Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015. It Was A Very Good Year

(from THIS page)

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We'd hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year

It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With all that perfumed hair
That came undone
When I was twenty-one
When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We'd ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five
But now the days are short, I'm in the autumn of my years
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

(Written by Ervin Drake)


In the blessings to be counted department, I have an abundance when it comes to the year 2015.  It was a very good year.

(2015:  I married my best friend!)

Now in reality I wasn't made much wealthier.

I didn't get much more "stuff".

I wasn't cured of any disease.

At times I found more questions than answers.

But yet I continue to discover that life isn't about getting things, be they money, trinkets or even answers.  No, life seems to be about living in the moment and enjoying what you see and experience as you walk your journey.  Life is also about second chances, especially those that you give yourself.

As I look forward to 2016 I'm hoping for more of the same.

Thank you for reading this corner of the Internet in 2015 and I hope you too had a very good year.  If you didn't?  Well tomorrow starts a new day...and a new year.







Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's Nearly the End (of the year)

It's been a busy couple of days.

I have a lot of time off over the holidays this year, which is good, as I have a lot do to.  A few finer point of detail:

Christmas...was wonderful this year.  It was relatively relaxing, and it was spent with my family.  What more could anyone ask for?


(wonderful gifts from my daughters)

The weekend...two of my brothers came over, along with Gary the dog.  Now, as I've noted before, I'm not really a dog person, but Gary makes a compelling argument for "man's best friend".

(Gary, my brother Rich's dog, waiting for cheese and/or pepperoni)

Sunday to Tuesday...was spent up at Ricketts Glen State Park with my wife's family.  It's a tradition of sorts, and outside of the fact that it's virtually impossible to sleep in a sleeping bag while having a pillow between your legs, it's always nice to connect with my in-laws.  I also got a chance to get caught up on some reading and engage in some chilly weather hiking.

(some of my favorite people hiking)

(waiting for Spring occupancy)

Today...was spent getting stuff done around the house, including putting up some art that we received for Christmas.  I also got a chance to finish the planning for the installation of new shelving in my home office. 


Now I'l confess that I had to think about whether or not to even write this post.  

Why?  

Well I know that not everyone has a wonderful holiday, and I never want to be perceived as being one of those overly perky, "ain't I blessed and if you're not, well that just stinks being you" types.  Heck, I've had my share of less than, shall we say, "inspiring and relaxing" holidays.  But we all walk our own journeys in life, and where I am now is a result of where I came from, just as that's the case for others as well.  So if your holiday left something to be desired, well my wish for you is that your journey continues and takes you to a better place.  I know...there are better places out there to be found...you just need to keep looking.




Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!


Here's to one day when we can all take a break...

...from the complexity of modern life
...from deadlines & goals
...from what we've done & failed to do
...from anxiety & stress
...from the bitterness, anger & cynicism of the world today

...and instead revel the simplicity of good times, family & friends.

Merry Christmas!



Monday, December 21, 2015

...and so this is Christmas

"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Another year over, a new one just begun."

- John Lennon

(from THIS site)


It's already December 21st, and yet it doesn't seem like Christmas.  

Yes, a tree is up, and so are lights, but there's just so much else going on at the moment.  I'm struggling with an issue at work that I really had hoped would be resolved by now, but there are just some things that fall outside of our control.  In a way, it's a sort of cosmic reminder that we never really have things completely under control.  This particular issue is a kind of test package, if you will, for all that I've been working on low these past few years.  I speak specifically of trying to live in, and stay focused on, the moment.  It's a struggle, but yet I do see some progress in myself.  For that I am grateful.

We also had a death today in our work family.  I can't and won't try to do this truly nice person justice, other than to say that I had the privilege of occasionally working with her from time to time over the years.  That's a double edged sword of working for a single employer for such a long time:  I know, and have worked with, a lot of people, which means I see some leave...well before they should.  You can read a far better accounting of how this all has a deeper meaning in a posting on the blog "Lights Cancer Action!".  We are all ever so slightly diminished at work.

Now tactically I am ready for Christmas.  Gifts are secured and wrapped.  Holiday plans are made.  Guests have been invited, including Gary, my older brother's dog.  I just need to mentally catch up to the logistics.  Funny, it's usually the opposite:  I'm normally mentally there, just wanting for the logistics to catch up to me.

It all comes back to the concept of practice I  guess.

I've also been thinking about New Year's resolutions...also known the other 364 days of the year as simply "Goals".  More to come on that as the new year approaches.  I will share one goal now, seeing as though it has something of a more immediate impact:



I can't do all of this throughout the entire Christmas/New Year's holiday, but I can try.  #1 will be especially difficult for me, but I can think of few more noble endeavors.




Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reason #435 Why Donald Trump Doesn't Deserve Any Votes

As quoted on Fox News.

“And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

No citation needed; simply Google it for yourself.  Oh what the heck, here's one:  Investor Business Times.

If you support Donald Trump, please take a moment and really ponder the above statement.  Really think about it for more than five seconds.  Engage your mind and your conscience.  How do you feel about it?  What does it make you think?  Can you really support someone who wants to KILL the wives and children of terrorists?  

This means killing the pregnant, the elderly, babies and toddlers.  

It means killing women who may have actually been forced to marry "Jihad Johnny".  

It means killing children who can't even say the words "Dad is a terrorist", let alone understand the implications of what that may mean.    

On this one, single, statement alone Donald Trump shouldn't be supported by any American, regardless of party of ideology, for President of the United States.  

Please don't kid yourself about Donald Trump:  This isn't a "conservative vs. liberal" issue, or a "Republican vs. Democrat" issue.  It's an issue of basic moral decency.  Donald Trump wants to lower this country down to the level of the terrorists we are fighting.




Tuesday, December 15, 2015

3 Things We Should Be Teaching In School (Right Now)...

...but we are not doing, nearly enough.

Mindfulness
I spent almost my entire school career, kindergarten through 12th grade, mostly either worried about the past or the future.  No one, and I really do mean no one, taught me the value of living in...and focusing on...the present moment.  Having spent a significant amount of time actually reading about and studying this topic now for a few years as an adult, I can only imagine how I would have benefitted from learning this lesson as a young adult.  The lesson itself isn't difficult, but it's having the guidance to help in practicing it that makes all the difference.

How much better prepared academically would students be if they had the tools to actually be present, both physically and mentally, when lessons are taught?  What if instead of students be afraid of an upcoming test they could focus on mastering the material in the moment?  I think the possibilities are many.

Perspective on Competition
This is America, where we talk about "winning".  Want to know why I almost never play games?  Even board games?  Because I don't like competition.  I've found, from my childhood onward, that when I'm placed in competitive situations, my natural reaction is to obsess on winning, to the exclusion of everything else.  However, in the real world, especially when it comes to personal relationships and business, most of the time you can win without someone else losing.  That lesson though wasn't taught to me in school.  Instead I was brought up on an institutional diet that compared me to other students in a mindless kind of competitive sport.

Where this shows up mostly is in the area of conflict.

You see the by-product of this today in political campaigns, which are just about at the pinnacle of senseless competition:  "My candidate needs to win, and yours needs to lose; it doesn't matter if my candidate says some pretty stupid soundbite-esque nonsense...I just want (him or her) to WIN!".  When winning is everything we all end up losing, because life isn't a game.  Life isn't about the finish line, goal line, home plate or anything else of the sort.  Life isn't about me "beating" you.  Life is, to extend the sports talk, mostly about learning to enjoy the game.  We need to teach children that competition has a place in this world, but the world itself is not simply a big competition.  Yes, play games for the enjoyment, but extending a game philosophy to life in general, as we tend to do in the United States today, is disastrous.

Emotional Intelligence
As someone who teaches adults about Emotional Intelligence (EI), I can not express in words just how positively this can impact someone's life.  Having an awareness of one's own emotional state in real time, being able to consciously regulation your reactions, being able to recognize emotions in others and having the skills to build/manage relationships is truly life changing stuff.  I know that many good teachers help their students with these skills (either directly or indirectly), but I really do think this needs to done more overtly in our educational system.  Don't just take my word for it, as noted author Dan Goleman writes extensively about the topic in his book Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.


Goleman has written several books on the topic of EI, and while this isn't the "go to" book for business people, it's my favorite in part because he does talk about EI and children.  I think one of the reasons why we don't teach this in school is because it doesn't fit into a paradigm of grades and competition.  All too often we don't challenge people to look inside, as opposed to outside, for answers because that inner awareness is simply too difficult to master and to measure.




Thursday, December 10, 2015

Road Apples, #166

Deep Thoughts...I love the blog written by A.J. Dick.  In fact I love just about every blog posting written by A.J. Dick.  His last posting is well worth reading as a counter-point to insanity of some.  You can read it HERE.

News of the Good...By this Sunday (December 13th) I will officially be 50% of the way towards completing my Master's degree.  It's a nice feeling.  2016 will be tough in that I'll have a few difficult classes to go, but it's all (mostly) down hill from here.

Bad News on the Doorstep...I feel saturated with news of death and violence.  It's like an evil fog that is floating everywhere.  Just when you think it couldn't get any more insane, well then Donald Trump says something else.  Speaking of lunatics...

Ted Nugent...says that the United States should be "cleansed" of liberals.  So say the author of such classics as Wango Tango and Cat Scratch Fever.  It reminds me of one simple fact:  The loonies on the Right are worse that the loonies on the left, mainly because they are better armed.  Also, when last I checked, bullets do more damage than organic granola bars.

That Moment...when you buy a new book only to discover that you already own that same book.

Speaking of Books...Now that I don't have to spend time during the week reading a textbook for school I can ramp up the leisure reading.  First up is to finish this book...


...which is a good thing, given that I had to order it from the publisher in the U.K.  Actually I am about 70% finished with it.  Highly recommended, although, again, very difficult to find.

Projects...I'm actually going to take a few months before my next graduate class to work on some projects around the house.  Two big ones in particular:  1) Ripping up the wallpaper and then painting in our half bathroom on the first floor and 2) Installing some serious shelving in the home office.  I simply have more books than I currently have room for books.  Not to mention a small radio collection.  And a Bill the Cat doll.  And a few other things.  There will be photographs.

(an old photo; it's now far more crowded)

Cat Rescue...We rescued a cat in November.  It's kind of like a "kitty witness protection program" kind of deal, but suffice to say it was a cat that was in danger because he had been kicked out of his home by his "owner".  Now I have no designs on being a cat rancher, but few things boil my blood more than the abuse of animals.  Abuse, by the way, can come in many forms, including abandonment.  Anyway, our new addition, "Adolph", is doing very well.  Socialization with his fellow housemates JeanLuc and Tiger has been completed, and squabbles are minimal.  He's also been professionally groomed and treated by a good local veterinarian.   Tres gatos in the limit though.

Resolutions (also known as Goals)...I love New Year's resolutions.  I really do.  It's time to start thinking about them to boot.  I think I've done a lot of work in the mental health department this year, so maybe 2016 will be more focused on the physical end.

Muhammed Ali...made a statement recently about the the shootings and Islam.  It's worth reading (reference HERE), if for no other reason than the fact that Ali was, and will always be, champ of the world.

"I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.
We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.
Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is."
In the end, any and every religion can be perverted by evil folks as justification for what drives most bad human behavior, namely a lust for power.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Dear Donald Trump,

Apparently you want to ban all Muslim travel to the United States because a very small percentage of Muslims do horrible things.  Fair enough.  In keeping with the precedent you are setting, I would like to make the following modest proposals myself.

Irish - Some folks from the Republic of Ireland, members of a club called the Irish Republican Army, have done some terrible terrorism in their day, especially to our very good friends in England.  As a result I propose banning all immigration from the Republic of Ireland.

Saudi Arabians - The 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia.  As a result I propose ending all military and economic cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Slovenians - According to the United States Department of State...

"While no terrorist organizations are known to be active in Slovenia, its central location and short Adriatic coastline make it an attractive potential transit country for trafficking in drugs, persons, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by criminal and terrorist organizations."

...given the potential for harm to U.S. interests, I suggest all Slovenians be put under immediate observation.  I suggest starting with your wife, Melania.

Israelis - There have been several documented instances of Israel working against U.S. interests and even putting U.S. lives at risk.  They include the case of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and the attack by Israeli forces on the U.S.S. Liberty (which resulted in the deaths of 34 American servicemen; citation from Fox News HERE).  Attacking a U.S. ship and killing our servicemen should be an act of war.  I say let's declare it on Israel.  Now.

Conservative Christians - A real, all American terrorist organization we all know and love is the Klu Klux Klan.  Members of this group self identify as conservative Christians.  In fact, the director for the main KKK group actually identifies as a "pastor".  Given the very real harm the Klan has caused in the past, and continues to cause now, I suggest that all conservative Christians be put on a watch list.  You never know who might be under those Walmart sheets.


Thank you Mr Trump for trying to make America "great again" by keeping out all of those funny colored foreigners who don't even accept Jesus and won't gamble in your casinos (well the one's that haven't declared bankruptcy yet).

Regards,
- S. Elmer Albert


* * * * * *

Post Script - The above is ridiculous, but millions of people aren't going to read it.  Sadly, the same is not true of Donald Trump.






Wednesday, December 2, 2015

There's so much death...

...it's as if you can't watch or read the news without hearing about about more people dying in senseless acts of violence somewhere.

So many questions that can't be easily answered, and yet it's those easy sound-byte answers that will fill the airwaves for yet another round of posturing by talking heads.

Enough already.

Enough of the violence.

Enough of the "we just need to arm..." or "we just need to ban..." answers.

No amount of arming or banning will solve our problems.  Rather, we've allowed our civil society to become remarkably uncivil.  It's no longer sufficient to disagree with someone like the President...now it's almost required, in many circles, to HATE him.  It's no longer sufficient to be anti-abortion...it's now required to HATE Planned Parenthood.


(cartoon from Pat Bagley...by the way, this was published 6 years ago)

I know, I'm singling out one side here, but so be it.  Just as Muslims have a special obligation to call out the extremists in their religion, so to do the reasonable folks on the political and social Right in this country.  For far too long far too many on the Right have accepted increasingly vile levels of rhetoric from the likes of folks like Rush Limbaugh to go unchallenged.  Rhetoric from people like Rush Limbaugh contribute...I would argue greatly...to the climate of hate that exists in this nation.

It's time, right now, to dial back the hateful rhetoric, whether it's spewed by a presidential candidate or some advocacy group.  Political Right or Political Left, it doesn't matter.  We can disagree without hating our opponents.  We can seek justice without out resorting vengeance.  We have to realize that the only way to stop killings is to stop killing.

We should protect ourselves, but we can't do that at the expense of senselessly harming others.  What good is our safety and security if it deprives someone else of theirs?




Sunday, November 29, 2015

Internet Graphic of the Week, #3


I saw so many great graphics over the Thanksgiving holiday that it was tough to just pick one.  Anyway, welcome to, as my niece Miranda likes to say, 'Murica.

For the record, I went "Black Friday" shopping once in my life, and I'll never do it again.  Now I do know some folks that like to go out early, with family and friends, and do the whole shopping thing as a kind of experience.  I get that.  What I don't get is acting like a maniac in order to grab some trinket.




Sadly, I've read of at least one WalMart worker dying this year during such a frenzy.

This isn't how humans are supposed to behave.

Okay, I just can't resist, so here's one more.


I guess this would be "Internet Graphics of the Week".




Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks, 2015


I once read an interview with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, where here talked about how he enjoyed writing songs that had lists in them (think Brain Damage from the Dark Side of the Moon), which makes me feel better about the number of list postings I end up publishing.  I'd like to say "great minds think alike", but I know better.

Anyway, Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on things, so reflect I will.  Using a list.



I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Ms Rivers.  As I have often noted, I can think of no better argument for the existence of a Higher Power in the universe than the fact that she came into my life at just the right time.


I am thankful for my three wonderful daughters.  Whether they are teaching needy children, researching bacteria in primate feces or planning on a career centered on helping others, each makes me so very proud.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a stepfather to two wonderful young men.  I hope I can make their journey into adulthood just a little bit better.

I am thankful that all of my siblings are alive.

I am thankful for the very close to half million visits to this blog over the years.

I am thankful to my late mother, Doris Albert, for instilling in me a desire to always keep learning.  That's the one thing I think I do very well.


I am thankful for the career that my employer has afforded me for over a quarter century and for all the people I have worked with over the years.  Who I am is a direct result of trust my employer has had in me and the wisdom that has been imparted to me from others.

I am thankful for the authors that have taught me important things over my lifetime to date.  Every book has been a brick in the structure of who I am.

I am thankful for the restorative power of music in my life, as every point in my life has had its own soundtrack.  While I have zero musical abilities myself, I am fortunate to have ears that work reasonably well.

Lastly, I am thankful for the mistakes I've made in life.  Why?  Well first, none have (obviously) been fatal, which is a very good thing.  Second, it's in falling down that we all learn the value of getting up; simply being up all the time teaches virtually nothing.  






Monday, November 23, 2015

Speaking Fear for Power

Few things actually disgust me in life, but the trajectory of the 2016 Presidential campaign is getting close.  I speak specifically of some candidates who seem to spend most of their time talking about everything we need to be afraid of, including and especially immigrants and those who are of a different religion.

It's all so very disheartening, and yet it's at this time that I'm reminded of a a prayer I learned as a child.  Fitting, especially, for those candidates who claim the mantle of Christianity, and yet don't seem all that interested in acting very Christ-like.

So for those who would turn away the sick and the disheartened...all in the name of acquiring personal political power...the best that I can offer is the following.


I confess to getting too wrapped up in these very poisonous debates.  I'm going to work hard, very hard, at keeping myself out of this moral cesspool.  I'm not going to argue with anyone who makes the choice to bring more injury, more doubt, more despair, more darkness, more sadness into the world.  I will, though, remind some that these are choices.

Life is too short, and I'm not inclined to even utter the names of those who, by their very actions, defile the word "Christian".



Saturday, November 21, 2015

Internet Graphic of the Week, #2


I'm thinking that we can agree that the world needs far less terrorism...and Nickelback.



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Biggest Professional Frustration?

It's approaching year-end, which means the dreaded "Year End Performance Appraisal (a.k.a. PA)" season.  Yes, people who work in HR probably hate them more than anyone else.  More on that in a future posting.  Anyway, the PA season makes me think more than usual about my professional life.  One thing that sticks out?  Well it's the (professional) thing that frustrates me the most, namely the importance placed on self-promotion in the hyper-competitive business world.   Oh, and I stink at self-promotion.

Am I feigning modesty?  No.  Look, I have absolutely no problem listing a multitude of personal faults, Hell, any number of my postings could be turned into a "Steve bashing Steve drinking game", so if faking modesty was one of them, I'd readily and repeatedly cop to it.  I simply grew up in an environment where boasting wasn't exactly encouraged.

Am I actually pretty modest?  Yes.  It's an odd kind of thing though.  Ms Rivers will tell you that I don't like being stared at, yet I do a fair amount of "in front of the audience" kind of stuff professionally.  The difference is, I suspect, the fact that while I am in front of a audience speaking, I am controlling what's going on.  No such control exists when I'm randomly being looked at, and that's difficult for me to handle.

I'll also readily admit that there are a few things professionally that I do well.  Some things very well.  As I mentioned to my manager once, "I can't figure out whether I am some kind of evil genius or idiot savant".  Maybe I'm both.  It's as if my professional life could very well be one giant scene from the brilliant Peter Sellers movie Being There.



One thing I do well is thinking about things in ways that are different than most folks.  Therein lies part of the paradox for me, namely that I could say something incredibly profound...or stupid...and it could very well be that both are equally true.

Anyway, lacking in self-promotion skills knowingly puts me at a disadvantage professionally.  Like it or not, the corporate world is about competition, be it for customers, ROI, promotions, raises, "air time" in staff meetings, recognition or money.  For this I am poorly equipped, at best.  For the record I will note that I also find it repugnant when others go overboard promoting themselves.

What do to?  Mostly nothing.  Seriously, mostly nothing.  By and large I'm not going to hoist the flag of better promoting myself as a development objective for 2016.  I know me, and I am comfortable with me, even with the knowledge that my lack of skills in this particular area puts me at a distinct disadvantage.  I don't want to be that person with the enormous ego who is constantly trying to top everyone else, also known as a "Topper"...

(from THIS page)

If the worst that some can say about (the professional) me is that "he's pretty modest" then that will be okay.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris

By now the world has heard of the attacks that occurred yesterday in Paris, France.  In reading the various reactions the fringes are screaming loud and clear...everything from...

"thank Bush and Cheney for ISIS (and, by proxy, this attack)"

to

"it's all the fault of the immigrants...kick them all out".

In many ways, our reactions to events like this speak loud and clear as to who and what we are as human beings.

I remind myself that it's easy to fall into the trap of revenge, but that never works out well in the end.  If one does exact revenge for a horrible act, what's left?  Even more dead people to mourn.

Yes, there should be justice.  Those that planned this attack need to be held accountable, and to the greatest extent possible, rendered such that they can't execute future attacks.  But that's different than revenge.  Revenge creates a cycle that becomes self-fulfilling.  Revenge is like a candy that you just can't stop eating, until ultimately you get sick.

In the end though, times like this remind me of the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King...


...there's already enough darkness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Internet Graphic of the Week, #1

With no intention of doing this every week, but there are enough of them out there to warrant a posting every once in a while.


* * * * * *


There's about a tenth of a degree of separation between people that play fantasy football and those that, say, attend Star Trek conventions (dressed like Klingons).


Saturday, November 7, 2015

I wish I had a dime for...

...every time I've hit my head in an attic, basement or other low-ceiling place.  The top of my head feels like a lunar landscape.

...every time I've told myself "okay, it's your day off, so you're going to do something fun, right?" and then proceeded to do a lot of things...none of which were fun.

...every time I've said "I will not put off reading for school", while I instead write blog postings.

...every time I've planned to get to bed by 10pm.

...every time I've promised myself that the next time I felt like I was in a mental funk I was going to do ______________ (insert any one of a dozen different things, strategies, etc.), none of which I ever end up doing anyway.

...every time I've told myself "you don't need more socks" and "it's not necessary to have a year's supply of Avon men's deodorant on hand" as I start looking at socks and order 16 more deodorants.  In my defense, I really like...and highly recommend...Avon deodorant.

...every time I've promised myself to not start reading a new book until after I've finished the current book.

...every time I've said that I don't really care about blog hits, right before I check my blog hits.

...every old picture of Jesus I've seen that that makes Him kinda, sorta, look like Superman.

(actual framed picture from the Antique Mall, Plains, PA)

(from THIS site)


For the record, most serious scholars believe that Jesus actually looked like this...
(from THIS site)



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Things a 51 year old white guy learns (from Mediatakeout's Facebook feed)

Mediatakeout on Facebook

In no particular order, for no particular reason.

  • However many rappers you think exist is wrong; take that number and multiply it by about 125 to get a more accurate count.
  • There are a lot of fights in fast food establishments.
  • Someone named "Meek Mill", who is from Philadelphia, is having a feud with rapper Drake, who is from Degrassi High.
  • Rappers have a shelf life somewhat shorter than that of your average can of tuna.
  • Every single fight in every single school is now recorded via cell phone video.
  • "Atlanta Housewives" is a real thing.  And they fight too, just not in fast food establishments.
  • Rapper Rick Ross is different than Rap Mogul Suge Knight.  
  • Spelling isn't being taught in schools, and auto correct is apparently broken.
  • 'Lil Wayne is apparently very sad these days.
  • Never, ever wear your weave to a fight.
  • BAE does not stand for "British Aerospace Marconi Electronic Systems", rather I think it means boy/girl friend.
  • The young folks love to fight on Twitter (as well as in fast food establishments).
  • There is genuinely some sad stuff going on in the world today.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Shamokin Is Dying (a.k.a. the long-term impact of depopulation)

It's not just stories like THIS that I'm referring to either.

(from THIS site)

Shamokin is an interesting place.  I've actually been there once or twice in my life.  Not necessarily a destination, but it does make for a decent metaphor when speaking about the decline of hard coal country in Pennsylvania.

First, some basics:  Shamokin is a town Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.  It is situated on the western side of Northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.  Traditionally, anthracite coal was mined deep underground, with the actual work of mining being very dangerous and fairly low paying (historically speaking).  Anthracite coal production began to decline before World War II and effectively ended in the early-mid 1960's as other fossil fuels (such as oil and natural gas) gained prominence as heating sources.

Two sets of statistics tell you a lot about Shamokin.  First is population.

As anthracite coal production declined, so too did Shamokin's population.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (source HERE) Shamokin's population in 1930 was 20,247.  By 2014 the estimated population had declined to 7,233.  That's something of decline, but what makes it even more stark is when you compare this change to another statistic.

The second important set of statistics relates to housing values.  According to City-Data (source HERE), in 2013 the average value of a house or condominium in Shamokin was $39,409.  By way of a few comparisons:
  • The average retail price paid for a 2015 Chevrolet Suburban (according to Edmunds) was $64,700.
  • The average value of a house or condominium in similarly sized (and fellow anthracite coal town) Nanticoke, Pennsylvania for 2013 was $90,258 (source HERE).
  • The average value of a house or condominium in Scranton, Pennsylvania for 2013 was $108,900 (source HERE).
  • The average value of a house or condominium for the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was $164,200.
So what we have is a steeply declining population where there is a significant amount of housing stock being left un-used, which then further drives down the value of the homes that remain.  Local television station WNEP produced a story about a year or so ago that documented the decline of towns like Shamokin from the dual perspectives of declining population and a surplus of buildings.  What results is a town that is literally rotting in front of our very eyes.

None of this is to cast aspersions against the residents of Shamokin or those that strive to make it a better place to live.  Rather, I do think it's a sadly interesting study in how a town in the United States can be so completely and totally dependent on a specific industry.  Detroit also comes to mind, although not nearly as close to home.  There is a deep sadness to all of this, a kind of dark fog that likely will never lift and which will continue to consume ever more parts of Shamokin and the years pass quickly.

What will be left, in say 2050?  I don't know, but in the absence of another specific industry boom, likely it will be "not much".



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Change? You need to be ready first.



I'm convinced that the world needs another "How to Manage Change" book, because we all know that the existing 4 million of them just aren't nearly enough.

Oh, and I've read a few of those books, and in all honestly, just about all of them have valid ideas, strategies and suggestions to offer.  They really do.  But it's not execution, or execution strategies or models that I think really get in the way of that almost mythical state known as "change resiliency".

I speak only from experience here, but it seems to me that there are two barriers that have to be overcome before any change strategy, no matter how well thought out, can take hold.  Oh, and I doubt very many people are actually "change resilient".  That's a subtle code used by those that create change to goad into a particular action those that they need to change; think the CEO telling employees that they need to be ready for the possibility of job layoffs ("It's critical that we all build change resiliency", so says the person who will likely be financially rewarded for laying others off).

Anyway, here are my two change barriers that must be overcome:

#1 - Mentally Ready State
First, we needs to be mentally prepared for change, or at least aware that it that it is coming.  I don't think lasting change works well as a surprise.  I am not suggesting that readiness is required for change to take hold every time, but what I am suggesting is that if you or I want to initiate change on our own or be prepared when it happens to us, mental preparation is the key.

A good chunk of that mental preparation should be practicing being present and grounded in the moment.  Mental images of the past, be they good or bad, can't be good for current change.  Nor can obsessing over future states that are going to occur regardless of our actions.  Now we should certainly plan for the future, but that's different than obsessing over the future.  

In addition, I think it can be argued that "mentally ready" is less of a demarcation line than it is a kind of fuzzy, neutral zone.  However it manifests itself though the fact is that we can't engage in something if we can't conceive of ourselves as actually engaging in that very thing.  I know, that sounds circular, but it has the benefit of being true.

#2 - Nouns
Second, sometimes there are actual barriers that have to be overcome.  By barriers, I literally mean what we all learned in elementary school as defining a noun:  people, places or things.

For example, it's easy to say to the alcoholic that they need to "change", but the reality is that drinking is associated with...

...people - drinking buddies...or the habit of drinking alone and stewing in one's own thoughts...

...places - those social places where drinking becomes a problem...or finding yourself all alone in a home with no one else to talk to other than Mr Jim Beam and his friend Mr Johnny Walker or...

...things - those events that signal to us it's time to drink.

Lest anyone think the non-drinker (me) is picking on drinkers, I'll bring it a bit closer to home.

I've made tremendous changes in my life over the past 5 or so years, but thinking back a decade or more, there were barriers that I needed to overcome before those changes could be made.  The barriers weren't as much outside my head as they were inside my head, but they were barriers never the less.  First I had to be mentally ready for change.  Having me read a great book on, and model for change just wasn't enough.  In fact, it was as I was going through change...not before...when things like change models began to make sense.  The hardest part of change for me was facing the reality of having to deal with those "nouns", both known and those which just seemed to appear as I worked through change.

Notice that I'm not claiming to be an expert in dealing with change, even in my own life.  I still struggle, and sometimes ghosts of the past reappear to remind me of long ago thoughts.  The difference now, at least for me, is that I recognize the struggle for what it ultimately is:  Living Life.  It's not something exterior to my existence, rather it's woven into my existence.


In the end, I'm not pretending to be an academic, but I am categorically stating that I've gone through a lot of change in my life, which I think gives me reason to both pause and to share my thoughts.  Take them for what they are worth, or ignore them if you see fit.  We all have to walk our own journey in life, and it seems to me that part of that journey has to be the act of sharing it with others.  My ten dollar annual investment in a URL and these sometimes random thoughts are included in my act of sharing.




Friday, October 23, 2015

Thank You Paul Ryan (Seriously, Thank You)

I'm not being snarky.  I really do think Rep. Paul Ryan really does deserve thanks.  Why?  Well in the midst of all the conversation about who should be the next ox to be gored I mean Speaker of the House, Rep. Ryan made an interesting demand to those who seek to have him run for that most un-fun office:  He wasn't going to give up his family time.  Reference HERE.

(Image from Wikipedia)

In fact he said "I cannot and will not give up my family time".

In a building full of weasels who basically try to out weasel each other, it's very refreshing to see a senior member of the institution stand up for something that doesn't really involve political demagoguery.   Yes, I know, the cynic can claim that this is just another form of posturing to some group or another, but in the real world of American politics, where someone like Newt Gingrich (who has been thrice married) can talk about family values...but not live them...Rep. Ryan is putting his money where is mouth is, and that's refreshing.

I may not agree with all of his politics, but he is doing a service to working Dads everywhere.

Well done Sir, well done.



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Road Apples, #165

The Martian...I saw the movie The Martian over the weekend.  It's worth the effort and the money.  It's great to watch a movie that's simply a good story; the fact that its got an element of science fiction to it makes it all the better, at least for me.  I'm thinking that the potato board must have helped sponsor the movie though.

October... As I was laying in bed at 4:30am Monday morning, I realized that I have a ton of things to do at work, as in several big things to deliver.  It's nice to be needed, I think.  First things first, time to make a list.  A big, hunkering list.

October is an interesting month for me.  Some good things have happened in October, and generally speaking, I love the weather.  Some not-so-good things have happened as well, but it's hard to not have those kinds of things in any kind of life worth living.  As I often times remind myself, life is the ultimate contact sport.

Blog Dilemmas...I have a posting that I've been holding onto, in one way, shape or form, for a while now.  I just can't seem to get myself to hit the publish button.  The content might be upsetting in some corners, but that hasn't stopped me before.  I think maybe the bigger issue is one of perceived disappointment, namely that, despite my advancing age, I still don't want to be a disappointment to anyone.  Apparently even people I either barely or don't know.  Oh well, I suspect it will eventually see the light of day.

Also, it has been requested that I write something funny.  I'll have to think about that one some more.  Generally speaking, I don't do well with blog content requests.

School...I am officially 40% done with my graduate coursework, and am on track to get half way done before the end of the year.  I've already begun to ask myself the question "Gee, now that you don't have school anymore, what are you going to do with your time?".  Somehow, I think I'll manage.  Some things I could do include:  Learning to play guitar, learning to speak French or Italian, starting up a business blog, volunteering to help others and/or going to a trade school in the evening.

Struggle...Granted, it may appear that I more or less have my "stuff" together, but being a completely and normally flawed human being, there are many things I do struggle with pretty much on a daily basis.  Some of those thing are:

- Physical Exhaustion (due to really bad sleeping patterns)
- Socializing, as it's really difficult for me
- Ego*, mainly in others, as I'm more or less afraid to have one of my own
- Optimism, I try hard to be, but it's a struggle at times
- Self-Doubt, its always been a problem for me
- Self-Talk, as in I have to work hard to avoid the negative variety
- Over-Eating, and there's no rhyme or reason to it
- Judgement, I am by nature judgmental, and I have to work hard at not being

(*) The more I read and think about the works of Eckhart Tolle, the more I'm convinced that he's absolutely right about ego.

Feel the Bern...I confess to not being a fan of Bernie Sanders.  Maybe it's the militant advocacy for unions, his often quoting of the erroneous 78% wage gap (see HERE; there is a gap, but it's not that big and some of the reasons for its existence have nothing to do with evil, scheming older white guys) or the notion that college should be free (it has value, so it's worth paying for...although that cost shouldn't be measured in "house sized" units).  Anyway, I think the passion for him is at least partially a negative reaction to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.  Now I don't consider myself a fan of Ms Clinton, but I hardly believe that she is the evil, communistic she-devil that her opponents make her out to be either.  Bottom line?  It's going to be a long primary.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Jimmy Kimmel on Vaccinations

Sometimes the  best comedy is the stuff that's true to life.  Think George Carlin talking about "Sr Mary Discipline with the steel ruler" and the absurdities of television banning 7 "dirty" words but yet being perfectly okay with all manner of grotesque violence.

Anyway, with that is mind, I found the following clip from Jimmy Kimmel's late night show, where he (for the most part) seriously talks about childhood vaccinations.  It's worth a watch as an example of satire that's hitting a serious nerve.



The major piece of mock research that claims a link to Autism and childhood vaccinations (see HERE) was been completely discredited.  Simply put, there is no link between Autism and vaccinations.  Read HERE, among other credible sources.  The bottom line?

"Multiple studies have been completed which investigated the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination in relation to autism. Researchers have also studied thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, to see if it had any relation to autism. The results of studies are very clear; the data show no relationship between vaccines and autism." 



Monday, October 12, 2015

Response to Mike Sporer's Comments, SFT Strike

Writing in response to Mike Sporer's comment made to THIS posting.

* * * * * *

Thanks, as always, for commenting Mike.

I think we basically agree on most points when it comes to the strike.

Regarding education in the United States, I also agree that it's lackluster...at best.  More realistically, I think it's broken beyond a simple repair.  Everything, from the length of the school day to the school year, from teaching methods to materials needs to be examined.  Therein lies one of the problem I have with teacher unionization though:  Through the union, teachers will fight most core/structural changes to education by treating them as bargaining chips (in order to get something in return).  Put another way, public school teachers should be at the forefront of bold experimentation and innovation in education, yet we don't see very much of that, simply because the labor unions will want to negotiate every little change made to work rules and methods.  Why?  Because that's what labor unions do:  They are designed to protect and promote union members, not, in this case, students.  That's one of many reasons why I think professionals should not be unionized.

Another problem?  Older teachers aren't necessarily better teachers, yet seniority based systems, such as those required by labor unions, are designed around that very concept.  I want the best performing teachers to be paid the most; schools shouldn't simply be rewarding "sticking around for a long time".  One can be the same as the other, but not always...at least not in the real world of performance management.

I'll reaffirm though that while philosophically I don't think teachers should be unionized, practically speaking they have to be under the current circumstances, as there needs to be something to protect them, as individuals, from grossly incompetent and politically motivated school boards.

With regards to Ms Boland, I actually think I had her as an Art teacher at East Scranton Jr High.  I could be wrong, and I've tried to find a biography on her to verify that fact, but I've come up empty.  Assuming she was my teacher back then, I'll say that she made a positive impression on me, and I can't say that about most of the teachers I had back in those days.  Present day she does sound tough, but her union members should expect that of her.  Truth be told, I don't have a problem with a tough union negotiator.  Where things break down for me is when there are falsehoods repeated as facts and thuggish tactics are employed by unions.  Two examples -

a) Falsehoods - I actually heard a few weeks ago, from a very good source, that the "35 kids in a classroom" mantra that the union was spouting as being a chief reason for the strike was sheer and utter nonsense.  That fact was confirmed by the Scranton Times in its Saturday edition.  Simply put, the union lied about this one because it makes them seem more sympathetic to the parents of children who are not currently being educated.  It's a better story than "we want more money".

b) Thuggery - I was very glad to hear that the SFT decided not to demonstrate in front of the school board president's home, although it was disheartening to hear that it was seriously considered.  Board President Douaihy deserves a fair amount of grief for this whole situation, but he...like everyone else...should be allowed respite in his own home.

Nothing and no one in this situation is clean, but in the end it's the students who continue to suffer because the adults can't act like adults.

Now as alluded to above, I don't share your opinion regarding unions being the savior of the middle class in this country.  I do think they have their place in the working world, but my opinion has always been that organizations with labor unions have them because they deserve them...with the possible exception of Walmart (who does deserve them but doesn't have them...and that's a whole different topic)...because they failed to treat their employees as true assets.  Unions can, in many instances, create as many problems as they solve.  For example,  unions homogenize employees into buckets not based upon performance and unique contributions to results, but instead based almost exclusively on tenure.  That's simply wrong, as compensation and opportunities should always be based upon performance.  What's more, unions encourage the notion that individuals are incapable of speaking for themselves, which I find demeaning, harmful and encouraging of a victim mentality.

Finally, while I don't think unions (as currently constructed in the United States today) are the answer to the problems that plague the modern workplace, and speaking as an HR professional, I do recognize that a new model for the workforce is definitely needed.  There is a need to protect employees from unreasonable demands, and in some instances employees should have the benefit of expertise available to them to help solve problems with management in an organization.  Personally, I think a good place to start can be found in the concept of co-determination in the workplace, as, for example, practiced in Germany.  It's not a perfect model, but that's okay, as it doesn't have to be.  Either current extreme in the U.S. today, be it the insane anti-union tactics of a Walmart or the thuggish tactics employed by some unions*, is not getting us anywhere.




(*) True story told to me by a colleague who used to work at a unionized employer:  During a strike, he, as a member of management, had to cross a picket line in order to go to work.  Approaching the door, he got wet, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  The liquid in question had a particular odor to it...the kind of smell that you might encounter in a men's room at Fenway Park during a Dropkick Murphys concert.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Twitter

Proof positive that every once in a blue moon I am able to come up with one of those clever tweets that other seem able to produce at will.



I even got a "favored".

For the record, the above is in celebration of the fact that Uranus is (barely) visible in the night's sky now.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Striking Scranton Teachers

I had commented on a posting in Mike Sporer's blog Fresh Perspectives (link to that content HERE) related to the Scranton Teacher's strike.  Technical difficulties apparently made that comment null, void and nonexistent, but I did promise Mike a re-post.  In the finest of blogging traditions, I'll do my best to re-create that comment here (in other words, I'll also manage to milk a posting out of this...).


* * * * * *

Disclaimer:  I'll note that my ex-wife is a teacher in the Scranton School District and my oldest daughter is a teacher in a charter school in New York City.

* * * * * *

Regarding the striking Scranton teachers and the grossly incompetent school board that they are at odds with, well, there is plenty of blame to go around.

First, the word you hear shouted most loudly by the teachers is "Respect" (cue Aretha Franklin), but it's not a lack of respect that's at the heart of this labor dispute, it's money.  In the world of public union public relations, "respect" lends a more sympathetic ear than "cash".  Now I'm not faulting the teachers for wanting more money, as no one should be effectively forced to work for less each year*, but I am saying that there's just a bit of message manipulation going on as this labor dispute plays out, and people by the droves are falling for it.  Then again, many of these same people though actually elected the school board members that helped cause this mess in the first place.  I'm also thinking that Scranton's taxpayers won't like how "respect" ends up being reflected in their already too high tax bills.

Second, as a person who knows a word or two of the English language, I am truly tested to come up with words to describe the level of gross incompetence on display by the Scranton School Board.  Did the board president actually think that he could hire this 80th cousin, thrice removed, (or however he managed to down-play that relationship) as the district Superintendent, give her a contract with automatic raises and then tell other district employees "well, sorry, we don't have any money for you to get automatic raises"?  At a bare minimum, the district should be offering other district employees some kind of parity with the new Superintendent when it comes to annual compensation changes.  Had "Cousin Cy" negotiated a truly performance-based compensation system for the Superintendent, you know...one where raises have to be earned...the district would be in a better bargaining position.  But that's wishful thinking.  Also, the fact that the district has a nasty habit of...

a) Hiring relatives like it's some kind of Duggar family business
b) Spending money foolishly (such 300% excessive bus contracts)
c) Poorly prioritizing spending (Old textbooks?  That's okay, as the stadium has new turf!)

...only lends fuel to the argument made that they simply don't know what the heck they are doing.

Third, the entire labor-management system for public education in Pennsylvania is tragically broken.  Teachers, if they truly view themselves as professionals (and they are professionals by the way) should not be able to strike.  When was the last time you heard of striking doctors or lawyers?  Ponder that one for a moment.  Anyway, I do also believe though that teachers need protection from grossly incompetent local school boards, so the structural solution to this mess should be a state-wide collective bargaining agreement that would cover all of Pennsylvania's teachers.  The contract should have salary bands to reflect differences in the cost of living by location, but otherwise provide a level playing field for educational professionals.  It would also take the hacks...I mean local school boards...out of the business of negotiating contracts.

Lastly, the blame for this mess mostly falls to the feet of the about 20-30% of Scranton's voters who actually show up to the polls.  They voted for the current school board, putting connections, political affiliation and the right sounding ethnic last names ahead of actual qualifications.  Yes, only in Scranton would someone who looks like he's 15 but just happens to have the name "Robert Casey" be elected to help manage a 10,000 student educational system.




(*) Not getting a raise = working for less when you factor in inflation.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Guilt Posting

(from THIS page)

Ever have a stretch of time when you feel as if you're being pulled in several directions?  Of course you have, as we all have.  Hence today's guilt posting.

Guilt?

Well the guilt part centers around the fact that I feel somewhat guilty when I don't post anything for a while.  No, that has nothing to do with "readers" or stuff like that; heck, while I'm glad people read this stuff, I do this stuff for me.  But, in the best Catholic of traditions, I do feel guilty that I'm not as disciplined about writing as I should be.

Anyway, so this is the "guilt salve" posting.

I do have a reasons for not writing as much.

  1. I've got a ton on stuff going on work, both in terms of products/projects and other things that tend to devour mental and physical energy at a copious rate.
  2. My Fall I graduate class is ending soon, and I'm busy trying to get a final group project & presentation ready.  Fortunately I have great team members to work with on this assignment.
  3. I haven't been sleeping well, which is normal, but it makes things worse when combined with #1 & #2.
  4. There is a lot to do around the house to get ready for winter.
  5. There's just so much going on in the world that sometimes it feels that I can barely keep up with current events.

I know, boo-freak'n-hoo, but the above are the best excuses I have because they happen to be true.

Things are not likely to get better, as I have another graduate class starting right after Fall I ends, and the work stuff will likely more complex.  It does make me think about working on those things that I can control, or maybe "attempt" to control, such as getting more sleep.  I think it was Poe who referred to sleep as being "little slices of death", and what I wouldn't give for the need not to sleep.  Alas, that's a super power I will never have, so I'm left with talking to my doctor during the next regularly scheduled oil change for ideas, suggestions and possibly pharmacology.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Gentle Reminder to Social Media Users...

The following is the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(source:  findlaw.com)

If you read the above carefully you will discover that the First Amendment guarantees a RIGHT to free speech, but it does not guarantee a FORUM for free speech.  It doesn't say "you can exercise your right to free speech anywhere you want", it simply says that Congress can't restrict the exercise of free speech.


(from Rep Barletta's Twitter feed)

Practically speaking, this means that you can criticize the government all you want.  I can call Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright "grossly incompetent" and I can say that Representative Lou Barletta "looks like a Mexican" (that's ironic, get it?) all I want, and that's perfectly okay.

What this doesn't mean is that I have a right to express those opinions using someone else's property, be it physical or intellectual.  For example, the Facebook people can very well say that "no postings should be allowed that are critical of Lou Barletta" and that would be perfectly okay.  Why?  Because they own Facebook and they  can make up all the Facebook rules they want.  If I don't like that rule, well, I have to realize that there is no (contrary to what you actually read in some dark corners of Facebook) Constitutional right to free speech on Facebook.  My recourse is to simply go "old school" and talk to my friends about Lou Barletta or maybe even create my own social media forum where Lou Barletta can be criticized all day and night.  Think that's extreme?  Well go hunt down former Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and ask him about www.dohertydeceit.com.

Rant concluded.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Francis of Buenos Aires

Like many, I'm captivated by the words and actions of Pope Francis.  He is unique in so many ways, someone who truly seems to call to people, regardless of their background.  Sadly though, he is setting a standard for future Popes that I'm afraid most will never live up to.

What do I like best about Pope Francis?  Without a doubt, it's his humility.  From downsizing this living arrangements in the Vatican, to a simpler Papal throne and personal cross, to riding around in a common Fiat, this a man who clearly understands that in order to preach humility one needs to actually be humble.  That's a rare thought for a church hierarchy which tends to wear clothing costing more than the annual earnings of many African families (reference HERE).

(from THIS site)

What's even more astounding is that Pope Francis manages to be so very likable and yet still more or less very conservative from a theological perspective.  That's a lesson that I think many in the (American) Republican Party have yet to master, namely the art of having convictions but being able to present them in a way that doesn't come across as being holier than thou.  It's something Ted Cruz, for example, should spend some time pondering.

The above noted, there is some irony that accompanies this Pope in that there are many conservative Catholics who are far from fond of Pope Francis.  One need only spend a few minutes listening to EWTN radio get a small ear-full of what I am talking about.  Some actually prefer a more regal Pope, along the lines of Benedict.

(from THIS site)

Why?  Well I suspect that some are basically just very uncomfortable with a Church that deviates in any way, shape, or form from one that simply tells adherents what to do.  "Command and Control" Catholicism is what Pope Benedict practiced, from his regal throne.  Following orders is comforting to some, as it takes the guess work out of making decisions.  Practicing humility, however, requires an active decision making process.