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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Response to Tom Borthwick's Comment, "Political Party Endorsements"

One of the smartest guys under 40 I know commented on THIS posting by saying:

Tom Borthwick said...
I tend to agree with you. It's one of the reasons I accepted a position in the Democratic Party of Scranton. We held our endorsements, I researched candidates, and voted for who I thought would do the best job. Not everybody in the process is awful!
March 30, 2015 at 10:12 AM

As I started to reply, it occurred to me that "hey, I can turn this into an entirely new posting!", so that's what I am going to do.

* * * * *

Thanks for commenting Tom, as always.

I'll gladly point out the fact that I don't believe that anyone in the process is awful.  Rather, it's the premise and the concept behind the process that I find distasteful.

"Premise" being that this group of people will tell others how to vote.  I need only offer the following three words to bolster my point:  Party Line Vote.  If I were "King of PA" my first action would be to prohibit party line voting.  Yes, sadly, I would require people to actually vote for PEOPLE!  How radical!  I would require the voters to make the choice, not allow some group of party bosses to make the choice for them.  Oh, and just cut the argument off at the pass, a party endorsement does matter in NEPA.  What percentage of party endorsed candidates make it to the general election?  I'm thinking north of 75%.

"Process" being the fact that there is no set of standards, no formal methodology, no sunshine, no litmus test if you will for determining just who receives a party endorsement.  As I noted in the original posting, for all we know the endorsed candidate(s) could be horrid human beings who simply pass the test of being able to raise money or being the most rabid party ideologues.

So in a nutshell Tom, would I trust you to do the hard work of researching candidates and making reasonable decisions (all be it not always in sync with my beliefs and values, but that's okay), because I know you to be a decent human being who wants to do the right thing.  Can the same be said for every party leader in NEPA?  In a word, "no".  Again, it's the the premise and the process behind party endorsements that is rife with the potential for abuse, and there is no system of checks and balances to prevent that abuse.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Political Party Endorsements (and why they shouldn't matter)

Quick question:
What do you suppose motivates those individuals who decide which candidates in an election are endorsed by the local political party?

Possible answers include:
a) Favors owed
b) Ability to raise money for the party
c) Blind adherence to strict party ideology
d) Ethnicity & family connections
e) All of the Above

In northeastern Pennsylvania, at least in my experience, the answer is "e".

By the way, it doesn't matter which party is doing the endorsing either.

Simply put, I would think/hope/pray that, in 2015, we would have moved beyond a cabal of political insiders telling us who to vote for in elections.  But yet that isn't the case.  Just a few weeks ago I saw a Facebook posting about the "Endorsed ________ Party Candidates!" that caught my eye.  I have seen a long history of local political party types endorsing people for elected office that should likely be in jail or a mental asylum, not an elected office.  Case in point:  Just how many "Party Endorsements" did Bob Mellow get over the years?  Hmmm, that one didn't work out so well, now did it?  Oh and please, Convict Mellow's shenanigans were a not so well kept secret for years (Case in point:  his sitting on Boards of Directors for industries that he had a hand in regulating).

Newsflash #1:  Party officials are looking out for the party (hence the word "Party"), not for the population in general.  Given a conflict between what is best for the party and what is best for the population in general, the party always wins.  I could site numerous examples, but I don't want to engage in indirect campaigning for anyone.

Newsflash #2:  On what planet would it otherwise be acceptable for adult human being to be told what to do when it comes to deciding on who will get to tax the living bejesus out of us?  Heck, this is America where we HATE being told what to do...apparently except for when it comes to electing the folks who spend our tax dollars.

Given two more or less equal candidates, I will always vote for the individual who HAS NOT received a party endorsement, as maybe, at least, that person has an ever-so-slight streak of independence and may not be as beholden to the insiders that run local politics.

Do yourself a favor:  Shun, mock, avoid those who actively seek party endorsements and the back-slapping, back-room dealing that goes with them.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

5 Things I Do Not Understand

In no particular order, for no particular reason.

1.  Loyalty to an employer
Seems an odd item to list by someone who as worked for the same company for 26 years, but it's true.  In point of fact my employer could very well kick me out to the curb tomorrow, a fact which I have to live with every day I go to work.  The concept is called "employment at will".  So why am I still there?  Simple:  At this point I want to be.  Any loyalty I have is for my co-workers, colleagues and people I in real people...not some amorphous thing that the Supreme Court has designated as a "person".

2.  Breast Implants (and other assorted body modifications)
I know, another odd choice, but so be it.  Look, I don't think people should, in the absence of some kind of need/desire for reconstructive surgery, have to alter their bodies in order to fit into some societal version of what's considered attractive.  Put another way, if someone's self-image relies on getting some part(s) modified, then I'm kinda thinking there might be some larger issues afoot.

3.  Discrimination
Humans are built to discriminate.  It's in our genetic code to seek and hang out with people who are like us.  Thousands of years ago it was called a "tribe"; now days it's likely a country club or the state of Indiana's legislature.  Regardless, we now no longer need to huddle with those like us for food and safety.  We have evolved to the point where discrimination is no longer needed, so treating people differently just because they are different than us is, well, just plain stupid.

4.  Abusing Animals
I don't get it, and for the record, I avoid stepping on worms after a rainstorm.  Why would anyone harm a creature other than in the most extreme case of self-defense?  I am particularly disturbed by the abuse of cats and dogs.  Both only want their human owners to love them.  Oh, and one other thing:  Anyone capable of abusing a cat or a dog is just as likely to abuse another person.

5.  Willful Ignorance
It's one thing to be unaware, but it's another to make the conscious decision to be unaware.  Yes, in point of act there are many things I don't know, but that's only because I'm busy at any given time learning different things.  Learn whatever excites or interests you, but just make sure you are learning something...all the time...until the day you die.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Injured Reserve

Well it was bound to happen:  it's been a while since I've managed to...

a) Slice
b) Fillet
c) Cut
d) Mangle

...some part of my body due to accident.  In this particular case it was a broken glass and a sink full of dishes that was the instrument of my doom (for my right ring finger).  No stitches required, mainly because there was no way I was going to take the time to go get them.

Anyway, outside of making typing more difficult, this isn't all that bad.  Far better than, say, the time I made the incredibly bad decision to cut acoustic ceiling tile using my leg as a table.  Like I said, bad idea.  Really bad idea.  See "b) Fillet", above.

This also has the impact of making what laughably passes for my handwriting even worse, if that can even be believed.  Far worse things have happened to far better people than I.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

St Patrick's Day is Over

I confess:  I am glad St Patrick's Day is over with.

I get the whole "ethnic pride thing", but that isn't what St Patrick's Day is all about.  Come on, even you know that by now, at least as far as Scranton is concerned.

No, it's about an archaic, to the extreme, "Friendly Sons of St Patrick" organization that, in 2015, still does not admit women.  Now I get it, "friendly SONS...", but still, this is 2015 not 1915.  The fact that politicians fawn all over themselves to speak at this event year after year astounds me.  How many of those same politicians would also speak at, say, a segregated country club?  You would think that the local newspaper would be all over this ridiculousness, but alas, one need only check out the list of officers on the Friendly Sons webpage for an explanation.

Not to be out done, we have a Society of Irish Women that does allow men to participate in their event.  Yet why aren't they pissed off that they simply can't participate in the Friendly Sons event?  Oh wait, I suspect that women can participate in the Friendly Sons event...serving the men as waitresses and kitchen help.

The whole thing is borderline bizarre when a reasonable person takes a step back and looks at it objectively.

Moving on, it's also about the Scranton St Patrick's Day Parade.  Yes, an event where local law enforcement has to beg bar owners to NOT open at 7am.  Now I don't know about you, but even when I did drink alcohol...which was a long time ago...the thought of getting hammered before the evening never once entered my mind.  Yet in Scranton, it's almost considered quaint for people to be smashed drunk before the parade even begins.  It's also tradition for the city to paint the street lines green for the parade.  Mind you that the city doesn't have the money to keep the regular lines painted...or fix the craters that have grown out of small potholes...but so I digress.

My favorite visual from the parade? Well that would be this little ditty from the Scranton Sucks Facebook page:

For the record, the City of Scranton has an "open container" law, which means that you are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in an open container in public.  As if the above picture couldn't get more ironic, consider the fact that it's taken in front of a former Catholic high school (the one that I graduated from actually).

For more fun information about St Patrick's Day, check out THIS ARTICLE from the Huffington Post.

Up the Irish!

Monday, March 16, 2015

We're angry, we're pissed off and we're going to continue to take it

My Facebook compatriot Mike Sporer brought a story my attention and suggested that it would make a good blog posting.  Now normally I don't take requests, as this whole blog deal has to really be stuff that I find interesting (which is why I've managed to keep at it since last 2008), but this was just too good an opportunity to pass off.  Anyway, here's the graphic:

Yes, it appears that our metropolitan area is among the least happy in the United States.  I don't think that Mike was surprised by this, and I certainly wasn't.  If anything, I am surprised that Erie, PA scored worse.

Anyway, the big question is this:  Why?  Why are we so unhappy?  Well I've probably mentioned a while host of things in this blog before, but this is as good an idea as any to maybe do a consolidation of misery, if you will.

Why the residents of Northeaster Pennsylvania are so Unhappy

  • We are physically unhealthy.  According to many, many different sources, there is a direct link between physical well-being and mental health/attitude.  Here's just one.  It also creates a higher propensity for higher rates of disease.  Here's a graphic showing breast cancer rates by Pennsylvania county.  
                                                                The source of the graphic is .  It's not a pleasant picture to see.  We are also a literal hotbed for heart disease; here's what the CDC tells us about heart disease rates, historically, by US county.  
                                                                   See that dark red patch where Lackawanna and Luzerne counties are located?  Kinda sticks out, just a bit.  We also smoke more than others, and we are likely exposed to more industrial pollution, courtesy of mining past, than others.  All in all, it's a heck of a recipe for disaster.
  • Corruption, corruption, corruption and more corruption.  Here are just a few names:  Dan Flood, Joe McDade, several county commissioners from both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, two "kids for cash" judges...and the list goes on.  Want to see how this all plays out?  Well check out this excerpt from the end of the book The Quiet Don that says a lot (page 290):  "Like Bufalino before him, Louis DeNaples relied on the support of a bevy of friendly, local and state federal elected officials in his bid for a slots license.  Time and time again, people outside of Pennsylvania shook their heads in disbelief, each time questioning some new disturbing revelation asking how or why something like that could happen.  How could the courts look the other way?  Where is law enforcement?"
  • Graft is institutionalized.  We have a sitting school board president in Scranton who can actually vote for his own family income to increase, as his wife is a teacher (in the Scranton School District).  This is the same director who presided over a national search for new school superintendent where the final candidate just happened to be a relative.  Yes, only in Scranton political logic does a national search yield a relative for a position.  So why is it so institutionalized?  Well I have a theory:  We tolerate it because we think, at some level, that if we look the way for someone else, they in turn will look the other way for us.  Put another way, we have this pattern of tolerating bad behavior because we secretly hope to benefit from it ourselves.
  • We rely too much on the government for things like employment.  The largest employer in the area is the government.  This means, in part, that it's not knowledge, education and ambition that is perceived as being the keys to success in NEPA; no, rather it's finding some public sector job, usually via some kind of connection, that is high on security but low on expectations.  Don't believe me?  Well go to a post office one of these days and ask an employee behind the counter a difficult question.  Or ask my older brother, who is trying to get my younger, disabled brother some government services, only to be told that the initial application we filed is, and I quote, "not in the system" (translation:  "I don't give a s#it").
  • We likely over-pay for inefficient and ineffective government services.  Here's an interesting graphic that shows who pays the most by way of Pennsylvania's personal income tax.
                                                                The graphic is from the Commonwealth Foundation. It's probably not a secret that government is our neck of the woods is particularly ineffective, yet we tend to be among those paying the most for it.  Overlay oppressively high wage taxation in Scranton and it begins to create an interesting picture (of despair).

Perhaps the real reason?  I could go on with some of the more factual stuff, but the point is made.  There is, however, one other point I want to make though:  Mostly, I suspect that we are miserable because we make the choice to be miserable.  More like "choices" actually.  Many of us were raised by miserable parents, so learning about finding the simple joys in life were taught about as often as Mongolian language courses were/are in our high schools. I know that's true for me, and I suspect that's true for others as well.  In fact, much of what I've noted above is a direct result of our choices to be miserable.  For example, we are miserable, which breeds cynicism, which basically opens the door for all manner of political corruption.  It's all a horribly vicious cycle, that, I hope, one day will break.  The good news though is that there is hope:  I can, for example, point to the good work being done by Friends of Lackwanna as being indicative of a change in the business as usual mode of things getting done in NEPA.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the late Warren Zevon.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Institutional Mourning

Preface:  I wrote this on November 1, 2014, and at the time it just didn't seem, well, "right" to publish it.  It was far too raw.  Well almost five months later and I still have my doubts about the posting, but the thoughts and feelings behind it are genuine, so why not post it?

* * * * * * 

November 1, 2014

It has been a long week...a very long week.  And a very long month as well.  I'd like to be able to say that the month ended on a positive note, but that wouldn't be true.  Yes, I did some good work during the week, and while I'm glad for that, it all pales in comparison to the anguish I've felt for two co-workers who recently lost their jobs.

These are (not "were"..."are") GREAT people, and sometimes the system just really, really stinks.  You can define "system" any way you want by the way, but in the end it's the outcome that just leaves one feeling down, regardless of the players.

Now I've never been on the receiving end of a layoff, but I've unfortunately had to be both the person making the decision and delivering the layoff far too many times (which is precisely measured as being exactly "more than once"), although that wasn't the case this time.  These kinds of things are difficult on the person making that decision, gut wrenching for the person delivering the message and obviously worst for the recipient.  There are no winners in events like this; at best there is a hope that the days in the future will be better.

Does this kind of thing happen far too often?  Yes, indeed it does.  But then we have to get back to the "system", as there is this fine line in American business where the best desires to be good, decent human beings intersects with the hard  realities of budgets and the like.  I do feel, deep down inside, that American business forgets that one of the things it does...that it is supposed to to employ people.  That imperative is at as high an order as such things can get, and yet it seems that it is often also lost in a race to minimize budgets and maximize profits.  Those of us who work in the private sector can't be too disingenuous about the system though, as we are all a part of it.  I can't completely divorce myself from the organization that laid off my colleagues while at the same time enjoying the same benefits that the same organization provides to me; that's like trying to blame just my hand for stealing a bunch of lemons from a Korean grocer.  Screaming moral outrage while accepting money from the source of the moral outrage is just a tad bit hypocritical for my tastes.  That doesn't mean that I have to like or approve of it; what I do have to do though is live with it.

Well what else can I do?  What can any of us do when we have friends and colleagues who are negatively impacted by job changes?

First and foremost, I think we need to be decent human beings.  That means not dancing on the desks of our former co-workers (figuratively and literally, and sadly that does happen).  That also means remembering that it's the basics in life that count the most:  empathy, understanding, compassion and helping our friends out with the best of our abilities.

I will also note that it's times like this when I am glad most of my professional career is now behind me.  I could easily work another 15+ years into the future, but that's going to be far less than the 25+ behind me.  Some might find that thought to be sad....but...I sometimes find it to be simply a relief.

I'll end this by paraphrasing something that one of my co-workers said to me this week:

"Sometimes at work it's difficult to understand where the line between 'colleague' and 'friend' resides.  However when someone loses their job, that difficulty goes away, as what's left is the 'friend' part."

As the younger folks note, #Truth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Dislike the Scranton St Patrick's Day Parade

Scranton hosts one of the largest St Patrick's Day parades in the country, and in all honesty, I hate it.  In fact, I can't even tell you the last time I attended a parade.  Maybe 1980?  Anyway, here are ten reasons why.

1.   Two words:  Green Beer.
2.   Three words:  Green Beer vomit.
3.   It's a "wonderful family event", that is if the "family" happens to have the last name "Sheen".
4.   I confess:  I actually dislike all parades.
5.   The District Attorney for Lackawanna County has to ASK bars to NOT open until 9AM (sit and ponder that one for a bit).
6.   Scranton can't shovel it's city-owned sidewalks but it can paint street lines green?
7.   See #6 and add "...but it can clean up trash-strewn streets after a parade?".
8.   Parade = Irish, Irish = Notre Dame.
9.   Ever see drunken, shirtless men in 40 degree weather gutter brawling at 1pm?  No?  Want to?
10. It reinforces stereotypes of NEPA residents being drunken, uneducated coalbillies.

(Warning:  The video contains rough language and includes images of people barfing, repeatedly.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nonsense and the Urge to Self Destruct

The week had been planned as a mini-vacation of sorts; I would be burning off five vacation days that I had carried over from 2014 with nothing really planned other than two shopping expeditions (one being to IKEA to pick up some new storage units for my home office).  It didn't happen exactly that way though.

The call same very early Sunday morning; with tears in a voice, I was told that a family member had a stroke.  My immediate reaction was to get dressed and to head over to the hospital.  Given that the hospital in question is 30+ minutes away and my desire not to personally smell, the combination of showing and driving got me to the Emergency Room within about an hour.  Not bad timing actually.

The initial prognosis was not good.  This was a younger person...younger than me actually...someone who really shouldn't be "stroking" (plural, as another stroke was happening as I got into the ER room) at all.  But yet they were, and it didn't require many mental calories for me to figure out the how's and the why's of it all.

Eventually there were positive signs, due in large part to the wonders of modern day clot busting medications, and I was encouraged by the almost virtual presence of a Neurologist from Hershey Medical center via video connection.  The video screen and assorted stuff reminded me of a scene for the television show Big Bang Theory.

The RoboDoc device, in consultation with the terrific local ER staff, decided that specialized treatment in Hershey, Pennsylvania* would be required for the patient.  The only problem?  The snow/ice storm of Sunday prevented the helicopter transport that would be normally used in these instances, so the trip would be need to be made by ground transport.  Of course it wouldn't end up being that easy (as if a two hour drive in a snow/ice storm wasn't complication enough), so it took a full 90 minutes for the transport crew just to get to the hospital in the first place.  Mind you, I was told that timing is everything when it comes to stroke treatment.  Anyway, the ambulance arrived at the hospital, and I made ready for a trip myself down to Hershey.

The actual ride down, with the family member who initially called me riding shotgun, was sheer terror.  I'd like to thank my GPS for finding every single twisty country rode off of I81 that could used to get someone to Hershey PA.  We made it though in something like three hours.  Not exactly a land speed record, but getting there in one piece was enough of a reward.

Upon arrival, there was good news:  the clot busting medication had worked its designed miracle, and there would be no further treatment required.  The strokes had caused some damage, but with therapy it's hoped that there can be an almost complete recovery.  If.

Note "If".

People younger than I should not even be having strokes, all things considered.  In this particular case, we actually know what caused the series of strokes, and while I'm not going to go into any details, it's sufficient to note that those causes simply didn't need to exist.  They just did not.

When you're a teenager some degree of rebelling, I guess, is part of the business of growing up.  I get that, and hopefully we all learn a good lesson or three as we grow into adults.  When, however, that same rebellion lasts into years 40+, well then that's a whole different kettle of fish.  When we get to "our age" it's understood that we should be old enough to know better, if for no other reason than as adults we hopefully have had the opportunity to see the concept of "cause and effect" demonstrated time and time again to us.  Sometimes in very personal ways.  Yes, while I do not claim to be the smartest man in the world, even I know that there are some activities in life that take far more than they ever could give.

So here I've landed.  My mini-vacation is nearly over, I am starting a new graduate class this week, and my family member is resting quietly at home, as the patient has refused any additional in-patient care and as a result was discharged from Hershey Medical Center yesterday.

I have sympathy for the people that immediately surround this individual, and I will do whatever I can to help them going forward.  For the actual patient?  No amount of help would be beneficial until a threshold of understanding, if you will, is crossed; think of it as being the common sense revelation of "self destruction is actually really bad for me".

(*) In addition to being home to Hershey Foods and an amusement park, Hershey PA is also home to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, the teaching hospital of the Pennsylvania State University.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

[Inset name of religion] Terrorist Group

"Catholic Terrorist Group the Irish Republican Army"

"Fundamentalist Christian Terrorist Group the Klu Klux Klan"

Now come on, both the above sounds down right silly.  But yet if you follow the logic of naming terrorist groups based on a religious affiliation, the above tags are at least consistent...if, all be it, not used.

Now in some circles, the President gets a lot of grief for refusing to refer to groups like ISIS/ISIL (or whatever the heck they are called) as "Islamic Terrorists".  His explanation for the refusal, as far as I have heard it, is a good one:  By using that tag, the implication is that potentially anyone who is an adherent of Islam is a terrorist.  The President is right, period.

Could you argue "But, but, but Steve, Islamic clerics provide religious justification for groups like ISIS/ISIL, so the tag of Islamic Terrorist fits!" ?  Sure, you could, but that argument just doesn't hold water.  As proof, I offer the following:

Catholic Priests Played A Role In IRA Killings

IRA Bombing Priest

KKK:  We's a Christian Organization

...and that's just the first bit of the first page of the Google search.

Yes, many terrorist groups cloak themselves in Islam, but that doesn't mean that these terrorist groups are "Islamic" more so than Irish Catholic groups in, say, Boston are all supporters of the Irish Republican Army.  What's more, I know that the vast majority of Catholic clergy would never support the murderous activities of the IRA, just as the vast majority of Pentecostal and Baptist ministers would never support the actions of the KKK either.

Also, there is no central religious authority for Islam to condone or condemn terrorist actions.  The religion itself is split into various groups act sects, not unlike modern Christianity.  This is another reason why the labeling of terrorists as "Islamic" is simply wrong, because no one person can speak for Islam, just as Pope Francis can not speak for all of Christianity.  I do agree though that moderate Islamic voices have not nearly been loud enough in condemning the actions of these evil groups, which is a shame, as they have the most to lose (and in fact ISIS/ISIL has probably killed more "fellow" Muslims than members of any other group).

To the extent one chooses to judge others, and I'll note that is a risky endeavor right off the bat, it's important to at least attempt to be factually correct and consistent.  Throwing labels around like "Islamic Terrorist Group" fails both the "factually correct" and "consistent" tests.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Today's Lesson: Anger Is A Disease

My mother suffered from it greatly.

I am not talking about benign brain tumors, although she did suffer from those as well.

No, she suffered from the disease of almost constant anger, and while she technically died from a fungal infection, the real death (of spirit) was caused by a lifetime of anger that she never seem to understand, let alone resolve.  Causes?  There were plenty, but you know what?  Each and every one of us have reasons to be angry.  We are all slighted by life in big ways and in small.  We are all given this opportunity to either rise above or sink below a certain level of personal rage at the world.

Today I spent the day in two two different hospitals, 100+ miles apart, helping a family member who suffered an unexpected and very serious medical issue.  And while I also spent more than enough time rummaging through Internet sites trying to understand anything and everything about the issue at hand, part of me deep down inside knows the root cause:  anger.

This is another angry person.  Someone with a knack for seeing the worst in most situations.  Someone who never let slip an opportunity to disparage or demonize.  A person who the slightest of set-backs created all manner of opportunity for raging.  A person who is not even aware that their anger has become an essential part of their existence.

The anger will not be denied though, and when some try to mask it in a variety of different, creative and sometimes illicit ways, it just works double-time behind the scenes until it literally shatters a body and a mind.

The only way to beat anger is to acknowledge it and deal with it head-on.

I felt angry today, by the way.  Angry at what had happened.  Angry at the pain being caused to others.  Angry at putting my own life on the line driving 200+ miles in horrible road conditions.  And yet that anger quickly turned into a kind of pity, because I know the person in question can't help it.  They don't know how to even acknowledge their anger, let alone be able to deal with it head-on.

In the end, I can point to many short-comings in my own life, many failings of both great and small magnitudes.  However in one important way I have been truly blessed:  I don't suffer from the disease of anger.  It has no control over me.