My Chrysler Newport at Penn State Harrisburg, 1985)

Anyway, I don't know what ever happened to either Playboy or Metal.  I moved out of Wrisberg Hall at the end of my junior year and for my final year of college lived in an on-campus ranch house with a bunch of other guys who were far more like me than they were like Playboy or Metal.  The memories have somewhat faded since then.

I could, I suppose, imagine what Playboy and Metal are up to these days.

Playboy could very well be the manager of a south central Pennsylvania Turkey Hill, providing many opportunities for flirting with the ladies.  I suspect that the pornstache remains, although rest of the noggin hair has probably long since past.  Maybe he's married, maybe he's not.  Maybe all of that time chasing the fairer sex left him with many fond memories, and more than a few social diseases.  He probably picks up a couple of bottles of Playboy men's cologne, when it's on after-Christmas sale at Kmart.

Metal?  I don't know about Metal.  Maybe he ended up being the roadie for some 70's band that plays the nostalgia circuit.  Think REO Speedwagon or Journey.  The black hair has turned grey, all be it in a pony tail now.  He's the kind of a guy who actually can play a decent song or two on the guitar, but alas, only really gets to tune them while some 65 year old gets paid the big bucks to "keep on a-rock'n".

I wouldn't have admitted it back then, but I was probably a tad bit jealous of Playboy and Metal.  They had the confidence that comes with cool names (I was just "Steve") and they seemingly had the world, for a brief moment in time, by the gonads.  I had none of that, but maybe my game was far more long term theirs.  I've also learned over time that we are all equally dysfunctional, even when comparing Steve to Playboy and Metal.

I think I'd done reminiscing about about Playboy and Metal for now.  Maybe the urge will come again in another 30 years.  Maybe never.


My youngest daughter Rebecca went with me yesterday evening to watch the new Godzilla movie?  The verdict.  Well as someone who grew up watching the old Godzilla movies, I walked away from Sunday's showing mostly impressed.  A few hits and misses include:

Hit - The fact that Godzilla was (more or less) the "good guy".  That's how the old movies were, and it was nice to see that bit of homage being paid.

Miss - The human characters.  There was enough acting to be distracting from watching the monsters, but not enough to really get to know the characters.  I guess compromises had to be made. but if I had to choose, I'd say more monsters, less humans.

Hit - The effects.  Simply great...with some obvious nods to the old Japanese movies, but updated to modern mega-movie spectacle status.  Also, unlike the Transformer movies, you could actually keep track of the action sequences.

Miss - Not enough monster fighting.  The real monster battle occurred at the end, but prior to that there were teases of Godzilla fighting the flying monster.  I don't like being teased.

Hit - The final battle was more or less pretty cool.  How Godzilla dispatched the final monster was way, way cool.  Epic cool.

This was worth the money I spent for the two tickets.  I did see the 3D version of the film, but that's kind of a waste for me, as I don't really "see" 3D effects all that well.  No bother, as I think Rebecca enjoyed it.

Go see Godzilla if you, as a kid, used to watch the old movies on TV.  It's worth the trip back in time.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pain in the... my case that would be "foot".

I've had some discomfort in my left foot over the past few months, say since January or so.  Nothing that is debilitating, nothing that causes me to stay awake at night, just basically a pain in my foot.  The pain also comes and goes, is not even in intensity, isn't triggered by anything and isn't make better or worse by changing shoes.  So what could it be?

Well Monday was my twice yearly visit to the doctor's office, where I get a few things checked (think of it as being a Jiffy Lube kind of thing:  I go in and basically just get a 10 point service), so I decided to ask my intrepid doctor about my pain in the foot.  Well he asked me a few questions (New shoes?  Drop anything on it?) and pretty much decided that x-rays were in order.  Fortunately for me, the office my doctor is located in has an x-ray lab, so it was just a few steps down the hallway and before you know it I was laying on a stretcher with a bare foot on an x-ray plate.  20 minutes after that I was back in a treatment room, looking at my freakishly looking foot bones (which make me look like some kind of chimpanzee).

The good news?

That would be that:

1) Nothing is broken
2) I don't have some kind of abscess, tumor, general nastiness

The not-so-good news?

That would be that I apparently...or maybe, as I am not sure...have arthritis in my foot.  Seriously, I may have arthritis in my foot.  Now let the unanswerable questions begin:  Aren't I too young for this?  Why my foot?  Is this going to get worse?  What can I do about it?

Needless to say there aren't answers to all my questions.  What can I do about it?  Really not all that much actually, other than lose some weight (I need to do that anyway) and take over the counter pain medications.  That's pretty much it.

My mother actually suffered quite a bit from arthritis in her later years, and one of my younger brothers told me a few months ago that he was diagnosed with in in his neck.  Apparently there is something of a family history to it all.  This is what I've got to look forward to?

Actually I am pretty much okay with the whole thing.  Why?  Well truth be told, I have a pretty high tolerance for discomfort, and if I am going to have this, better in a foot than in, say, my hands.  It's also early enough that there really could be things I can do about it to alleviate the symptoms.  Lastly, and most importantly, I am generally healthy and I have a good life, and having a pain in the foot is not going to change that one iota.

Boldly stepping into the future...errr, with my right foot that is...

Monday, May 12, 2014

10 Observations about living in West Pittston, Pennsylvania

In no real order, for no apparently reason.
  1. Mansions and Such - On my very street we have a beautiful single family Victorian home for sale, at an asking price of around $230,000.  Next door to it?  A place that look like it's crystal meth central for this side of the Susquehanna.  Go figure.
  2. Walking - I think it's probably possible to circumnavigate the entire town in about an hour.  I swear that's true. 
  3. Cherry Blossom Festival - Yawn. 
  4. Trees - The town needs more trees.  No, I'm actually just kidding.  We have plenty of trees here.  Next.
  5. Supermarket - The closest supermarket is Gerrity's, and I have just about given up on it.  I was there once and they didn't have cucumbers.  I kid you not.  We need a Wegman's here, or at least a Giant.
  6. Recycling Ritual - Despite curb-side pickup of recycling, I think 90% of the town actually goes to the public works building every Saturday morning to drop off their recycling.  I do, and I'm not even a native.  It must be some kind of social thing that I, as a dyed in the wool introvert, simply fail to grasp.
  7. Dogs - I'm convinced that we are the only people in town who don't own a dog.  
  8. Diversity - I'm kind of thinking that the borough flower should be a Lilly.
  9. River Walk - It's actually really neat to walk along the river, provided that the shore of the river isn't also Wyoming Avenue.
  10. The Borders are Silly - I can walk less than 10 minutes in one direction and be in Exeter.  About a half hour later and I'll be in another town.  What do all of these borders really meany anyway?  I'm convinced that all of these little towns simply exist in order to give some folks the title of "mayor".  It's like some kind of bizzaro EEOC requirement for older white guys; think "every old white guy should have the chance to be a mayor of his own town at some point".  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day 2014

Happy Mother's Day for one and all out there who claim (or who were given) the grand title of "Mother".  I can think of far fewer jobs in the known universe that are more important, and I say that as a father, by the way.

Think about it:  for most of us...

...our good and our bad
...our noble and our frightening
...our ambitions and our timidity

...have all been shaped in large part by our mothers.  No one human being on the planet has that much power over us, overtly or otherwise.  It's a good thing that the universe mostly entrusts that power in the right hands.  The reward for righteously wielding this power?  If they do their jobs really, really well, their children end up leaving them.  It's an almost cosmic chunk of irony.

As for me, I'm still in the process of sorting out my own mother's legacy.  I'm thinking it might take a while.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Voting to Change Lackawanna County Government

For the record I am no longer a resident of Lackawanna County, but I have been following the increasingly nasty debate that has unfolded over the government study commission recommendations. In the upcoming election, a vote of YES would result in the county's form of government changing, while a vote of NO would result in the current status quo.  Here is how I see the issues:

What's the Issue?  Reducing Corruption
Reason to Vote for Change?  Not Really 
Corruption comes from the actions of fellow humans, which means any form or organization of government could potentially be corrupt.  Put another way, good people could make the current form of government work in Lackawanna County, just as corrupt folks could do the opposite.  Conversely, a council does not prevent corruption; just look at the Scranton School Board to see this fact in action.  However...

What's the Issue?  Improving Checks and Balances 
Reason to Vote for Change?  Yes
What is true about the current form of government in Lackawanna County is that two individuals run everything in a manner that is basically unchecked.  The current majority commissioners can do whatever they want relative to the operation of the county government without having to answer to anyone, other than to a small, sheepishly compliant voting population every four years.

What's the Issue?  Reducing the Current Cost of Government
Reason to Vote for Change?  No
I simply haven't seen anything that tells me that changing the current form of government will result in lower overall costs of governance over the short term.

What's the Issue?  Reducing the Future Growth of Government
Reason to Vote for Change?  Yes
Definitely a compelling reason to vote for the change.  Simply put, nothing stops the two current majority commissioners from raising taxes pretty much any way they want, making government as large as they want.  Disbursing that power to tax over a larger body can only help to keep the growth of government in check.

What's the Issue?  The Economy
Reason to Vote for Change?  Yes
It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but yet expecting a different result.  No where is this more true than when you consider the economic state of Lackawanna County (and all of NEPA for that matter).  NEPA has consistently...over years...had the highest unemployment rate in the state.  Ponder that:  such garden spots as Altoona and Erie have better economic outlooks than our region.  Yet what have our elected officials, including the current commissioners, done about it?  The answer is simple:  next to nothing.  Yes, I know that the current commissioners have an initiative here or there, which creates nice fodder for newsletters and photo ops.  The reality though is that the current model of large government run for the political benefit of elected commissioners has contributed to...not helped to reduce....our chronically high unemployment rate.  How?  By perpetuating government-centric solutions and ignoring real drivers (such as high tax rates and perceptions of corruption/pay to play) that help create the economic pickle that is NEPA.  Where is the sense of urgency on the part of the current county commissioners when it comes to reducing the unemployment rate?  That's a trick question, because there is no sense of urgency.  Therein lies the problem.

In the end, I think the single most compelling reason to change Lackawanna County's form of government is simply the argument for change itself.  What country residents have now does not work when it comes to reducing the long-term cost of government and it has not helped when it comes to improving the county's dismal economic state.  I don't know if changing the county's form of government will actually help all that much in these areas, but I do know that staying on the same path guarantees nothing will ever change.

Bottom Line:  If I lived in Lackawanna County I would  be voting YES on May 20th. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Final Stuff - ASTD 2014

Preface:  Well this is it, and I am heading home this afternoon.  I think my conference quota has been filled for another 18 years.

On to the blogging...

* * * * * * * * * *

8:18am - Getting ready for my first session of the day, with this one dealing with "Leadership Development in the real word" or something of that sort.  I am all for any and every bit of material I can steal, so here's to hoping for a rich harvest.  In other news, the hotel stuff is all done, and when the conference day is done I just have a 5 block walk back to the hotel to acquire my rental car and my luggage.  While I am looking forward to learning more stuff today, I confess to also looking forward to a nice long and quiet ride back home.

9:56am - One positive resulf of Catholic guilt:  almost extreme punctuality.  I am sitting in the room now waiting for the next session.  Time to jot down a few notes and check mail before, the next session, which I am really looking forward to, on the topic of Leadership Sins of Omission.  Actually these times before sessions being are among my favorite, as I can be contemplative and stuff.  Anyway, the last session was mildly informative.  I say "mildly" because I don't really have that much interest in the part of HR that involves the identification of top talent, a topic that consumed much of the bandwidth during that proceeding hour+.  No worries though, as I did get a few useful nuggets to contemplate.

8:57pm - I didn't have time to do much notation work between morning sessions, and as soon as I could I hit the road out of DC.  It was a very long drive back, but outside of New York Avenue in Washington it was more or less congestion free.  The sessions today were worth the effort.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Post Script:  I am truly blessed to work for a company that so willingly sees fit to invest in my development.  I also see something of a moral imperative to bring a few things back to the company that might help justify this investment.  I have a few ideas in this space, but I also need some time to cultivate them.  One thing is for sure:  I am not looking to do this again any time soon.  Why?  Well it's not because it was a bad experience, because that's simply not true.  Rather, the overall experience just isn't it the glitz, the group socializing or the crowds.   I love the learning part of this, that's for sure, but the cost, as measured a few different ways, makes it something that is probably best saved for something less frequently than every year. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

More (well not quite really) Live Blogging - ASTD 2014

Preface:  This is published posting number 1501 of  Know what?  It's as much fun writing it now as it was when I wrote posting number 1.  Heck, it may even be more fun.  It's times like this when I usually say something like "I just do this for me, etc.", but I am going to make a one time confession (pay attention, as this might not ever happen again):  I really, truly and thoroughly enjoy the fact that a few people read this stuff and are amused, disgusted, or moved in some other way.  The fact that I can write something that maybe makes someone momentarily happy or which invokes a thought or two is a nice feeling.  Yes, I would be writing this if no one was reading, but the fact that a few people are makes it all the better.

Thank You!

Now back to the blogging...

* * * * * * * * * 

7:45am - The day two keynote speaker is retired General Stan McChrystal, and I am in the ginormous hall waiting for the show to begin.  This time I was smart in that I am sitting in the front row of a rear section, which affords me magical amounts of leg room.  This is important, as I am newly old. In other news, yesterday evening was productive, in that I finally got around to updating what I laughingly call a resume.   Not that I am planning on going anywhere career wise, but I do have need for said document and, as someone working in HR, I can say with authority that everyone should have an updated resume.  The updates were completed,  but I do want to check it for typos and assorted other stupid mistakes before calling it a done deal.  As in most things, the devil is in the details.

9:36am - Keynote speech done, and now I am in the room for the next session, which deals with generational differences and learning.  Ironic in a way, in that here I am (an old guy) using a new-ish media (blogging) to write about generational differences.  Now the really cool thing to do would be to Tweet about this, but alas, my Twitter protest will be continuing, indefinitely.  Simply put, I will not be a part of the dumbification of America by reducing everything I write to 120 characters.  And so I digress.  Back to the keynote speech, and retired General McChrystal gave a good talk.  I suspect though that the references to war, killing enemies and military culture were somewhat lost on many in the audience.  It's sad in a way:  Arinanna Huffington got rock-star treatment for talking about the need to take care of yourself, but Stan McChrystal received just a warm response for his talk about the need for empowerment.  Welcome to America in 2014, where the far easier sell is about "you" as opposed to (empowering) "others".  I at least hope that the good general has a decent line for his book signing; if he is still there at 11:30, after this next session, I will stop by and pick up a copy myself.

Noon - The program on generational differences in learning has come and gone, without much in the revelation department.  This is okay though, as sometimes in life revelations should come second to reminders.  The discussion did give me an idea of something to take back to the office, so the time actually was well-spent.  In addition, you can call me a training nerd, but I do enjoy watching a good presenter in action.  I've seen a few of them over the past day and a half, and I am sure there are things I can borrow/steal for my own act.  As for now, I am presently sitting the mock food court of the convention center, just having consumed what was arguably frozen pizza disguised as fresh pizza.  If, however, that's the worst thing that happens to me today well then I will be having a great day.  

3:15pm - Well I actually checked out the expo part of the conference.  That's the hall where all the vendors can be found, selling their assorted wares.  Actually I was more in it for the walk, as I am not really buying anything.  It was nice though seeing a vendor and thinking "Hey, we do business with them".  From there it was to yet another Dr David Rock session, this time on Performance Management.  I found this session to be better than yesterdays, if for no other reason than the fact that the subject matter was far more practical.  I also had the random pleasure of sitting next to Patricia A. McLagan, an author and consultant.  I learned as much sitting next to Pat as I did listening to Dr Rock.  So grateful was I that I even went over to the ASTD bookstore and purchased her book "The Shadow Side of Power".  I give a lot of credit to anyone who has managed to live in both Minnesota (freeze) and South Africa (bake).  She also seems like a genuinely nice human being; I will be adding her blog to my blogroll one of these days.  Now I am in the process of not engaging in the ice cream social.  Why?  Well trust me, I don't need ice cream.  What's more, I like having a quiet break from the roar of large, filled with humans rooms. 

5:15pm - Done for the day, at least conference wise, and am now getting ready to get something to eat.  Ahmed (my server) assures me that my chili and my burger will not have any cheese on them, so dinner should be good.  The final session of the day for me was on the subject of learning measurement and I have to say it was informative.  One of the speakers was from Yum! Brands, which meant a plug for the Taco Bell breakfast taco (which illicited groans from the audience) and dig against McDonalds (aka "The Arches", which all seemed to enjoy).  At this stage it's time to move out of professional mode and crawl back into my introvert hole. 

* * * * * * * * * 

Post Script:  It was a long day, but I can say that I learned a few things.  I also have more than enough ideas percolating in my head to last several years.  It's a good feeling.

Monday, May 5, 2014

(Almost, quasi, kinda-sorta) Live Blogging - ASTD 2014

Preface:  I am attending the annual conference for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) this week, being held in Washington, DC.  Because I simply just can't enjoy the experience (that would be far too easy), I'm also going to write some updates throughout the three days.  I'm not sure how I will end up publishing this stuff; my gut tells me to write during the day and publish in the evening.  Regardless, these kinds of things almost always make for great blogging content.  Writing about the event also serves a more practical purpose for me in that it allows me to stay in my self-imposed introvert hole.

The above well noted, here I go...

* * * * * * * * * 

7:35am - Waiting with a thousand other people to hear Arianna Huffington tell us about redefining success. This reminds me of why I am glad to be tall: it would really stink to be buried in this sea of people; being able to see above the crowd is strangely comforting.

7:52am - Finally seated and I am in the third row from the stage. In the world of journalism wonks Ms Huffington is a rock star which puts me in some kind of nerdy  nirvana.

10:00am - Dear ASTD, If you tell me that all sessions are open, then I will assume that all sessions are in fact open. Somehow my 10am session was not, in fact, open and that somehow I was supposed to register for it in advance.  Since I don't believe in clairvoyance, pre-registration was not possible.  Sincerely, Steve Albert.

11:00am - I have to remember not to register my mild annoyance at things to the 18 year old information booth attendants.  The last time I heard "I am sorry" that much I was 8 and was late for supper.

11:40am - Arianna Huffington's key note address was really just a shameless plugging of her latest book, "Thrive".  I will should also note "highly effective" after the word "shameless", as I did in fact buy the book.  In other news, I have to commend the conference organizers and the conference center staff, as everyone here is exceedingly helpful and polite.  This is a good thing, given the thousands of trainers that are permeating the hallways.  Now getting ready for a noon session, which the previously referenced 18 year old swears to me really, truly will be an open session. 

12:46pm - The federal government has either created or is involved in 3,456 different websites to help people find jobs.  Or so it seems.  I wonder if there isn't room for a single "go here for to find a job" website.  Anyway, there are a ton of resources out there for job seekers.  I wonder though how many people actually know about these resources.  Oh, and I really need to update my resume.  Now it's time to spend an hour and a half immersed in the 70/20/10 framework, something near and dear (for real) to my heart.  This is one of those things that I really wish someone would have told me about 14 years ago.

2:41pm - Just finished the session on the 70|20|10 model.  Now if you have never heard of the 70|20|10 model, have no fear, for I will not try to explain it here.  Suffice to say I found it to be very interesting, and my mental gears are turning in all manner of directions trying to figure out how to spread this gospel to the folks that need it most:  leaders that should be developing others.  Credit to the facilitator, Charles Jennings, for actually keeping me interested and engaged for over an hour.  You can read more about this at .

2:50pm - Waiting for the next session, "Coaching with the brain in mind" to begin.  The speaker is David Rock, who is a fairly well known guy when it comes to brain-stuff.  One of his books, "Quiet Leadership" was recommended to me a few years ago; depending how the session goes, I may need to actually read it.  Note that I am one for one in the "speaker selling books" department.

4:19pm - David Rock was too much to process at 3pm, although I am hoping that getting the material after the fact will help with my "insight" (read one of his books to get what I just noted).  Now I am waiting for the final session of the day for me to begin, this one dealing with leadership training.  

5:40pm - After the ball.  If David Rock was flying slightly above my head (all be it in a very zig-zaggy way), my final learning was definitely under my head.  Think "games trainers play" kind of stuff.  I did admire the energy of the presenter, as doing his act at 4pm is certainly tough.  In the end though it simply wasn't what I wanted or needed.  No bother, as I am now in a local grew house kind of restaurant (ironic, as I don't drink beer), waiting for a simple pizza kind of thing to come out for dinner.  From there it's back to the room to work on a personal initiative of sorts.  

* * * * * * * * * 

Post Script:  I am tired, but not overwhelmed, and that is a good thing.  Going into this I confess a certain degree of nervousness.  My last conference experience was a long time ago...think mid-late 90's...and it was an unmitigated disaster.  How much of a disaster?  Well that would be a "chewed out by he president of the company" disaster, which is another story for another day.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

Road Apples, #149

Parents Gone Bad...The Scranton Times reported yesterday and today that the Bishop of Scranton, Joseph Bambera, placed a local Catholic elementary school's basketball program on probation over poor behavior during a hotel stay as basketball playoffs were occuring.  Apparently there were multiple complaints of children running while in hallways as adults get tanked at a bar (and other such stuff).  I think the Bishop is spot on in this case; playing basketball (or any sport) is privileged, not a right, and it is secondary to both the purpose of education and the reputation of the institution supporting the school.

Speaking of Bishop Bambera...I have to say I am very, very impressed with his actions.  Not that he needs my approval, by the way.  Whether it is his handling of feral basketball boosters, a tough statement on the allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the former rector of St Peter's Cathedral or his writing to the Vatican to try and stop an accused child molester from gaining more authority in a South American diocese, he seems to be trying to do right.  No doubt some will fault his actions, regardless of what he does, but it seems to me that there is a clear pattern of behavior on his part that sets a high standard of conduct, as opposed to a "holier than thou" attitude of a certain prior bishop.  Refreshing stuff.

Frank Bonacci Murder Case...I get it, a young man was killed.  Sadly though, young men are killed all the time, even in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  What I don't get though is why this case has gotten so much attention from The Scranton Times and others in the media.  I am sure his family has suffered through his loss, but from what you read, the entire community of Dunmore has suffered as well.  It's almost surreal.  Anyway, there's more to this story than what's being told I suspect.  Well I will confess to actually know a little more about this story, nothing shocking mind you, but enough to know that all is not as it appears.  Regardless, here's to a swift trial and justice being served, however that may end up being manifest.

Tom Corbett...Is already launching attack commercials on television against one of his potential Democratic challengers in the Fall.  Pretty pathetic stuff actually, implying that Tom Wolf, as Tax Collector in Pennsylvania, had something to do with tax and employment rates.  When last I checked, it's the legislature and the governor that set tax rates; the collector, well, simply collects the taxes.  If Tom Corbett is this desperate now, how is he going to sound in October?  By the way, I'm still waiting for that major oil/gas company to relocate its corporate headquarters to Pennsylvania.

Have A Few Million Laying Around...and feel like buying a shopping mall?  Well the Steamtown Mall will be sold via Sheriff's Sale next month.  Another sad bit of economic news for an area that has more than its share of sad economic news.  I actually think the Steamtown Mall has a lot going for it, none the least of which is plenty of covered parking.  What it doesn't have going for it, from a merchant's perspective, is the fact that it resides in a very business-unfriendly city, as manifest by the business abuse known as the "gross receipts tax".  Remember, this is a tax a business pays even if it fails to make any profit.  This is one of several reasons why NEPA lacks a thriving, job-producing private sector.

The Supreme Court Recently Ruled That...states upwind don't have a right to dump their air pollution downwind onto other states.  Seems like common sense to me, yet queue all the rhetoric about "War on Coal", "Job Killing Regulations" and "Out of Control EPA".  Note:  one of the things I want the government to do...and I am NOT a big government protect me from you.  This was a good decision on the part of the court and I hope the EPA will hold polluting states feet to the fire in terms of stopping the spewing of filth into the air that we all breathe.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Up the Irish

It was widely reported that Irish Catholic political leader Gerry Adams is being questioned in conjunction with a murder committed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1972.  You can read the CNN report HERE.  As I recall, Mr Adams has been a guest in the city of Scranton in the past.

(Gerry Adams in 1972; image from ITV archives; source HERE)

This is an interesting throw-back (for Throw Back Thursday no less) to the days when Ireland was not some idyllic land of tourists, warm beer, kissing the Blarney Stone and call centers.  No, going back to when I was a kid, Ireland, especially Northern Ireland, was a dangerous place.  People got murdered there, sadly often for the stupidest of reasons, namely religious differences.  Oh, and there was a terrorist organization (the Irish Republican Army) running amok, in part funded by Irish Americans who didn't seem to mind that their misplaced sense of Irish heritage was being used to do things they otherwise would find abhorrent.

Here's to hoping that justice can be served in Ireland without rubbing salt into old wounds.