Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Maine Course, Day 4

On tap today was fishing (all of my photos are on the iPhone, as I learned my lesson about expensive cameras and water), Bass Harbor, more Acadia and just generally being exhausted.  In that order.

Anyway, you can't to go Mount Desert Island and not see Bass Harbor, home to this iconic Maine lighthouse:


Today was yet another foggy day (three of four days so far this vacation have been foggy), which made some of my photos look as if I had smeared Vaseline on the lens prior to snapping the shutter.  This is what I mean:


Yes, that is fog, not a bad photographer. Not all the days photos came out that way, as the fog was remarkably selective as to where it appeared.  A non-foggy picture:


Or this:


Okay, so there was some fog in that last picture, but you get the point.

All of the above are what could be described as "iconic Maine scenes".  I actually feel kind of silly having just written the words "iconic  Maine scenes" by the way, as it sounds, well, snobbish.  The reality of Maine though couldn't be further from the truth.  In point of fact this is one of the least snobbish vacation places I have ever been to, hands down.  Once you get past everyone riding bikes wearing those superman spandex outfits, everyone more or less looks the same around these parts (shirt, shorts, hiking boots/sneakers), although the crowd for Maine does tend to be slightly on the older side.

Tomorrow is the last full day in Maine, as we pack up an leave for Pennsylvania early on Saturday morning.  While I am looking forward to tomorrow's activities, which includes a whale watching cruise, I am also looking forward to a more normal routine returning.  Maybe, just maybe, one of the side benefits to a vacation is that it serves to remind you that the non-vacation, run-of-the-mill days are not all that bad, at least in my case.  

Tomorrow, being the last full day of vacation 2014, will also be the last vacation we take with Ms Rivers' family until at least the summer of 2016.  Summer 2015 already has two big events scheduled, and I'm sure those two big events will also be joined by many smaller events.  While what will be happening is exciting, it's also daunting to know that your next summer is already booked solid, even before this summer has concluded.  That's life in the fast lane I suppose.

And so it goes...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maine Course, Day 3

Day 3 in Maine started with a late morning trip to Acadia National Park, specifically Cadillac Mountain.  Unfortunately for us, there were low clouds covering some of the valleys, which obscured the views to places like Bar Harbor from the 1550 ft peak.



But it also created some interesting effects, such as clouds mushrooming over islands.

After Acadia, we headed back to the house for some downtime, which for me included a much needed nap.  Normally I don't like taking naps, but since I haven't been sleeping well they have become a necessity.  In addition to napping like a preschooler, I also managed to get some writing done and I took a 45 minute photo hike.  Here's some of what a I captured.


By late afternoon fog was returning to Southwest Harbor in full force, beginning to look much as it did on Monday.  

Ms Rivers and I went out to dinner this evening, walking to a nice restaurant just down the street from our house.  The steak I had was one of the best, ever.  Ms Rivers reports that her beef salad was pretty good too.  After dinner we took a stroll down the foggy streets to an ice cream parlor for some desert.  Lucky for us the fog seems to make mosquito flight more difficult.  

The rest of the evening was spent on my part writing, reading and losing two games of pool to Ms River's brother in law.  While I did keep it close in both games, "close" doesn't count in pool, just horseshoes, hand-grenades and nuclear bombs.  There's always tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, the plan is for four of us (myself, Ms River's dad, and two of the kids) to go out fishing into the bay for four hours.  I'm not much of a sea fisherman...heck, I'm not much of an any fisherman...but I always enjoy the boat ride and sea air.  The afternoon may include, if I have the energy, a trip to Bass Harbor, one of my favorite places on the island.

Here's to good catches for everyone tomorrow.  Goodnight from Foggyland.

Advice To My Daughters, Part 2

As a follow-up to THIS POSTING from March 18, 2013, I want to share more advice with my beautiful daughters.  These are gifts to them that were never given to me.


Professionals - Find and develop professional relationships with people who are good at what they do.  Knowing and trusting someone who is an expert at something is important, because it will help you solve difficult problems in the most efficient ways possible.  Now I know that sounds overly formal, so let me bottom line it for you:  you will never be good at everything, and there are just some things in life that you simply can't do yourself (for example, self-dentistry is, shall we say, somewhat problematic), so you will always need help with some things.  Find a mechanic, a doctor, a dentist and a lawyer that you can talk to on a more than just professional level.

Respect - Now matter how much you accomplish in life, how educated you become, no matter how high or low your perceived social standing, always show respect to the people that serve and help you.  I've come to the opinion that the hardest job in the country is probably being a waitress at some busy restaurant off of a highway exit.  Tip at about 20% if you received good service; a little more if you got great service.  Always be polite to people who serve you.

Religion - Never let religion get in the way of your search for a higher meaning in life.  For a long time I was really fearful of exploring religious beliefs outside of how I was raised.  Now?  I wish I would have started exploring far earlier.  Our lives lead somewhere and must mean something.  Make looking for that meaning a part of who you are and what you do.

Give - Something else I wish I would have started doing sooner.  Give your time and your money to causes that mean something to you.  It doesn't require a lot of time or a lot of money by the way, and if you don't have one (be it time or money) simply give more of the other.  Just make sure that the investment you make is in an organization/cause that is both legitimate (sadly, there are people out there who steal resources from the truly needy) and aligned with what you believe to be important.

Read, A Lot - Spend as much time as you can reading.  It doesn't matter what you read, just read.  Growing up we were relatively poor, but we always had some books laying around.  I hope that by doing the same for you when you were younger the cycle of lifetime reading will continue.

Never Stop Learning - I would say that one of the few pieces of advice I ever got from my mother was on the importance of an education (hence having books, see above).  Please, never ever become mental loafers!  Always and continuously keep learning new stuff.  I don't care what the new stuff is; I don't care the venue by which you learn the stuff, just keep learning.

Zombies Are Real - I am of the concerted opinion that zombies are real...mental zombies that is; these are people who walk among us, but yet are no longer engaged in any meaningful way in learning or growing.  Maybe they are bitter at past mistakes, maybe they feel they have done and learned enough, maybe they just figure that life now owes them.  Regardless of the cause, never be one of them.  Always search for and find reasons to be engaged with life.  Remember this:  Every moment of every day counts.

Be Physically Active (as you grow older) - It's easy to be active when you're younger, not so much so as you grow older.  Heed my advice:  never stop moving.  Your body will wear down over time...as mine is starting to now...but that's not an excuse for sitting on a couch and letting your parts atrophy into jello.  Me?  I'd rather see my parts worn out of use than degrading to goo due to inactivity.

Always Assume Positive Intent - No matter what the situation, no matter who the people, always assume positive intent in all of your interactions.  If someone or something just isn't right, you'll learn that soon enough, but assuming positive intent from the beginning helps you put your mind (and soul I will add) on a firm footing.  Yes, it's easy to fall into negativity, as that's what so much of what society teaches these days, but make it a point to take the mental and emotional high road.  It's especially important when you feel threatened, be those threats real or imaginary/personal or professional, because positive intent teaches you to pay attention to your own emotions, resulting thoughts and actions.  If a situation is truly negative, then you'll figure that out soon enough, and positive intent isn't code for "naive" either.  You can assume positive intent and be cautious at the same time.  In the end though, being aware of self is a key personal and professional advantage that many people don't have these days.


One of the joys of parenthood is seeing your "children" grow into adults.  I hope that as you grow older and start families of your own you make it a point to share what you've learned in life with your children, just as I now share with you.  It matters...as much for you as it will for them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maine Course, Day 2

Day two of the Maine vacation began as Day one began:  with me getting up at 5:30am. I simply don't sleep well normally, let alone in an "alien" bed.  Good thing I am a morning person!

On tap for today was a scouting trip to Bar Harbor to check out fishing and whale watching opportunities for later in the week, as well as the obtaining of tourist-y types of wares.  Both endeavors were successful for the record.  From there, Ms Rivers, her mother and father, her younger sister and husband and I set off for Asticou Gardens, which is near Northwest Harbor.  I have a soft spot for gardens and such, which I think is a product of growing up in a housing project, where the opportunities for such things were severely limited.  Anyway, it was a nice hike up some stone steps, some wonderful views, and of course flowers, flowers and more flowers.  Here's is a small sample of what we saw:

(view of Northwest Harbor while climbing up to the gardens)

(there were many flowers...and bumblebees)

(where we were at)

I'll be posting more to the Facebooks shortly, but this is a pretty good sample.   Have a mentioned I also have a soft spot for boats?

(I love little boats)

After the jaunt to the gardens, we retreated back to the rental house, where it was the responsibility of Ms Rivers and I to cook dinner.  Feedback on dinner was positive, and as of this writing no one has come down yet with food poisoning. 

This evening?  Outside of cleaning up and my poking fun at Hippster bands like Mumford and Sons, it has been pretty quiet.  

On to tomorrow...

Scranton School Board Follies: Giving your wife a raise

I reference THIS article.

"Director Cy Douaihy said the one-year contract means the district and union will be back at the bargaining table soon..."

Here is my question:  Why is Director Cy Douaihy even allowed to vote on this fact finding report (and soon to be contract)?  He has a direct personal financial stake in the agreement because his wife is a member of the bargaining unit.  On what planet is THAT NOT considered a conflict of interest?

This doesn't require further commentary or analysis.  Any school board director who has immediate family members that would benefit from a labor contract with the district should not be voting on the contract, period. The fact that this exists in the Scranton School District is yet more proof that education comes second to self-interest in the district.

Please, someone try to defend this, as I'd love to hear the argument FOR being allowed to give your family a raise using public money.




Monday, July 28, 2014

Maine Course, Day 1

It's nearly the end of full day one in Maine and one word comes to mind: washout.


It's been raining here most of the day, and when it wasn't raining it was foggy beyond belief. Rather ironic actually: the only thing that temporarily dissipated the fog was the rain, and when the rain ended the fog returned. Oh well, it's still a rainy day in Maine, which is a step up from rainy days in most other places.

So what was the day spent doing?

Well not doing much on-line. The house we rented has Internet service that might be the envy of most countries in the third world, but not so much in this world. That's a fancy way of saying that it stinks, and the only way I can post this dribble is to pair it with my iPhone, which I am only going to do sparingly. All the better I suppose, as what's the sense of going to a place like Maine but then goofing off on-line? Pretty much no sense.

So again, what was the day spent doing?

I was 3 for 2 playing pool. Not all that great, especially since, in theory, I should be pretty good at pool.

There was a walk to downtown Southwest Harbor, which would have been much better had we not been assaulted by mosquito near “Chris' Pond”. We made the mistake of walking up to the pond only to be met by an assault squadron of bugs, which ended up following up about a block and a half before ending the chase. The walk it self was fun, if not taxing on my left calf muscle for some reason.

Then were was lunch at a tiny little shack south of Southwest Harbor, where we had the finest in greasy food, served with a smile. This particular place was near a ferry landing, and apparently was only opened from Father's Day to Labor Day. Not much of a season, but the ladies that run the place told me that they make a decent go of it.

The afternoon was spent reading, playing more pool and taking a dreaded (at least for me) nap.

Dinner consisted of a fine Italian dish, created by Ms River's mother, which since it had ingredients that included corn and olives, wasn't for me. The fall-back was sloppy joes, made by Ms Rivers for me. It must be true love, as that is the only reason why a special dinner would be made for me (in fairness, I wasn't the only one who had the sloppy joes). The resulting after dinner conversations was as much fun as any other time of the day, talking about topics ranging from “how do you say 'I surrender to superior German forces'” in French to our plans for tomorrow and Wednesday. By the way, tomorrow will consist of Bar Harbor and some fishing, although the exact order and timing for both are to be determined.

After dinner was my time to lose at not only pool but another game as well. Somehow the gaming gods were not with me today.

Now it's writing time and then, some time soon, probably bed. Rainy days are tiring. Speaking of tiring, our house is nice, but our specific bedroom gets a lot of road noise, which seemed to commence at about 5:30am. Guess what time I got up this morning?


Here's to a dry Tuesday.

On legalizing the use of Marijuana

All the world (of Deadheads, fans of Phish & the Dave Mathews Band, etc.) is a buzz(ed) over the legalization of Marijuana in the state of Colorado. Me? I am somewhat conflicted. Here's how I see the issue.

The Case for Legalization
I think you can boil down the case for legalization down to one simple question: is it worse than alcohol? On a net-net basis, I don't believe that it is especially worse for any of us; in fact, by some measures it may be actually not as bad for society as a whole. Have you ever heard the phrase “he was an angry stoner”, as opposed to “he was an angry drunk”? Nope, I haven't either.

Then you have the “but people are going to do it anyway” argument, which actually is validated by all the small time pot dealers in jail, most likely learning how to become more hardened criminals while they waste away in the land of societal incarceration. Yes, I also agree that people (all be it stupid people...more on that later) are going to do this, so society might as well reap some benefit from it in the form of additional resources for roads, schools and the like (via taxing the heck out of it).

There is a compelling medical argument for the use of Marijuana. As I understand it, Marijuana is a very helpful medical resource for those individuals who need pain medication but, for a variety of reasons, can't benefit from more traditional treatments. The example I've most commonly read about is that of a cancer patient who is undergoing chemotherapy and can't keep food (or pills down), where the Marijuana helps moderate the pain and increases the patient's appetite.

Lastly, there is the simple argument that the government...any government for that matter...should have limits when it comes to how we regulate our own bodies. As I have noted here relating to the abortion issue, there are few things in life more invasive than a government telling you what can happen to your own insides; if you don't own what's under your own skin, then you don't anything.


The Case Against Legalization
Marijuana, despite claims to the contrary, is not this harmless substance that just makes you happy and gives you the munchies. I've read several studies that show, for example, it can be harmful to the development of teenage brains. If inhaled, it is also far worse for your lungs than tobacco smoke (which is almost always filtered in some way when used). It also can cause impairments that would make driving difficult, to say the least (I believe that Colorado has a standard for “buzzed driving”).

The biggest red herring I see regarding the use of Marijuana though is in the area of medicine. To be blunt, it seems pretty clear that at least some portion of Marijuana users in California, where it is legal for medicinal purposes, basically fake illness just to get (quasi-legally) stoned. “I get headaches, therefore I need to get baked on a regular basis” seems to be the truth behind many users. For the record you can substitute “headache” for any number of other medical issues, real or imaginary. From my end, acknowledging full well that I am not a doctor, unless someone has glaucoma or is a cancer patient, I honestly don't see the need for medical Marijuana.

My final argument against the legalization of Marijuana? Pretty simple actually: it's stupid. Yes, I said “stupid”; stupid as using Marijuana to escape reality is a sad excuse for what is really a lack of personal discipline. Guess what? You can't ever escape from reality because no matter how stoned you get, reality is always still there for you, waiting on the back end. For some, Marijuana is just another crutch, another way to cry “I can't cope”, a way to undervalue one's own self worth without really ever trying. As for me, well I don't want my reality altered, because quite frankly, reality is wonderful! Now matter how challenging your life is, there are always alternatives, always choices, always new things to be explored. Note that I don't write this as someone who has lived a life of privilege and/or hasn't seen any hardship if life; my personal story is as far from that of Paris Hilton as one can get. I also don't consider myself to be a man of better than average personal discipline either, so if I can manage to cope with reality without the need to get stoned out of my mind, then I think the average person doesn't need to either. I'm not that good, and most aren't that bad (nor is reality for that matter).


In the final analysis, I really don't have a firm opinion one way or another when it comes to the legalization of Marijuana. What I do have a firm opinion on is that the use of foreign substances to mask the realities of life is never, ever a good thing. Be it alcohol, Marijuana or any other drug, all represent the running away from a reality we all should be running towards. Now if someone reading this disagrees with me, then so be it; I am only the king of me and my own behavior...which is precisely my biggest issue with the use of Marijuana: namely that when you use it, you no longer the king of your own.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

10 Random Things You Realize When You Get Older

In no particular order and for no particular reason (well other than vacation contemplation).

10.
The things that seemed to physically hurt you as a kid just really don't seem to hurt nearly as much any more. Shot in the arm? No big deal. Blood work? Ditto. Dental fillings? Bring'm on.

9.
Things that never physically hurt before hurt now. My left foot for example. Arthritis. My foot sometimes feels like there is sand in some of the joints. Now I have to take horse pills to “lubricate” my joints. It's a pain in my...well...foot.

8.
You realize that your parents actually were right about some things.

7.
You begin to listen to music that your parents liked and discover that it's not all that bad. Especially given the state of popular music today.

6.
You have to take medication to get your body to do things your body used to do all the time as a kid. Easily.

5.
You look forward to quiet evenings instead of dreading them.

4.
You actually take pride in the organized nature of your clothes drawers.

3.
You move beyond the want or desire to care about the drama around you. For me, I've just learned to smile through it all.

2.
You see just how simpler life was when you were a kid and realize just how you were lucky to be born in a previous era. Case in point: Had the Internet existed in 1976 I probably would never have left the house.

1.
You start to see some of the little details in the world around you that, in years past, you would have just sped by.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

All in a days (not) work.

Well today is the start of my second vacation of the summer.  The first was during the last week of June/early July and was to Ocean City, MD.  The second, this one, is to one of my favorite places on Earth, Mount Desert Island in Maine.  To say that I am blessed to be able to take two vacations, with one of them being to Maine, is a severe understatement; in fact, I am the recipient of gobs of blessings, far more than I can count.

As I was driving today along I84, I95 and then the Massachusetts turnpike, I was pondering a few things, mostly about just this whole blogging thing. Side note:  For me, Maine is to writing as fertilizer is to a lawn.  Anyway, I do give myself lots of credit to sticking with this whole writing thing for years now.  How many?  Well October will be six on this URL, and I am not going to count the years on other platforms.  That's nice, I suppose, but what's probably more interesting is the fact that so many start this kind of endeavor but yet peter out after only a few postings.  Why?  I think it comes down to one simple fact:  you have to like it in order to stick with it.  I, for one, really like doing this, and as a result, I don't see ever not doing it.  This isn't to say that I'll always be writing with the same frequency (unlike the super disciplined Andy Palumbo from WNEP-TV), but after a few days I just seem to get the itch to write.

Speaking of writing, one of the thoughts that was going through my head while driving was that I actually am pretty disciplined about abiding by my own posting rules.  Simply put, there are some things that I never write about, and will never write about.  For the record, if I were to mention them now that would actually violate my own rule, so I'm going to do that, but I am going to give myself proper credit for consistency.  What's more, I think everyone who does this kind of thing should have some basic rules that they should follow, from the simple (for example, I do not use swear words on my blog, ever...oops, I think I just violated my rule about not violating my rules; damn), to the complex (I will not ever speak poorly of people I think have wronged me in the past...regardless of what they've done...damn, I've violated my own rule again).  I think I had better end this thought before I get into even deeper trouble.

So why are rules important?  Well just by way of personal trait and upbringing, I am a rule follower by design.  I recognize though that not everyone shares that trait with me, but I think that having basic rules for writing is still, never the less, essential.  Again, why?  I think that having some measure of discipline in the writing work aids the thinking process.  Note that I didn't say "creative", as that might imply that these ramblings are more than, just, well ramblings.  The thinking process is enhanced precisely because I make the affirmative decision not to be vulgar and therefore I have to find positive ways to express myself.  The thinking process is also enhanced because I make the affirmative decision not to use this space to "get even" with others, as it forces me to never act out of quick (and negative) emotions.  The very concept of "getting even" is absurd and counter-productive.  Anyway, the common trait between the two comes back to discipline, which is also a good description for why I am still at this after nearly six years on this URL.

Here's one final thought about writing, consistency and discipline:  you can't take this too seriously.  It can't be about posting views, page hits or any of that other nonsense...at least not at this level.  I think that the moment someone starts writing precisely for page hits is the moment that they being the process of ending their blog.  Now I do know that there are some kinds of postings (NOT this kind, by the way) that generate far more page hits for me.  In fact, just adding a select word or two to a title is guaranteed to get a posting more attention.  The fact is though that I am able to stick with this in part because I get to truly decide what I write about at any given time.  Me, just me.  Whatever moves me, not whatever moves page hits.  The down side to this?  Well occasionally I do get suggestions to write about a particular topic, and quite honestly I am pretty bad at actually following through on what has been suggested.  If that's the worst I am guilty of though, then I think I am doing okay.

Here's to more writing.  And to Maine in the summer.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

In a shocking development, the new Scranton City Council member is...

...an older, politically connected white guy.

Reference HERE.

Yes, the powers that be, responsible for filling city council vacancies, figured out that the kind of thinking required to get the city out of the pickle that it has been in for decades is pretty much the same kind of thinking that got the city into the pickle it has been in for decades.

Oh, and did I mention that the guy Mr Evans is replacing was an older, politically connected white guy?

It's all kind of like an alcoholic figuring out that the "cure" for alcoholism is to simply keep drinking.

Here's a thought:  how the city has been run has not been working.  Continuing to put people in power who will do nothing but maintain the status quo will only result in more status quo.  In the case of Scranton, that means the inevitable death spiral towards bankruptcy will only continue.

Now I am sure that Mr Evans is an honorable man, a nice man, a man who means well.  I don't know him personally, but I know of his reputation, which is that of someone who is pretty much just like all of the other members of council.  Is that what the city REALLY needs in this day and age?

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who is not connected to...and beholden to...entrenched political interests.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who doesn't view the world through the lens of a older white guy.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who understands what it means to financially struggle while living in a city like Scranton.

In the final analysis, assuming that this story is correct, Scranton City Council has once again failed its constituents by making political connection the single most important qualification for office.  To quote the line of a song I know...

"...and we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do"


Monday, July 21, 2014

(This Introvert's) Worst Job Ever

Well it wouldn't be my worst job ever, as that would have been the day I spent working at McDonalds.  No, I'm talking about the worst job I've ever had at my current (and for the past 25.5 years) employer.

Now to properly set this up, I'll mention that I'm an introvert.  Make that really introverted.  As in "about as introverted as you can get" kind of introvert.  In fact, I am such an introvert that I have joked in the past that my ideal job would be a Bridge Troll*.  Being an introvert, interacting with my fellow humans takes a lot of energy out of me.  In fact, on this very day (Monday, July 20, 2014) I had to do a lot of interacting with other people, which has left me tired and somewhat cranky.  And so I digress.

Anyway, I was pondering what my worst job was over the past quarter century.  What was it?  Easily, it was the year or so I spent working in Accounting.  Specifically, I helped develop an asset to liability proof process for the separate accounts my employer offers to customers.  This means that I spent all of my time with my nose in Excel spreadsheets working on and with numbers.  I absolutely hated it.  I was good at it, but I hated it.  No offense to anyone that works in Accounting, but the fact that I could do it...the fact that it didn't involve interacting with other humans...meant that I really didn't find it challenging.  Again, I am sure that there are plenty of jobs in Accounting that are challenging, but for me, the biggest challenges are the ones that I have to over-come on the inside.  The fact that I didn't have to challenge myself by interacting with countless other humans made the Accounting job really stagnant.

Yes, in as much as having lots of "on" time with my fellow human beings takes a lot out of me, it's truly a good kind of tired.  Think of it as being the kind of tired that a runner feels after a marathon.  Or a boxer feels after a long fight.  Sadly or proudly, I seem to have grown accustomed this almost daily kind of tired.  Well most days I have; like today, there are still times when the introvert in me screams "No Mas!", but just like that boxer, I'll be ready to get back in the ring tomorrow, guaranteed.




(*) It actually makes for the following very interesting line:  "I really don't like people, which is why I work in Human Resources."




Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Praise of Weird Al

Yes, Weird Al Yankovic is poised to possibly have the number one album in the country tomorrow.  Story link HERE.  How great is that?  Given the horrendous state of popular music these days, I'm glad to see a CD full of stuff that you can actually listen to and enjoy without hearing about drugs, ho's or other assorted pieces of street crap being popular.

In celebration of this momentous event in human history, I humbly present my five favorite Weird Al songs (and related videos).

#1 White and Nerdy


#2  Jerry Springer


#3 Amish Paradise


#4 Smells Like Nirvana


#5 Canadian Idiot

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

They Are Children


Is this what the debate about the children on our border has gotten to?  An angry mod surrounding a bus full of children?

Regardless of one's political leanings, we can't forget this essential fact:  there are innocent children who have crossed our border.

Innocent.

Children.

Not drug mules.  Not a plague of disease invested infiltrators.  Not a barrage of future welfare cases.  Children.  Children who didn't make the decision to trek hundreds or a thousand miles to the border; how could they have?  Most 10 year old children I know don't venture more than two blocks from home, let alone cross the length of Mexico.

Even someone like Glenn Beck, who I confess I have mocked many times, sees that there are innocent children involved (Link HERE).  While I am sure that Glenn Beck will be dead wrong about many things in the future, he is absolutely correct in this case.  Compassion, not vigilantes on the lookout for busloads of children, is needed now.

Yes, there are policy issues that need to be resolved.  Yes, there needs to be a thoughtful discussion about what will happen to these children.  But in the end, we can't forget that they are still children.  Innocent children.  I'll end with this with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18, verse 11:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Long Goodbye

What's worse?

When someone you care about leaves suddenly and you never get a chance to really say goodbye?

OR

When someone you care about slowly degrades over time, until they reach a point when they are no longer the same person you once knew?


I've had to deal with both in my life, and I really don't have a perfect answer.  Maybe there isn't even a good answer, let alone a perfect one.  Maybe both are a means to an end, knowing that the journey will not be pleasant either way.  I do know that age brings the ability to handle either better, although I do suspect that the degradation part/choice is far more cruel for all parties concerned.

"Degradation", now there is a word and a half.

I think that as we all grow older, we have to make a fundamental choice in our lives.  The first choice is to grow wisdom with age, facing the future as an opportunity to leverage our life-experience to learn even more.  The second choice, I suspect, is to cling onto the past as if life is just lived in the rear-view mirror.  Ultimately, maybe this is the key difference between those who grow or those who decay in front of our eyes is this:  our choices as to whether or not we want to learn more.

Now I'm not so naive as to think that all learning is a positive experience.  Just stick your finger into a powered light socket to understand what I mean.  And that is just physical pain.  In my experience, physical pain is far easier to overcome than the emotional variety, but that's just me.  Anyway, emotional pain has a tendency to gain deeper roots in your head; think about it:  we all remember the feelings associated that relationship which ended in a particularly bad manner.  That toothache from two years ago?  Maybe not so much.

Back to choices.  Yes, in the end, this is about choices.  As those great Canadian philosophers of modern progressive rock, Rush, once said:  "if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice".  They were right.  Viewing the present and future as full of opportunities to learn is a choice.  If you fail to make that choice, you are choosing, in my estimation, the path of decay, and your family and friends will have the honor of watching you slowly rot over time.  Maybe zombies are real after all.

None of this is easy, and I don't think it there is such a clear line of demarcation between the choices we make in the short run.  Yes, I think we all make short-term decisions that are sometimes not in our best interest, but that's the nature of small decision making.  If those small choices take us off the path of learning and growth it's usually pretty easy to correct ourselves, especially if we have family and friends who are there to provide perspective.  What's more, I think people who are inherent learners in life are good at auto-correcting when it comes to bad choices.  In time though, I do think the lines between growth and decay become pretty clear. for everyone.  It's as clear as the choice between, for example, alcoholism and sobriety.  I know that it's not easy to overcome alcoholism, by the way, but it can be overcome.  That's a choice.

No amount of philosophy helps though when it comes to watching someone we care about rot before our very eyes.  It's a kind of long goodbye that all of us probably hate in more ways than one, especially when it simply didn't have to be in the first place.  That's the "rub", if you will:  we don't make overt choices about things like getting Alzheimer's, but far more we do make choices about how we respond to much of what is around us and inside our heads.

Me?  As clearly imperfect as I am, I fully intend to go to my grave reading, learning and experiencing life to the best of my ability.  My children will not see me rot in front of them as I grow older.  I just wish the same where true for others.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

22% of College Athletic Departments Are Responsible for Investigating Sexual Assaults

Yes, ponder this:  in several instances, the people responsible for promoting college sports are also responsible for investigating alleged sexual assaults by student athletes.

Link HERE.

So, when there is a conflict between the promotion of college sports and allegations of sexual assault, what's more likely to happen?

1. A thorough and non-biased investigation of the incident by individuals with an in-depth knowledge of the law, victims rights and the rights of the accused will occur.

Or

2. A "sweep it under the rug" operation by school insiders designed to protect the sports program.


Call me crazy, but I think "2" is probably more likely.  Heck, I even have an example:  Penn State (and we see how well that one worked out).

Look, this isn't all that complicated.  It's really not.  If someone (be they male or female) makes an allegation of sexual assault on a college campus, the police need to be notified and they need to conduct an investigation.  This would be an investigation that the school  (including the athletic department) would be expected to completely cooperate with, for the record.  That's it.  No more.

We need to take school athletics, be they at the high school or college level, down a peg or five, as the glorification of athletics leads to glory for a small few, but ultimately can harm the many.  These sporting activities are, after all, just entertainment for everyone except for those who play.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pope Francis, Forgiveness and Divorce

From the July 7, 2014 edition of the New York Times:

"VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children."

Link to the full article HERE.

It's worth noting that the two predecessors of Pope Francis have also asked for similar forgiveness.

Let's insert the seemingly unrelated issue of divorced (and non-celibate*) Catholics receiving the sacrament of Communion.  Basically the Catholic Church teaches that a man and a woman who marry in the Church but then get a civil divorce are still married.  By failing to remain functionally married, they are considered to be in a state of grave sin, and therefore can not receive Communion.  Now simply repenting the sin is not enough, as a failure to stop sinning (continuing to be civilly non-married) creates a state whereby such divorced Catholics can never rightfully receive Communion.  Put another way, even if they say sorry, they continue to sin, therefore no-go on the Communion.  It's actually a pretty logical argument.

Now let's transpose the issue of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and the enabling of such acts by Church leaders.  This is truly a grave sin, and as a result Pope Francis (as noted above) has asked forgiveness, as has his predecessors.  Repenting the sin should not be enough though, as there has been a failure to stop this very grave sin (and resulting cover-ups) and these acts no doubt continue to this very day.  From (the very conservative) Catholic.com:

"...it seems clear that the desire to handle things quietly was often motivated by a desire to preserve the personal reputations of the priests and bishops involved rather than by pastoral concern for victims. Even worse, punishment of abusive priests was sometimes staved off by the threat of exposing other priests and bishops if the matter were pressed."

Citation HERE.  To be blunt, even if Pope Francis says sorry, the sin continues as long as those who perpetrated or enabled the abuse remain in authority and unpunished.

See the contradiction?  One one hand the Church condemns and punishes one group for sinning, but yet simply says "sorry" and begs forgiveness for it's own sins (and still continuing to sin) while basically expecting business as usual in the Church department without sanction.  Heck, very concept of "sanction" has been actively fought by some Church leaders through the covering up of abuse.

Now there is one glaring wrinkle in my logic, namely that the Pope does not intend for the sin of child abuse (and enabling, on-going cover-up) by clergy to continue, yet a divorced Catholic most likely intends to not remain celibate.  However there are two factors that need to be explored when comparing these issues:

  • Actual Intent? By having Bishops and other Church leaders actively engaging in the covering up of abuse...and in many instances actually thwarting the civil punishment of perpetrators (remember, child abuse is a civil as well as a religious crime)...one can make a strong case that there was/is at least a passive intent to perpetrate the abuse.  How could there not be?  If a Bishop knew that "Father X" abused children, how could he possibly believe that simply moving "Father X" to another parish would somehow stop the abuse?  Roman Catholic Bishops are highly educated individuals who are more than capable of understanding just what an inclination towards child abuse actually means, namely that abusers find children to molest, regardless of the parish assignment.  
  • Harm?  In the case of the divorced Catholic, even the Church would agree that the harm is to the soul of the individual, while in the case of the sexual abuse of children, the harm is to the mind, body and soul many...and to the very fabric of the Church itself.  One is a personal sin, the other an institutional and a personal sin.  The argument of "well divorce harms children too" is not universally valid here, as sometimes divorce is in the best interest of children; besides, the Church's rules about divorce apply to formerly married couples without children as well**.

In the end, my central point is this:  If the Church begs forgiveness, then the Church must be willing to offer forgiveness as well.  If the Church asks this forgiveness knowing that the sin of child abuse/cover-up continues, then it should be willing to offer similar forgiveness to divorced Catholics, knowing that what it (pretty much alone) views as a sin*** will continue as well.  It's also worth noting that other religious traditions, including those in many of the Orthodox Rites, do not hold similar positions to the Catholic Church (see THIS citation) when it comes to divorce, remarriage and the reception of Communion.

Double standard?

You be the judge.  Seriously, you be the judge.

Unlike the Church, I am not telling you what is right or wrong.  I do not claim that this posting has been divinely inspired.  No "ex cathedra" here by any means.  No synod was called to write this posting.  I only claim to be trying to think through, all be it in a rather public kind of way, what I know are complex issues in a reasonable and thoughtful manner, pointing out that anything run by humans (Churches and blogs alike) are subject to flaw.





End Notes

(*) For sake of argument, I am going to make three very reasonable assumptions for this posting:

  1. That a Catholic who receives a civil divorce will not remain celibate for the rest of their life.
  2. That most divorced Catholics do not go through the annulment process.  The best statistic I can find to prove this point comes from THIS source, which shows the ratio of remarried Catholics (without an annulment) to those with an annulment is about 4.5 to 0.4.
  3. That in the case of a civil divorce, both parties normally and ultimately agree to the outcome.


(**) It can be argued that the Church doesn't view a marriage without children as being entirely valid; see THIS citation.



(***) The Church alone has decided that getting a civil divorce is a sin.  That's a decision not made by society at large, but again by the Church.  Think of it this way:  it owns the game, therefore it makes the rules.  It could just as easily say a civil divorce granted for "X" reason is automatically grounds for a Church annulment, but it chooses not to (by couching that choice as what it alone deems to be the will of God).  On the other hand, there is no question as to whether or not the sexual abuse of children is in fact a sin; in fact it is an act that runs counter to both Church and civil law, which has been a major point of contention in the on-going abuse scandals.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Everything Wrong with the Scranton School Board (in one short paragraph)

From the Scranton Times, July 3, 2014 edition:

"Mrs. McGuigan, a member of the minority, also questioned whether Mr. Casey, Mr. Douaihy and Mr. Martinelli should be involved in negotiations. Mr. Douaihy and Mr. Martinelli are retired Scranton teachers, and Mr. Douaihy’s wife, Mr. Martinelli’s daughter and Mr. Casey’s mother are all Scranton teachers."

Article link HERE.

By way of context, the school directors noted above went to meet with the state appointed arbitrator involved in board and (teacher's) union negotiations.

So what we have are three sitting board directors who have close family members that would benefit from a contract favorable to teachers.  In fact, Director Douaihy would personally, financially benefit from such a contract.  This is, in fact, wrong on so many different levels.

Please, someone try to defend this nonsense.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Inflection Point

Preface - This was written more than a year or more ago, but I never got around to finishing it until now.  I'm dedicating it to my late mother, Doris J. Albert.

* * * * * * * * * *


The math-heads out there probably already know what an inflection point is, but for the rest of us, a definition can be found HERE.

A point on a curve where a sign changes; for me, that point would be from a negative to a positive.

Allow me to digress.  

As I noted on here many times over the years, my life has been through a series of changes.  Now some times life brings you change; think of the death of a loved one for example.  Other times, change looms over you, as in you know it's there, and while you may do your level best to avoid it, it never goes away until executed (or you feel like you have been executed).  I think that we all have some of both in our lives, truth be told.  Well I know we do, as everyone has changed thrust upon them.  I also believe that we all have opportunities for change lingering over our heads.  Sometimes we grab the change, sometimes we ignore it.  I know people, for example, that have spent decades ignoring the real need for change in their life.  

Whether we are ready or not, the need for change is always there.  It's as part of our environment as the air is, and I'd argue just about as vital.

What's fascinating for me is that the second kind of change (the change looming over you) is something like the current in a river:  it takes you places, and sometimes not the places you expect.  The trick is to:

a) Get in the river

b) Not fight the current

Far easier said than done, especially if you're not well equipped for such adventures.

As for me, I was born and bred into an environment that passively resisted change.  It's not so much that I was told "change is bad" as a kid, but rather, I wasn't really taught to, if you will, be willing to get in the (above referenced) river.  I think part of that was basically just parental bandwidth, as when you are a single parent raising four boys (all a year apart, mind you), it probably takes all you've got just to feed, provide clothing and prevent general anarchy among your children.  And with four boys, there was a lot of anarchy.



Simply put, I just don't think my mother had the ability to teach us much in the way of nuance.  For us, it was really all about working hard (our bedrooms were always neat and clean, as was the rest of our apartment), lots of Catholic guilt, and mostly trying to avoid getting yelled at by Mom.  Now in the grand scheme of things, "lack of nuance" beats the crap out of, well, getting the crap beat out of you.  And all of us were in fact well fed and fashioned with the finest clothing from the 70's.

(Me, on the far left)

But we (well really "I", as I can't speak for my brothers) were never the less ill equipped to handle bends in the river that life throws your way.

How did I respond to all of this when I got older?  By putting myself into environments that were markedly similar to how I was raised.  I basically muddled my way through change, brooding over how to manage the "looming over you" stuff.  Change was a threat, something to be avoided.  For the longest time I did just that...as I was raised to, and as I was conditioned to...I avoided change for as long as I could, then I just walked though it like someone walking over hot coals.  I was lucky though in the sense that I seem to have been born with the genetic coding for inquisitiveness, which eventually began to expose me to different ways to think about change (as well as a myriad of other things).

So how then did I end up jumping in the river of change?

Well I am not entirely sure I have learned how to jump in the river.  I do know that I am less apprehensive about it.

Anyway, wearing my professional hat for a moment, I can tell you all with 100% certainty that adults learn best through experience.  By "experience" I specifically mean those points where new knowledge is tied to old knowledge and that knowledge is then tied to actions that cause a result.  Think about learning a new language for a moment:  you learn how new language equivalents to your current language words (knowledge), you then practice them (action) and then you go on vacation and order baguettes in a French restaurant (result).

Taking the above in to account, for me I haven't learned anything grand...no secret formula for managing change better...but instead have simply learned to give myself permission to try.  "Try" as in...

...trying to always see the new possibilities when things around me change
...trying to default to a positive attitude at all times
...trying to temper my desire to "win*" at everything
...trying to remember that, while change may be challenging, it's far better than stagnation
...trying to remember that I have a perfect record in living through change

In the end, it's the simplest things in life that are usually the most profound; simple as in "don't be as afraid of change as you should be afraid of things not changing".




(*) Probably the most insightful thing anyone has ever said to me in my entire life came from my late mother; when I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, she told me that part of the problem was that "you don't like to lose"...and she was right.  I don't, but I suspect the trick is to both know when it's smart to actually compete in the first place and to remember that sometimes you "win" but not coming in first.



Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day, 2014 (a non feel-good posting)

Now the thing to do today would be to post a picture of a flag and maybe a patriotic quote or two.  But I am not going to do that; instead I am going to take a moment to honestly assess what it means to be an American in 2014.  Here goes nothing -

Your Neighbor, The Anti-Christ - We have degraded so much as a society that it's now encouraged to demonize those you disagree with on just about any issue.  If you are pro-choice you are a baby-killer; if you are anti-abortion you are against women's health.  It's the politics of winning, running amok. Note to file:  when everyone insists on claiming the moral high ground, there ends up being no moral high ground for anyone.  It's this mentality that has given rise the the ridiculous "Occupy Movement" on one hand and the equally ridiculous (and dangerous) Tea Party on the other.

Here's Some Democracy Down Your Throat - We now insist...no we demand...that other people set up democracies even though we arguably don't have one ourselves anyway (mainly because we are too lazy to vote).  It's a pretty simply proposition actually:  Democracy only works when people actually want it, and it's nothing more than arrogance on our part to think otherwise.

It's Off-Budget - We have politicians on one hand that insist on offsetting every bit of domestic spending with cuts but don't seem to mind spending trillions to fund foreign wars on the other.  See above:  we have to stop insisting that the rest of world wants to be like us (which I think is at least some of the reason why some really don't like us or our way of life).  If it were up to me, there wouldn't be blank checks written out for anything...domestic or otherwise.

Bread And Circuses - More adults probably watch professional sports than vote.  Forget about demonizing the Koch Brothers (Right) or George Soros (Left):  we have met the enemy and it is ourselves.  Want to really "fight the power"?  Then vote, and bring someone with you next time.

Praise [insert the name of your favorite deity]! - What to know what's NOT in the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution?  Give up?  Okay, here you go:  the word "Christian".  The word "Christian" is not mentioned in either founding document.  There is only a reference to "God".  Now why is that?  According to some, our founding fathers were all born-again, conservative Christians, but these folks are simply wrong.  Our founding fathers were not born-again Christians; if anything, they were mostly Deists who were suspicious of organized religion.  They didn't want the United States to be a "Christian" nation (again, if they did, they would have said so...a very conservative point, I might add); rather they wanted the United States to be a nation where any and all could worship or not worship as they see fit.  Many seem to forget this basic fact, simply because it plays into their own personal narratives built around demonizing people who are not like them in the first place; see the Tea Party for an example in action.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On the Beach, Day 3

Well the short vacation is almost done, and I have to say that it was enjoyable.  All that's left is the drive home.  These past few days reminded me of how much I love the ocean and warmer weather.  I am also rather proud of myself in that I truly and genuinely have managed to escape from some work stresses that will no doubt be there when I return.  It's all good.

On the Beach for day three things started with some bike riding and then degraded into a bit of resting before heading out to the actual beach for some more or less doing of nothing.  From there we went back to the room and Ms Rivers went down to the pool with her noble young son while I decided to de-sand while looking at new Sony DSLR camera bodies.  I got some ideas, but alas, nothing sparked my interest.

As a side note, we did stop at a local Best Buy yesterday, but the only Sony cameras they had were the NEX variety, which use the E mount lenses.  They are nice machines and I can get an adapter to use my A mount lenses on an NEX camera, but they are just not my style.  I want a full-featured DSLR, one that has a traditional feel to it.  Alas, I'm going to end up buying this on-line.

Back to the beach.

The evening was spent eating, playing miniature golf (I got creamed by a Compliance Director) and just generally lounging around the boardwalk.  Speaking of lounging around the boardwalk, it's always pretty neat to people watch, which as an introvert I truly enjoy (seeing as though I can watch without interacting).  One such spying of people yielded the following gentleman...


...who is either really brave or incredibly ignorant of history.  I will not take bets on either.   I will confess though that one day I will buy myself a stars-n-bars flag for the sole purpose of doing disgusting things to it.  It will be my little protest.

Have I mentioned that, despite my best efforts, I did manage to get some sunburn yesterday?  Specifically on my neck and ears.  I should have work a burka.

With the trip home in the works, the countdown begins for the "big" vacation to Maine.  

So long from the beach.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On the Beach, Day 2

On Monday I mentioned that the last time I was in Ocean City, Maryland, my now 26 year old daughter was much younger (around 8 years old I think).  This got me to thinking as I was walking down the boardwalk yesterday, and of course those thoughts turned into a blog posting.  Anyway, here are the ten things I observed when thinking about OCMD 20 years ago and now, on the beach (listed in no particular order):
  1. Tattoos - Virtually everyone has them.  Well except me.  Even folks who have really dark skin, where you can't even see the tattoos have tattoos.  For the record I don't have anything against tattoos, other than it's just really not for me.
  2. Obnoxious White Teenagers - Those obnoxious white teenagers from years back have been replaced by obnoxious teenagers who are from some nebulous foreign country probably in the middle east.
  3. Crappy Music - Inside some of the stores you will still find crappy music playing; mind you I forget what the crappy music was 20 years ago, but now it's apparently some form of techno (I think).
  4. It's Clean and Safe - Kudos to the folks that run this down, as the tourist areas are fairly clean and there is a large police presence.  It feels like a family friendly place.
  5. Thot - I saw numerous tee shirts that proclaimed "She is a Thot".  Then I looked up "Thot" in the all important (for parents) Urban Dictionary and was left wondering "why would anyone want a tee shirt like that?".
  6. Marilyn Monroe - She has been dead for a very long time, but she has made a comeback on tee shirts everywhere.  I hope her estate is getting a cut of the action.  For the record, Marilyn Monroe in 2014 is far skinnier than the real Marilyn Monroe; that's a sad piece of commentary on our society.
  7. Young Children - When your children are young and you take them to the beach, it can be a pain in the butt.  For the record, I wish I could have that pain in the butt all over again.
  8. Skin Cancer - Most folks around here seemingly treat skin cancer like some kind of urban legend, like alligators in the sewers, or something similar.  Me?  Hell, I'd wear a head to toe shroud if I could get away with it.
  9. Boardwalk Pizza - Boardwalk pizza is still more or less pretty vile stuff.
  10. Boardwalks + Bikes - It is still joyous to ride a bike down a boardwalk in the morning.